Should We Honor Confederate Soldiers? How?

DSCN1516Sometimes it’s the tough questions that don’t get asked, because we are afraid to ask them … and even more afraid to answer them.

The question is simple: how should we treat the service of those who served in the Confederate military. Should we recognize it? Respect it? Honor it? Why? And please don’t tell me that they fought for what they believed in, because the problematic nature of that claim should be readily evident as soon as I recall for you that other fighting men fought and died for what they believed in, and we would not think for a second about honoring them. We’d have to defined what they believed in, and that’s where the difficulties begin.

What are appropriate ways to go about such treatment? Should Confederate flags be flown, and which one(s) should be flown?

My own take on this is that quite often the way we answer these questions say something about the importance we attach to reconciliation as a necessary process in order to forge a sense of national unity and purpose. That is, we often offer answers that reveal our need to move beyond and to move ahead, as opposed to refighting the war endlessly. Saying we honor someone for their service or for fighting for what they believed in may be heartfelt and respectful, but it also manages to sidestep other issues. As Americans we have not always been this way. Many Americans decried the service of US military personnel who served in Vietnam because of perceptions about their conduct and the cause for which they fought. Now people will thank US military personnel for their service while reserving commentary about the war in which they served.

We need to be honest about this and discuss issues of ambivalence and contradiction as opposed to simply ignoring them.

For some people, of course, there’s no contradiction between honoring someone for their service and praising the cause they served, although defining that cause is where things become contentious. In many cases we actually don’t know why someone served or how they defined the cause for which they served, and so those claims say something about us, not them. We’ve also battled over distinguishing between why soldiers fight and why nations (or other collective actors) fight. Simply put, telling me why you believe a Confederate soldier fought (and the number of people who admit that their Confederate ancestors owned slaves is right up there with the number of people who admitted voting for Nixon in 1960) is not the same thing as explaining why there was a Confederacy in the first place, what it stood for, and why it went to war.

These questions reach far beyond Confederate military service and how we today view it, but, as it seems that a discussion about Confederate service and how we do (and should) view it is most likely to bring these issues into sharpest relief, I begin there.

The floor is open.

77 thoughts on “Should We Honor Confederate Soldiers? How?

  1. Randy P. Lucas September 24, 2013 / 10:06 am

    I will honor them as I have already done so. By collecting and distributing their individual stories and to the extent that I can to protect and preserve their graves, monuments and to keep their flags flying. As to what course others may take, frankly, that is up to them.

    All of the chest thumping and moralization of attempting to impose the present day morality on them seems, at best, misplaced and at worse even more of an effort to obscure and malign these men who, by any standard, were great men.

    I have and will honor them.

    • Brooks D. Simpson September 24, 2013 / 10:14 am

      My only observation is that many people from all over the spectrum have tried to project their current political views on the service of Civil War soldiers. It does not matter in this regard as to whether they think that such soldiers should be honored or assailed … they still project. I would not attribute modern day sensibilities to one party or another. I’d admit that they exist in many cases.

      • Randy P. Lucas September 24, 2013 / 10:35 am

        There are always folks using history to justify their current politics. I am sure there always have been and always will be. From my perspective modern politics and morality do more to dishonor both sides in the Civil War, by obscuring them as the men they were crossing a wide spectrum of beliefs and attempting to replace this with a cartoonish image that makes the proponent feel superior to someone else. It has nothing to do with these men nor given them the honor they deserve.

        • Brooks D. Simpson September 24, 2013 / 10:43 am

          Is it as much a moral choice to refrain from viewing the past with one’s present moral beliefs in mind as it is to impose those values on the past? I’ve always drawn a distinction between understanding what people did or did not think or do and justifying it. I may recognize, for example, that most nineteenth century southern whites thought slavery was a good thing and explain why they thought so, but that doesn’t mean I agree with them. I can point out that most nineteenth century northern whites (especially those in the Democratic party) harbored racial prejudices and explain why, but that doesn’t mean that I approve of those views.

          • Randy P. Lucas September 24, 2013 / 10:54 am

            Absolutely true, Professor Brooks. If one uses their beliefs as a learning tool, but, frankly, that seems to be less prevalent today than we might wish. Most Americans in the 19th Century regardless of political persuasion would be, by today’s standards, flagrantly racist. It was the nature of the world in which they lived. Very few today would agree with their views, Thank God, but simply because they do not comport with current morality does not inherently make them either immoral nor bad. Too many of us like to see things in black and white, good guys verses bad guys when the truth is far more complex.

            If you teach as you describe, I think that’s a fabulous thing. I also think it’s far more rare than it ought to be.

          • Brooks D. Simpson September 24, 2013 / 11:01 am

            I gave a lecture yesterday on why white southerners supported secession and asked my class (which is rather diverse in its composition) to set aside what they today think and see things as the people at the time saw them so that they could understand why they acted as they did. I think good teachers do that all the time. I also highlight the role of racism among northern whites as critical in understanding what happened and why. The people who claim to criticize what I teach or what I have written have never been in my classroom and have never read my scholarship. However, they see ignorance as no barrier to commentary.

          • Randy P. Lucas September 24, 2013 / 11:05 am

            I did not, Professor, mean my comments to be taken as a criticism of you. It sounds to me like you are doing exactly what I think ought to be done. I, for one, am appreciative of that fact.

          • Brooks D. Simpson September 24, 2013 / 11:09 am

            I’m not speaking about you, but I appreciate your statement. Thank you.

      • Stuart September 25, 2013 / 6:28 am

        I’m reminded of Wendell Berry’s essay “Writer & Region”, in which he writes,

        “There is also the Territory of historical self-righteousness: if we had lived south of Ohio in 1830, we would not have owned slaves; if we had lived on the frontier, we would have killed no Indians, violated no treaties, stolen no land. The probability is overwhelming that if we had belonged to the generation we deplore, we too would have behaved deplorably. The probability is overwhelming that we belong to a generation that will be found by its successors to have behaved deplorably. Not to know that is, again, to be in error and to neglect essential work, and some of this work, as before, is work of the imagination. How can we imagine our situation or our history if we think we are superior to it?”

    • Michael Mears March 29, 2017 / 9:27 am

      Here are my thoughts on that. The Civil War was all about slavery. The war was fought to keep the institution of slavery in place. To honor the war is to ignore the immoral basis of the war. How would we feel if a German American wanted to pass a resolution honoring the German soldiers who fought to keep Hitler in power. Let’s be honest with our history. To honor the civil war is to honor the reasons that there was a civil war. It was not about states’ right it was about keeping millions of people in slavery. You can not honor that war without endorsing slavery. Sorry for all of those who want to create a false history. Maybe it is the same people who want to create alternative facts. Alternative facts are lies! Claiming that the Confederacy was about something other than slavery is a lie!

  2. Al Mackey September 24, 2013 / 10:14 am

    Ultimately, I think there are a limited number of reasons that might pass your test. Here are three I thought of:

    1. Honoring confederate soldiers who were members of one’s family.
    2. Honoring confederate soldiers because you believe in their cause.
    3. Honoring confederate soldiers out of respect to a section of our reunited country.

  3. Al Mackey September 24, 2013 / 10:22 am

    As to how we should honor them, I see nothing wrong with flags at the gravesites. Does someone like Fitzhugh Lee, having been a US officer before the Civil War, a confederate officer during it, and a US officer again in the Spanish-American War, get both a US flag and a confederate flag?

    • SF Walker September 25, 2013 / 11:10 pm

      I think they should get both flags, especially in the cases of men like Fitz Lee and Joe Wheeler, who served in the US Army in wartime after 1865.

  4. Salvador Alex Litvak September 24, 2013 / 10:27 am

    It’s a good and challenging question, Brooks. My first impulse is to say that they were brave Americans fighting for a variety of causes, including defense of home soil. Of course, that emotional answer immediately contradicts itself because only Lincoln considered them Americans. The Confederates themselves intentionally took up arms against the USA. Their newspapers carried news from the North in the foreign section. We don’t honor foreign servicemen who fought against us, even if we later annex their territory (is that a fair description of some former parts of Mexico?). We certainly don’t honor British loyalists from the Revolution. Still in the spirit of Lincoln’s fondest wishes for reconciliation, I like Randy’s approach above of honoring individual stories, graves and monuments.

  5. mitchell werksman September 24, 2013 / 10:42 am

    I honor the confederate dead as well they should be just as i honor the union dead.i fly a a confederate first national flag from my porch since that flag does not offend anyone as the battleflag flag does.

  6. Kat Marshalleck September 24, 2013 / 10:42 am

    I will honor them, as much as I honor Hitler, or Mussolini, among many others. They all had the same ideals that they were superior to someone else due to race. And for me that is their legacy.

    • Randy P. Lucas September 24, 2013 / 11:48 am

      I would suggest then that you add others to your litany including President Lincoln himself and a fair number of the founders of this country, who were, by today’s standards flagrant and unrepentant racists who believed in white supremacy. Until surprisingly recent times, white supremacy was an accepted moral view. If you wish to condemn all of those who believed in white supremacy throughout history, I’m with you. If, however, you want to pick and chose based upon a criteria that appears to contain a fair level of hypocrisy, then I’m out.

      Universal application of current morality only has power if apply universally. Morals change based upon time and place and many things that were considered immoral then are considered moral now and vice versa.

      Your words of tolerance for disagreeing views are duly noted.

      • Al Mackey September 26, 2013 / 6:20 am

        I’m sorry, I must have missed the class where Abraham Lincoln’s seceding and starting a war for the express purpose of protecting slavery, or even protecting white supremacy, was discussed.

        You talk about current morality, but even as far back as the 18th Century, slavery was seen as an evil thing. Slavery and the rebellion in order to preserve it were spoken of in the 19th Century as evil things. One can claim this is current morality only if one wishes to ignore what the folks at the time actually said and thought. The confederacy was in the minority not only in the United States but in the world as well. They were on the wrong side of history and in hopeless denial about it. Lincoln wasn’t an immediate abolitionist, but at least he did want to see it eventually end by working within the constitutional framework. He may have started out with racist beliefs, but his views evolved over time to the point where he was willing to support limited voting rights for blacks. He may have had some views we can point to as racist, but at least he didn’t want people to be enslaved, and he wasn’t going to fight a bloody war in order to keep another race in chains.

        Having said all that, though, I don’t believe the men and women of the confederacy were immoral people. I think they were in the grip of an evil institution that adversely affected everyone it touched. Those who were the “masters” in many cases did horrible things in service of that institution, but I think it was the nature of the institution that was to blame. Secession and a bloody war for that institution came because of its hold on people, not because the people were lacking in morality. Lee touched on this in his famous letter to his wife when he recognized slavery’s evil effects on whites. His error there was in claiming the effects on whites were worse than the effects on blacks.

        Put any group of people in the role of “masters” in a society where slavery was as intrenched as it was in the American south and I believe you will see the same behavior. Lincoln recognized this as fundamentally true in his Peoria speech:

        “I think I have no prejudice against the Southern people. They are just what we would be in their situation. If slavery did not now exist amongst them, they would not introduce it. If it did now exist amongst us, we should not instantly give it up. This I believe of the masses north and south. Doubtless there are individuals, on both sides, who would not hold slaves under any circumstances; and others who would gladly introduce slavery anew, if it were out of existence. We know that some southern men do free their slaves, go north, and become tip-top abolitionists; while some northern ones go south, and become most cruel slave-masters.

        “When southern people tell us they are no more responsible for the origin of slavery, than we; I acknowledge the fact. When it is said that the institution exists; and that it is very difficult to get rid of it, in any satisfactory way, I can understand and appreciate the saying. I surely will not blame them for not doing what I should not know how to do myself. If all earthly power were given me, I should not know what to do, as to the existing institution. My first impulse would be to free all the slaves, and send them to Liberia,—to their own native land. But a moment’s reflection would convince me, that whatever of high hope, (as I think there is) there may be in this, in the long run, its sudden execution is impossible.” [CWAL, Vol 2, p. 255]

        While I think the cause for which they fought was among the worst ever, I don’t disdain the individual men and women of the confederacy. In that matter, I agree with Ulysses S. Grant: “What General Lee’s feelings were I do not know. As he was a man of much dignity, with an impassible face, it was impossible to say whether he felt inwardly glad that the end had finally come, or felt sad over the result, and was too manly to show it. Whatever his feelings, they were entirely concealed from my observation; but my own feelings, which had been quite jubilant on the receipt of his letter, were sad and depressed. I felt like anything rather than rejoicing at the downfall of a foe who had fought so long and valiantly, and had suffered so much for a cause, though that cause was, I believe, one of the worst for which a people ever fought, and one for which there was the least excuse. I do not question, however, the sincerity of the great mass of those who were opposed to us.” [PMUSG, Chapt LXVII]

        So I have no problem with people who want to honor confederate soldiers. I have a big problem with honoring the cause for which the confederacy existed and by extension for which they fought.

    • Marsa Herod September 24, 2013 / 2:29 pm

      It is assumptive on your part to know what all the southern people thought in the 19th century concerning slavery. There were many southerners who did not agree with it and others who considered there slaves as family. As for the soldiers, they went to war fought and died for what they believed, or in some cases went just because there was a war and they were supporting there part of this country which I am sure they loved and felt they should defend. As with all wars many young men and now women have died often with no real idea what we are fighting for, but the fact that we are at war and they are fighting for there country. Vietnam is a good example of this. I support all of our men and women who have fought and died in any war and that includes all the men/boys of the war between the states Both the confederate soldiers and union soldiers were fighting for what they believed. Slavery was not the only issue during the war between the states. Economic and social differences between the North and the South. and,,States versus federal rights. are 2 more reasons for the war. I totally disagree with slavery. It was a terrible thing that should not have happened. however it did and it is part of our history good or bad. Should we disrespect the people that died? I don’t think so.. They were fighting for our country. Just because we don’t like the reason for a war does not mean all the people who fought on a side you don’t agree with was any less human or American. We can not make up for what our ancestors did. We can only try to refrain from making the same mistakes ourselves. Life is to short to worry about a flag in my opinion. If it offends you don’t look at it, or take different route.. Or find your own flag and fly it proudly and say a prayer for the people who are offending you.. It is time to move forward and stop bickering about the past. It can not be changed. Today and tomorrow however are waiting to be formed. Live your life to make it a good future for you, your children, and all the generations to come.

      • Al Mackey September 26, 2013 / 6:46 am

        Economic differences and social differences have been fully explored and it all comes down to the fact that there was a perceived threat to the institution of slavery in the American South in the form of an antislavery president from an antislavery political party. Just the threat of cutting off slavery’s expansion was enough for the secessionists.

        As to state rights, one and only one “state right” was threatened–the state right to have slaves.

        That individual soldiers may have had their own individual reasons for fighting is a given. But everyone knew why the confederacy existed. It was no big secret at the time, as it appears to be a big secret from many of their descendants. James McPherson did a study of the motivations of soldiers, and while many expressed different reasons, his conclusion was that the confederate soldiers knew and accepted that slavery was one of the reasons for which they were fighting. That is one of the reasons why slavery was such an evil institution. It made good men and women do awful things in its service.

  7. Schroeder September 24, 2013 / 10:43 am

    Paying respects at gravesites/museums is enough, in my opinion.

  8. Thelibertylamp September 24, 2013 / 10:47 am

    By teaching the history, as it really happened, like Prof. Simpson does.

    One thing, we all know this flag thing really has nothing to do with Confederate soldiers, and they even admit it.

    This flag is a “white party” thing, it’s about stamping their feet and trying to grab the last bits of their dying white dominated world back that got away with owning people as slaves, lynching people, murdering people who came into their areas to investigate their KKKlan activities.

    They give away their intent when they say: “But there is a black history month” …right there we KNOW this is about race, and the fear that they are not of a dominating racial situation anymore.

    BTW- this has been flaming through the white power scene:

    If you check out their FB Page you’ll find our little from Hunter-Brad-Wallace-Griffin:

  9. Paul Marcone September 24, 2013 / 10:50 am

    It is a challenging and problematic question. In my view, the Confederate soldier fought bravely for a terrible cause. No matter how you slice it, the Confederacy’s very essence was linked directly to the preservation of slavery. You cannot hide from that fact. Now, of course, the actual motivation of the individual Confederate soldier differed, but, at the core, they were all fighting for the Confederacy. I admire their courage, their tenacity and their dedication to each other. But I deploy the cause they fought for. I am not sure if that makes sense or if it directly addresses your question. But it’s my two cents.

    • Flamethrower September 24, 2013 / 4:08 pm

      “In my view, the Confederate soldier fought bravely for a terrible cause. No matter how you slice it, the Confederacy’s very essence was linked directly to the preservation of slavery.”

      But the 90%+ of Confederates weren’t fighting for slavery. The Ordinances of Secessions and their slavery persavations clauses were written by the 1% elite slaveholders.

      “Now, of course, the actual motivation of the individual Confederate soldier differed, but, at the core, they were all fighting for the Confederacy.”

      But all that matters in true governance is the beliefs set in action by the majority of the people of a nation, and just because there were fancy papers in all the capitols of the CSA protecting slavery doesn’t change the situation if 90%+ of those Confederate soldiers were anti-slavery like their northern counterparts.

      So I think the slavery protection clauses therefore were nullifed long before they were penned down by those slaveholding politicians.

      • Brooks D. Simpson September 24, 2013 / 4:18 pm

        I think you might want to revise that, since a healthy number of Confederate soldiers were in fact connected directly to slavery through themselves or their families, as Joe Glatthaar’s study of the Army of Northern Virginia suggests.

        That you even advance the possibility that 90% of Confederate soldiers were antislavery boggles the mind.

        Less than 1% of the American Revolutionaries were at Philadelphia in 1776 or 1787, so I guess we can ignore what the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution says, right? So runs your logic. And I guess we should honor the soldiers of causes we despise, because the same reasoning applies to them, right?

      • David Tolleris September 28, 2013 / 5:53 pm


        …90%+ of Confederates weren’t fighting for slavery….

        .. 90%+ of those Confederate soldiers were anti-slavery like their northern counterparts…

        dude you are mentally ill. Please step away from pc and let another inmate use it for a while

  10. Michael Confoy September 24, 2013 / 11:25 am

    If they swore loyalty to the Union and therefore had their citizenship reinstated.

  11. jfepperson September 24, 2013 / 11:27 am

    I think the sacrifice and fidelity to duty is worthy of some respect. Yes, that is a very slippery slope that we have had to deal with in my wife’s (overseas, German) family, but I think it is possible to honor the men in the ranks for their service if we are honest about what it was they were serving. The average Johnny Reb may well have been fighting to protect his family from an invader, but the government that put him in uniform had other intentions, as well. And we absolutely have to be willing to confront what those were.

  12. William September 24, 2013 / 12:24 pm

    Mr. Simpson I found your article to be very good and asking a hard question is what needs to be done at times. I agree with most others here. that we can honor the man or woman regardless of his cause or reason for fighting in any conflict.

  13. John Foskett September 24, 2013 / 12:34 pm

    The problem always is what one is in fact “honoring” or perceived as “honoring”. I think a lot of folks rationally believe that honoring an individual’s sacrifice, even in a treasonous cause, where the individual was brought back into the fold, is understandable and even proper. It stems in part, probably, from the parable of the prodigal son in the New Testament. The problem arises because it can too easily cross over into honoring the cause which was fought for – here, at bottom, a cause which was premised on preserving an evil institution and on treason. So it must be done carefully – or the distorters of history will use it for their own sordid purposes. I’ve never had a problem, for example, with a monument to the 47th North Carolina at Gettysburg. (Of course, I wonder how many of our Lost Cause pals would approve a monument to the Loyalist units which fought in the Carolinas in 1780-81 – but that’s another story). But I have a big problem with a flag which has been used for decades to espouse racism.

    • jfepperson September 24, 2013 / 1:08 pm

      One of the issues is that the CBF has been used prominently by groups that undeniably espouse hate and racism. Modern Flagger-types want to ignore those unpleasant facts.

      • Randy P. Lucas September 24, 2013 / 2:20 pm

        Interesting point. How should they approach it? If they don’t want to relegate the usage of the flag to racist idiots, how should they try to reclaim it?

        • John Foskett September 24, 2013 / 2:57 pm

          Unfortunately, that’s impossible at this point. If one needs to use a “flag” at all (and I have a problem with that, because any of the available options were intended as a symbol of what amounted to treason), the only viable option would seem to be the original Stars and Bars.

        • SF Walker September 25, 2013 / 11:43 pm

          I think it’s impossible to prevent racists from using the flag, too. In honoring the Confederate soldier, it’s appropriate to decorate his grave or his monuments with any of the historical Confederate flags. In other words, people who are serious about remembering CS soldiers should keep doing what they’re doing already, while ignoring the racist idiots–they’re a small and marginalized group anyway.

          The SCV has trapped itself in the 19th century on this issue; its leadership and many of its members feel bound by S.D. Lee’s “charge” (or mission statement) to the organization to defend the Confederate cause as well as the soldiers’ memory. This the SCV does with vigor, and often in defiance of the real history.

      • John Foskett September 24, 2013 / 2:49 pm

        I agree. And that’s the problem. The further the commemorations, etc. stray from the common infantry “grunt”, the more they cross over into misappropriation by people with bad agendas. The CBF has been used far longer by racist and similar groups as a symbol of their rotten beliefs than it was used in battle.

  14. cc2001 September 24, 2013 / 1:37 pm

    John, you’ve summarized the dilemma well. Honoring individual courage/honor when the greater cause was dishonorable requires delicacy. From Confederate heritage sites I see it is obvious many still believe the confederacy itself was noble, so it is hard to swallow that ilk’s desire to honor its warriors.

    I can only look to the many veterans in my own family to try to figure out what motivated the average Johnny Reb. My dad knew America was attacked in WWII and that we were fighting Nazis. Who wouldn’t have served? My brother couldn’t have found Vietnam on a map to save his life but needed the GI Bill. My nephews face terrible unemployment in the rust belt and some join because there are few other options. They also could not find Afghanistan on a map but are patriotic and will go where their country sends them. I suspect most rebs were decent young men, but the CSA needed to be smashed once it rose up and attacked us.

    • John Foskett September 24, 2013 / 2:53 pm

      We are in full “agreeance”.

  15. John Hennessy September 24, 2013 / 2:06 pm

    This is a question that will confront the NPS increasingly in coming years and decades. It hasn’t bubbled up in quite the direct way Brooks puts it (few things do), but it’s coming. I see it as one of the most interesting issues the NPS will face….

    Hockey time!

    • John Foskett September 24, 2013 / 2:52 pm

      One week from tonight the Quest for the Cup begins again. May Jarome finally get his name on it this year. 🙂

      • Mark H. September 25, 2013 / 11:01 am

        Only one publication’s opinion, but it looks like SI has the Hawks repeating and beating Sid the Kid’s team in the final, so no June champagne for the B’s, John. Why people are still on Pittsburgh’s bandwagon with continual swiss cheese between the pipes in the postseason is beyond me. Looks like SI also likes the Brooks’s Icelanders to sneak into the 8th seed in the East.

        • John Hennessy September 25, 2013 / 4:51 pm

          I love that we are getting excited about the Islanders as an 8 seed. I guess when you toil so long in the margins of hockey society, an 8 seed starts looking like a Delmonico (in a nod to the culinary inclinations of New Yorkers).

        • John Foskett September 26, 2013 / 10:22 am

          Well, one injury to, say, Mr. Crawford and the Hawks are rocking to the Cup with the Bulin Wall. Or Kaner could resume his partying ways. Buen suerte. IMHO LA had a legit chance to repeat last year because the lockout gave them the huge break. Hawks finished on 6/24 so we’ll see (yeah, so did the B’s……..). And who knows what impact Sochi will have.

    • jfepperson September 25, 2013 / 7:08 am

      While I don’t share Mr. Hennessy’s enthusiasm for mayhem on skates 😉 I think his other comments are totally “in the net.” Personally, I think the context is key—I see nothing wrong w/ having the CBF on display at the Visitor’s Center for any of the battlefield parks.

      • SF Walker September 26, 2013 / 12:15 am

        I have to confess I don’t really see the attraction of hockey, either–I’ve been to one game, and got the impression that a lot of people wouldn’t notice if the puck had never been put on the court. To me the game has the look of a demolition derby using people instead of cars 🙂 Not that I’m condemning the sport or its fans–I follow Formula One racing, which probably seems pointless to lots of people, too.

        Anyway, with regard to the CBF, I agree that context is crucial. During my time volunteering at Ft. Moultrie/Ft. Sumter, I never heard any complaints from visitors about Confederate flags being flown there.

  16. Michael Rodgers September 24, 2013 / 2:09 pm

    “To the living we owe respect, but to the dead we owe only the truth.” -Voltaire

  17. Michael Rodgers September 24, 2013 / 2:24 pm

    Flaggers’ main argument is that Confederate flags shouldn’t be removed from where they are flying anachronistically and against protocol because they have been flying at those places anachronistically and against protocol for some time (perhaps decades).

    Flaggers argue that taking the Confederate flags down from where they fly anachronistically and against protocol is somehow an admission of tarnishment of their flag that sends us all on a slippery slope of tarnishment that must result, they argue, in the taking down the Stars and Stripes too (slave ships and all that). Since that last step is nonsensical (they don’t bother to argue, but that’s the drift), we shouldn’t ever take down any flags that the previous generations ever flew regardless of how anachronistic or against protocol the flying was.

  18. Patrick Young September 24, 2013 / 6:23 pm

    As someone who has worked with participants from both sides in three civil wars, I think my take may be different from some of you. In each of those wars I had definite views of the two sides. However, in conducting in depth 8-20 hour interviews with hundreds of such participants, I found that many of them entered the war for reasons that were very separate from either the causes of the war or the ideological superstructure constructed to explain their “side’s” war effort. I am less concerned with “honoring” them and more concerned with respecting the individuality of their experiences as very young men and women. I feel the same way about Confederate soldiers.

  19. neukomment September 24, 2013 / 6:41 pm

    What I get from much of the lost cause view is their side was noble and right, and my Great-grandfathers, yes several of them, and a number of Uncles who fought for the Union in the War to Suppress the Rebellion were unwitting, unthinking tools of Lincoln “tyranny” with no moral high ground to stand on.

    That bs I have no patience with. Please don’t ask me to, or even imply that I ought to apologize for my abolitionist ancestors. Yes some of them were active abolitionists! And please don’t tell me I’m some kind of historical ignoramus for not honoring or respecting a “lost cause” of which cause I share my ancestors’ abhorrence.

    Dr. Simpson, I fear I may be a little off topic, but thank you for letting me rant.

  20. TF Smith September 24, 2013 / 8:11 pm

    Should we recognize it? Yes, because the treason of the Confederacy is part of US and world history.

    Respect it? No, because the cause was terrible, as has long been recognized by any rational human being. If defending chattel slavery is not evil, then there is nothing that is…including the Holocaust.

    Honor it? No.

    What are appropriate ways to go about such treatment? Intellectual honesty and human decency.

    Should Confederate flags be flown, and which one(s) should be flown? No, and none – anymore than the swastika should be flown.


  21. rcocean September 24, 2013 / 8:14 pm

    Like Brooks, I always feel superior to dead people. I mean, they never contradict anything I say. So should we honor them? Of course not! We’re they in favor of gays or votes for women? Would they have voted for Obama or supported transgendered rights?

    I think not.

    I only wish, Bruce Levin or Doris Kearns Goodwin could be time-traveled to teach fascist, racist, bigot, homophobe, Bobby Lee about “Gender, race, and class”

    • Brooks D. Simpson September 24, 2013 / 11:29 pm

      Speak for yourself. I always feel more alive than dead people … with the possible exception of Theodore Roosevelt.

      • John Foskett September 25, 2013 / 7:10 am


      • Patrick Young September 25, 2013 / 8:58 am

        I was standing next to the TR statue at the old courthouse in Mineola just yesterday. My neighbor used to see him when he passed through Westbury when she was a little girl.

    • TF Smith September 25, 2013 / 8:21 pm

      You know, RC, there were literally millions of people – many of whom were southerners – who saw slavery as what it was, evil, pure and simple, in 1861-65….and they did not take up arms and commit treason to defend it.

      Several hundred thousand, in fact, black and white, took up arms to defeat it. Amazing how your concept of “heritage” never includes Farragut, Thomas, Grimes Davis, Robert Smalls, etc.

      Just as there were millions more who saw the industrialized murder of men, women, and children in the bloodlands as such in 1939-45, and chose to act upon that reality.

      The fact you do not says volumes about what moral choice you would have made, in 1861 or 1939.

  22. cc2001 September 25, 2013 / 4:19 am

    I love this reference to the great TR. Reminds me of JFK’s comment to a dinner party of glitterati that it was the greatest assemblage of intellectuals in White House history, with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone.

    • Roger E Watson September 25, 2013 / 3:33 pm

      They were Nobel Prize winners.

  23. Joshism September 25, 2013 / 3:12 pm

    Within the last decade, as the Iraqi Civil War & Insurgency turned ugly and prolonged (and the questionable motives for the US invading Iraq in the first place had come into the light) there developed a mindset of “support the troops but oppose the war.”

    I think a similiar mindset can be applied to the CSA: honor the soldiers, don’t honor the Confederacy they fought for. For all the flawed ideas the CSA stood for (most notably states rights to a level of disfunction and an official sanction of racism and slavery) many CSA soldiers saw themselves as patriots in a Second American Revolution, defending freedom and homes against tyranny.

    I wouldn’t fly the CSA flag – not only because it has been used by hate groups, but because I think a flag is more a symbol of the country than the citizens, even if we talk about what was technically was a battle flag and not the official national flag.

    But honoring the CSA and/or CSA veterans in any way should raise an important question: how were Confederate volunteers and different that Nazi volunteers (average military types, not SS or Gestapo) or Taliban fighters and Al Queda & Palestinian suicide bombers? Don’t/didn’t those people see themselves as fighting and dying for a glorious cause just as much as the Confederates and our Founding Fathers? I’m not saying they are the same, but if we’re going to say they’re different then we definitely need to think about why.

    • Patrick Young September 25, 2013 / 6:02 pm

      One potential distinguishing criteria is whether they observed the laws of war.

      • Don September 25, 2013 / 9:05 pm

        Fort Pillow. Refusal to treat black union soldiers as prisoners of war. The Crater. Declaration of death to white union officers of black regiments. Use of captured black union soldiers as labor in combat areas. Do I need to go on?

  24. John Randolph September 25, 2013 / 9:55 pm

    I think there is a difference between honoring an enemy and showing him due respect. I am not sure how one honors an enemy in any meaningful way, unless one comes to the conclusion that he fought for a cause equivalent to, or better, than your own. I think you can really only honor the people and causes you value and believe in. If you honor an enemy, doesn’t that raise the question as to what justified you shooting at him in the first place? Having said that, I think one can always demonstrate due respect towards a worthy opponent and acknowledge his qualities as an advesary and (hopefully) his humanity and decency, although the latter two characteristics are unfortunately exceptional given the brutality and ugliness of modern warfare in the 19th and 20th centuries. When Grant wrote about his feelings of sadness in regards to accepting Lee’s surrender at Appomattox, I think he was showing sincere respect towards his opponent, but he was also quite clear that he was not honoring him or his cause in any way. When justified, I think this is the appropriate way to regard an enemy.

  25. Charles Lovejoy September 26, 2013 / 1:10 pm

    I would leave that up to an individual or an individual group of how and if they wanted to honor Confederate Soldiers. I’m sure all have noticed how different Confederate Soldiers are viewed.Some view them as heroes, others view them as villains. I’m a direct descendant of Confederate Soldiers so I don’t see them as the ‘enemy’. I see them as my great and great great grandfathers, great uncles ect. A product of a 19th century world. Right or wrong, they were my blood and I would never dishonor them or any other of my ancestors. Some of my ancestors also took part in the removal of the Creek Nation, that’s another topic for another day. I do not bring 19th century politics into the 2013 arena nor do I apply my president day politics to 19th century thinking in a comparative way. My president day politics in the 19th century would put me in a class of radical abolitionist/Marxist. If I were born into the same family I was born into, in the same geographic location and attached to cotton as they were, I’m sure I would have been pro-slavery in one degree or another. Far as secession? Not sure , there were many pro-slavery Georgians and other southerners that did not support secession.

  26. Charles Lovejoy September 26, 2013 / 2:42 pm

    Interestingly, a few weeks ago I was in the area my great grandfather’s grave and decided to stop and check on it. He was in the Phillips Legion cavalry. There is nothing on his grave that denotes his Confederate service. Somebody had put a small CBF on it. I have no idea who.

  27. HankC September 26, 2013 / 4:27 pm

    They should be honored for who they were: ordinary men, given to moments of bravery, fearlessness and determination, at other times nervous and frightened, and sometimes downright cowardly.

    Once below the grades with stars on their shoulders, 99% of the men, on both sides, were just following their leaders – average men in extraordinary times.

    The very fact that we still talk about them 150 years later is honor in itself…

  28. Jeff November 30, 2013 / 3:27 pm

    We should honor Confederate Military members simply for the fact that they were American men fighting for the men to their left and right once the battles started. Because ultimately in the heat of battle those fighting on either side didn’t care about “the cause” but their comrades in arms. In my opinion learn and tell their stories and place a small CBF on their graves simply because that is the flag they fought under.

  29. ryantlax82 January 8, 2014 / 10:50 pm

    Wow, I guess I need a lecture on Civil War history. In my opinion, there’s a major difference between the National flag and the Confederate battle flag? Its obvious, the National flag represents the Government of the Confederacy, and coincidently its currently being flown outside the Confederate White House. But of course, nobody is offended by its display, as the vast majority are appalled by the “battle flag” of the Army of Northern Virginia. I’m curious if the resentful have a similar sentiment toward the Hardee or Polk pattern flag (For all novices out there…these flags were flown by the AOT, but they aren’t prohibited for display yet)? Or perhaps the American flag, which was flown during the infamous trail of tears and over Japanese internment camps during World War II. But to be politically correct with this theme, lets just change the name of our nation’s capital, since it was named after an abusive slave holder. C’mon, what’s the difference between 18th & 19th century slave owners? It’s a shame people don’t get into an uproar over our founding fathers being slave holders, when they sought freedom from the British. Are we deceived by history? We still revere them, correct? I wonder if the father of our nation abused slaves like the cruel depiction of Uncle Tom in Stowe’s classic… If so, lets not be hypocritical, can anybody prove it?

  30. Samwal September 13, 2016 / 7:16 am

    Back High School we found out that one of my black friends and one of my white friends families were tied because the white kids family had at one point owned the black kids Family. They thought it was funny and remained best friends. It falls on us as individuals to be correct in our actions history does not dictate the future we do.

  31. Bill Hudson May 23, 2017 / 8:30 am

    I’m not positive the confederate soldier was fighting for what he believed in as much as he was defending his homeland, family and honor against an invading army and, obviously, was willing to do so to the death. I seriously doubt that the average Confederate soldier was fighting for the right of wealthy planters to enslave people or that the average Union soldier was fighting to free those enslaved. At any rate, the war put an end to the evil of slavery, and the general public honored the dead from both armies. After all, this was not simply a rebellion but a war between two groups of sovereign states.

    As a side note, it is quite ironic that those today who defame the Confederate soldier are generally the same ones who defend the right to murder pre-born children.

    • John Foskett May 23, 2017 / 3:17 pm

      ” I seriously doubt that the average Confederate soldier was fighting for the right of wealthy planters to enslave people”

      Well, there’s some very good fact-based research by Chandra Manning which shows that a much higher percentage of Confederate soldiers expressed a motivation based on slavery in their letters, diaries, journals, and regimental publications than you appear to think. And Joseph Glathaar has shown that a significant percentage of soldiers in the ANV came from families/had relatives which owned slaves even if they themselves were not the owners. Why the persistent need to pretend otherwise 150 years removed?

    • hankc9174 May 24, 2017 / 9:55 am

      The Confederate soldier was part of the tide of family, friends, town, county, state and region, on both sides, who followed their leaders.Then, as now, leadership can be good or bad. The farther north and south one lived, the stronger the tide.

      It also pays to remember that the CSA started conscripting early in the war and not many in the ranks had a choice.

  32. John Foskett May 25, 2017 / 6:55 am

    The first CSA conscription law took effect in April, 1862. Existing estimates are that about 10% of the CSA’s forces during the War were conscripts and another 10% were substitutes. That leaves 4/5 who weren’t in the ranks “without a choice” or without getting a bounty to be there..

    • Andy Hall May 27, 2017 / 1:27 pm

      But remember that in 1862, around the time of the first Confederate conscription act, all then-active enlistments were extended for the duration. So there must have been plenty of men who signed up for a year who, by 1863 and 1864, felt plenty unhappy about serving long after they’d agreed to.

      IIRC, the Federals mostly honored their terms of enlistment, and discharged soldiers when their time was up all through the war.

      • John Foskett May 28, 2017 / 7:27 am

        Good point but we were talking about motivation, at least implicitly. Until spring ’62 all we had was volunteers. The “why” has been the subject of diligent research and the answers don’t please some who need to look at this in light of modern “sensitivities”.

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