As the descendant of numerous U.S. Army veterans, many of whom served during the Revolution and U.S. Civil War, I’m ashamed that so many of my fellow countrymen still celebrate the Confederacy and minimize the accomplishments of those who fought and died to create and preserve this country, which I dearly love.
It disturbs me that so many Americans continue to fly the Confederate Battle Flag, not only in the South, but all over the nation. When I travel to rural areas of the northeast, I’m shocked by the number of Confederate Battle Flags that I find flying. This, even though these regions fervently supported the Union and the Lincoln Administration, and sent tens of thousands of local sons away to war, many of whom never returned home. Over 100,000 sons of the northeastern United States died to preserve this Union. Far more of them were killed by Southern insurgents, than were killed by European monarchists, Fascists, Communists or militant Islamic Fundamentalists. The bloodiest event in the history of our country—if not the continent—the Battle of Gettysburg, took place a few hours away from where I currently live. Local cemeteries and monuments throughout NJ, PA and NY bear witness to the sacrifices of northeastern troops. And yet, I largely feel like their cause and their sacrifices have been forgotten. The southern “Lost Cause” enthusiasts and agenda-obsessed historical revisionists have, sadly, won the battle of competing narratives and have made their mark on popular culture, through TV, film and novels, where we are asked to sympathize with and more fully understand the “southern point of view.” As a result, many people now have a distorted version of the war, its causes and results, something which is perpetuated with each passing generation.
Nowhere in the popular culture do we hear about the northern point of view. In recent memory, only three films wholly and entirely focused on the Union perspective. The first that comes to mind is the fine film, Glory, which focuses on the 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment---America’s first all-black Civil War regiment. The second is Steven Spielberg’s recent film on Lincoln. Another, Martin Scorsese’s “Gangs of New York,” paints a drab and misleading picture of the wartime northeast as a swarming urban jungle of murderous, anarchic multiculturalism. And that’s it. All the other recent period films, such as “Gods and Generals,” “Gettysburg,” “Cold Mountain,” “Ride with the Devil,” “Shenandoah,” and the “Field of Lost Shoes,” “Gone with the Wind,” and “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly,” all focus on the Confederacy. Indeed, almost every Hollywood film that’s ever been made about the war seems to focus on the Confederacy, and they do so in highly romantic and nostalgic terms, where Union troops are painted as the aggressors, and southerners as the innocent victims of brutal, modern war.
Nowhere do we really hear about the struggles and sacrifices of northern troops, who carried the burdens of American democracy, and the destiny of the nation on their shoulders. This, even though countless Union troops--recently escaped slaves and recently arrived immigrants living in urban tenements---had previously never known freedom, but were nonetheless dedicated to die in its defense. As Christ died to make men holy, so did the fighting men of the Union die to make them---and all of us---free. And yet, for the most part, Hollywood and the popular culture seems to have forgotten them.
This is unfortunate. I believe that this is disrespectful to those innocents whose blood was drawn by both lash and sword, on the cotton fields of the south, or the battlefields of the war. Too many suffered and died for us to do so little in recognizing their pain and ultimate triumph. 2015 is the 150th anniversary of that war, and yet the vast majority of the celebrations and commemorations have been in the South, rather than the North. Countless states celebrate Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson, but how many care to celebrate the victories of U.S. Grant, Sherman, or Winfield Scott Hancock? It is my firm belief that all Americans should be celebrating 1865, and that this commemoration should be used to strengthen the ties of the American Union, whether it be racial, regional or religious. All of us are in this boat together, and a community divided against itself simply cannot stand.
As such, I think it’s a good idea for our country to have a new national holiday that commemorates Union victory during the Civil War. Two dates stand out in my mind as excellent choices for such a holiday. The 13th Amendment passed the Senate on April 8th, 1864. Robert E. Lee surrendered at Appomattox on April 9th, 1865. A two-day national holiday that celebrates the dual victories of emancipation and the rebellion’s defeat would do justice to all who suffered as a result of that “peculiar institution.” Juneteenth is in the summer and it’s a fine choice for a national holiday. However, we have very few secular national holidays in the spring, which is the season of rebirth. This season, that of rebirth, would be an excellent time to celebrate national reunion, emancipation and the “new birth of freedom” that Abraham Lincoln so eloquently described in the Gettysburg Address.
Many misguided folks today may still wish to privately fly the Confederate Flag and they are free to do so under the First Amendment. Yet, people of conscience—as well as the Federal Government—can combat this speech and I think its wholly appropriate for us to do so. The nation has suffered too much, and too many have been led astray about the nature of that suffering for us to let the memory of 1865 be forgotten. Rather than divide us, such a holiday will not divide us, but will only serve to more fully unite all of us.
Excellent video by Colonel Ty Seidule, Professor of History at the United States Military Academy at West Point: