There is much energy spent these days trying to bury any attempt to honor the heroes who fought for the Confederate States of America.
We get blatantly inflammatory rhetoric from some.
In June 2015, Dylann Roof murdered nine black parishioners at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina. That hate crime prompted South Carolina to remove the Confederate Flag from the grounds of the state capitol, and communities throughout the country debated the continued presence of monuments to the Confederacy in the public square. That December, New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu signed an ordinance to remove four monuments. These include statues of Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis, and Confederate Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard, as well as a commemoration of those who opposed Reconstruction. Over the past several weeks, after one monument was removed, a number of demonstrations and counterdemonstrations have rocked the city; at least five people have been arrested, and law enforcement has expressed concern over the number of heavily armed demonstrators. Landrieu says that he plans to take down the remaining three. (continued here)
Some tend to observe and wonder about the wisdom.
Police were on hand for each removal, often in the dead of the night, and residents on both sides of the debate frequently clashed. But despite the controversy, and despite a flurry of legal maneuvers to stop removal, the monuments are now gone, stored in secret until the city council agrees on their future use.
“The Confederacy was on the wrong side of history and humanity,” declared Mayor Mitch Landrieu in a speech the same day. “It sought to tear apart our nation and subjugate our fellow Americans to slavery. This is the history we should never forget and one that we should never again put on a pedestal to be revered.” (from here)
Others remind us that the rebels who fought for the Confederacy are our brothers and sisters too. James C. Roberts, president of the American Veterans Center, the organization that produces the National Memorial Day Parade in Washington D.C., retells a story in Memorial Day must honor all of America’s fallen. Here is how he introduces that story.
The Civil War was an interfamily war that not only divided the country, but which also set brother against brother. A story that personifies the tragic internecine split involves my alma mater, Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. A story told best by the late Philip Shriver, a former president of the university. Located only 37 miles north of Cincinnati, which is across the Ohio River from the slave-holding state of Kentucky, Miami was probably more affected by the Civil War than any other college. Twenty-five percent of the student body at the time came from below the Mason-Dixon line and the Civil War split the Miami faculty and student body (then male-only), many whom went on to serve in the military of both sides. Amazingly the alumni of this small institution produced 10 generals in the Union army, three generals in the Confederate army, two of three of the Union’s Navy’s admirals, two of Lincoln’s Cabinet members and six of the 33 governors. (from here)
It is worth remembering that the Civil War monuments scattered across our nation were built to honor the bravery and the devotion of dead. They were not constructed in devotion to slavery or in hatred. They were built because brave people fought, for good or ill, as best they knew how. Slavery split the nation, but slavery is not why people fought with such ferocity. The North fought to hold a fragile nation together. The rebels fought to protect to protect their homeland from what they saw as an invasion.
To settle the war, each side had to forgive the other. That is why Abraham Lincoln ended his 2nd Inaugural Address with these words.
With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations. (from here)
Memorial Day is not just a time to remember. It is also a time to forgive.
Consider the nature of the memorial shown above (click to enlarge it).
U.S. Army troops were dispatched to investigate every battlefield within a 35-mile (56 km) radius of the city of Washington, D.C. The bodies of 2,111 Union and Confederate dead were collected, most of them from the battlefields of First and Second Bull Run as well as the Union army’s retreat along the Rappahannock River (which occurred after both battles). Some of the dead had been interred on the battlefield, but most were full or partial remains discovered unburied on the field of battle. None were identifiable. Although Meigs had not intended to collect the remains of Confederate war dead, the inability to identify remains meant that both Union and Confederate dead were interred below the cenotaph. (from here)
To give honor to their fallen heroes, the builders of this memorial also had to honor the fallen heroes of the South. So they did. If they, with their loved ones freshly dead could forgive, what is stopping us?