Often whenever the topic of memorials to the Confederacy is being discussed, “heritage” will be used as the reason not to move a statue or to rename a building or institution. Also, the defenders will charge that some people are trying to “re-write history.”
Heritage is anyone’s choice. If a person chooses to identify with a person who studied at West Point and then used those skills to try and defeat the very county that had educated him in the art of war, that is his or her choice. The same freedom applies to identifying with an ancestor who owned people and used them as laborers to build family empires.
Defenders of the Confederacy also say that the men who fought against America are part of our history and that cannot be re-written. That is correct, but “history” was re-written long ago when the statues and other memorial were erected. In order to get them erected, the very history of the “deserving warrior” had to be re-written because the truth would have prevented them from being honored. For example, let’s look at Fort Bragg in southeastern North Carolina.
In 1918 during WWI, General William J. Snow sought an area suitable for field artillery training. The vast area he found had good terrain, water, rail, and climate for what he, the Chief of Field Artillery, needed. Thus, on September 4, 1918 Camp Bragg was named for Braxton Bragg, native of Warrenton, North Carolina and hero for his actions during the Mexican-American War.
Bragg, number five of fifty cadets in his West Point class, joined the command of General Zachary Taylor in Texas. When war with Mexico erupted one year later, Bragg served with distinction at the Battles of Fort Brown, Monterey, and Buena Vista. During the latter battle, in 1847, Santa Anna launched a ferocious charge on a wing of Taylor’s army. He positioned Bragg’s artillery battery to defend the U.S. Army and told his to hold the position at all costs. The Mexican charge was furious, but Bragg’s unit held, and the battle won. Bragg became an American hero, resigned his commission, married a wealthy widow who owned a large sugar cane plantation in Louisiana where he lived until Fort Sumter changed his life. He joined the CSA and, unlike his previous war experience, became a despised and pitiful leader of the western theatre during the Civil War.
But in 1918, when General Snow and the U.S. Army were trying to build support for the “war to end all wars”, naming the new artillery camp after an artillery officer born in the same state seemed okay. But General Snow and the Army forgot to view all of Bragg’s history and to grasp his utter failures in the revolt against the United States. Whether by ignorance or willingness, Bragg’s history as a slave owner and poor military leader during the War of Treason was ignored. It has been suggested that the naming of Camp Bragg was seen as a way of mending feelings between the South and the North. If so, it did not work.
I have visited many Civil War battlefields and appreciate the preservation of history they conduct. More than once I have stood below the Virginia Memorial at Gettysburg and tried to imagine preparing to run across the mile of open country, sprinting to get to The Angle amidst the smoke, dust, and cries of pain from friends. This spot and so many others of battles should be walked and reverently studied because they are a part of our history, but a history that needs to be accurately told. Standing under the Virginia Memorial at Gettysburg will help you understand the folly of Lee’s order. In my view, battlefields are the place for monuments and their honest teaching.
Slavery marks us and the mean ignorance that leads to racism continues. It is a battle that we will always face, but we must confront it. However, we do not need to have statues and other memorials on common public spaces to those who fought against us to perpetuate “the pecular institution.”