THE LOST CAUSE, AT LONG LAST LOST

635721224754624206-AP-Confederate-Flag.1This morning, South Carolina finally removed the Confederate flag from the grounds of its statehouse. At long last, he rebel flag has finally fallen. Not everywhere, of course. But to see it go down here, in the cradle of rebellion, means one thing: it has lost its power to enthrall and intimidate. The cause is lost, and irretrievably.

You can’t underestimate the power of a flag. We pledge allegiance not to the United States, but first to the flag, and only then to the republic for which it stands, an awfully curious construction when you think about it. We fight for flag and country, we capture the flag, the Giants win the pennant. “We stole countries with the cunning use of flags,’’ says the brilliant comedian Eddie Izzard, explaining how the British built an empire. “Just sail around the world and stick a flag in., [and say]”I claim India for Britain!” They’re going “You can’t claim us, we live here! Five hundred million of us!” “Do you have a flag …?’’ “We don’t need a bloody flag, it’s our country!” “No flag, no country, those are the rules that I’ve just made up. And I’m backing them up with this gun.’’ He may be underestimating the usefulness of that gun, but the point about the flag remains.

One hundred fifty years ago, the confederacy lost the civil war, but thanks to recalcitrance, clever public relations, and decades of state-sanctioned terrorism, it won the meaning of the war. In their minds, the south remained undefeated; they waged not a rebellion against the legitimate government but a war between states; they fought for freedom, not in support of slavery.

They did not fly the rebel battle flag that much then; they did not have to, at least not until after World War II, after Truman desegregated the armed forces and Eisenhower sent the 82nd Airborne to enforce the integration of the Little Rock schools and the Supreme Court declared an end to Separate but Equal. Only then did the confederate battle flag reappear, showing up on state houses and state flags. It did not return as a testimony to heritage or to the fallen soldiers of Shiloh and Chickamauga. It flew once again in defiance of democratic government, of constitutional law, of American principles of freedom and equality. But after the conflicts of the Civil Rights movement—one of the greatest triumphs of our history—the flag was once again fling on the losing side of history.

What did it mean that the confederate flag continued to fly? It meant that anyone who sympathized with any of its principles had a claim to legitimacy. He could claim to be part of a movement, a believer in a cause, the heir to a legacy worth protecting. A government was irrelevant, territory beside the point—if you have a flag, you have approval, you have an Us to stand with as you face up to the Them.

But now the flag has come down in South Carolina. It came down in the place that was always the home of the most fiery of the fire eaters, the first state to cite nullification, the first state to secede from the union, the first place where rebels fired on the flag of the United States. Going forward, there will always be diehards and dead enders who will never give up, but now they will be scattered and isolated. The moment the rebel flag was lowered, the confederacy no longer had any pretense to a home, to a heritage, to a place in American life.

The Lost Cause has at long last been lost.

THAT WAS THE VERY LIBERAL WEEK THAT WAS


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Sometimes it seems as though weeks go by without nary an event worth introducing into conversation. And then sometimes news–and not merely news, but huge historical events–come rolling in like thunder. One such period occurred during the last week in June. On Monday the 22nd, responding to the murder days before of nine people who were worshipping in the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston by a confederate fanboy Dylann Roof, South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley called for the removal of the confederate flag from the statehouse grounds. “We are not going to allow this symbol to divide us any longer,” she said. “The fact that people are choosing to use it as a sign of hate is something we cannot stand.”This in turn inspired further rollbacks: the state of Alabama pulled down the rebel flag, the city of Memphis voted to relocate the tomb of the racist terrorist Nathan Bedford Forrest, the states of Maryland and Virginia stopped issuing license plates with the rebel flag on it, and the state of Kentucky removed a statue of native son Jefferson Davis from the rotunda of the capitol. Then, on Thursday,  the Florida Supreme Court threw out five egregiously drawn election districts, hopefully beginning the process of rolling back on systematic gerrymandering. Also on Thursday, the Supreme Court for a second time approved Obamacare, refusing to chase some sloppy writing as an excuse to undermine the legislative process. The next day, bu a 5-4 margin, the Court legalized gay marriage across the country, calling it a fundamental right. “No union is more profound than marriage,” wrote Justice Anthony Kennedy, `for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice and family, In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than they once were. Their hope,” Kennedy is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.”

“Today is some of the darkest 24 hours in our nation’s history,” said Senator Ted Cruz.  I say hoorah.

THE ARMY WAR COLLEGE TAKES A STEP

On December 18, Fox News reported that the U.S. Army War College in Pennsylvania is considering removing prints that depict Robert E. Lee and other Confederate generals after at least one official questioned why the school honors those who fought against America. The college is currently conducting an inventory of its paintings and photographs, and to categorize them. “There will be change: over the years very fine artwork has been hung with care – but little rationale or overall purpose,” US Army Major General Tony Cucolo, the commandant of the college, said in a statement posted on the school’s website Wednesday afternoon. “I will… approach our historical narrative with keen awareness and adherence to the seriousness of several things: accurate capture of US military history, good, bad and ugly; a Soldier’s life of selfless service to our Nation; and our collective solemn oath to defend the Constitution of the United States (not a person or a symbol, but a body of ideals),” he added. “Those are the things I will be looking to reinforce with any changes to the artwork.

College Spokeswoman Carol Kerr told the newspaper that at least one official — who was not identified – asked the administration why the school honors generals that were enemies of the U.S. Army. “There will be a dialogue when we develop the idea of what do we want the hallway to represent,” she said. “[Lee] was certainly not good for the nation. This is the guy we faced on the battlefield whose entire purpose in life was to destroy the nation as it was then conceived.”

So far, this sounds like a step in the right direction.

APPALACHIAN SUMMER: HARPER’S FERRY, WVA, AUGUST 4th

100_0884Beautiful Harper’s Ferry, sitting at he confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers at the bottom of the steep trio of Loudon, Bolivar and Maryland Heights, once had one of only two federal arsenals in the United States, which is why John Brown decided to begin his slave uprising there. Less than two years later, his action spawned secession and the Civil War. Above, the Conjoined Potomac. Immediately below left, a marker designating where Brown made his stand; right, in Harper’s Ferry less than ten minutes, and already they’ve dedicated a marker to her!
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Immediately below: looking up into town; Far below: looking across to Maryland Heights.
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APPALACHIAN SUMMER: PERRYVILLE, KY, AUGUST 1st

100_0874Given the size of the armies engaged, the Battle of Perryville, fought on October 8, 1862, was one of the bloodiest battles of the Civil War. Generally thought of as a confederate tactical victory but a Federal strategic victory–what that means is that after a ferocious, day-long the rebels forced the Yanks to withdraw from the field, but the weakened rebs then had to withdraw from Kentucky–the battle needs to be seen as a multi-pronged Confederate offensive (Antietam, fought three weeks earlier, was part of the overall campaign) that failed to throw the north on the defensive or to get it to capitulate. The Union retained control of the critical border state of Kentucky for the remainder of the war. As much as anything, the Kentucky campaign reveals Braxton Bragg’s weaknesses as a commander.
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The gun at top was part of an Illinois battery commanded by a Captain Simonsen. The battery lost a quarter of its strength during the battle, and fired all of its ammunition, 795 shells, during the fighting. Above, monuments to the Union dead (left) and confederate (right). Note: The Malanowski Cannon Picture from Vacation Tradition continues!

TALKING DISUNION IN MANHATTAN

100_0819hanks to the folks at Jackson-McNally Bookstore in Soho for hosting a panel discussion by three of us who have been contributors to The New York Times‘ Disunion series, and to the new 1Dcompilation of pieces from the series published by Black Dog & Levanthal. Clay Risen of the Times, Ted Widmer of Brown University, and yours truly met with about twenty people, and we had a fun and lively discussion. Most pleasant surprise: meeting a young lady who turned out to be a cadet from West Point who was doing a summer internship at The Wall Street Journal and who had written about Alonzo Cushing, and why he deserves the Medal of Honor.

SOUTHERN SOJOURN: CRUMPLER’S BLUFF, VA, JULY 14

100_0798100_0799The first engagement in which William Cushing distinguished himself was at the battle of Crumpler’s Bluff, which was in Franklin, Virginia. Federal officers designed a combined army-navy operation against elements of Longstreet’s army camped near Franklin on the Blackwater River in October 1862. While Navy gunboats under the command of Charles Flusser made their difficult way up the narrow, twisty Blackwater, the army was supposed to attack overland from the other side. They didn’t, leaving the gunboats perilously exposed. Under deadly fire, Cushing freed a cannon that had been strapped to the deck and fired, breaking the confederate attack. The pictures give an idea of how twisty the river is. By the way–there’s no bluff in sight. And for the record, yes, that’s a sewage treatment plant downriver to the left.

SOUTHERN SOJOURN: FORT FISHER NC, JULY 13

100_0776William Cushing‘s last engagement was at Fort Fisher, in January 1865. Located on a piece of land separating the Atlantic and the Cape Fear River in southern North Carolina, the fort protected shipping bringing goods across the Atlantic and up the river to Wilmington, which, in 1865, was the confederacy’s last open port. The fort, which was comprised of giant molded mounds of sand, was shaped like a 7. The Army attacked the western point of the fort, while sailors and marines under Cushing attacked the eastern juncture. Cushing’s assault was stymied, but the army broke though, and carried the day. Above, the Fort Fisher monument. Below, the mounds of Fort Fisher; ocean-battered trees; a gun placement on one of the western mounds.
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SOUTHERN SOJOURN: NEWPORT NEWS, JULY 10

100_0716The Maritime Museum at Newport News is just splendid. The museum has a lot of terrific artifacts, including the pricelss eafle figurehead from the USS Lancaster, and a whole exhibit on Nelson and his battles at Copenhagen, the Nile and Trafalgar. The highlight is the the terrific exhibit on the Monitor and the Virginia, including an excellent, detailed, informative, film, full size replicas of both ships, and amazingly, recovered pieces of the Monitor, including its turret, which is being restored. The visualizations were wonderful. I could have spent a lot more time there. Don’t miss it!
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SIGN THE PETITION! RETIRE GENERAL HOOD!

(This first appeared on washingtonmonthly.com on July 7th.)

When I last took weekend blog duty here, I coincidentally had an article in The New York Times in which I noted that the US Army had ten bases named after Confederate generals, and argued that we should rename them as soon as possible. My point, in a nutshell, was that people who make war on US Army soldiers shouldn’t have US Army bases named in their honor. I don’t mean to pat myself on the back or anything, but as arguments go, I thought that one was impregnable.

Shortly after the piece ran, the Dallas Morning News asked me to do a customized version of the piece for their readership, focusing on Fort Hood, which is near Dallas, and on John Bell Hood, the gallant, romantic, and often ineffective rebel leader. I fancied that the argument was still unassailable. As it happened, I was under bombardment for a week.

“You are a DIAPER HEAD, nothing more,” one man wrote; kook and faggot also got aired out. Several people made a point of my ancestry. “How long has your family been here from Poland?? What do you know about southerners??” Some wanted to assure me that they were open-minded. “Each of us is intitled [sic] to one’s opinion, and my opinion is that you should keep your opinion to yourself and mind your own business.” Some thought I had a secret agenda: “Why do we keep changing history just to please the blacks?. They are the most racist bunch out there, and our government continues to bow down to them.” Some wished for me to take up another topic: `If you’d really like to alter a name where it might make some real sense, try getting the Germans to change Volkswagen (Herr Hitler’s ‘peoples’ car) to something else. I just pray to God almighty that we never have a Ft. Obama.” And some wondered why I was attacking southern heritage. “You are with the “crowd” that want anything “southern” eliminated from American History.”

Such comments baffled me the most. Southern heritage has contributed as much and arguably more to American culture than any other region. Twain, Poe, Welty, Faulkner, Elvis, Leadbelly, Hank Williams, Robert Johnson, Cormac McCarthy, Larry McMurtry, Carson McCullers, Louis Armstrong, Muddy Waters, B.B. King, ZZ Top, Washington, Jefferson, Davy Crockett, Loretta Lynn, Levon Helm, ACC basketball, SEC football, Tennessee Williams, barbecued ribs—I could go on for an hour. Why do some people want to identify `southern culture’ with the ignoble losers of the confederacy?

Among the critical letters, however, there were many encouraging notes, including one last night from Harold Walkow of New Jersey. He liked the article so much that he has started a petition on whitehouse.gov. You can find it here. The White House has promised a response to any petition that gthers 100,000 signatures in a month. Hey, sign up—ruin a rebel’s day!