These are tempestuous times, and I’ve been thinking about heritage as seen from a modern perspective.
In my genealogical pursuits, I learned that three of my great-grandfather’s older brothers did not return from the Civil War. I haven’t looked for any of their cousins, etc., but that’s a real thing. What did they sacrifice their lives for? What was going through their heads? Did they really die to defend slavery?
Two rebel generals, Virginia plantation and slave owners, chose to fight for their home state instead of against it only a few decades apart. One is regarded today as the father of his country while the other has recently fallen into disrepute. Setting the entire long-standing issue of States’ Rights vs federalism aside, it is now entirely about the institution of slavery, and General Lee and my 2nd-great uncles were all on the wrong side.
If the South had not seceded and taken up arms against the United States and Lincoln had not issued the Emancipation Proclamation, when might slavery have ended? It doesn’t matter, because they did and he did and the 13th Amendment was ratified in December, 1865. Within 10 years, the Democrats opposing Reconstruction had control of the House of Representatives, and shortly thereafter Reconstruction ended and soon segregation became a thing through the first half of the 20th century.
As for General Lee, he chose to defend rather than take up arms against the 207 year-old Commonwealth of Virginia in a war with the 70 year-old United States of America. Other people have made similar choices, but that really only looks good if you win and Lee lost. The 44th Georgia Infantry was with him.
As I see it, the problem is less with the Confederacy and more with the white supremacists who have co-opted its symbols. Not unlike the swastika, which used to stand for something far different from fascism, the former Confederate battle flag has become the flag of white supremacists including the Klan. I get that and agree that it needs to go. It saddens me a bit because I’m sure it meant something different to the men who marched and fought and died under it, but the symbols are tainted. Let’s put them away.
We have done some stuff in our national quest to make America great that was pretty despicable in any age. Just about every step white America has taken has been over the body of a Native American, from my ancestor who came ashore on Appledore in the Isles of Shoals to my ancestor who moved his family from Laurens County, SC, down to Henry County, GA, to take possession of some prime land recently redistributed from some Cherokee who had recently been dispossessed and sent off on the Trail of Tears. (Andrew Jackson isn’t a big issue for some reason.) Still, we persist in our mythology that we’ve ever been and remain better than we are.