Respecting the Flag: A Query

Many of you are doubtless familiar with one of my favorite photographs of the American Civil War: that of Abraham Lincoln looking straight at George McClellan when he visited the general’s headquarters in October 1862.

lincoln McClellan 01  Most people are familiar with this image, although there was a second image taken at the same time:

Lincoln McClellan 02Note the sunlight on McClellan’s face and the slightly different position of Lincoln’s head, as if he’s looking past his general.

But there are two other matters of interest to me about this photograph. Let’s stay with the second image, and zoom out a bit:

Lincoln McClellan CBFSomething that’s plain with all three images is the use of the national colors as a tablecloth, which strikes me as odd and disrespectful … but perhaps people thought differently back then. What strikes me even more is the Confederate banner on the ground next to the table in question (I know of no other image showing Lincoln with a Confederate flag).

podium onePodium twoFinally, these two images suggest that people have found other uses for the Confederate battle flag that strike me as disrespectful. I’m not sure why someone would drape a flag over a podium. Then again, McClellan draped the national colors over a table, and I’m not too wild about that. Have traditions changed? In any case, is this the proper way to display a flag?

What do you think?

By the way, speakers usually have little input on the appearance of the podium. They do have a choice on whether to speak at a podium, however (I usually use one as a point of departure).

The Assault on Missionary Ridge

What happened on November 25, 1863, remains one of the most mysterious events of the American Civil War. That afternoon four divisions of the Army of the Cumberland advanced against the Confederate rifle pits at the base of Missionary Ridge, overwhelmed the Confederate defenders there, and then, after assessing their rather perilous situation, continued up the slope and overran the main Confederate battle line.

For years to come this would be known, and not without reason, as the miracle on Missionary Ridge. But it was hard to ascertain exactly what happened. What was Ulysses S. Grant’s plan? What orders did George H. Thomas issue? Did the men act on their own in storming the crest of the ridge? What happened on Orchard Knob?

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The Sunday Question: Assassination Aftermaths

During the past several weeks people have been reflecting about the fiftieth anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy. As has always been the case, there is much speculation about “what might have been.” The same holds true for the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, where people like to wonder what would have happened had Lincoln lived.

These counterfactual exercises have much in common. People assume that things might have been better (and certainly could not have been worse) had the president in question not been assassinated. In both instances there reflections tell us as much about how we view their successors (both southerners named Johnson, who had an impact on civil rights for African Americans). In both cases, there’s an assumption that two major events–Reconstruction and Vietnam–might well have turned out differently. In the case of Reconstruction, so the argument goes, Lincoln would have balanced reconciliation with justice and fairness for all; in the case of Vietnam, according to some people, American intervention in Vietnam would not have escalated under Kennedy.


Such speculation usually tells us more about us (or the person speculating) than it does about what might have happened. For today, I think we my want to consider something else. Which assassination had a greater impact on the course of American history? Why?

The floor is open.

272 Words

The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum asked a number of people to contribute a document some 272 words in length as part of an exhibit marking the 150th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address. The invitees included Jimmy Carter, George H. W. Bush, Stephen Spielberg, Julian Bond, and Nikki Giovanni, to name a few well-known names, as well as a number of lesser-known people … including me.

As the instructions put it:

If you wish to participate, we ask that you write on one of three topics:  1) Abraham Lincoln, 2) Gettysburg/Gettysburg Address or 3) any cause-related topic which inspires your passion. In the Lincoln tradition, you must express yourself in only “272 Words” — no more, no less.

Here’s what one well-known Lincoln scholar sent.

So this is what I sent:

Seven score and ten years ago a tall gaunt figure rose on an autumn afternoon to help dedicate the final resting place of Americans who had fought and died so that their nation—and all that it stood for—might live. As his words echoed across the freshly-dug graves of those who had given the last full measure of devotion to that cause, he reaffirmed his commitment to continue the struggle so that those men would not have died in vain.

We today still remember those words and the man who spoke them. We have never forgotten what he said there on a battlefield of that war. But we must rededicate ourselves to rising to the challenge of meeting the great task remaining before us. Otherwise, those men will have died in vain for a cause that we failed to sustain.

We today must remind ourselves that the struggle continues long after those guns fell silent. If the blood shed during four years of terrible war was necessary to secure a new birth of freedom, achieving the promise of that freedom remains our unfinished work. It is not enough to pledge ourselves to ensure that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from this earth. We must remain dedicated to the proposition that all people are created equal, and we must renew our commitment to realizing that equality is essential to realize fully for all the liberty and freedom we seek to preserve and protect. Let us embrace that proposition completely so that we can be as good as his word and be true to ourselves.

Different strokes for different folks …

How would you respond to this assignment? What would you say?

Two Richmond Museums Plan to Merge

As reported on Kevin Levin’s blog (and a host of media outlets, including Richmond’s leading newspaper), the American Civil War Center and the Museum of the Confederacy have announced plans to merge by 2015.

Not everyone will welcome this news. Rumors of a merger created quite a stir in some corners of the Confederate heritage committee and led to some incomplete reporting. No doubt we’ll hear of a continuing war to eradicate Confederate heritage. It will be interesting to see whether their protests amount to anything. I’ll be interested to learn how the branch of the Museum of the Confederacy at Appomattox will be treated in this reorganization, as it is a Confederate museum, not a Civil War museum.

Matthew Heimbach and the Virginia Flaggers: A Reminder

Young Connie Chastain after glimpsing her future
Young Connie Chastain after glimpsing her future

Recently Corey Meyer asked three simple questions of Virginia Flaggers spokesperson Connie Chastain.

Question 1. Is Tripp Lewis a Virginia Flagger?

Question 2. Did Tripp Lewis call Matt Heimbach a “Good Guy”?

Question 3. Since Matt’s opinions have been discovered, has the Va. Flaggers refuted Matt for those opinion or have they continued to embrace him as a Friend on FB?

Connie declined to answer the questions. Nor did she have any information on when we can next expect to see Susan Hathaway flagging in front of the VMFA, although she knows Susan’s speaking schedule.

This is proof that at times she can be quiet. However, we soon expect a tenth post this month attacking “a total nobody.”

Call this post a birthday present to a good friend.