Robert Moore has, as he often does, posted a thought provoking piece today. Some of the present debates about the Confederate legacy in play in our present day brought Robert to think about how that intersects with notions of military service:
I know how people like Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson touched something within me, and inspired a sense of duty… honor… and, frankly, I knew from an early age that I was going to serve my country. It wasn’t debatable (I can’t help but hearing, right now, some of my old shipmates calling me a “dig’it”. Lol.).
So, when we see the current trend of removing the Confederate flag, discussion of moving/removing monuments, vandalizing monuments, etc. – all because it “inspires hatred”, and therefore, must be removed to eliminate, at least that much “inspiration” (because, certainly, there’s more out there that serves as “inspiration”), I wonder just how many out there find another kind of “inspiration” in Confederate iconography… the positive kind… especially U.S. military veterans. I’m really curious as to how many have been inspired, in some way, by the legacy of Confederate leaders such as these? I’ve mentioned it before… some key people in WW1, like Lejeune; and in WW2, like Patton, Puller, Buckner.. and many others, are just a few examples.
An interesting observation and a point to ponder.
As I mentioned with respect to the Confederate memorials, it is important to consider the subject of those public fixtures. The surface intent of those memorials was to force the audience to recall the service and sacrifice of individuals who answered the call to war. Now that war was for, we must agree, a terrible cause. But it was a call placed by society, none-the-less. We certainly should discuss that cause. However, it is important to caveat that discussion with the separation of “causes” and “motivations” in respect to the soldier’s service. We might enter the same logical start point with respect to the Vietnam War (or maybe the wars in Iraq?). This changes the foundation of the discussion somewhat.
And thinking to Robert’s observation, can we find inspiration… or at least some redeeming quality … from the service of Confederate veterans?
Robert has a poll on his site that addresses that question. Please click over there and offer your take.
However, let me take Robert’s point and step to another…. Consider if you will our oral history, and to a degree the ‘pop’ history, with respect to the Confederate veterans. As Robert and others say, there is a legacy of reconciliation and … in general… “coming to terms.” Indeed the vast majority of former Confederates reverted to U.S. citizenship, and for all measure there was little to question that loyalty. (And lets remember… there are a lot of loyal Americans who disagree with Presidents, Congress, or particular laws. That disagreement is well below the measure of disloyalty.)
Some of this plays out in our collective memory of those post-war years. Again, the oral and pop history give us plenty of examples to lean on, if we are searching for inspiration of the kind Robert alludes to. One stereotypical figure is the “Confederate in blue.” Not talking specifically of the “Galvanized Yankees” who were more so a wartime convention, being recruited from the prisoner camps. More so the former Confederates who after the war served in the US Army. As the stereotype works, that was linked to the frontier. We see that stereotype personified in the westerns of the 20th century. An ample example is “Trooper John Smith” from that classic “She Wore a Yellow Ribbon.”
Here’s a clip of that movie in which “John Smith’s” Confederate service receives notice, at about the 1:40 mark:
Later, as Captain Nathan Brittles lays Smith to rest, he offers this eulogy:
I also commend to your keeping, Sir, the soul of Rome Clay, late Brigadier General, Confederate States Army. Known to his comrades here, Sir, as Trooper John Smith, United States Cavalry… a gallant soldier and a Christian gentleman.
Another dialog occurs in the movie “Fort Apache” as Captain Yorke (John Wayne again) discusses a detail with Lieutenant-Colonel Thursday, with some situational humor laced in:
Lt. Col. Owen Thursday: I’m for it, Captain. How many men will you need?
Captain Yorke: One, sir. Sergeant Beaufort.
RSM Michael O’Rourke: PRIVATE Beaufort, sir!
Lt. Col. Owen Thursday: Why him?
Captain Yorke: He speaks Spanish – so does Cochise. My Apache has its limits.
Lt. Col. Owen Thursday: Shouldn’t you take another officer instead?
Captain Yorke: Well, Sergeant Beaufort was…
RSM Michael O’Rourke: PRIVATE Beaufort, sir!
Captain Yorke: Private Beaufort was a major in the Confederate army… an aide to Jeb Stuart.
Lt. Col. Owen Thursday: Hmm. I remember “Kaydet” Stuart. He was…
Captain Collingwood: Quite.
Lt. Col. Owen Thursday: Were you saying something, Captain?
Captain Collingwood: I said, “Quite,” sir.
Some will wash this off as just the “reconciliationist” attitudes still persistent in 1949. Like much of our history, there is more here than a simple explanation.
How many former Confederates went west to serve in the US Army? I don’t think anyone has ever quantified that. There were without doubt some “Trooper John Smiths” and “Sergeant Beauforts” were out there. Though I don’t think it was a significant portion of the force.
Hollywood… or specifically, John Ford… looked to bring some positive and inspirational qualities out from the story of individual Confederate veterans. Yes we need to put it in context of an overall “we are Americans and reconciled” theme. But we also need to consider why the writers and directors chose to pinpoint these particular details. Is it not to show that individuals are… well… individuals? And there is something to everyone’s story that is worth consideration?
I dare say that trend, with respect to Confederate veterans, continues in Hollywood today:
I think the study of such characters – Trooper John Smith, Sergeant … er.. Private Beaufort, and Cullen Bohannon – serves a valuable purpose. These were individuals. And individuals can be measured both “inside of” and “aside from” what ever causes they might have served.
What do you say?