Saturday, September 10, 2016

Who Were Our Confederate Ancestors, Anyway?

(Cut from today's Link Log due to length...)

How long will it take people to wake up? The Confederate emblem is part of some people's hereditary identity, which is the only identity of which some unfortunate souls are aware. Confederate flag waving is, if anything, a more "positive" thing than the endless bitterness about slavery expressed by those who want to censor the Confederate flag. If the Confederate flag bothers you, you need a history lesson. And so, unless they are consciously using it as a sort of display of humility, do the Confederate flag wavers.

I'm closer to a Confederate ancestor than most people are: due to a family pattern of late marriage, I can claim a Confederate great-grandfather. Few living people can. If they had Confederate ancestors, more likely they're talking about great-great-grandfathers or great-great-great-grandfathers. They may not be able to remember talking to any relatives who ever actually knew their Confederate ancestors, as I am. So they may have some further digging to do to find out what their Confederate ancestors actually did after writing off the Lost Cause in 1865.

I had one Confederate great-great-grandfather who almost literally crawled home with a horrific disease, such that President Lincoln felt sorry enough for him to hand out college scholarships to all of his children, male and female. What that ancestor did after the war was die, slowly.

I had another great-great-grandfather who declared himself a pacifist (this was the one who had demonstrated what was considered financial insanity by emancipating 300 slaves, all at once) and was sent to the salt mines for being one; his family persuaded him to move to a western "territory," where his eldest son, an embittered little soul who really became the rancid nut in the family tree, joined the Union army. What that ancestor did after the war was...pray, testify, and encourage people to found a town in Indiana. In that great-great-grandfather's mind, one of the important stories of his life was how God helped his family to live through a long, cold, midwestern winter on home-grown pumpkins.

That leaves other great-great-grandfathers about whom less information has been preserved. All of them were in Southern States; not all of them responded to calls for "every able-bodied man" to enlist or fight.

But my great-grandfather, who had had to lie about his age to enlist in the Confederate army, had a long and interesting life after the war; his youngest child was born in 1911...and he had put the whole Civil War behind him, and "his" flag was the revised and enlarged U.S. flag, with the 48 stars.

As Tony Horwitz mentioned in Confederates in the Attic, there are still a few "Southern Partisans" who go beyond just reenacting or studying history, who enjoy at least claiming that their great-great-great-grandfathers' war never ended, who at least claim to be teaching their children to hate Northerners. Er. Um. If their great-great-great-grandfather's name happened to be Stand Watie, that might make a bit of sense. (For those who don't remember, Watie hated Northern White Americans because of their racist bigotry against him.) But what if their great-great-grandfather was one of the Confederates who conceded the Lost Cause, rejoined the United States, perhaps even published editorials (Horwitz quotes a poem) asking others to lay their Confederate battle flags to rest, and even fought under the U.S. flag in the Spanish-American war? (Many of the younger Confederates did.) Are they sure they're showing loyalty to their ancestor? There is a Pledge of Allegiance to the Confederate Flag, for those who care enough to recite it; I'm entitled to it, but I don't believe that getting into the "revive the Lost Cause" stuff would honor my ancestors.

The Fox News link above was shared by the blogger known as Lynn J. Cheramie III, whose comment, displayed here...

is particularly insightful. Hassling people for whom the Confederate flag is a sign of either family pride or opposition to censorship, rather than a show of hate, is an effective way to make those people at least dislike you intensely, which seems to be what those who want to revive the color wars of the 1960s are trying to accomplish. Any person of peace and good will would rather look at thousands of Confederate flags than at one more newspaper report about a race riot in one more city.

This web site supports anyone's right to fly a Confederate flag in any time or place s/he may choose. In the face of attempts at un-American censorship, this web site acknowledges, and endorses, the right of people who had no ancestors in North America during the nineteenth century, or even the twentieth century, to fly a Confederate flag just to affirm that censorship is evil.

This web site also, however, encourages lovers of truth and freedom to find out more about their own individual Confederate ancestors. In some ways the Confederacy was all about individual differences; Confederates fought under different flags, in different "uniforms" (while they had uniforms), under different leaders, for different reasons, and after 1865 they went different ways. So look it up, and please feel free to share what you learn...Who were your Confederate ancestors (if you had any)? Why were they Confederates, for how long, and what did they do after the war? If they had slaves, what became of the slaves? If they were active in postwar U.S. politics, which sides of those issues did they take, and why? What is known about their family lives, religious practice if any, occupations? Were they bitter, quarrelsome old men, or were they as gracious losers as they had hoped to be magnanimous winners? Did they own, fly, or ask to be buried under a flag, and if so, which flag did they claim?

Some proud heirs of Southern families may have forgotten the facts...their Confederate ancestors may, by 1900, have been active citizens of the re-United States, even veterans of the U.S. Army.

And by the way, for those on the other's much, much harder to trace enslaved ancestors, as Margaret Walker did, but if you had enslaved ancestors, they may not have wanted to keep hostilities smoldering either. Jubilee is fiction, and had to be fiction, but the real ancestors who inspired it were not haters. Even if Elvira and her husbands had gone after "reparations," can you imagine any of them going beyond what they individually had been robbed of, and trying to claim "reparations" in the name of ancestors no living person had ever seen?

I cannot. I think anyone trying to revive a race war in the name of the past is acting like a fool, and should be told so. What the dead did to the dead is...dead. Valid claims for justice can be made only by living people, about things that happened to them, within their own lifetimes. People who identify with the dead rather than the living seem, in many cases, to be grossly misrepresenting what can still be known about the dead.

Most of our ancestors preferred peace to war.