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Johnny Reb - 07/21

By Rich Trzupek
  The city of Charlottesville, West Virginia recently removed statues of Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson in a vain attempt to appease the unappeasable guardians of political correctness and retroactive woke-ism. They not only don’t know their history, they have no idea how important understanding history in the context of the times is. So let’s take a quick glimpse in time back to 1865.
  As the Civil War wound down, the last remnant of organized resistance to Federal authority in the South surrendered at Doaksville in what was then the Indian Territory and is now a ghost town in the state of Oklahoma. Brigadier Gen. Stand Waite, commander of the First Cherokee Mounted Rifles of the Confederate Army, signed the instrument of surrender on June 23, 1865, more than two months after Robert E. Lee surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia to Ulysses S. Grant’s Union troops.
  Waite is still honored by his fellow Cherokees and other Americans for whom the lost cause of the Confederacy holds special meaning. Like many of his fellow Confederate warriors and Cherokee tribesman, Waite was a slave-owner, but he did not align himself and his followers with the southern states in order to protect his ability to force other men and women into servitude. Waite’s concern, and that of his Native American co-combatants, was that a Northern victory in the sectional conflict would result in the Indian Territory eventually becoming a state of the Union, effectively ending tribal control of most of the land. This is precisely what happened.
  Waite’s story is but one of the tens of thousands that would be borne of the Civil War. For Americans interested in their history, no period is more interesting than the War Between the States, or, as some Southerners still prefer to style it, “the War of Northern Aggression.” It’s a fascinating tale, full of wonderfully rich characters, triumphs and defeats, redemption and downfall, fantastic legends and even more-fantastic reality. No single part of American history is more revered, misunderstood, and abused for selfish purposes than the Civil War.
  There is a movement, one I am sad to say continues to grow, seeking to attach any slightly sympathetic memories of the Confederacy as evidence that the memorialist is guilty of heinous bigotry. That argument does little credit to those who make it and rarely bears any relation to facts about those historical figures whose actions created the myth.
  There was no one hue of racial attitude to whitewash fairly the leaders and populace of the Confederacy. Stonewall Jackson, among the most successful of Confederate commanders, was not a slave owner. He was a devout Christian, criticized by some of his ante-bellum compatriots for running a school to educate black children. For his day, Jackson’s actions demonstrated that he was more accepting of people with darker skin as fellow human beings than were most Americans, both south and north.
  Nathan Bedford Forrest, the brilliant Confederate cavalry commander, is vilified today for being a founding member of the Ku Klux Klan. Often forgotten is the fact that Forrest disassociated himself from the Klan when it became an organization dedicated to persecuting blacks rather than a group devoted to protecting southern states’ rights in the post-war era. Nor do Forrest’s critics care to remember that he, along with Lee, was one of the South’s most respected senior commanders to tell large bodies of loyal troops not to engage in guerilla warfare after the Army of Northern Virginia surrendered at Appomattox. Like Lee, Forrest declined to prolong the sectional conflict out of spite. Instead, he told his troops to go home, accept the loss and become good citizens of the reunited nation. He was thus an integral part of sparing America from years of internal domestic terrorism that plagued so many other nations in similar circumstances.
  There is no doubt that the Confederate flag has been and continues to be used by racist Americans as part of what a public relations professional would call their branding. There is also no doubt that the Confederate flag’s connection to historical racial injustice in America plays no part whatsoever in how many Americans have revered that flag. Americans who reject prejudice may still respect the Confederate flag because, to them, it stands for individual and states’ rights, it stands for mankind’s willingness to fight for a cause they believe in whether hopeless or not, and it stands for honor. Other Americans see the Confederate flag solely as a rallying point for bigotry, a symbol that should be scorned, if not outright banned. In modern-day America, the former group is small and growing smaller, weak and growing weaker. The latter group is relatively much larger, but it, too, is dwindling in both size and influence. Within the next generation or two, I suspect that the flag and the rebellion that spawned it will be officially vilified at a level approaching the entirely justifiable condemnation of Nazi symbols and ideas.
  Losing that part of our history will be a shame. Once reverence for the old South dies for good it will be the final triumph of puritan over cavalier. There was a madness that drove the South to war and there was madness in the way the Confederate soldier fought that war, but both were uniquely American, noble madnesses at their core. Looking back through the mists of the years, we can still see the proud, brave figure of Johnny Reb marching barefoot in a tattered uniform, unwashed, half-starving, but as fierce a fighter as the world has ever known. He fought not to protect slavery or rich slave owners. He fought because this was his land and no damned Yankee was going to tell him how he should live in his land, an echo of the earliest revolutionaries cry about the Brits. He fought because he was too proud and too stubborn to do anything else, and he kept fighting well beyond any reasonable expectation that his side would win. That’s the Johnny Reb American tradition held dear for so long. If he doesn’t represent every soldier who wore butternut or gray, he surely represents many of them. But the mists are thickening, and soon America will barely be able to make out his shadow before the fog rolls in and he disappears from view for all time.
  Email: richtrzupek@gmail.com

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