Author Archives: Craig Swain

If the Dutch can confront their complex history, can we?

I think it a good practice to consider how other countries and cultures chose to display their history, and heritage, in public spaces.  For instance, from Goirle, Netherlands:

The helmet identifies the nationality and context of this figure very well – he is a German soldier.  A soldier serving in the German Army in World War II.  Why would the Dutch people chose to honor a soldier from an army which occupied their country – a brutal occupation I would add – with a statue? An article from War History Online offers some background for this statue memorializing Karl-Heinz Rosch:

October 6, 1944 – Three days after Rosch’s turned 18, the young German soldier, along with his platoon, was stationed in a farm in Goirle when Allied forces took fire on them. He was about to hide in the basement along with his comrades when he noticed that the two children of the farmer who owned the land seemed oblivious of the danger that was on them and continued to play in the courtyard. He quickly dashed to them, took each in his arms and brought them into the safety of the basement. He again ran outside to position himself on the other side of the courtyard when a grenade hit him right at the spot where the children were earlier.

The article goes on to say that Rosch was killed on the spot. Years pass and yet the villagers of Goirle remembered the incident.  It stood out large among many other, arguably more important, incidents during World War II.  Rosch’s story was a part of their shared history.  But it was not one that could be spoken of without reservation.  After all, Rosch was “...just a damn Kraut” in the eyes of some. Then after three-quarters of a century, the village decided something should be done.  Herman van Rouwendaal, a former city councilor of the area, determined in 2008 that it was time to bring Rosch’s story out into the light of day.  To explain and interpret this display, the statue has this plaque at the base:

I’m not going to fool you with my attempt to translate the whole.  It is the last line which stands out to me:

Dit beeld is een eerbetoon aan hem en allen die het goede doen in kwade tijden.

My Dutch is not even passing. But from about every other word I can translate, I get:

This is a tribute to him and all who do good in bad times.

The direct approach to the “good, bad, and ugly” of history. But this project was not necessarily a “feel good” story where everyone simply joined hands to agree. Those advocating for the memorial argued with others contending that no honors should be offered to soldiers who fought for Nazi Germany during World War II.  In the end, the memorial was placed on private space, without public funding.  But the display was allowed. The article provides another “gem” for us to consider.  Rouwendaal went on to say:

Some Dutch are caught in a black-and-white way of thinking. The Germans were all Nazis, the Dutch were all good. That there were also unsavory characters among us, who for example betrayed Jews and robbed them, one does not like to hear… We will not be honoring the Wehrmacht, but rather the humanity of a young German soldier.

At a time in our history where many loud calls are made towards extreme ends about memorials and unsavory aspects of our own history, we might paraphrase Rouwendaal’s to reflect that “some Americans” are caught up “in a black-and-white way of thinking.”  I don’t think that would be threading the eye of some needle.

Brandy Station Battle App now available for download

Civil War Trust has added another Battle App to their menu. The latest focuses on the battlefield at Brandy Station:


The Brandy Station Battle App includes the features we’ve grown to enjoy with the earlier selections in the series.  But, as we’ve seen with the other apps, there is a need to tailor the content presentation to meet the requirements of the field.  For instance, Brandy Station has a larger map than many of the earlier Battle Apps:


We’ve seen larger maps – say for the Overland, Petersburg, Appomattox, or Atlanta Campaigns.  But those are “campaign” maps.  As single “battles” go, this is a large map.   That’s because the movements at Brandy Station cover far more ground than most “larger,” in terms of numbers engaged, battles of the Civil War.  That is actually an interpretive point I impress upon visitors when leading tours of Brandy Station.   The opening action of the Gettysburg Campaign was fought over a larger area than the three day battle in July 1863.

In addition to the fifteen stop tour, the app includes a number of nearby Points of Interest.  These speak to the intensity of activity in Culpeper County during the Civil War.  If the armies were not fighting over Brandy Station and Fleetwood Hill, then they were camping on it:


And there is much more that couldn’t be included in the app.  But some day in the future, there will be ample interpretation to describe the numerous actions and activities across Culpeper County.

Legacy of the Confederacy on military service: Do “Confederates in blue” have influence?

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 dutyhonor… 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.”

BrittlesClayTyree

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?