In 1968, I lived in Northern Virginia. You know, the one that had that big Confederate army and, in particular, a certain type of flag that has been in the news recently.
It’s difficult to believe in California, where the Civil War doesn’t really come up much in conversation except in reference to senior water rights, but you would be rather surprised how often it does in the South. And, two score and seven years ago, we were only about 100 years out from the end of that conflict.
My father was a Civil War buff, and, many weekends, we would drive in our gigantic aquamarine Chevy Impala station wagon to major battlefields. Among others, we went to Gettysburg, Manassas, Antietam and Petersburg, the site of 1864’s The Battle of the Crater.
For those of you not familiar with this particular bit of Civil War history, The Battle of the Crater was a horror show. Union engineers built a tunnel under a Confederate emplacement hundreds of yards away, filled the tunnel with explosives and detonated it. This would be another day at the office in any modern war, but at the time, this was a signal event.
After the massive explosion where dozens died, the dazed survivors then engaged in hand-to-hand combat in the smoldering hole.
In 1968, it was a peaceful-looking depression filled with grass and trees, but even to a 7-year-old, it was easy to visualize the dreadful carnage.
When I got home to our apartment complex, I excitedly related the tale of The Battle of the Crater to a boy who lived in my building.
I can’t recall his name, but he was a tall boy, about 9, and had a very strong Southern accent. I expressed my view about how “cool” it was that the Union soldiers blew up the Confederate forces in such an ingenious manner.
The boy lashed out in anger, and told me in no uncertain terms that the South was right, the Union was bad and it wasn’t cool, at all.
I was startled. To me, a Minnesotan who had just moved from Northern Michigan, the notion that anyone would express sympathy for the Confederacy was ridiculous. After all, we had Abraham Lincoln. Didn’t everyone love Abraham Lincoln?
I say this with malice toward none, but there are people who thought and still think that Abraham Lincoln was a conniving Illinois Central railroad lawyer who propped up the Northern Military Industrial Complex.
In 1981, I had a colleague from Tennessee who worked at The Columbus Dispatch, where I kept a book about the Civil War. The phrase “Civil War” so offended him that he pasted a tag over the spine that read “The War Between The States.”
This colleague was a wonderful man whose father was born in 1856, I believe. His dad was 67 years old when my colleague was born, so he had many contemporaneous memories of the Civil War, er, War Between The States. The point is, it wasn’t so long ago that this nation was bitterly split over not only a flag, but its very existence. I can assure you that there are millions of Southerners who had grandparents and great-grandparents who had some very tangible memory of connection to that war.
And here we are. South Carolina, 154 years after Fort Sumter, has finally taken down the Confederate flag, specifically, the battle flag of the Army of Northern Virginia.
In California, we have two schools named after Robert E. Lee, the leader of the rebel army, and a highway named after Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederacy.
Let’s end this war. Before it starts again.