Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Here come the Sons (of Confederate Veterans)

Fair disclosure --- I arranged this little scene Monday at the Chariton Cemetery: A Confederate battle flag (Army of Northern Virginia) in a Grand Army of the Republic holder next to George W. Alexander's Confederate tombstone (note the identifying pointed top and inscribed Southern Cross of Honor).

Then I furled my little flag, brought it home and put it back in the dresser drawer with its mate.

Some years ago, when Nathan Love got his brand new Confederate tombstone over at the Columbia Cemetery, my cousin Dorothy (Nathan's great-granddaughter) asked me to round up a Confederate flag for the brand new Confederate holder that accompanied it --- not that easy a thing to do in Iowa.

So I enlisted my friend the Lexington Kid --- we lived in the same town back then --- to pick a few up for me from his favorite purveyor of flags, guns, ammo and heaven only knows what else the next time he was down home, deep in Missouri.

So Nathan got his flag --- and I used up a couple more on Elijah Morgan's grave out at Salem Cemetery. Then I put the last two away and forgot about them.

They were resurrected yesterday because the small Iowa Division, Sons of Confederate Veterans, is coming to town Sept. 19 to "dedicate" three graves in the Chariton Cemetery --- those of my old friends George Alexander, Napoleon Bonaparte "Bone" Branner and Isaac Fain, all Confederate veterans.

Expect I'll go --- if the program is held as planned. That would be good manners. But the whole business is making me restless.


A few things I'd like everyone to know about George, Bone and Isaac before the Sons arrive:

1. All three were native to a hardscrabble area of East Tennessee bitterly divided between Unionists and secessionists before, during and after the Civil War. George and Bone served together during the war. Isaac was the brother-in-law of a mutual friend. All three were combat veterans.

2. The three men came north to Lucas County for two reasons --- to get away from a poisonous post-war situation in East Tennessee and to seek opportunity. None looked back. Isaac put it this way during March of 1909 after returning to Chariton from a visit of several weeks in Tennessee, "glad to get back to the home of his adoption."

"Tennessee is all very well for those who never left there," he told the editor of The Chariton Leader, "but not for a person who has dwelt more than 30 years in Iowa."

3. All three men were successful and widely respected in Lucas County --- Branner as an attorney and entrepreneur, Alexander as an attorney and multi-term mayor of Chariton (in spite of a horrendous problem with alcohol that eventually impoverished and killed him) and Fain, as a farmer.

4. All three were highly respected by Lucas County's Union veterans of the Civil War, not because of their service to the secessionist states but as fellow veterans of a great and horrible war who had lived and worked honorably among them as neighbors and friends. Branner, Alexander and Fain were invited to join the Grand Army boys on various occasions, even to address them. And when they died, the G.A.R. provided U.S. flags to drape their coffins. 

5. After death, the G.A.R. men placed flag holders --- G.A.R. flag holders --- at their graves as a mark of respect and acknowledged their service each Memorial Day thereafter with flowers and flags. Each continues to receive a flag --- a U.S. flag --- on Memorial Day.

6. Branner and Fain were affluent men when they died and their tombstones reflect that. But George died broke. Some 20 years later, in 1936, Charles E. Lewis, acting on behalf of Carl L. Caviness American Legion Post No. 18, ordered the Confederate stone that now marks his grave --- free from the federal government.


If the September program is similar to dedication programs conducted by the Sons during other years in other Iowa cemeteries, there will be considerable fanfare --- re-enactors marching, various Confederate flags flying. It would be useful to remember, however, that:

1. There are far more men and women born into slavery and their children and grandchildren buried in the Chariton Cemetery than there are Confederate veterans.

2. The graves of the three Confederate veterans who are buried here were dedicated long ago by men and women who knew and honored them for the totality of their lives --- not for the secessionist cause they served as young men.

3. That secessionist cause, as Branner, Alexander and Fain knew full well, had enslaved some of their fellow Lucas Countyans and, had it been successful, would have kept them in bondage.


That pretty red, blue and white flag next to George Alexander's tombstone is a small elongated version of a battlefield flag and as such still may be appropriate as a marker for Confederate graves. For decades after the war its principal use really did involve history, not hate.

But then it was tainted by hate groups, including the Ku Klux Klan, that wrapped themselves in it. After 1948 it became a rallying symbol in the South for racism and resistance to integration, equality and voter rights for black people. 

Jeb Bush called it a racist symbol on Monday --- in the aftermath of the the slaughter of the Charleston nine at Mother Emanuel AME Church --- one of the few things I'd agree with him about.


The Sons themselves, worthy gentlemen though they may be, also are propagandists for what sometimes is called the "religion of the lost cause," recasting a great and deadly war fought to end slavery by simply ignoring its core reality.

Here's how the Iowa Sons put in on the cover page of their Web site:

"The citizen-soldiers who fought for the Confederacy personified the best qualities of America. The preservation of liberty and freedom was the motivating factor in the South's decision to fight the Second American Revolution. The tenacity with which Confederate soldiers fought underscored their belief in the rights guaranteed by the Constitution. These attributes are the underpinning of our democratic society and represent the foundation on which this nation was built.

Today, the Sons of Confederate Veterans is preserving the history and legacy of these heroes, so future generations can understand the motives that animated the Southern Cause."

By perpetuating this great lie, the Sons dishonor my friends George, Bone and Isaac --- and hundreds of thousands of other Confederate and Union dead.

Here's a link to the Web page of the Iowa Division, Sons of Confederate Veterans.

1 comment:

Issacherrin said...

Those who defend the courage of those who fought for the Confederacy seem constantly to come across those who see the War as a single lens: free the slaves. Honestly, nothing in human life is ever that straight forward. When Lincoln called for volunteers in 1861, how many would have shown if he had said: we go to war to make the slave your complete equal. No. Lincoln, being the intelligent politician he was knew that would not work. Tell me, how many northern states allowed blacks to testify in court against a white man? The states of the former Northwest Territory did not allow freedmen to even live in those states. No, Lincoln, using the tactics of tyranny, created the Myth of the Sacred Union.
Yes, devious. Yes, blind. Free men in referenda across the South voted for secession. That's what Lincoln called "government of the people, by the people, for the people". But those who have desired the imperial presidency have always praised violence when it is their violence. Democracy is sometimes most inconvenient when people desire what the bureaucrats demand.
Bush invades Iraq. This is called spreading democracy. Nonsense. Lincoln destroyed the very Consitution he had sworn to protect.