Take a look at the website of the Sons of Confederate Veterans. It exists to honor the service of the Confederate “citizen soldier”: the organization reminds us that “the tenacity with which Confederate soldiers fought underscored their belief in the rights guaranteed by the Constitution.” Finally, “Membership in the Sons of Confederate Veterans is open to all male descendants of any veteran who served honorably in the Confederate armed forces.”
Here’s where things get tricky. It’s hard to disagree with the notion that one of the rights Confederate soldiers believed was guaranteed by the Constitution was the right to own slaves. After all, modern day defenders of the Confederacy continue to remind everyone that slavery was constitutional, so even they recognize that fact. But I assume that when the SCV framed this carefully-worded statement which speaks of “citizen soldiers,” that its members, who are devoted to historical accuracy, know that enslaved people were not citizens, and thus cannot be regarded as “citizen soldiers.”
Given that the SCV is devoted to historical accuracy, and that part of that quest is to understand things as they were understood at the time, one would anticipate that the SCV would be at the forefront of efforts to counter the narrative that enslaved blacks could in fact be considered soldiers. Confederate soldiers at the time did not share that definition: the debate over enlisting blacks in the Confederate armed forces reinforces that notion that white southerners did not equate the presence of enslaved blacks with the Confederate armies as a sign that they, too, were soldiers. Indeed, to equate their presence with a soldier’s service would essentially degrade the status of soldier (and thus dishonor the service and commitment of actual soldiers) by asserting that the status of soldier was really rather flexible, especially if people today, imposing their own values and concerns on the past historical record, basically redefined the meaning of soldier to include just about anyone. It’s bad enough to take a Yankee’s word for who is and who isn’t a soldier (recall that most of the testimony about black Confederates comes from Union observers), but to take away from Confederate soldiers the status they deserve because of their service because of a need to placate modern sensibilities does not honor their service.
In fact, it dishonors it.
However, the final sentence … that membership “is open to all male descendants of any veteran who served honorably in the Confederate armed forces” … opens the door a crack. I define veteran as someone who served as a soldier according to the status recognized at the time. That excludes enslaved blacks, who were not “citizens” and who did not enjoy the status of “soldier.” However, if we open up the term “veteran” to mean just whoever we happen to want to believe “served,” regardless of status, that we’ve rendered meaningless the status of veteran. That, I’d suggest, would be dishonorable and disgraceful.
So, if the Sons of Confederate Veterans really wants to honor the service of “citizen soldiers” who were “veterans,” and those words really mean what they are intended to mean, then the organization is honor-bound to stand up and oppose recent efforts to redefine those terms according to modern sensibilities, ignoring historical accuracy and the meaning of those terms at the time of the war itself.
Otherwise, the SCV would be guilty of perhaps the most horrendous heritage violation ever visited upon the memory of those men who served as soldiers and sailors in the armed forces of the Confederacy. It would be denigrating their service by rendering meaningless the status of “soldier.” That would be wrong.