The Confederate Flag … The Conquered Banner

Confederate Flag Rally

We’ve heard a great deal about the importance of the Confederate flag (in all of its variations and manifestations, but primarily the Confederate Battle Flag). We are told that Confederate heritage advocates are honoring their ancestors by battling to keep the flag flying, implying that such is exactly what those folks would have wanted to do.

Not so fast.

The Rev. Abram Joseph Ryan was a Catloic priest based in Knoxville, Tennessee. He was also a poet as well as passionate Confederate. Some people called him “Poet-Priest of the South,” while others dared proclaim him the “Poet Laureate of the Confederacy.” In any case no one could question his fidelity to the cause.

Father Ryan had a most interesting Civil War career. Despising Abraham Lincoln, he shorted his first name to Abram; he protested being stationed in the North by his order, and by 1863 we have rports of his being with the Army of Tennessee, without other accounts placing him at Franklin and Nashville near the end of 1864. In the immediate aftermath of Confederate surrender, he composed the following poem, which first appeared in of all places, a New York journal:

The Conquered Banner

Furl that Banner, for ’t is weary;
Round its staff ’t is drooping dreary:
Furl it, fold it,—it is best;
For there ’s not a man to wave it,
And there ’s not a sword to save it, 
And there ’s not one left to lave it
In the blood which heroes gave it,
And its foes now scorn and brave it:
Furl it, hide it,—let it rest!

Take that Banner down! ’t is tattered; 
Broken is its staff and shattered;
And the valiant hosts are scattered,
Over whom it floated high.
Oh, ’t is hard for us to fold it,
Hard to think there ’s none to hold it, 
Hard that those who once unrolled it
Now must furl it with a sigh!

Furl that Banner—furl it sadly!
Once ten thousands hailed it gladly,
And ten thousands wildly, madly, 
Swore it should forever wave;
Swore that foeman’s sword should never
Hearts like theirs entwined dissever,
Till that flag should float forever
O’er their freedom or their grave! 

Furl it! for the hands that grasped it,
And the hearts that fondly clasped it,
Cold and dead are lying low;
And that Banner—it is trailing,
While around it sounds the wailing 
Of its people in their woe.

For, though conquered, they adore it,—
Love the cold, dead hands that bore it,
Weep for those who fell before it,
Pardon those who trailed and tore it; 
And oh, wildly they deplore it,
Now to furl and fold it so!

Furl that Banner! True, ’t is gory,
Yet ’t is wreathed around with glory,
And ’t will live in song and story 
Though its folds are in the dust!
For its fame on brightest pages,
Penned by poets and by sages,
Shall go sounding down the ages—
Furl its folds though now we must. 

Furl that Banner, softly, slowly!
Treat it gently—it is holy,
For it droops above the dead.
Touch it not—unfold it never;
Let it droop there, furled forever,
For its people’s hopes are fled!

Just sayin’.

Stonewall at Gettysburg … Again?

Recently The Civil War Monitor asked several historians (including yours truly) their opinions about Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson. The answers appear in the current issue, but space restraints in the paper edition offered an opportunity for the journal to share on its website how people responded to that traditional counterfactual query, “What if Stonewall Jackson had been at Gettysburg?”

You can find the answers here.

It’s a question that is as problematic as it is popular. I’ve tired of it, largely because I’ve learned that people who don’t know nearly as much about the Civil War as they claim to know prefer to talk about what could have happened (where research and knowledge gives way to fantasy and imagination) than to discuss what really did happen and why (thus Civil War discussion groups thrive on such debates). Besides, there are other what-ifs I find more interesting.

Nevertheless, these discussions are just the thing for people who like that sort of thing, so enjoy.

Heritage Correctness: The Significance of What Happened at Vanderbilt

Historian Karen L. Cox has reminded us exactly why the United Daughters of the Confederacy invested in George Peabody College for Teachers (now part of Vanderbilt University) in the first place. Namely, the UDC hoped to train women teachers who would spread the Confederate gospel as the UDC saw it.

In short, one could call it a heritage indoctrination center.

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A President Thanks Soldiers for their Service: October 10, 1865

On October 10, 1865, Andrew Johnson greeted members of the First District of Columbia Colored Regiment on the grounds of the White House. He wanted to thank them for their service, and give them some advice now that the war was over and they would be leaving military service.

You do understand, no doubt, and it you do not, you cannot understand too soon, that simple liberty does not mean the privilege of going into the battle-field, or into the service of the country as a soldier. It means other things as well; and now, when you have laid down your arms, there are other objects of equal importance before you. Now that the government has triumphantly passed through this rebellion, after the most gigantic battles the world ever saw, the problem is before you, and it is best that you should understand it; and, therefore, I speak simply and plainly. Will you now, when you have returned from the army of the United States, and take the position of the citizen; when you have returned to the associations of peace, will you give evidence to the world that you are capable and competent to govern yourselves? That is what you will have to do.

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Another Walk in Arlington

Last February I had the opportunity to spend the better part of a day walking around Arlington National Cemetery. Mind you, a day is nowhere near enough to see all that one may see, but I had spent time there before, especially in the area around Arlington House, where many distinguished (and some undistinguished) Civil War era figures have been laid to rest.

For someone who has been doing a great deal of research in the Civil War/Reconstruction era, there are also gravesites to see that most visitors might overlook. Here are some of those gravesites.
DSC02278Daniel Ammen was a childhood friend of Ulysses S. Grant, and the friendship continued throughout their military careers. While Ammen’s brother Jacob attended West Point, Daniel entered the Navy, rising to the rank of rear admiral.

DSC02376But he never forgot his friend Ulysses: in 1871 he named a son after the 18th president.

DSC02339Joseph J. Reynolds was one of Grant’s classmates at West Point. He would see service both in the Civil War and on Reconstruction occupation duty.

DSC02286William W. Belknap commanded a regiment from Iowa during the Civil War. Later he would become Grant’s secretary of war, succeeding John A. Rawlins (who is buried not all that far away). In 1876 Belknap would resign his office in an effort to avoid being impeached for malfeasance in office in a rather colorful affair involving the sale of post sutlerships, an enterprise in which two of his wives (who happened to be sisters) were deeply involved.

P1100701And here’s Orville Babcock, who joined Grant’s staff during the Civil War and then joined his boss in the White House. Some people found him charming, but others believed he was calculating and more than a little corrupt. Surely Babcock’s involvement in the negotiations leading to the abortive annexation of the Dominican Republic and the Whisky Ring scandal suggest that there was a lot of smoke and, in the latter case, more than a little fire, and that’s just for starters. Yet Babcock kept a government job, and drowned of the coast of Florida in 1884 while doing his work as an inspector of lighthouses.
DSC02407Another one of Grant’s staff officers who got himself in trouble after the Civil War was George K. Leet, who was accused of corrupt activity in the New York Customs House. Grant did not stand by Leet as he had stood by Babcock, even if he came to regret supporting Orville.

DSC02336Less well known to all but a few researchers was another of Grant’s private secretaries, Culver C. Sniffen, whose autograph I’ve seen more than a few times (but he always signed documents “C. C. Sniffen,” so only now do I know his actual first name). I didn’t come looking for him, but here he is.
DSC02373And, to conclude this stroll through the cemetery, I bring you William F. “Baldy” Smith and family. At one time Grant thought a great deal of Baldy Smith, but later he had good reason to revise that estimation.

We’ll return to the cemetery another time.