End Confederate Memorial Day
Long live Civil War History Month!
- Eric Cash/CL File
- Why not Civil War History Month?
WHEREAS: All state offices are closed today for Confederate Memorial Day, a state holiday not to be confused with next month’s (Unionist?) Memorial Day;
WHEREAS: Since Gov. Nathan Deal is out of the office today, and because he did not issue a proclamation this year about Confederate History and Heritage Month, I hereby issue my own proclamation through the wholly imaginary power of proclamatus in guberno abstentia;
WHEREAS: Confederate Memorial Day falls on the 27th this year, but in 1874, the Georgia Assembly officially named the “26th day of April in each year” as Confederate Memorial Day. The day recognizes Confederate States Army Gen. Joe Johnston’s surrender to Union Gen. William T. Sherman at Bennett’s Farm in North Carolina 150 years ago. The Civil War ended for more than 89,000 Southern soldiers on this day a century and a half ago, representing the largest surrender of the Civil War, even larger than Lee’s surrender at Appomattox. While the fighting wouldn’t truly end until later that year, April 26, 1865 marked the end of major hostilities;
WHEREAS: Georgia’s governors have issued many proclamations over the years in the lead up to Confederate History and Heritage Month. In recent years, these proclamations have recognized southern white women (2002, 2003, 2014), Native Americans (2005, 2010), Jewish Americans (2009), and John Pemberton, the inventor of Coca-Cola and as it turns out, a lieutenant colonel in the Confederate Army (2006). Conspicuously omitted is any mention whatsoever of slavery or the plight of African-Americans. In 2012, the proclamations stopped referencing the “Civil War,” instead calling the conflict the “War Between the States,” a label supported for more than a century by the United Daughters of the Confederacy, a group whose false claims include saying that it is “difficult for historians to agree on the war’s basic causes” (no, it isn’t) and the Confederate flag was “recognized all over the world as belonging to a nation” separate from the U.S. (no, it wasn’t). Perhaps we should just be thankful we’re not calling it “The War of Northern Aggression”;
WHEREAS: For years, the state of Georgia informally recognized all of April as Confederate History and Heritage Month, though it became official when the Georgia Assembly passed Senate Bill 27 in 2009 . A shockingly small number of Georgia’s state senators and representatives voted against SB 27. (Current Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed and Senator Ronald B. Ramsey, Sr. provided the only two “Nay” votes in the state Senate );
WHEREAS: SB 27 urged all Georgians to “honor, observe, and celebrate the Confederate States of America, its history, those who served in its armed forces and government, and all those millions of its citizens of various races and ethnic groups and religions who contributed in sundry and myriad ways to the cause which they held so dear”;
WHEREAS: I wonder who these “millions” of contributors of “various races and ethnic groups and religious” could possibly have been considering the Confederates were a pasty bunch;
WHEREAS: The name of the particular “cause which they held so dear” goes unspoken, though I can tell you it starts with “s-” and ends with “-lavery.” (Not “-tates rights.”) Georgia’s ordinance of secession wasn’t so bashful about the “cause” of the war, as shown in its second sentence: “For the last ten years we have had numerous and serious causes of complaint against our non-slave-holding confederate States with reference to the subject of African slavery.” Robert Toombs, in his farewell address to the U.S. Senate, excoriated his Northern colleagues for their efforts to “upturn our social system,” “steal our slaves,” “make them freemen to vote against us,” and “bring an inferior race in a condition of equality, socially and politically, with our own people.” The Confederate Constitution, largely cribbed from the original U.S. version, differed significantly in one way: it very specifically made slavery the eternal law of the land, and included the phrase, “No bill of attainder, ex post facto law, or law denying or impairing the right of property in negro slaves shall be passed.” Or put succinctly, no backsies on slavery;
WHEREAS: SB 27 urged Georgians to “commemorate and honor our shared history and cultural inheritance.” I imagine most African-Americans, who make up 31 percent of the state’s population, might not want to celebrate the Confederacy. Nor would the Hispanic-Americans and Asian-Americans who make up 14 percent of the state, or any minority group for that matter. Nor would the millions of Northerners who have moved to Georgia over the past few decades, many of whom had ancestors fight for the Union. Come to think of it, I don’t think most white people like me who were born and raised in the South — owners of the Confederate flag license plate notwithstanding — identify in the slightest with Georgia’s antebellum culture of enslavement;
WHEREAS: The story of the Civil War is complex, as we can see in the pro-Union bent of the people living in the South’s mountain regions. Even the case of Gen. William “Make Georgia Howl” Sherman, the burner of Atlanta, isn’t a simple one. In 1864, he wrote to Atlanta Mayor James Calhoun, “When peace does come, you may call on me for anything. Then I will share with you the last cracker, and watch with you to shield your homes and families against danger from every quarter.” The following year at Bennett’s Farm, Sherman offered his Confederate counterpart Gen. Johnston terms of surrender much more generous than Grant had offered Lee. They were so generous, in fact, that the Cabinet had to rescind Sherman’s original offer;
WHEREAS: The Confederate Memorial Day and Confederate History and Heritage Month neither represents modern Georgia, nor captures the complexity that makes the our state’s Civil War past so interesting. The Civil War, a conflict in which more Americans died than in all other U.S. wars combined, deserves and demands to be studied in all its various aspects;
WHEREAS: This month should be a time when Georgians make every effort to learn something new about the Civil War. We could visit the battlefield at Kennesaw Mountain instead of the granite relief at Stone Mountain. We could get a close-up a view of the Confederate Constitution (and all its warts) at the University of Georgia. We could make a brief stop at the Confederate soldier burial ground in Oakland Cemetery or the Slave Life exhibition at the Atlanta History Center. We could get out of our cars to view the monuments dedicated to Union General McPherson and CSA General Walker, both in East Atlanta. Or we could take a day trip to Andersonville prison, Fort Pulaski, and the Tubman African-American Museum in Macon. (Really, y’all should just get out there and do anything that teaches you about this painful, yet fascinating era in Georgia’s history);
THEREFORE: I, PAYSON SCHWIN, Very Unofficial Governor For A Day of the State of Georgia, do hereby proclaim April as CIVIL WAR HISTORY MONTH and April 26 as CIVIL WAR MEMORIAL DAY in Georgia.
In witness thereof, I have hereunto set my hand and have as of yet not figured out how to cause the Seal of the Executive Department to be affixed this 27th day of April in the year of our Lord two thousand fifteen.
Very Unofficial Governor For A Day
Payson Schwin is an Atlanta writer.