Expunging the Confederacy from History is a Huge Mistake

Clyde Wilson is a Professor Emeritus of History at the University of South Carolina. In my opinion, he is a regional treasure. I am taking the liberty of republishing here his article at the Abbeville Institute blog titled, “Our Hate Confederates Moment“:

The Confederacy makes up a sizable and interesting chunk of American history. Not only interesting but often regarded as admirable.  Admiration for the Confederacy’s brave struggle against great odds and its noble leaders has lasted for generations and is worldwide. Its admirers have even included some of the best of the men who fought against it.

Wiping the Confederacy from American history, a currently mobilised campaign, or dismissing it  by a shallow slogan like “treason,” is to make  our history  incomprehensible.  It is like omitting Winston Churchill from British history or Bolivar from Latin American history.

The present destruction of memorial works of art and digging up of dead Americans of other times  is an entirely trumped up crusade. It reflects no genuine public feeling. Has anybody ever been genuinely “hurt” by such monuments? I doubt it, but even so, uninformed emotions do not justify the government’s destruction of  other peoples’ history. The demand for such is the behaviour of Communists and jihadists who are demonstrating their political dominance–their ability to control what we know about ourselves and our past.

The Hate-Confederates  show their shallowness by ignorance of an essential element of understanding history–continuity. Confederate President Jefferson Davis and Generals R.E. Lee and J.E. Johnston were the sons of officers in the American Revolution. President Zachary Taylor’s son, Thomas Jefferson’s grandson, and nephews of Presidents James Madison, Andrew Jackson, and James K. Polk were generals in the Southern war for Independence.  The families of Francis Scott Key and American frontier heroes  Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett were Confederates.

In the line of continuity we might mention heroes of World War II like Patton, Puller, Nimitz, Buckner, Forrest, Chenault, and Audie Murphy—all descendants of Confederates.

Doesn’t this rather call into question the whole business which is a party-line attempt to make “treason” preempt the basic issue of the war–the nature of the Union. To make it seem as if the whole business had to do with benevolently freeing the black man from his evil enemies. Thus the history of America becomes merely a subset of black history.  It reduces all our history to the comic book level.

That is a false history. Lincoln’s government did not launch the largest military expeditions every seen in North America in order to free the slaves. That was “collateral damage.”

Such people never read the Constitution. Their ideas of it are shallow and emotional: what they would like for it to mean. It says “Treason against the United States, shall consist only in leveling War against them, or adhering to their Enemies, giving them aid and comfort.” Something  which Lincoln was egregiously engaging in. Lee never gave an oath to defend the government and whatever gaggle of politicians had power. The oath required allegiance to the Constitution.

With the support of less than two-fifths of the people, Lincoln used the government to make massive warfare against a large number of the States and their people. Lee would have been a traitor indeed if he had made war on his own people–killing, looting, burning them out, and depriving them of their American self-government.

Of course, no serious charge of treason was ever pursued against Confederates even though Republicans had near total power at the end of the war.

Here is another point. During the American War of Independence, Edmund Burke pointed out to Parliament that “you cannot draw up an indictment against a whole people.” Millions of people fighting for self- government of their own societies under their own chosen leaders cannot be guilty of “treason.”

People whose knowledge is so shallow that they prefer virtue signaling to the complications of reality are not capable of being trusted with executive, military, or diplomatic power. I have looked up some of the generals now leading the hate-Confederate movement. These men are not graduates of West Point but of Northeastern colleges. None of them have ever been in harm’s way though they have chests full of medals. They are not soldiers but bureaucrats pure and simple. Although, according to the net worth reports they have become rich on a government job. Such leadership dooms a regime and may be working out that destiny as we write.

General Siedule, quondam professor of history at West Point, writes a book about himself and Robert E. Lee. That is like Joe Biden writing a book about “Julius Caesar  and Me.” It is juvenile, self-referential drivel without any relationship to real history.

The elimination of the Confederate memorial at Arlington reaches the height of historical ignorance. The jihadists claim that it gives a sanitized view of slavery. The fact is that the memorial was the first major art work to give respectful attention to African Americans and include them in the Reconciliation then going on.

There had been at least two monuments erected in the South in respectful memory of faithful servants. And many former bondsmen had contributed to the Confederate statues then going up, out of local patriotism or in honour of people they had actually known. It is the jihadists who don’t understand American slavery.

For the better part of a century Confederate memorials were considered a natural part of the landscape. They commemorate our people.

Someone has estimated that about one-fourth of the U.S. population has Confederate ancestors. If so, we are a stateless people, completely excluded from decision-making about our own history. We had no representation on the group who decided on the elimination of all Southern symbols from society.

Southerners are the only large group of Americans who can trace families back to the 18th century or earlier. And the only Americans who have a personal memory of early American history. I know what my forebears did in the American War for Independence and the Southern War for Independence. And I am not unusual for an ordinary Southerner.

We have no defenders of our people  in federal or state power. Only Republicans, shallow, slogan-centered, presentistic placeholders. The regime regards us as non-people. The other side of that coin is that we have no reason to love the regime that hates us or to serve it willingly as Southerners have done for so long.

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2 thoughts on “Expunging the Confederacy from History is a Huge Mistake

  1. Professor Wilson hit all the right notes. I am very proud of my southern heritage and reading it reinforced that spirit.

    In the essay the Professor says this: ” The elimination of the Confederate memorial at Arlington reaches the height of historical ignorance. ”

    That reminded me of this article from Chronicles Magazine:

    The Fate of Moses Jacob Ezekiel and His Memorial to the Confederate Dead

    NOVEMBER 1, 2022

    BY RICHARD T. HINES

    Efforts are underway to remove a familiar American monument from the spot in Arlington National Cemetery where it has stood since June 1914. That was when President Woodrow Wilson presided over the dedication of Moses Jacob Ezekiel’s sweeping Confederate Memorial, marking the graves of over 400 Southerners who fought for the independence of their states. In his speech, President Wilson characterized the monument as “an emblem of a reunited people.” The Washington Post, on May 24, 1914, reported that the Confederate Memorial “means, primarily, peace.” Everyone, North and South, understood at the time of its creation that the monument symbolized the reconciliation of the two parts of the American nation that had been at war 60 years earlier.

    The reunification of America had become very obvious by 1898. The Spanish-American War, in which Union and Confederate veterans had fought side by side, had just concluded. Speaking at a ceremony in Philadelphia, President William McKinley, himself a Union veteran, announced that, henceforth, Southern war dead would be honored in all cemeteries on federal property and, in particular, at Arlington National Cemetery, the chief burial grounds of the American military. Two years later, in 1900, Congress passed legislation to establish a Confederate section in Arlington that would be known as Jackson Circle.

    The design for Jackson Circle was drawn up by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and the center of the design was marked with an “M” to signify the designated place for a memorial. Ezekiel, America’s most renowned sculptor of the period, who was also a former Confederate soldier and an artist of Sephardic descent, was commissioned to create a work worthy of the solemn setting: a bronze plinth holding a statue of a woman representing the South, holding a laurel of peace in her outstretched hand. Around the plinth are scenes of families tearfully seeing sons and fathers off to war and—most controversially, today—a black soldier marching in the Confederate ranks and a black mammy comforting her owner’s crying child. At 32-feet high, the impressive work looms over and honors the Confederate dead. The sculptor famously asked that he be buried beneath the memorial to his fallen comrades in arms.

    In January 2021, the Biden administration created, for transparently ideological purposes, the Commission on the Naming of Items of the Department of Defense that Commemorate the Confederate States of America or Any Person Who Served Voluntarily with the Confederate States of America, or the “Naming Commission,” for short. It was created through a provision in the Defense Authorization Act of 2021 (Sec. 370), and it seems intended to deal with former American heroes who no longer suit our rulers or their preferred constituents. President Trump, to his credit, had vetoed the first attempt to launch this destructive project, but on Jan. 1, 2021, the Senate, by a lopsided vote of 81-to-13, elected to push it through. Only five Republican senators from the Southern states dared to sustain President Trump’s veto.

    The Naming Commission’s reports fully reflect the historical revisionism that seems to have taken hold of our politics and political culture. For example, the Commission has predictably called for changing the name of a naval ship, the U.S.S. Chancellorsville. As just about every pre-woke American student used to know, Chancellorsville is the site of a crucial battle during the Civil War. The struggle that took place there produced one of General Robert E. Lee’s greatest victories, although the battle resulted in the friendly-fire death of Lee’s most indispensable commander, General Thomas Jonathan “Stonewall” Jackson. The Naming Commission has decided to efface this commemoration and event from our collective memory because (horror of horrors!) it led to a Confederate victory.

    What a far cry from President McKinley’s 1898 mandate to honor and decorate Confederate graves! According to a federal law passed as late as 1958, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs is legally mandated to furnish headstones for Confederate veterans as American veterans. The demolition of Moses Ezekiel’s funerary masterpiece at Arlington Cemetery does just the opposite. And not only that—it exemplifies the woke erasure of history now bring inflicted upon America. Any monument or memory that does not line up with the latest “politically correct” dogma must be relentlessly effaced.

    The Commission’s vice chairman and animating force, Brig. Gen. Ty Seidule, who received his appointment from Biden’s Secretary of Defense, Warren Austin, personifies America’s present leftist dispensation. Seidule grew up surrounded by monuments to Lee. He was raised just blocks away from Lee’s boyhood home in Alexandria, Virginia; he attended Robert E. Lee Elementary School and received a bachelor’s degree at Washington and Lee University. Yet Seidule is entirely comfortable with the ignominy visited on the onetime venerated American figure. As a history teacher at West Point and later as a servant of the Biden-Austin regime, Seidule has gone along eagerly with the revised historical orthodoxy.

    This armchair brigadier general has reported that the projected cost for the plan to make Ezekiel’s now-disfavored monument disappear and for renaming nine military bases, two naval ships, and all memorials in Arlington National Cemetery with Confederate associations will come to $62.5 million. Although Congress has not yet issued its formal approval, Ezekiel’s landmark memorial has already been posted with demolition notices.

    Ezekiel’s funeral ceremony in 1921 was the first held in the new amphitheater at Arlington; it was presided over by U.S. Secretary of War John W. Weeks. Ezekiel had died in 1917 in Rome, but World War I had delayed the return of his body to Virginia. To honor Ezekiel’s return to his native soil, the U.S. Marine Band played “Love’s Dream,” a composition by his close friend, the composer Franz Liszt. President Warren G. Harding conveyed a message, describing Ezekiel as “a great Virginian, a great artist, a great American, and a great citizen of world fame.” Another eulogist, Sampson D. Oppenheim, would write of him, “the exigencies of his art made it necessary for Moses Ezekiel to reside far from his native land, but he never forgot that he was a

    It is this majestic memorial to American war dead from the South that the Naming Commission now proposes to remove. To do so would not only efface a great work of art but would also obscure, if not obliterate, the memory of an internationally acclaimed artist. Encouraged by Robert E. Lee, among others, to make a name for himself and for his people, Ezekiel would write:

    The race to which I belong had been oppressed and looked down upon through so many ages, I felt that I had a mission to perform. That mission was to show that, as the only Jew born in America up to that time who had dedicated himself to sculpture, I owed it to myself to succeed in doing something worthy in spite of all the difficulties and trials to which I was subjected.

    Six American presidents, two of whom had been Union commanders—Ulysses S. Grant, William McKinley, Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, Woodrow Wilson, and Warren G. Harding—honored Ezekiel and the Southern war dead. They recognized Ezekiel as one of America’s greatest artists, honored his memory, and proclaimed him to be a great American. Until very recently, every president since 1914 has sent a wreath to Ezekiel’s monument in honor of the valor of Southern soldiers buried at Arlington and in honor of the man who memorialized them.

    “In reality, no one in the South would have raised an arm to fight for slavery,” Ezekiel would write of the cause for which he fought. “It was an evil we had inherited and wanted to get rid of. Our struggle was simply a constitutional one, based upon state’s rights, and especially on free trade, and no tariff.” Not at all surprisingly, on the east face of his memorial showing Southerners going to war, Ezekiel depicted a black in Southern uniform as well as a black woman tending to a white child. Ezekiel did view the war, after all, as a struggle for Southern independence and considered Southern blacks, including slaves, to be quintessentially Southern.

    IN REALITY, NO ONE IN THE SOUTH WOULD HAVE RAISED AN ARM TO FIGHT FOR SLAVERY. IT WAS AN EVIL WE HAD INHERITED AND WANTED TO GET RID OF. OUR STRUGGLE WAS SIMPLY A CONSTITUTIONAL ONE, BASED UPON STATE’S RIGHTS, AND ESPECIALLY ON FREE TRADE, AND NO TARIFF. –MOSES EZEKIEL

    Ignorant of Ezekiel’s words and accomplishments, Seidule and the Naming Commission have now chosen to denigrate his memory by removing the memorial that marks the zenith of his achievements. Our rulers thereby imply that Moses Ezekiel and those millions of Americans who are descendants of Confederate veterans are something less than human. Just as President Biden characterized Trump supporters as an un-American “riotous mob, insurrectionists, [and] domestic terrorists,” so too have Seidule and the Naming Commission justified the removal of Ezekiel’s monument by claiming it honors nothing more than insurrectionists, unworthy of any mention in a reconstructed “American” society.

    Nearly 100 million Americans are descended from those who served the Confederacy. If not all, a vast majority of these Americans are proud of their kinfolk and the courage they exhibited during the Civil War. The monument that honors these patriots and their families—whom the woke government in D.C. seems hellbent on shoving down a memory hole—sits next to the graves of six cadets who served at the Virginia Military Institute as cadet captains. Two other VMI cadets are buried nearby, including later Marine Commandant Randolph McCall Pate, himself a descendant of a Confederate veteran. By what moral authority has the fanatical leftist elite within today’s military and Congress threatened to remove the memorial that honors these men? They have taken unto themselves the right to determine who is and who is not an American and who should be removed from historical memory.

    Curiously, until just a few years ago—that is, before the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) went on the warpath to remove the Confederate Memorial and before the Biden-Austin regime obligingly took up this dubious cause—Ezekiel’s work was certainly not considered a vehicle for spreading hate or bigotry. Ezekiel himself enjoyed widespread respect as a gifted sculptor, a Southern Jewish luminary, and a celebrant of religious tolerance and national reconciliation. As late as the end of 2018, mainstream historical websites provided sympathetic treatments of Ezekiel and his monument at Arlington National Cemetery.

    The total reversal of this widespread acclaim and the beginning of the agitation against Ezekiel’s work has only started quite recently, which may lead us to ask what kind of historical devastation and humiliation our woke masters have planned for their hapless countrymen next. Perhaps tomorrow the cultural terrorists at the SPLC, the shapers of feminine opinion at The View, or the regime stenographers at The Atlantic will decide to dehumanize another artist for not conforming anachronistically to an even more ratcheted-up standard of political correctness. Should we then prepare for having other long-dead war heroes or artists removed from the human race or for being figuratively exhumed from their graves and publicly spat upon before being excised from the history books?

    A Latin phrase inscribed on the south face of Ezekiel’s monument was a favorite of educated Confederate veterans. It was taken from the Pharsalia, the epic of the Roman poet Lucan depicting the civil war between Julius Caesar and Pompey the Great, who led the forces of the Senate and the by-then-endangered Roman republic. The inscription words, “Victrix Causa Diis Placuit Sed Victa Caton,” mean that while Caesar’s victory pleased the gods, the defeated side pleased the fervent republican Cato.

    Great art is a refuge. For the South especially, but also for humanity in general, Ezekiel’s art has offered and exemplified a reprieve in the long defeat, but the high-minded “lost cause” is ever with us, and Caesar the destroyer comes calling again, disturbing the dead and rousing us to resist his iron fist.

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