Tuesday, June 23, 2015

The Stars and Bars as viewed from outside the South.

As everyone is well aware, there's been a controversy over the Confederate battle flag, the Stars and Bars, brought about by the recent senseless racist murders in South Carolina.  The Confederate battle flag flies on the statehouse lawn, where it has of course since the end of the Civil War.

Except it hasn't.

It's only been on that piece of ground, more or less, since 1961.  The Stars and Bars started flying from the State House dome in 1961, in what was frankly an attempt at a poke in the eye at desegregation.  It was since moved to the lawn in 2000 as it became increasingly controversial, and it now appears that it will be removed, finally, from the grounds entirely.  It's long overdue.  Indeed, it shouldn't have been there at any time post 1865.

Chances are that it had never been there prior to 1961.  Contrary to common belief, the Stars and Bars is not the "Confederate Flag". That distinction belonged to another flag.  Rather, the Stars and Bars was the Confederate battle jack.  A flag flown by some, but not all, Confederate forces on the battlefield, principally because the first Confederate national flag (the CSA adopted three flags during the course of the war), was easily confused with Old Glory.  By the war's end, the Stars and Bars had appeared as part of two Confederate national flags, but it was not, itself, ever the flag of the CSA nor even of the entire armed forces of the CSA.

The Stars and Bars, recalling Scotland's Cross of St. Andrew (with perhaps a shout out to one of the more independent Southern demographics at the time) is striking, and perhaps for that reason, it's the one that sticks in peoples minds and it's the one you see around today.

But why?

I know that the flag is cited as being part of Southern heritage and pride, but let's be frank.  It was the flag of an army in full rebellion against the United States and that rebellion cannot be separated from slavery.  Those today who would claim that the South was exercising a retained democratic right can only do so if the ignore the fact that a huge, largely native born Southern demographic, blacks, was kept in slavery and there's simply no excusing that.  South Carolina is a good example, as the majority of residents of South Carolina in the 1860-1865 time frame were black.  It's not like they were given the vote on succession.

For that matter, most Southern yeomen were fairly marginalized politically pre war as well, which helps explain why, during the course of the war, there ended up being more than a little resistance to the war effort. So much so, of course, that Virginia split in half.

Anyhow, the Stars and Bars, where it appears on public or private display, cannot help but offend.  For anyone who is not a white Southerner, it's insulting to some degree.  For blacks, how could it be taken otherwise?  For South Carolinian's, for that matter, who are black, how could it not be.  It only showed up on state grounds when South Carolina's legislature balked at desegregation.  It was meant to send a message all right, and the choice of the battle jack sent one pretty clearly.

In recent years, the Confederate battle jack has been showing up a lot here.  I saw it just this weekend at a camp site some people had set up out in the sticks.  Their camp was flying the U.S. flag and the Stars and Bars, a real mixed message.  That probably was intended to send sort of an in your face, Southern pride, message, but this isn't the South.

Indeed, the only Southern fighting men in this region of the country in the 1860 to 1865 time frame were "Galvanized Yankees" who had decided they'd take their chances with the Union as Indian fighters in order to get out of POW camps.  They were probably pretty reluctant Federal soldiers, but their performance wasn't bad and there seems to have been no troubles in stationing them with men who'd volunteered to fight the CSA from Ohio and Kansas, but who ended up here instead.

I suppose the Stars and Bars, today, is intended by most who fly it to show pride in their region, and not to send a rebellious racist message. If so, some Southern states, South Carolina included, have really pretty state flags that don't feature the Confederate battle jack and which, in some cases, probably predate the CSA.  Most Southerners during the war more closely identified with their states than with the CSA anyhow, and a person who is so state pride inclined ought to consider that.  And it should also be considered that American blacks have a history in the South which is as long as any other demographic, save for Native Americans.  They're story is just as much the South's as anyone else's.  It'd do Southern pride more justice to consider that time frame that falls outside of the five years of the Civil War, or perhaps that twenty or so year period if we include the time leading up to the war and Reconstruction, and not focus so much on it. 

Southerns of that era, we should note, did not.  Figures such as James Longstreet didn't wallow in their former Southern military status but went on to work to rebuild as part of the nation.  Longstreet, one of the most famous of Lee's Lieutenants, went on to become a Republican politician.  Lee went on to be a college president and refused to march in step with his students.  One former Confederate cavalry general went on to Congress and then back into the U.S. Army, as a volunteer, for the Spanish American War.  Southerners only one generation removed from the war volunteered in droves to serve in the Spanish American War.  Apparently they at least partially got over it. And with that, perhaps too its time for the Stars and Bars to go, or at least not to be flown in other regions of the country where the message definitely won't be seen as pride but rather something else.

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