My father was a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans and my mother was president of her local chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy.
General Robert E. Lee’s portrait hung over our fireplace mantle, and the Confederate battle flag could be found throughout our little house – on hats, coffee cups, plates, clocks, and bedspreads, even chessboards.
And of course, our dogs were named Rebel and Dixie.
But my children and I will never join those organizations, the battle flag is nowhere to be found in my home, and our pets are named after a dragon (Smaug) and coffee drinks (Mocha and Frappé).
Times have changed.
But what hasn’t changed is the respect I have for my ancestors who left their farms in Baldwin County to fight, and die, in the war, even though I don’t respect “The Lost Cause” for which they fought nor many of the politicians and generals who led them.
Some may not recognize the distinction between the “cause” and the soldier, between the politician and the soldier, or even between the general and the soldier, but there does exist a difference.
The reason the Southern states rebelled was to maintain the institution of slavery. It was an unjust cause, it’s rightfully condemned, and it doesn’t deserve to be venerated in our public spaces.
But the main reason many Southern men volunteered to fight was their sense of duty, however misplaced. Then, as now, and in every culture, there’s something within young men that compels them to answer the call to arms.
It’s often sad and pointless, but such is war.
It’s fair to judge politicians like Jefferson Davis and even generals like Lee very harshly. They were educated and sophisticated men, leaders in their day, and they should have known better than to sink our nation into a hopeless four-year bloodbath that took generations to recover from.
But the regular soldiers they commanded should be judged more compassionately. Many were uneducated or uninformed, naive, or simply fulfilling what they felt was their responsibility as men.
In the documentary “The Civil War” by Ken Burns, the noted historian Shelby Foote recounts a tale of a “single, ragged Confederate who obviously didn’t own any slaves.” When asked by a group of Union soldiers why he was fighting, the rebel replied, “I’m fighting because you’re down here.”
Again, sad and pointless, but true.
As there is a difference between the politician and the soldier, there is a difference between removing a statue of Davis and knocking over a memorial dedicated to those young men who fought in a war they didn’t start, but whose culture and times obliged them to fight.
It’s always been that way. As Alfred, Lord Tennyson wrote in the poem about a light cavalry brigade’s ill-fated charge, “Theirs not to make reply, Theirs not to reason why, Theirs but to do and die.”
Still, it’s understandable why black Americans don’t want to see a statue of Nathan Bedford Forrest staring down at them as they enter their county courthouse.
But the statue destroyed this week in Durham, N.C., wasn’t of some Confederate politician or general. It was fashioned in the likeness of a young soldier, commissioned by the daughters of actual soldiers who had been killed in the war.
And we allowed it to be toppled and torn apart.
That’s a shame.
What about the markers left to everyone else who served in the Confederate army or navy? Are we now supposed to kick-over their headstones and pave over the battlefields where they died?
In our nation’s rush to remove all things Confederate, we should thoughtfully consider the purpose of each marker before lumping them all into the same “tear-it-down!” category. It may be time to relocate some statues, but others might serve a deeper purpose, and simply remembering is a worthy purpose in itself.
There will still be those who wish to equate every Confederate veteran with Hitler’s SS, and all of these wanna-be Nazi pieces of trash are trying their best to rip us apart again.
But remember: we didn’t let the extremists win during the Civil War, and we shouldn’t allow them to win today.