Confederate Battle Flag – A “Red Flag” For Many, But Not Civil War Reenactors
At last week’s Droop Mountain Battle Reenactment, I wanted to see how Civil War Reenactors – both Blue and Gray- felt about all the controversy boiling over about the Confederate Flag since the tragic shootings in South Carolina. The Confederate Government actually had 3 official national flags during its short existence. None of those are the flag stirring up today’s controversy. It is the Confederate Battle Flag, which was a military flag used only on the battlefield causing the entire stir.
The Confederate Battle flag had some local ties too. In the early days of the Civil War the Confederate Army carried the “First National”, the official Confederate Government’s national flag. During the fog of war on the battlefields, that flag looked too much like the U.S. Flag carried by Union Troops. So much so that there were “friendly fire” incidents by both sides due to mistaken identity of both sides’ flags.
Confederate General P.T. Beauregard, therefore, asked South Carolina politician William Porcher Miles to design a military battle flag which would not be mistaken for the U.S. Flag. Thus, using the Scottish Saint Andrews Cross as a base, he created the now controversial Confederate Battle flag which is familiar to us all. After the war Miles married a woman from Monroe County and moved there, becoming a West Virginian resident. Now, let’s hear some opinions about Miles’ creation.
The only Confederate reenactor I spoke with was Carl McCoy, known as “Bear” –The Captain of Chapman’s Battery, a Confederate Artillery Unit. Bear had strong opinions about the flag issue.
“Find a history book copyrighted before the 1950s you’ll find out the true reason for the Civil War” said Bear. “It wasn’t due to racist or color, it was due to economics. Nazis and the KKK adopted the battle flag as their symbol after the Civil War. The flag was not racist. People who are knocking the flag need to get a history lesson.”
Actually the Battle Flag first became identified with racism when Senator Strom Thurmond’s “Dixiecrat Party” adopted it during his Presidential campaign of 1948. The Dixiecrat party was officially known as the States’ Rights Democratic Party and was a short-lived segregationist political party. It didn’t take long for the KKK and other racist groups to adopt the flag as their symbol too.
How do Union reenactors feel about it? Sam Kraft.
“My name is Sam Kraft, I’m Captain of the 10th WV, Company F-Union out of Lewis County, WV” said Kraft. “We’re doing the artillery for Droop Mountain this weekend. The Confederate Battle Flag, which is what they keep taking down was only flown on the battlefields, it was not flown as a symbol of hatred, it was flown as a guide for the troops to follow. So therefore there is nothing to do with racism in that flag. They need to respect their history instead of trying to tear it down and change it.”
Not everyone agrees. Hillsboro resident Frank Gifford begs to differ.
“I personally don’t make discernments among the various Confederate Flags, and I know that there are actually several” said Gifford. “The first time I actually looked at this was after the shootings in South Carolina, the fellow there having displayed one of the various Confederate flags. To me the Confederate flag represents the failed attempt by the former Confederate States to maintain their right to institutional slavery.”
Civil War Sutler Ed Nutter, who sells items at reenactments, has another opinion about this. Ed.
“The Confederate Battle flag, it’s not an issue of hate, it’s our heritage” said Nutter. “It’s where we came from, it’s our people. It’s what they believed they stood for and fought for during the Civil War. And we’re trying to just commemorate that, not use it as a symbol of violence or hate.”
Nutter feels that by making an issue of the flag, it has backfired on those who are offended by it.
“You can’t turn around now days without seeing one somewhere –on the back of a vehicle, on somebody’s front porch, on bumper stickers, on -everywhere.” said Nutter.
And some people are offended by that, as Frank Gifford explains.
“I think the flag belongs in a museum” said Gifford. “When it’s displayed in public I personally find it offensive”
Gifford did say that he would consider a Civil War Reenactment to be a sort of museum. But others do not. Some Civil War Reenactments are banning the display of the Battle Flag by Confederate Reenactors. One Union Reenactor, David Robinson of the 10th Pennsylvania out of Mercer County, Pennsylvania who had relatives who fought for the Union at the Battle of Droop Mountain gets upset when that happens. Robinson.
“As far as the majority of the Union Reenactors, especially our national organization –The United States Volunteers – have voted to support our Southern brothers in that if the Confederate Flags won’t be flown, no flags will be flown (at reenactments)” said Robinson. “And if our Confederate brothers are not allowed to show up with their stuff- than we won’t go either.”
Robinson talks about his anger about the racist groups using the flag.
“Many forget that when the KKK first started marching in Washington D.C., they didn’t carry Confederate flags” said Robinson. “They were carrying American Flags. Again they took something nthat meant something and it has heritage to it and twisted it and used it for something that has no place there so yea, it makes me angry. We goanna have to keep things in context and everybody has to keep a level head.
It would appear that the context in which the flag is displayed is important in understanding people’s feelings about it.. Frank Gifford sums up his feelings.
“I suspect that if we revisit this question in a generation or two, probably we will find it relegated pretty much to museums” said Gifford.