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“You have given a banner to those who fear You, that it may be displayed because of the truth.” Psalm 60:4 (NKJ, NASB)
Beneath the Southern Cross
By Mike Scruggs
The Confederate Battle Flag, sometimes called the Southern Cross, is held in disfavor by many who are unfamiliar with its origin and true symbolism. Many have been taught to treat it as an object of moral horror and political infamy. A deadly combination of ignorance and arrogant self-righteousness is constantly engaged in shouting down its true history and meaning. Demagogues freely defame it, while moral cowardice acquiesces to their outrageous distortions of the truth. The apathetic allow its true history to be buried under decades of slanderous propaganda. It is incumbent upon those who value truth, fairness, good will, reasonable tolerance, and charity in society to educate themselves on the true history and meaning of this famed banner.
The Southern Cross then had a very strong Christian association to Confederate soldiers and the Southern people. As celebrated Southern historian, Shelby Foote, has said, it also came to stand for Law, in the sense of a government of Law rather than a government subject to the whim of tyrants or majorities. In that regard it stood for a strict rather than opportunistic interpretation of Law and Constitutions. It also came to be a symbol of defiance against tyranny and the right of a free people to determine their own destiny. This may be one of its most enduring meanings. The flag has been seen all over the world in this regard, on the Berlin Wall, and in the capitals of the Baltic republics and Eastern Europe, wherever free people must resist tyranny and the modern scourge of political correctness. It stood for limited government and federalism (States Rights) against the dangers of concentrated and centralized power. It stood for the principles of the constitutional federal republic of 1787 that the South felt were threatened by Northern political philosophies and economic ambitions. It stood for the Rights gained and blood-sacrifices their forefathers had made in the Revolutionary War. If there was one word used more often than any other in the secession conventions, it was ‘Honor.’ The Confederate Battle Flag came to signify the honor of the Confederate soldier and the Southern people. It has come to symbolize the South itself with all its culture. These are not dead issues. It still symbolizes all of them. More than anything it must forever symbolize the sacrifice of fallen Confederate soldiers on the battlefields of their War for Southern Independence and also to the veterans of those fields of honor.
The Confederate Battle Flag ought to be the honored heritage of not only every Southerner, but every American. Yet there are those who are willing to accept an ignominious degradation of truth and venomous slander against the honor of the Confederate soldier in order to maintain social peace in this and perhaps future generations. There are those who are willing to trample on the honor of noble ancestors, even their own ancestors, in order to promote such a social peace. There are those to whom heritage and honor mean nothing compared to present favor with the media and powerful political constituencies. There are those who know no gods but current prosperity, financial gain, and their own personnel peace and outward respectability.
But how long would a prosperity or social peace based on such disrespect for truth last? How long would a peace based on suppression of a people’s cherished heritage last? How long would a peace built upon suppressing the memory, valor, and virtue of the revered forebears of a great number of the Southern people last? Does anyone outside of madhouse believe such villainous stupidity would not in a very short time reap a whirlwind of social destruction? What could possibly be a surer cause of immense strife, bitterness, and economic and political turmoil? Can anyone believe that peace and prosperity can be achieved by discarding the heritage of a numerous people to gain the political favor of another? It is more likely to shatter all hope of peace. Can a society set itself against tolerance and mutual respect and have peace? Nay, no fair-minded person could believe such idiocy.
There are those who say that the display of the Confederate Battle Flag is insensitive. They say it is a symbol of slavery and offends many people. But their offense is based on ignorance of its true origin and history. Their offense and sensitivity is based on decades of unquestioned propaganda attempting to justify an unjust war and its deplorable tyranny and conduct. The men who carried the Southern Cross into battle never meant it to be a symbol of slavery. Their letters and diaries prove it was far from their minds. Not many of them owned slaves or favored its continued existence for very long in the future. Less than 25% of Southern households owned slaves. Only about 20% of Confederate soldiers owned slaves, and only about one-third came from slave-holding families. So far as slavery was concerned they only wanted the right to deal with it in their own way in their own time state by state, just as the Northern states, all of which had slavery in 1776, had done. The Union Army did not invade the South to free slaves. They invaded the South to enforce political unity and Northern economic and legislative dominance by bayonets. Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, on January 1, 1863, came after more than 19 months of war and did not actually free any slaves in the Union or Union held areas of the Confederacy. It was done as a war measure in hopes of causing disorder in the South. Only later was the slavery issue used in an attempt to give tyranny a pious justification. The Reverend James Power Smith, the last surviving member of Stonewall Jackson’s staff had this to say in 1907:
“No cowardice on any battlefield could be as base and shameful as the silent acquiescence in the scheme which was teaching the children in their homes and schools that the commercial value of slavery was the cause of the war, that prisoners of war held in the South were starved and treated with barbarous inhumanity, that Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee were traitors to their country and false to their oaths, that the young men who left everything to resist invasion, and climbed the slopes of Gettysburg and died willingly on a hundred fields were rebels against a righteous government.”
What the Confederate Battle Flag did symbolize to Southern soldiers and their families was their Christian heritage and resistance to tyranny. They were fighting for the right of Southern States and their people to determine their own political destiny, just as their Revolutionary War forefathers had fought the British. They were defending the rights won in that war and guaranteed by the Constitution of 1787, which they believed had been betrayed by their Northern invaders. They were fighting against the evil of unjust taxation and many other abuses of power perpetrated by Northern political factions. They were fighting to free themselves of a Northern political dominance that had enriched the Northern states and oppressed Southern states. After many years of hardship and blood spent on the battlefield, the Southern Cross came to symbolize the courage and blood sacrifice of the Confederate soldier and Southern people. They believed in the justice and righteousness of their cause, and when the surrender at Appomattox came, they gave up their regimental banners with tears and weeping.
To the great credit of Union General Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, a brave, honest, and compassionate Christian soldier, the Union troops at Appomattox gave a salute of arms to the surrendering Confederate regiments as they passed in final review before the Union victors. They had been their adversaries in war, but now these Union soldiers who had made blood sacrifices of their own, saluted the courage and honor of the defeated Confederate soldiers.
We must ourselves honor the memory of our fallen heroes and of all that served in that great struggle beneath our Southern Cross. The words of the South Carolinian journalist and poet Henry Timrod (1829-1867) in his moving Ode at Magnolia Cemetery should move our hearts to resolve:
Sleep sweetly in your humble graves, sleep martyrs of a fallen cause,
Though yet no marble column craves the pilgrim here to pause.
In seeds of laurel in the earth, the blossom of your fame is blown,
And somewhere, waiting for its birth, the shaft is in the stone.
Meanwhile, behalf the tardy years, which keep in trust your storied tombs,
Behold! Your sisters bring their tears, and these memorial blooms.
Small tributes! But your shades will smile, more proudly on these wreaths today,
Than when some cannon-molded pile shall overlook this bay.
Stoop, angels, thither from the skies! There is no holier ground
Than where defeated valor lies, by mourning beauty crowned.
But now there are many who for political or economic gain would rather see every memory and symbol of that noble army destroyed and desecrated. There are still others who though being descendants of those noble soldiers by their indifference and moral cowardice would acquiesce to that destruction. In dishonoring the Southern Cross and suppressing a noble Christian heritage they heap dishonor on themselves.
Yet I cannot believe that Providence will suffer the memory and sacred honor of valiant men and righteous principles to be blotted out. I cannot believe their heroic banner will be suffered to be discarded and forgotten. I cannot believe that the blood of valorous heroes, still coursing in the veins of their sons and daughters and their future generations, will not continue to inspire and encourage the friends of liberty everywhere. Is there a heritage more honorable? Whatever storms may come, be our friends few or many, whether cannons roar or sabers flash, we will not surrender the honor or our gallant flag. We will take our stand beneath its starry waving glory. Let us first remember and honor Him, our immortal Savior to Whom our banners point. Then God will vindicate our cause, the memory of our noble fathers, and our beloved Southern Cross.
When in the Course of Human Events, 2000
W. W. Bennett
The Great Revival in the Southern Armies, 1877
R. L. Dabney
A Defense of Virginia and the South, 1867
Thomas J. DiLorenzo
The Real Lincoln: A New Look at Abraham Lincoln, His Agenda, and an Unnecessary War, 2002
Eugene D. Genovese
The Southern Front, History, Politics and the Cultural War, 1995
John Remmington Graham
A Constitutional History of Secession, 2002
Emancipating Slaves, Enslaving Free Men, 1996
Ludwell H. Johnson
The American Iliad 1848-1877, 2002 edition
James Ronald Kennedy and Walter Donald Kennedy
Was Jefferson Davis Right? 1998
Walter D. Kennedy
Myths of American Slavery, 2003
James M. McPherson
For Cause and Comrades-Why Men Fought in the Civil War, 1997
John C. Perry
Myths & Realities of American Slavery-The True History of Slavery in America, 2002
James I. Robertson
Stonewall Jackson, the Man, the Soldier, the Legend, 1997
The Secret Six-John Brown and the Abolitionist Movement, 1979
J. Steven Wilkins
Call of Duty-The Sterling Nobility of Robert E. Lee, 1997
Steve Wilkins and Douglas Wilson
Southern Slavery as It Was, a Monograph – Cannon Press, 1996