How Should We Treat the Service of Confederate Soldiers?

Last week, a local car dealership was running adds for a Veterans Day weekend sale event.  It was clear from watching the ads that the dealership in question had bought a series of canned ads and then added its own message at the end.  This became especially apparent when the pitchman asked viewers to honor the veterans (and buy a car) while standing in front of a monument to Confederate soldiers.

One could react to that image in a number of ways, but for me it raised a simple question: how should we treat the service of Confederate soldiers?  Keep in mind that this is not simply a question for academics.  People count Confederate soldiers among their ancestors.  That’s the case in my family.  So the question engages me on various levels, and I wonder how it engages you.

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6 thoughts on “How Should We Treat the Service of Confederate Soldiers?

  1. James F. Epperson November 15, 2011 / 5:48 am

    I also have Confederate ancestors (recently learned my grandmother Epperson was in the UDC, which led me to two more that I didn’t know of). I confess I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about their service, but when I do I acknowledge that they were fighting for a cause they believed in (probably), and endured a great deal of hardship and privation in its service. But that doesn’t make it a “righteous cause,” although my father certainly thought it was.

  2. Andy Hall November 15, 2011 / 8:10 am

    I’ve thought a lot about this, without reaching any easy conclusions. James is right, that we need to recognize the hardship and sacrifices that they made, but never lose sight of the fact that, no matter how much they did or didn’t believe in it personally (which we mostly don’t know anyway), it was a terrible cause overall.

    The most important thing to me, it seems, is to try and know them as best we can, as men who were every bit as complex (and occasionally contradictory) as we ourselves are. I’m really disillusioned by a lot of the ceremony and pomp (-ous) that counts as “honoring” veterans — not because it’s not sincere, but because it’s just very, very superficial and doesn’t really add to our understanding of them as individuals.

  3. JMRudy November 15, 2011 / 8:25 am

    From Ike’s proclamation of the first Veterans Day:
    “WHEREAS, in order to expand the significance of that commemoration and in order that a grateful Nation might pay appropriate homage to the veterans of all its wars who have contributed so much to the preservation of this Nation, the Congress, by an act approved June 1,1954 (68 Stat. 168), changed the name of the holiday to Veterans Day:

    “NOW, THEREFORE, I, DWIGHT D. EISENHOWER, President of the United States of America, do hereby call upon all of our citizens to observe Thursday, November 11, 1954, as Veterans Day. On that day let us solemnly remember the sacrifices of all those who fought so valiantly, on the seas, in the air, and on foreign shores, to preserve our heritage of freedom, and let us reconsecrate ourselves to the task of promoting an enduring peace so that their efforts shall not have been in vain.”

    [http://books.google.com/books?id=5saFAAAAMAAJ&pg=PA35#v=onepage&q&f=false]

    So, the core of the redefinition of Veterans Day was based on the concept of, “preservation of the nation.” I have to assume that Ike meant the United States, and not the Confederate nation, as he did serve in both the United States Army and as President of the United States. He also makes a sly shout-out to Lincoln’s conception of the just conflict through his assertion of war for the preservation of, “our heritage of freedom,” and the keen Lincolnic phrasing of a belief that a sacrifice, “shall not have been in vain.”

    I don’t think Ike was saying, ‘don’t pay homage to Confederates,’ as there is descent evidence that his Civil War convictions fell more strongly into the Reconciliation camp than the Emancipation one (see his November 1963 speech at Gettysburg), but the phrasing of this particular proclamation seems quite resolute that this particular holiday was intended for those who sought to preserve one nation united versus those who fought to tear it asunder.

    OK, so that became an epistle. I apologize…

    For the TL;DR crowd – Ike’s first memorial day seems to have been intended for those who fought for America & its ideals, not against it.

    • JMRudy November 15, 2011 / 8:30 am

      Freudian slip there… obviously meant Veterans Day at the end. Ike’s proc. (with words like “grateful nation” and “sacrifices”) just sounds so much like something about the dead and not the living.

  4. TF Smith November 15, 2011 / 8:47 pm

    I’m sort of surprised there is a Confederate memorial in Arizona, actually…

    • Brooks D. Simpson November 15, 2011 / 9:06 pm

      There is a marker at Picacho Pass, but it’s clear the commercial was shot in the Southeast, if the vegetation and the spokesperson’s clothes are any indication.

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