Confederate Memorials – Heritage or Heresy?

By Susan Kuebler

Furor over the removal of Confederate monuments in New Orleans, along with the official celebration of Confederate Memorial Day by the states of Alabama and Misssisippi, have raised a number of questions about the recognition (celebration?) of the Confederacy in the South.  Georgia is also having a state holiday today called (wink, wink) State Holiday.

That the Civil War occurred cannot and should not be denied.  In terms of the percentage of soldiers who died, either in battle or from disease, it was the bloodiest war in the history of our nation.  There were cases where brother literally fought against brother.

The notorious Confederate prisoner of war camp in Andersonville, Georgia has been turned into a memorial for all U.S. prisoners of war, up to and including those in Vietnam.  A visit to any one of the battlefields can be a profoundly moving experience.  Walking the fields of Gettysburg, you can almost feel the ghosts of long-dead combatants from both sides surrounding you.  At Chickamauga, the statues marking the positions of opposing forces are so close together they would fit into the average living room.

The reasons for the cause of this war are complex and best left to historians.  Southerners were raised with “states rights” and Northerners with “freeing the slaves.”  But many who fought for the South could have cared less about “states rights” nor did they own slaves.  In the North, Irish immigrants were shipped to fight in the Union Army as soon as their feet touched U.S. soil.

When I was growing up, in Georgia, fewer than 100 years had passed since the end of the war – one that many referred to as The War Between the States in all seriousness, or jokingly The War of Northern Aggression.  For my grandparents, the stories handed down by fathers and grandfathers were still vivid.  Resent of the so-called “Reconstruction” still burned with many.

But we are now in the 21st century and the time has come to consign the Confederate States of America to the history books.  Waving the Confederate battle flag from the back of pickup trucks and continuing to hold state holidays in honor of the Confederacy not only insult the descendants of brutal slavery, they also no- so quietly appropriate racism as the legacy of the South.

If you wish to celebrate your Southern heritage, there is much to turn to.  Baseball great Jackie Robinson was born in Cairo (pronounced Karo), Georgia.  Martin Luther King, Jr. was a Southerner, along with Helen Keller, and authors Harper Lee and Flannery O’Connor.  Oprah Winfrey joins Coach “Bear” Bryant of Alabama children of the South.  The genius of George Washington Carver who revolutionized farming methods to Crawford Long who first used anesthesia were proud Southerners.  Hells bells, we’ve even produced a President or two.  Or three.

That being said, we should not forget, nor cease to honor the dead from both sides of this horrible conflict who gave their lives – many for a cause they scarcely understood.  But we can honor and remember their sacrifice by taking our children to the battlefields where they perished and teaching them of the horrors of war.

One of the greatest ironies that resulted from the enmity between the North and the South was the establishment of Arlington Cemetery.  The Union Quartermaster General in Washington D.C. hated Robert E Lee with a passion.  Determined to ruin Lee’s home and prevent his return there, he ordered the burial of Union soldiers in the gardens of Arlington.   His vengeful scheme worked.  The Lee family never lived there again.  But the home associated with the memory of the great Virginian general is now the site of America’s most honored burial site for the military dead.

As this writer is apparently eligible for membership in the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC) I must have ancestors who fought for the South.  But their names are unknown to me.  The ancestor who is known to me is my great-grandfather, Enoch Johnson, who refused to join the Confederate Army.  He chose, instead, to hide out in nearby woods during the day and work his farm near LaGrange, Georgia at night.  I mention this only to point out that these are the opinions of a born and bred Southern woman who family ties date back to The War of Northern Aggression.

The time has come to retire the state holidays, whatever they are called.  The time has come to stop waving the Confederate flags.  If memorials are erected to the memory of the Confederacy, then the time has come for them to come down.  Remember the sacrifice of the dead, on both sides of the battles.  Remember the horrors of this tragic war.  But goodness gracious, stop celebrating a war that we lost.

As for the Confederate memorial at Stone Mountain, Georgia, where the figures of Jefferson Davis, Generals Robert E. Lee and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson are carved into the side of the mountain, it probably is going to remain right where it is.  As Georgia’s most popular attraction, encompassing a theme park with camping and lodging provided, it would be silly to get rid of it.  Besides, as we say in the South, “it would be purt near impossible to blow up a mountain made of solid granite.”

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