What do you think of Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis? What is your opinion of the Confederacy? Whether you think Lee a noble, principled hero or the worst of villains, I guarantee you there is history you do not know about him and Davis. Whether you have fallen for the Confederate myth or the critical race theory picture, or whether (like my younger self) you don’t much care either way, there are facts that have been hidden from you. If you don’t believe me, read this article.
First of all, a country that celebrates traitors is setting itself up for failure. That is true objectively, universally, and in every country—not just America. How can a nation possibly expect loyalty and patriotism from its citizens if it points to traitors, the men who tried to undermine or destroy it, and calls them heroes? This is especially true since most of the Confederates never disavowed either their cause or their war crimes.
Statues and monuments have inherent meanings, just as we would say a man’s body has inherent meaning and can never become a woman’s body, no matter what the man says or does to it. A beautiful, magnificent statue or painting is inherently celebratory, whatever we might say about it. Otherwise, why is there no monument to Benedict Arnold at West Point, where he served and where he then betrayed the Americans? Why does no statue of Himmler stand next to the gas chambers of Auschwitz? Which emphasizes another point—that statues and monuments are not necessary to preserve history. We remember Benedict Arnold just fine without monuments. We also seem to have very definite memories of King George III, even though the American revolutionaries tore down his statue and ornaments and melted them into bullets.
But did you know that it was the official policy of the Confederate Army and government to execute or enslave every black person the army encountered, and execute any Union white officer of black troops it captured? Have you ever read the Retaliatory Act?
A Dec. 1862 proclamation from Confederate President Jefferson Davis claimed that the Union’s policy of allowing black soldiers and other actions created a “war in its nature far exceeding in horrors the most merciless atrocities of the savages.”
Jefferson, therefore, ordered that all black soldiers and their white officers captured by the Confederacy were to be treated as slaves, and not soldiers deserving of POW treatment. This was followed in May 1863 by The Retaliatory Act of the Confederate Congress, which said it aimed to protect the “institution of African slavery” and ordered the deaths of white officers of black troops directly, and ordered the deaths and enslavement of black POWs by handing them over to state laws. Soldiers weren’t the only ones targeted by the Confederates, either—the Confederate Army rounded up countless black civiliansin several states (Pennsylvania’s black population was decimated) during the war and re-enslaved them, many of the victims subsequently lost to history.
But the greatest single war crime of the Confederate Army, and the worst illustration of the above policy’s enforcement, was the Ft. Pillow Massacre. If you haven’t heard of it, you do not know one of the most important events of the Civil War. Some estimate that around 200 black and white Union soldiers and civilians, even children, were slaughtered after surrendering to the Confederates under Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest (yes, the future KKK founder), but Forrest himself estimated the number of his victims much higher—over 500. Robert E Lee later unhesitatingly called Forrest his greatest general. It is essential to understand that the Confederates were proud of their horrendous deeds.
Lee post-war said on the question of black Americans being allowed to vote, “My own opinion is, that, at this time, they cannot vote intelligently, and that giving them the right of suffrage would open the door to a great deal of demagogism, and lead to embarrassments in various ways.”
The Confederates’ and Democrats’ crimes did not cease with the Civil War. Multiple states experienced terrible anti-black and anti-“Yankee”/Republican violence during Republican U.S. Grant’s presidency, including Alabama, Georgia, Florida, Mississippi, and South Carolina, according to H.W. Brands in The Man Who Saved the Union. There are multiple first-hand testimonies of this violence, which the perpetrators’ sympathizers rarely sought to conceal and often defended.
Finally, I propose that in taking down Confederate monuments, we erect statues to American Patriots and civil rights heroes instead.
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