Of All Things
James Smart's Philadelphia
June 3, 2020
by James Smart
A holiday for both winners and losers
One of the strange things about our country is that eight of the United States still celebrate official annual holidays honoring the time, 155 years ago or so, that their ancestors declared war on the U. S. government and tried to quit and form their own country.
Can you imagine what would happen if some parts of Russia or China or Argentina decided to pull out and form their own country? The result might be a civil war, but you can be sure that the descendants of the losers wouldn’t likely be allowed to celebrate the event.
But in our unusual land of the free, descendants of both the leadership and the rebels ceremonially honor their ancestors, on both sides, and the losers’ descendants publicly grumble about the outcome.
Ceremonies honor ancestors who fought to defeat the Southerners who wanted to secede from the nation. But Southerners equally pay tribute to their unsuccessful rebel forebears.
In April, Florida, Mississippi and, Alabama have state holidays for Confederate Memorial Day or Confederate Heroes Day.
Even Texas, which we Yankees don’t generally think of when somebody says “Civil War,” began in 1932 to officially observe the birthdays of Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee. In 1973, the Texas legislature combined the two, and made Lee’s birthday, January 19, "Confederate Heroes Day."
Most states designate April 26 for the memorial activities. It’s said that the date was chosen because it was the date on which Confederal General Joseph E. Johnston surrendered to Union General William Tecumseh Sherman.
Some Southerners began commemorating the war as early as 1866, when the fighting was barely over. Union General John A. Logan began the practice of decorating Northern soldiers’ graves in 1868.
North and South Carolina observe May 10. I’m not sure why May 10 is the day those folks picked for their memorial day. The only notable Civil War event I could find on a May 10 was in 1865, when Union troops captured Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederacy, in Georgia.
That got to be a scandal up North, with lots of ridicule from the Yankees, because Davis was wearing his wife’s shawl when the Union soldiers cornered him. The Northern press ridiculed him as a coward, alleging that he had disguised himself as a woman to escape. His wife, Varina, insisted that Davis was ill and she had draped her shawl on him.
Davis went to prison for a while, but later had a long, mildly successful career. In what other country would a man who presided over a failed rebellion be allowed to proceed with a normal career afterward?
It’s strange and it’s sad that views and attitudes born before the Civil War linger in the otherwise United States. There are Yankees hereabouts who have no respect for the Southern citizens of so long ago who rebelled against the government. There Are Southerners who still see their ancestors as folks who wanted only to be left alone and were forced to take arms against a dictatorial government.
And of course, unfortunately, the race of the person discussing the matter often has a strong influence on his opinions.
Much of the annual activities honoring the deceased soldiers of the Civil War were curtailed this year, because of the ongoing medical emergency. But the nation found ways to pay tribute to their ancestors who battled each other. I wonder if any other country could achieve such a holiday.
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