What’s It Mean to be Confederate?

Photo courtesy of
‘The Confederate Memorial in Alexandria, Virginia’
courtesy of ‘DC Public Library Commons’

Almost 150 years ago, our nation was split in two by force. Two sides faced off, and a war was fought. More than half a million Americans died in combat as the Confederate States and the United States fought. At issue was slavery, economics, states rights, and what it means to be a free and sovereign nation. We all know this. It’s part of every American history curriculum in the world. Last Friday, Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell declared April Confederate History Month angering a bunch of people who probably have bigger things to be angry about than this.

When I was in elementary school, we did a geneaology project to find out if any of our ancestors fought in the Civil War. Sure enough, I had relatives on both sides. We have letters from that greats-and-a-grandfather Benjamin Franklin Houff (b.1834) who lived out in Staunton who joined the army of the South after Virginia seceded in April of 1861. He wrote in a letter to his family that though he voted against secession, he was a Virginian first, and an American second. He didn’t own any slaves, he was a farmer, but he was also a Confederate.

Isn’t the point of declaring something This Cause Month or That Cause Month to focus on what actually happened, and focus on the history of the people involved? From as many viewpoints as you can lay your hands on? There will always be agendas and politics associated with history, because that’s what human nature does. There are no lenses free from these subjects Think on the people who made those choices 149 years ago. Not all of them can easily be put into the stereotype that those who are quick to anger at certain key words might have you believe.

A coda to the story: not too far separated on my family tree from B.F. Houff was another ancestor, who served in the Union Army on behalf of a wealthy Chicago scion John Anderson. He fought in Virginia, and was injured and eventually captured as POW, where he spent the last year or so of the war in a prison camp. I’m certain his view of the Confederacy would be a unique one.

I live and work in the District of Columbia. I write at We Love DC, a blog I helped start, I work at Technolutionary, a company I helped start, and I’m happy doing both. I enjoy watching baseball, cooking, and gardening. I grow a mean pepper, keep a clean scorebook, and wash the dishes when I’m done. Read Why I Love DC.

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7 thoughts on “What’s It Mean to be Confederate?

  1. Being Confederate in the American South in the 1860s means that unless you were drafted (or were otherwise forced into military service) you were so supportive of states’ rights that you were supportive of, or willing to turn a blind eye to, states being allowed to call another human being property that could be bought and sold at will, and worked to death without ever receiving compensation.

    Dedicating a month to a cause is done so in order to promote positive, supportive issues the entire society values. Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Black History Month (because there are still some societies in this country that, as of even ten years ago) are so homogeneous that a child won’t see a person of another color in person until they move away). HIV/AIDS Awareness. Women’s History. When we start celebrating months dedicated to groups and issues which supported issues like slavery and genocide and eugenics and other deeds determined to be abhorrent to society and human decency, you can have your Confederacy Awareness Month.

  2. Where is the dislike button? Just kidding.

    Why couldn’t the Governor proclaim Civil War History month? Honest question, I’m not trolling.

    As an Hispanic women from the Southwest who cannot trace her family any further than the great grandparents that came over from Mexico, it is completely foreign (pun intended) to me to attach so much of one’s far removed, present identify to people from generations ago, so I find this whole Civil War/Confederate heritage thing utterly fascinating.

    So, yeah, I would totally be on board for Civil War History month, but Confederate History month just sounds like a dog whistle to call up trouble.

  3. http://notlarrysabato.typepad.com/doh/2010/04/bob-mcdonnells-united-daughters-of-the-confederacy-pledge.html

    For this Guv Confederate means that he would totally support Virginia being part of a country in which more theocratic christian state governments could operate without interference from the more secular-minded states what with their “civil rights” and “no prayer in schools” and “abortion” and “having to keep poor people from starving to death”.

  4. People who try to downplay slavery are basically telling themselves that as much as possible b/c it is the only way they can stay convinced of it

    Quite sad and such a stretch

  5. It looks like someone has shamed the Governor into acting like it’s 2010 – http://bit.ly/ddfwLb – as well he should. Perhaps they should have given him a lesson in history and respect for his fellow man as well, so that he understands why this “omission” was so important.

    I grew up in Richmond, and the war is far from forgotten there (see Daughters of the Confederacy http://www.hqudc.org). Culturally, it is very different from DC. I think it’s fully justified that his proclamation sparked outrage.

    My ancestors fought too – all for the South – and while I understand they were products of their time, I don’t feel the need to honor their decisions, with which I disagree. Let’s hope in the future to see balance and open-mindedness from this governor.