Raising Questions: Gettysburg Rising’s Confederate Flag Forum

By Olivia Ortman ’19

On March 3, Gettysburg Rising–a group that encourages civic engagement by sharing information–hosted a forum on the Confederate flag. It drew a modest, yet eager crowd. The goal of the event was to create an opportunity for people to come together and share their thoughts and feelings about the flag. After Professor David Hadley delivered a brief history of the flag, the attendees took the mic.

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The March 3rd event sought to provide an open forum for discussion on the Confederate Flag and its legacy. Image courtesy of Gettysburg Rising.

One of the big themes during the ensuing discussion was time and place. While everyone disagreed on the specific circumstances, all agreed that the flag’s display was appropriate in some situations and unacceptable in others. Flags in museums were universally accepted by the group, as museums present a controlled setting where the history can be shared via accompanying informational plaques. On the other side, the flag’s use by white supremacist groups was deemed always inappropriate and offensive. When carried by these groups, there was no mistaking the flag’s message of hate. Everything in between – reenactments, historical sites, private property, merchandise – fell into different categories of acceptability for each person.

The question of whether the flag could be separated from Confederate ideals was also discussed. Anyone who reads the Articles of Secession must admit that slavery was a central factor in causing the Civil War. That’s not to say that individual Confederates weren’t fighting for other reasons, but the Confederacy itself was dedicated to slavery. As a symbol of the Confederacy, the flag necessarily championed slavery. However, many people in the room questioned whether the flag could be dissociated from the Confederacy and therefore from slavery. Take the case of using the flag to honor a dead Confederate ancestor: that ancestor is not the larger Confederacy, and the living relative is evoking a sense of personal history, not advocating for slavery. The group grappled with the question of whether the flag could be dissociated from slavery in this instance, or if the full sense of the flag’s symbolism must always be present.

When asked for suggestions on how the flag controversy could be solved, the room seemed to largely agree on the same tactics. The first proposal was that people needed a better education on the flag’s history. It’s hard to understand the full significance of something without knowing its background. The second proposal was societal shunning. The group also largely agreed that the government should not be involved in deciding when or where the flag is displayed. The public should thus decide when it is appropriate and essentially, perhaps relying on peer pressure and boycotting to keep people from using the flag inappropriately. It would be like society’s shunning of the N-word; although it is still used in some instances, that word has become mostly unacceptable in our world.

The most significant idea shared that night, however, was the importance of listening. When Professor Scott Hancock took a turn speaking, he explained how important it was to talk to each other about the flag. Although Professor Hancock’s research has led him to certain conclusions and opinions, he still actively seeks out other people’s thoughts. It’s important to listen to everyone’s views, even if those views go against your own, because this is the only way to truly understand the full meaning of the flag. Understanding is key to moving forward together in the flag controversy.

In the spirit of understanding, which was the motivating goal behind the forum, I hope that any of you that feel comfortable will use this post as an opportunity to share your own thoughts. I do want to set a few ground rules, though. Be respectful, no profanity, and no personal attacks. Also, this is a conversation, not a debate. You aren’t trying to prove each other right or wrong, simply exploring different thoughts on the flag. Here are some questions to get you started, but by no means do you have to answer all or any of them.

  • When and where do you think displaying the flag is appropriate?
    • Reenactments? Battlefields? Cemeteries?
  • What are your thoughts of Confederate flag merchandise?
  • What thoughts pop into your head when you see a Confederate flag?
  • Can the flag be separated from the Confederate Cause in some situations?
  • Any ideas of how we can move forward together on the controversy surrounding the Confederate flag?

Reviving the Past: The Battle Flag in the Confederate Memorial Period

By Olivia Ortman ’19

In the years immediately following the Civil War, the Confederate battle flag mostly disappeared from public view. In their diaries, Southerners wrote about hiding flags and other Confederate symbols for fear of Union retaliation. In most cases, Southerners intuitively understood that these symbols were now taboo, but occasionally, they stated that Union troops explicitly forbade displays of the battle flag. Some Southerners did still flaunt the flag as a means of defiance against Union troops, as mentioned in my last post, but most people quietly tucked it away. A mere five years after the war ended, though, the flag began to reappear.

After the war ended, Southern ladies and veterans began forming organizations to care for war survivors and honor the dead. At first, this meant transferring dead Confederate soldiers from battlefield graves to Southern cemeteries and aiding survivors with medical and monetary support. The first Confederate battle flags accepted in public again were those used to drape the coffins of Confederates being reinterred. Then, during the 1870s, these ladies’ and veterans’ groups turned their efforts toward memorialization. After Reconstruction, Southerners became increasingly concerned with the Confederacy’s legacy. Thus, between 1880 and 1920, there was an explosion of Confederate memorial events: monument dedications, veterans’ reunions, and memorial days. The Memorial Day we celebrate today is actually an offshoot of Southern memorial days. Started as local holidays organized by ex-Confederate women to honor local Confederate dead, they grew into a nationwide celebration honoring fallen soldiers from all wars.

UDC
The United Daughters of the Confederacy lay a wreath and hold up a Confederate States of America flag at the Confederate Memorial during Confederate Memorial Day services at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington County, Virginia, U.S. on June 5, 1922. Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

The flag’s reintroduction to the public started slowly. At the beginning of the Confederate memorial period, few flags were displayed at memorialization events, and they were displayed mostly by women, probably to avoid angering Northerners. Southern men were afraid of being accused of treason by occupying Northern troops, but women were afforded a measure of protection by their gender. Southern journalists were also careful to mention that the national flag was displayed in equal, if not greater, proportion to the Confederate flag. In the newspaper articles I found between 1878 and 1879, only one Confederate flag was mentioned at each memorial occasion, while multiple national flags were present. Journalists wanted to make it very clear that the South was loyal to the Union. Furthermore, the few flags that did appear at these early events were always old wartime flags, nothing new. Newspapers took great pride in describing “the shell-torn and tattered banner which had waved…on many a hard fought field.”

Throughout the Confederate memorial period, the presence of the Confederate flag quickly increased. At the unveiling of Lee’s statue in Lexington, Virginia in 1883, there was only one U.S. flag displayed, while four old Confederate battle flags surrounded Stonewall Jackson’s grave alone. When another Lee monument was unveiled in Richmond in 1890, a North Dakota journalist complained that the Confederate flag was everywhere, and the authorities “refused to remove the traitorous colors.”

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George Washington Custis Lee, 1832-1913, on horseback, with staff reviewing Confederate Reunion Parade in Richmond, Va., June 3, 1907, in front of monument to Jefferson Davis. Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

Around this time, reproductions of the flag became widespread, which sparked a large debate over the flag’s place in the nation. Union veterans were especially upset about the reproductions. General William Jackson Palmer started a press war in the early 1890s when he suggested banning the flag from memorial events. He and many other Union veterans had been tolerant of original flags, which were mementos of the war, but reproduction flags were outright treason. Even some Confederate veterans were upset about reproductions, believing they cheapened the integrity of the original war flags. Most Southerners, though, insisted their flags were just for commemoration of Confederate soldiers, not acts of disloyalty.

In the long run, Northern upset quieted down, and the Confederate flag was seemingly accepted in public. The 1905 Congressional act calling for the return of captured Confederate flags to Southerners appeared to signify the end of the debate. Some historians, like David Blight, have chalked acceptance up to reconciliation. Ultimately, Northerners were tired of fighting, and the presence of the Confederate flag was a small price to pay for peace and union. Other historians, like Caroline Janney, have argued that this acceptance was mostly for public show. Union veterans continued to harbor resentment towards the Confederacy and its battle-flag, but they accepted it at public events because it served their purposes. Using reunions to remember the war, soldiers could gain personal clarity and closure while connecting with other men who understood their traumatic experiences, even if those men had fought as their enemies during the war. By talking about the Confederacy and its flag in positive terms, Union veterans also glorified their own role in the war. Fighting and defeating a worthy Confederate army made Union troops all the greater. Both historians are right; people accepted the flag for a variety of personal reasons. However, an acceptance of the Confederate battle flag in public does not necessarily correlate to an acceptance of the flag’s symbolism. While the flag was tolerated at commemoration events, many Northerners, especially veterans, continued to hate it.

The inclusion of Confederate flags in memorial events had a profound impact on the flag’s symbolism. The most notable consequence was the adoption of the battle flag as the Confederate flag. During the war, the battle flag only represented ideas related to battle, whereas in the memorial period, it came to represent the ideals and principles of the Confederacy as a whole. The choice of the battle flag instead of the Confederacy’s national flag speaks a lot to the values Southerners wanted to favor in the Confederacy’s legacy. When discussing the Confederacy, orators spoke in great detail about military prowess of Southern soldiers and bravery on the battlefield. Although the Confederacy lost, its soldiers could still be hailed as heroes. As Jefferson Davis stated at a Memorial Day in Georgia in 1878, “it is better to have fought and lost, than never to have fought at all.” This focus on battle ensured that the Confederacy’s legacy would largely revolve around politically-neutral military tactics instead of the controversial causes of the war.

When speakers did mention the Confederate cause, they waxed poetically about states’ rights, carefully avoiding slavery. Only one of the dedication speeches I read included the word slavery. A Virginia senator acknowledged at an 1879 monument dedication that the Confederacy fought for the Constitutional right to hold slaves. All other speakers were either vague or completely silent about slavery. A speaker in 1894 shared, “in our Union there is trouble. Social disorder vexes the soul of the patriot,” which vaguely points towards the freedom of blacks but is not explicit.  However, Southerners were comfortable asserting that the Confederacy, and therefore the flag, was dedicated to white supremacy. It was made clear that these memorial events, and the Confederate flag, were for white Southerners only. During this time period, African Americans held separate memorial days and commemoration events in the South where they could celebrate the Union and emancipation.

During the Confederate memorial period, the Confederate flag became an assertion of a unique Southern identity, one deeply intertwined with the Confederacy. Southerners may have lost the war and submitted to Northern demands, but they were still unique in their white heritage. They clung to their past and their flag to preserve their honor and pride. We can also see the start of many arguments that still surround the flag today: the acceptability of originals vs reproductions; where and when to display flags; heritage vs hate. A century later, we are no closer to resolving these arguments than Americans during the memorial period.


Sources

“Corner Stone Laid.” Daily Charlotte Observer (Charlotte, North Carolina), May 23, 1894. Accessed February 17, 2018. Readex.

“Corner Stone Laid.” The Knoxville Journal (Knoxville, Tennessee), May 22, 1891. Accessed February 17, 2018. Readex.

Coski, John M. Confederate Battle Flag: America’s Most Embattled Emblem. Harvard University Press, 2006.

Gallagher, Gary W., and Alan T. Nolan. The Myth of the Lost Cause and Civil War History. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 2000.

Ingraham, William M. “Address at the Dedication of the Virginia Memorial at Gettysburg, Friday, June 8, 1917 By Hon. William M. Ingraham, Assistant Secretary of War.” Address, Dedication of Virginia Memorial, Virginia Memorial, Gettysburg, PA, June 8, 1917.

Janney, Caroline E. Remembering the Civil War: Reunion and the Limits of Reconciliation. Chapel Hill, NC: The University of North Carolina Press, 2013.

“Lee Monument; Washington.” The Daily Herald (Grand Forks, North Dakota), May 30, 1890. Accessed February 17, 2018. Readex.

“Memorial Day.” The Macon Telegraph (Macon, Georgia), April 27, 1880. Accessed February 17, 2018. Readex.

“”Mustn’t Do It Again”.” The Macon Telegraph (Macon, Georgia), February 6, 1892. Accessed February 17, 2018. Readex.

Stuart, Henry Carter. “Address at the Dedication of the Virginia Memorial at Gettysburg, Friday, June 8, 1917 By His Excellency Henry Carter Stuart, Governor of Virginia.” Address, Dedication of Virginia Memorial, Virginia Memorial, Gettysburg, PA, June 8, 1917.

“The Confederate Dead.” The Inter Ocean (Chicago, Illinois), June 7, 1879. Accessed February 17, 2018. Readex.

“The Confederate Flag.” The Columbus Enquirer-Sun (Columbus, Georgia), October 27, 1891. Accessed February 17, 2018. Readex.

“The Historic 26th. Memorial Day in Macon.” Georgia Weekly Telegraph (Macon, Georgia), April 30, 1878. Accessed February 17, 2018. Readex.

“Unveiling Lee’s Statue.” The Sun (Baltimore, Maryland), June 29, 1883. Accessed February 17, 2018. Readex.

The Things We Remember: Interpreting the Virginia Memorial

By Olivia Ortman ’19

When I was in high school, I read The Things They Carried for my English class. It is a fiction book about the Vietnam War written by a Vietnam veteran. The author, Tim O’Brien, had the life experiences to write an autobiography based on true events, but he chose fiction as his vehicle. He explains this choice in one of the chapters in his book. O’Brien stated that, in an ironic way, fiction allowed him to share more truth than reality. His made-up stories allowed him to create the feelings and meanings of the war that his real experiences couldn’t get across for people who had not lived them. This is an idea that has stuck with me ever since, and it has been on my mind a lot lately.

This year, I was asked to work on a special project for the Civil War Institute that involves creating a new wayside for the Gettysburg battlefield. Another student and I have partnered with Gettysburg NPS to write a wayside for the Virginia Memorial. This is a very daunting task, especially in today’s political climate, which has made me all the more determined to do history and the monument justice. A lot of what I have been sifting through for the monument deals with Civil War memory, especially Gettysburg and Confederate memory. This is why I have kept going back to The Things They Carried. Like O’Brien’s book, the Virginia Monument is a fictitious image of a war scene. It was not meant to depict an actual scene of war but to share important feelings. The big questions for me have been what those intended feelings were and how they have shaped our memory of Confederate involvement at Gettysburg.

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Virginia Memorial. Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

The speeches from the monument’s dedication answered many of my contextual questions. The memorial was revealed in June of 1917, two months after the United States entered World War I. The dedication speakers were quick to connect the monument’s significance to war efforts. The country needed men to enlist and families to support the war effort from home. The Virginia Memorial became a tool for inspiring those sacrifices. Each speaker explained that by remembering the martial valor of Virginians and their dedication to the Confederacy, Americans would find an example of what would be required of them in World War I. “We treasure the heroic deeds and inspiring example of all the brave soldiers living and dead who gave to us and to the world a new standard of American manhood,” proclaimed Henry Carter Stuart, Governor of Virginia.

This new standard of manhood was also used to reunite the country. Dedication speakers repeatedly stressed the greatness of American unity after such great sectional strife. Standing in the crowd on June 8, 1917 were Union and Confederate veterans. 54 years earlier, those same veterans had faced each other on opposite sides of the field for Pickett’s Charge with the intention to kill. Something like that doesn’t go away overnight. The design of the Virginia Memorial was an attempt to smooth over the still-lingering scars of war through a celebration of martial manhood. The Virginians at the base of the memorial represent the ideal soldiers. Although each man is from a different military branch, they are all strong and manly. Their faces and stances show a mixture of anxiety and determination. They are facing great odds, but they will go forward. Lee towers above the group, the picture of stoicism. He is calm and collected, even in the face of battle. At the time, he was also a reminder of Christian ideals. This was a man who believed God had a plan for him and allowed that faith to keep him steadfast. These were values that could be appreciated by men everywhere, regardless of their war loyalties. Those Union and Confederate veterans could stand beside each other in the crowd that June day and find common ground.

How these messages affect our memory of Gettysburg and the Confederacy is interesting. On the one hand, the romantic aspect of the Virginia Memorial obscures many realities. For example, the focus on the military side of war often excludes the Confederate cause. Like the Virginia Memorial, our conversations often jump right into the fight and skip past why the men were there fighting. The Confederacy was formed to protect the right to own slaves as property. The soldiers themselves had different reasons for fighting, but the ultimate Confederate goal was to successfully secede and protect slavery. We don’t see that in the monument, and subsequently, most of us aren’t having that conversation when we visit the battlefield. The Virginia Memorial also adds to the misconception that Gettysburg was the end of the Confederacy. When I talk to many of my non-history friends, they think that Gettysburg spelled the end for the Confederacy and that Appomattox was right around the corner. They are shocked when I tell them that the war continued for two more years after Gettysburg. Clearly, Gettysburg didn’t end the Confederacy if they could keep going for two years; it was just one of their defeats. However, the Virginia Memorial’s depiction of the soldiers as grimly determined to do their duty even though they knew they would lose makes Pickett’s Charge the last stand of the Confederacy in popular memory.

On the other hand, the Virginia Memorial also reveals a lot about Americans at the time. Seeing the celebration of martial manhood reminds us of the importance of rigid gender roles at the time. We can see that men were expected to defend their cause and prove their worth on the battlefield. The absence of slavery representation tells us that Americans have always been uncomfortable with our past connection to the institution. It also shows us that unification was important above all else. Even though the Union  won, Northerners allowed Southerners to place this shrine of Confederate ideals on the Gettysburg battlefield. Northerners allowed Lee to top this monument in a somewhat defiant location that allows him to stare down Union General Meade. Northerners even accepted speeches which hailed Virginians of the Confederacy as the ultimate examples of ideal soldiers and men. Virginians compromised by displaying their state flag on the monument instead of the Confederate flag. They also made several revisions to the inscription at the base in an attempt to find a less inflammatory message. Both sides were willing to make concessions for the goal of unity. That’s the legacy that the Virginia Memorial gives us. We still have a lot of work to do as a nation, and we always will, but we treasure our unity and will always fight for that.


Sources

Dugan, David. 15-23-0327: Virginia Memorial. August 17, 2015. In Wikimedia Commons. Accessed November 13, 2017.

Foster, Gaines M. Ghosts of the Confederacy : Defeat, the Lost Cause, and the Emergence of the New South, 1865-1913. Cary: Oxford University Press, 2014. Accessed November 15, 2017. ProQuest Ebook Central.

Gallagher, Gary W., and Nolan, Alan T. The Myth of the Lost Cause and Civil War History. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 2000. Accessed November 15, 2017. ProQuest Ebook Central.

Ingraham, William M. “Address at the Dedication of the Virginia Memorial at Gettysburg, Friday, June 8, 1917 By Hon. William M. Ingraham, Assistant Secretary of War.” Address, Dedication of Virginia Memorial, Virginia Memorial, Gettysburg, PA, June 8, 1917.

O’Brien, Tim. The Things They Carried. Mariner Books, 2009.

Przyblek, Leslie A. Soldiers to Science: Changing Confederate Ideals in the Public Sculpture of Frederick William Sievers.

Stuart, Henry Carter. “Address at the Dedication of the Virginia Memorial at Gettysburg, Friday, June 8, 1917 By His Excellency Henry Carter Stuart, Governor of Virginia.” Address, Dedication of Virginia Memorial, Virginia Memorial, Gettysburg, PA, June 8, 1917.

The 2017 Fortenbaugh Lecture: “I’m a Radical Girl”

By Olivia Ortman ’19

In Gettysburg, we celebrate the anniversary of the Gettysburg Address in two ways: the Dedication Day ceremony and the Fortenbaugh Lecture. Every year on November 19, Gettysburg College and the Robert Fortenbaugh family invite a scholar to present their new Civil War research. This year, that scholar was Dr. Thavolia Glymph who presented her lecture titled “I’m a Radical Girl”: Enslaved and Free Black Women Unionists and the Politics of Civil War History. As the title reveals, her lecture revolved around black women unionists and their place in war efforts—a role which has often been overlooked.

Thavolia Glymph
Duke University history professor and 2017 Fortenbaugh Lecture speaker Dr. Thavolia Glymph.

During the Civil War, the title “unionist” was given to Southern women helping the Union cause. These women were accorded favors and gifts from Union soldiers and the government, often being given any aid they required with no expectation of repayment. When the Union soldiers came into town, there were many benefits in being a unionist woman. Unfortunately, black women were excluded from those ranks. Even though black Southern women were contributing to the Union cause, they were not honored with the title of unionist or with the benefits that went along with it. That didn’t stop these women from sacrificing, though, or from forcing their way into American politics.

Towards the beginning of the lecture, Glymph showed a picture of a young African American woman with a small American flag tucked into the waistline of her dress. When the picture first popped up on the screen, it meant very little to me. It was just the picture she had chosen for the cover of her book, probably a photo of one of the women she had talked about as an example of black unionists. I would have completely forgotten this image if it weren’t for the pointed question Glymph posed. Why would a woman who has been dismissed by Northerners, a woman who would have to work extra hours to pay for rations from Union soldiers whom she helps, why would that woman wear the Union flag? Blacks were treated poorly by Union soldiers. Runaway slaves who went to Union troops were often given deserted tents and forced to sleep on the ground, made to pay for food rations and supplies, and in one extreme case, a group of runaway slaves were put on a train and sent to Chattanooga where they were left at the side of the tracks. The American flag was not necessarily a symbol of sympathy for blacks.

Yet, in spite of all those dismissals of blacks by Union supporters, or because of those dismissals, that black woman has stuck an American flag in her dress. By doing this, she asserts her ability to change what that flag stands for. She claims the freedoms that flag promises for herself and forces the Union to reevaluate their ideas of what they should do for blacks. All that black women unionists sacrificed in support of the Union war efforts made it clear that they had as much a right to be a part of the Union as any white person. They refused to be forgotten or pushed aside.

Talking to Dr. Glymph at breakfast the next morning, she explained that she always took her time with her writing because lives were at stake. She was referring to the people she writes about. Their lives and how we remember them are influenced by how she portrays them in her books. Decades after their deaths, she still has the power to guard or take their agency. I cannot speak for those black women unionists, but I think she gave them a platform for their voices to be heard. She brought those women back into our historical consciousness and finally gave them the title they deserved 150 years ago: unionist. 

Finding Meaning in the Flag: Furl that Banner

By Olivia Ortman ‘19

Hello again, readers. I hope you enjoyed the summer and are now as eager as I am to jump back into our conversation about the Confederate flag. Although I spent the summer at Minute Man NHP, the Civil War was never far from my mind. Even in a northern park dedicated to the American Revolution, I still heard a lot about the Confederate monument debates, and as I spoke with visitors who were following this topic in the news, I was reminded of a similar debate several years ago concerning the Confederate flag.

After researching wartime perspectives, I wanted to write a post focusing on Confederate attitudes toward the flag after the war’s end. I wondered how losing the war affected Southern feelings towards the flag. Were there any former Confederates who rejected it? How did demographics play into this issue? While researching these questions, I stumbled across a 2014 article in the Washington Post about the removal of Confederate flags from the Lee Chapel at Washington and Lee University. A group of students had spoken with the administration and shared their discomfort with having the flags, which they believed to symbolize racism, present on campus. These students cited the Confederate flag’s connection with the interests of slaveholders in the Civil War and its appropriation by hate groups later on. After much deliberation and discussion, the University agreed to the students’ demand and moved the flags from the chapel to the museum in the basement. As part of the justification for this action, the university president cited Robert E. Lee’s own feelings for the flag.

For many Southerners in the immediate post-war years, the Confederate flag underwent an amplification of its war symbolism. It became the ultimate representation of hope, strength, and resistance to the Yankees, who were trying to control the South through Reconstruction and brief occupation. Some Southern women would drape themselves in Confederate flags or stick them in their hats and dresses before walking by occupying Union soldiers. U.S. Army Sergeant Mathew Woodruff, stationed in Mobile, Alabama, reported one of these instances of defiance. Walking down the street one day, he saw a black woman reprimanding three girls for waving rebel flags. The girls’ mother justified their actions by saying that the South “was not whipped [and] if they got a chance would rise again.” The war may have ended, but many Southerners were not ready to admit full defeat, especially not in the face of people who used to be considered property. The flag was their proof that the South would rise again and when it did, it would finally crush the North and return to the correct social order.

Some Southerners, on the other hand, rejected the flag and other symbols of the Confederacy in the post-war years. Robert E. Lee, a man who is every bit as symbolic of the Confederacy as the flag, wanted nothing to do with Confederate memory and war memorialization. When asked by David McConaughy to return to Gettysburg in 1869 to recollect battlefield events for posterity, Lee politely declined. “I think it wiser moreover not to keep open the sores of war,” he wrote, “but to follow the examples of those nations who endeavored to obliterate the marks of civil strife & to commit to oblivion the feelings it engendered.” In a letter to John Letcher, the governor of Virginia during the Civil War, Lee firmly stated that all citizens should put aside bad blood and unite in efforts to forget the effects of war.

The Confederate flag is one of the marks of war that Lee removed from his own life. In one popular story, a Southern woman wrote to Lee asking what she should do with an old battle flag. Lee supposedly responded, “Fold it up and put it away.” This has been a source of some contention, however, because no letter has been brought forward with these words. Regardless of whether Lee actually wrote these words, however, he did ask his children to keep the flag out of his funeral. He was buried in a plain suit, not his Confederate uniform, and other former Confederates in attendance were also asked not to wear their military uniforms. The Confederate flag was nowhere in sight that day. Its presence would only have served to open old wounds and forever connect him with one of our nation’s greatest failures.

William Roane Aylett, a colonel under General George Pickett , also publicly denounced the flag in a speech at the 1887 Gettysburg Reunion. “Southern men don’t care who keeps the flags; the past went down in the war,” he stated at the beginning of his speech. He continued with, “what matters who shall keep the battle flags? They passed into your hands in brave and manly combat…and we are as willing your people should keep them as ours.” He effectively ended his discussion of the Confederate flag by pronouncing it dead. This was met with great applause from the audience, which was equal parts former Union and Confederate soldiers.  During the war, Aylett had been a staunch Union hater, as were many of the former Confederates in the audience that day, but during this speech they seemed determined to reconcile with their Yankee brothers, even at the cost of their beloved flag.

Lee and Aylett were not the only ones who recommended moving away from the flag, but they were only a small minority of the Southern population. Many former Confederates, like Jubal Early, became very vocal in their support of the flag after Reconstruction. Interestingly, all of the people I found in that small group of anti-flag Confederates had been officers or clergy during the war. This could just be that these men were literate and important enough for their letters to be preserved, but I think there’s more to it. Each of these men had more to gain from putting the flag aside than honoring it. They were leaders of a failed rebellion that had generated political hostility and tension. If these men wanted any hope of holding a  in the post-war America and in posterity, they needed the North and South to reconcile. No one wants to be history’s villain, which is what you become when attached to a flag that protected slavery and stood against its country. The only way to reconcile and save the manhood/honor of defeated Confederates was by putting aside some of the more unpleasant aspects and connotations of the war. Although I do truly believe these men wanted to see the country reunite for the good of the nation, I think self-preservation was a motivating factor in their views.

If asked their opinions on the removal of Confederate flags at Washington and Lee, I believe Lee and Aylett would both express approval. The flag had a place in their lives at one point, but that ended when the Confederacy lost the Civil War. All of this has left me with a question that I’m now going to put to you: is it right for us to use the Confederate flag today when some of the men to whom it belonged wanted it put aside? To go with that, to whom does a symbol belong? Father Abram J. Ryan expresses his feelings in, “The Conquered Banner,” a poem written mere weeks after the Confederacy surrendered:

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 dead


Sources

Carmichael, Peter S. “Prologue.” In The Last Generation: Young Virginians in Peace, War, and Reunion, 1-3. UNC Press Books, 2015. Accessed April 28, 2017.

Coski, John M. “Unfurl the Old Flag.” In Confederate Battle Flag : America’s Most Embattled Emblem. Harvard University Press, 2006. p. 45, 48-49. Accessed April 28, 2017.
ProQuest ebrary.

Cox, David. “Cox: Honoring Lee anew.” Roanoke Times. July 14, 2014. Accessed April 28,
2017.

Evidence Suggests That Robert E. Lee Would Agree: The Flag Had To Go.” Yabberz.com. July 10, 2015. Accessed April 28, 2017.

Feimster, Crystal N. “General Benjamin Butler & the Threat of Sexual Violence during the
American Civil War.” Daedalus, Emerging Voices, 138, no. 2 (Spring 2009): 126-34.
Accessed April 28, 2017. JSTOR.

Freeman, Douglass Southall. “Vol. I Vp215 Chapter XIII.” Robert E. Lee (by Freeman) – Vol. IV Chap. 13. Accessed April 28, 2017.

Pollard, H. R. “William Roane Aylett.” The Virginia Law Register 6, no. 8 (1920): 570-72.

Robert E. Lee to David McConaughy. August 5, 1869. In MS – 022: David McConaughy Papers. GettDigital: Civil War Era Collection, Special Collections and College Archives, Gettysburg College, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Accessed April 28, 2017.
http://gettysburg.cdmhost.com/cdm/compoundobject/collection/p4016coll2/id/841/rec/1

Shapiro, T. Rees. “Washington and Lee University to remove Confederate flags from chapel after protest from black students.” The Washington Post. July 08, 2014. Accessed April 28, 2017.

Concord’s Wayside: Home of What?

By Olivia Ortman ’19

This post is part of a series featuring behind-the-scenes dispatches from our Pohanka Interns on the front lines of history this summer as interpreters, archivists, and preservationists. See here for the introduction to the series. 

This summer, I have had the privilege of interning at Minute Man NHP in Concord, Massachusetts. My primary station here is the Wayside: Home of Authors. Right about now, you might be wondering what the Wayside is. That’s alright, I didn’t know what the house was until just this summer. The Wayside was the home of Louisa May Alcott, Nathanial Hawthorne, and Harriet Lothrop (or Margaret Sydney) – all prominent authors in the 19th century. This house also stood witness to the “shot heard round the world” and provided brief shelter to a fugitive slave. This house is a gold mine of history, yet with all this history comes challenges.

Continue reading “Concord’s Wayside: Home of What?”

Confederate Memory

By Olivia Ortman ’19

This year as a CWI Fellow, I’ve been doing a lot of research and thinking on Civil War memory, specifically that of Confederate memory. When doing this work, the question at the back of my mind is always: How should monuments, symbols, and other examples of Confederate memory be handled? This is a very difficult question, so up until now, I’ve left it alone, knowing that there would come a time in the future that I would sit down and wrestle with my conflicting opinions on the matter. A couple days ago, the Civil War Era Studies Department here at Gettysburg College sent out an email sharing the news that New Orleans had begun removing Confederate monuments and several other cities were thinking of doing the same. After reading this, I knew the time had come for me, and all of you, to join the discussion about Confederate Memory.

The first question that I ask myself when thinking about how to handle Confederate Memory is what the people want. Confederate monuments have a variety of owners. In some cases, the monuments are owned by a private organization or individual who put them up, in other cases, the city, state, or federal government may own them. The same goes for the land they are on. If owned by individuals or private groups, it’s their choice what happens. When the monument or land belongs to the local government, as is the case with the New Orleans monuments, it should be the people’s choice what happens. Although the city council of New Orleans voted 6 to 1 to remove several monuments, the residents didn’t get the chance to vote. For many issues, allowing the council to take care of matters on their own is fine; the people elected them because they trusted them to make the right decisions. In matters that generate a lot of public concern, though, residents are usually asked to vote. We vote on taxes, why not on monuments? If the majority of city residents agree with the removal of a Confederate symbol or monument, remove it and say no more. If the majority of residents are against the action, however, it doesn’t seem right to disrespect their wishes. The popular vote in New Orleans may have agreed with the removal of the monuments, but without that formal vote, we can’t know for sure.

Continue reading “Confederate Memory”

Finding Meaning in the Flag: Ex-Slaves and Newsies

By Olivia Ortman ‘19

This post is the fourth in a series about the Confederate flag in history, memory, and culture. It offers one Fellow’s individual perspective as she investigates different sources and opinions. Please feel free to engage with the author and the Civil War Institute community in the comments section. Read the first post here, the second post here, and the third post here.

Thus far we’ve talked about predominately white Union and Confederate views of the Confederate flag, so for my last piece on perspectives during the war I want to talk about the views of African Americans. For African Americans, especially, the Civil War was tightly intertwined with the matter of slavery. They realized that the outcome of the war would be instrumental in determining the fate of slavery as an institution and believed that a Confederate victory would be detrimental to the prospects of their freedom. If Southerners had their way, slavery would likely never die.

FredDoug
Frederick Douglass in 1887, as photographed by J.W. Hurn. Via Library of Congress.

None express this better than Frederick Douglass, one of the most eloquent and influential African Americans of the time. In his newspaper, Douglass’ Monthly, Douglass printed a copy of a lecture he delivered on June 30, 1861. He stated that slaveholders “have written piracy and robbery upon every fold of the Confederate flag” and that “they are for slavery, and for all its kindred abominations.” Douglass leaves no room to doubt that the flag stands for human atrocities. He also sees no difference between slaveholders and Confederates. They are one and the same to Douglass and many other African Americans.

Continue reading “Finding Meaning in the Flag: Ex-Slaves and Newsies”

Abolitionists Day: Why Now?

Olivia Ortman reports on Gettysburg’s first-ever Abolitionists Day, offering her take on the event as a day of coming together.

By Olivia Ortman ’19

This past Saturday, I attended the very first Abolitionists Day here in Gettysburg. I wasn’t sure what to expect when I arrived at the Seminary Ridge Refectory, but the crowded room seemed like a promising sight to me. When the event started, I was greeted with the words of famous abolitionists—William Loyd Garrison, Frederick Douglass, and Harriet Beecher Stowe—being spoken by reenactors in period garb. As I listened, I couldn’t help wondering why now? This was a question I heard echoed by many of the other event goers. Why hold the first Abolitionist Day on March 4, 2017?

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Several of the reenactors who attended to commemorate the abolitionists. Photograph by author.

Thankfully one of my professors explained that this day was also Confederate Flag Day. Last year at this time, Gettysburg was home to a Confederate flag rally. Although I was not present at that event, I heard stories about it from friends. Fellow blogger Jeff Lauck compared the event to battle as angry demonstrators turned the day into a hostile debate of whose view of the flag was right. This Abolitionist Day, activity was meant as a response to that Confederate flag event. It was an alternative for people who didn’t want to celebrate the controversial history and separation evoked by that divisive symbol. Continue reading “Abolitionists Day: Why Now?”

Finding Meaning in the Flag: Rebel Flag

This post is the third in a series about the Confederate flag in history, memory, and culture. It offers one Fellow’s individual perspective as she investigates different sources and opinions. Please feel free to engage with the author and the Civil War Institute community in the comments section. Read the first post here and the second post here.

By Olivia Ortman ‘19

I’m sure that as fans of history, at some point in your pursuit of knowledge, you have either read or heard the phrase “language is key”. This is something my professors have harped on, class after class, explaining that the way we talk about things shapes the way they are viewed. This lesson holds true for the Union perspective of the Confederate flag during the war. In all the documents written by Northerners that I looked over for this post, I did not come across a single mention of the “Confederate flag.” This was because the flag was pretty consistently, and intentionally, known as the “rebel flag.” This term was used for each subsequent version of the flag, showing that each of the flags had the same meaning for Northerners, regardless of the changing design.

rebel-flag-captured-at-chancellorsville
Rebel prisoners and battle flags captured at Chancellorsville, being taken to the rear by cavalry and infantry guards. Sketch by E. Forbes, 1863. Via Library of Congress

The language “rebel flag” is important for two reasons. The first is that by using the word “rebel,” Northerners gave Southern actions a negative connotation. These “rebels” were people throwing tantrums and acting out against the government. The second reason is that calling it the rebel flag gave the Confederacy an air of illegitimacy. The flags of established nations always have the country’s name in the title. Northerners refused to acknowledge the Confederacy as a true nation and that is reflected in their refusal to call the flag a Confederate flag. These ideas were illustrated in a stanza of a poem written by John Northrop.

“So up they hoist a Rebel flag;
They shake it in the Nation’s face —
An insolent old slavery rag —
To all the land disgrace!
Then Lincoln to the loyal said:
‘What will my brothers do?
You as the people, I the head,
To Justice must be true!
Come forth to meet this traitorous horde;
Defeat them where they stand;
They’d wreck the Nation with the sword,
Come and redeem the land!
They challenge us; shall we be brave,
Or cowards shall we be?
From basest treason shall we save
What God proclaimed was free?” Continue reading “Finding Meaning in the Flag: Rebel Flag”