The Confederate Legend
The late Bruce Catton, a renowned historian of the War Between the
States, was a northerner who won the Pulitzer Prize for his history
of the Union Army of the Potomac. In the 1950’s, though, he
wrote a short essay called, “The Confederate Legend.”
It begins as follows:
“There is no legend quite like that of the Confederate
fighting man. He reached the end of his haunted road long ago.
He fought for a star-crossed cause and in the end he was beaten,
but as he carried his slashed red battle flag into the dusty twilight
of the Lost Cause, he walked straight into a legend that will
last as long as the American people care to remember anything
about the American past.”
I thought about Catton’s words Thursday as I sat in the
gym at Maryville High School during its Veterans’ Day observance.
I thought about all those Tennessee boys who had put on gray and
left their homes to go and fight for a just and precious cause,
and how their fathers had fought for America’s independence
and how their sons and grandsons would later fight to preserve
that same America. I thought how in their honor, Maryville had
chosen to name its sports teams the Red rebels, and how the school
had adopted their flag so proudly, for so long. I thought how
even Ken Burns had said they belonged to “one of the greatest
armies of all time.”
And then I thought how sad and strange it was that on this day
of richly deserved honor for the veterans of all of America’s
other wars, there was no mention of those Tennesseans in their
threadbare gray and butternut. And when a well meaning young man
began to read excerpts from the Gettysburg Address, which was
delivered by the man who was greatly responsible for America’s
most gallant and tragic war, I thought it was about time to leave.
So I did.