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September, 2013

Eight years ago today, I made my first post on this blog. It hardly seems possible that eight years, 1327 posts, and 9.244 comments have gone under the bridge, but they have indeed. When I began this little venture of mine, I never imagined that it would still be around and still going strong eight years later, but here it is still going strong.

I’ve had my ups and downs, but I’m still here, and will be for the foreseeable future. One of the primary reasons why is because I so value the interactions with my readers. Those interactions have become an important part of my routine and when life interferes and prevents me from posting as often as I might otherwise like, I miss those interactions a great deal.

Thank you for your support and for eight great years. We will continue this journey together.

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092413_conf_600This article appeared in today’s edition of The Philadelphia Daily News. It raises lots of interesting questions about why the Confederate battle flag seems to be more prominently displayed all of a sudden:

Rebels’ proliferate up north, but what’s their cause?

WILLIAM BENDER, Daily News Staff Writer benderw@phillynews.com, 215-854-5255
Posted: Tuesday, September 24, 2013, 12:16 AM

IT’S BEEN SPOTTED on license plates in Atlantic City and Collingdale, draped across a truck in a Kohl’s parking lot and flying on poles outside homes in Montgomery and Chester counties.

You can see it on the side of a building off Aramingo Avenue in Port Richmond, hanging inside an apartment near Capitolo Playground in South Philly and painted on the “Dukes of Hazzard” replica Dodge Charger cruising around Delaware County.

In Camden, it’s practically the official emblem for country-rock tailgate parties outside the Susquehanna Bank Center, where a concertgoer was charged this summer with bias intimidation for allegedly waving it at city residents and spewing racial slurs.

Even a Philly cop was photographed last year wearing it under his bike helmet while on duty.

Nearly 150 years after the Civil War ended, the Confederate battle flag – a complicated and incendiary symbol of rebellion, slavery, Southern pride and white supremacy – is seemingly becoming a more frequent sight north of the Mason-Dixon Line.

“I remember taking a second look and going, ‘Really?’ It was shocking,” said Bryl Villanueva, 35, of Lafayette Hill, who recently saw a rebel flag flying in Conshohocken while on the way to a friend’s house. “Maybe they’re from Alabama.”

What’s behind the popularity of the flag in the North? Is it the dark underbelly of the rapidly growing country-music scene? Disapproval of the president? An innocent revival of the rebel spirit among Yankees who don’t know – or care – what it means to the rest of society? Or something more sinister?

“Me, I fly the stars and stripes,” said Dereck Banks, a self-described history buff from Clifton Heights, Delaware County.

But Banks, 55, who is black, can’t miss the Dixie flag plastered across the back window of his neighbor’s pickup truck parked at the curb. It’s also on the front license plate, with the word “Daddy.”

“It offends a lot of people. White folks, too,” Banks said. “Slavery is over. This is the new millennium. The South lost. The states are united.”

Public schools have long been desegregated, too, but some Philadelphia-area residents are flying the same flag that the Ku Klux Klan and others adopted during the civil-rights movement to oppose desegregation.

In June, when country-rock star Toby Keith played the Susquehanna Bank Center, police said Darren Walp, 33, of Ridley Park, climbed a fence into a housing complex, waving the flag and shouting racial slurs. The flags were out again the next weekend at a concert headlined by Brad Paisley, and tailgaters were outraged because security was forcing them to be taken down.

Last month, Walp was arrested a second time in Camden while on his way to a Blake Shelton concert. Cops say he hopped out of his pickup truck to get a beer from the back, ranting at a black driver and challenging him to a fight.

“We never want to see this individual in the city of Camden again,” Camden County Police Chief J. Scott Thomson said at the time, in a news release.

Some defenders of the Confederate flag say it is not inherently racist and should be flown to honor Confederate soldiers. Others, like Doug Copeland, a medical tech who said he was born in Chattanooga, Tenn., use it to show their fondness for the South.

“I’m not prejudiced at all. My granddaughter is half-black,” said Copeland, who flies a flag from his home on busy Route 724 near Phoenixville. “I just love the South. If I could live there, I would.”

But Copeland also knows that some people find it offensive. He thinks they are the ones who removed his prior flags.

“That’s why I think they stole it. They came to the bus stop and stole the flag. It’s my third one,” he said. “It’s bolted in now, but the one time they snapped it right out of the bolt.”

Copeland, however, doesn’t seem overly concerned with political correctness, as evidenced by the sign on his door that reads, in part: “Unless you are blind or cannot read this sign, you can bet your ass I am going to stomp the s— out of you if you bother me!”

Some groups, including the Virginia Flaggers – which has leased land along Interstate 95 south of Richmond and plans to erect a 12-by-15-foot Confederate flag on a 50-foot pole Saturday – have denounced the KKK and others that have used the flag for their own purposes.

“If somebody broke into your house and robbed you, and they were wearing New York Giants attire, you wouldn’t assume that there was something evil in the Giants association,” said Gene Hogan, chief of heritage operations for the Sons of Confederate Veterans. “You would say, ‘No, that was an evil person that co-opted those garments.’ Same way with the battle flag.”

Hogan said the SCV, an organization for male descendants of Confederate soldiers, encourages people to display the flag in remembrance of those who fought in the Civil War – or the Second American Revolution, as the group refers to the war on its website.

“It stands for brave men who defended their homeland against an unconstitutional invasion and represents all the good things in America,” Hogan said.

That’s not how Drexel University sociologist Mary Ebeling sees it. The Falls Church, Va., native questioned whether it’s possible to express regional pride, oppose the expansion of the federal government or just yearn for simpler times, while ignoring the flag’s role as a hate symbol in America’s history.

“The re-emergence of it is concerning,” Ebeling said. “It’s a brand, a symbol of oppression, violence, and, I would argue, white supremacy.”

Even though she is white, Ebeling said, she “took it as a threat” when someone taped a small flag to a lamppost in her predominantly black neighborhood in West Philly a couple of years ago.

“Once these kinds of meanings are attached to those symbols, the meanings endure,” she said.

Mark Potok, senior fellow at the Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, Ala., agreed. People may have conflicting interpretations of what the flag means now, he said, but that doesn’t change how it was used in the past, including during the civil-rights movement.

“The flags were raised in a patently racist show of standing by white supremacy and full-out resistance to desegregation,” Potok said.

Fifty years later, Potok said, “I think it’s a little like the O.J. Simpson trial. People have very different reactions to it based on their life experience.”

A flag shop in Broomall

Charlie Hauber, owner of the Flag & Sign Place in Broomall, Delaware County, said he keeps Confederate flags in stock because of their historical relevance. Other flag stores refuse to sell them.

“I’ve had truckers come to me and say, ‘I can’t buy these things anywhere,’ ” Hauber said. “Places just stopped selling them.”

Hauber said that he doesn’t support slavery, but that the Civil War was also about states’ rights.

“I’m inclined to agree with the states. They have certain rights that should be separate from the federal government,” he said. “But I’m not going to fly a Confederate flag.”

People might feel intimidated or threatened by the flag – whether that’s the intention or not – but flying it is protected by the First Amendment.

“In some circumstances, it clearly is insensitive and offensive, but not all the time,” said Mary Catherine Roper, senior staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania. “It doesn’t matter whether it’s offensive. It doesn’t matter whether it is racial. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a white-power statement. You could not outlaw flying the Confederate flag.”

Last year, the ACLU of Delaware assisted a state Department of Transportation worker who was disciplined for displaying a Confederate-flag license plate on his car parked at work. The department later agreed with the ACLU that he was entitled to display the plate.

Banks, the Clifton Heights man whose neighbor has Confederate flags on his truck, said the neighbor is a friend, so he doesn’t take offense in that instance.

“I think it’s stupid, but being in America, you’re free to do whatever you like,” he said. “People are people. If you turned us inside out, you couldn’t tell what color we are.”

The owner of the truck wouldn’t talk with the Daily News, but his next-door neighbor, Michael Blythe, said the flags are not intended as a hate symbol.

“It’s not racist at all,” said Blythe, 35, a carpenter. “Everybody loves each other on this block.”

Jim Matusko, 66, an accountant who flies an American flag year-round at his home around the corner, said self-styled rebels need to grow up and find a new symbol.

“They got their asses whooped 148 years ago,” he said. “Let it go, already, for God’s sake.”

Matusko said the apparent popularity of the flag today could be a symptom of a highly polarized country under a black, liberal president. But he doesn’t think its connection to slavery can be severed, either.

“With the issue of slavery, waving a flag in someone’s face is almost like trying to pick a fight. I don’t think this country needs that kind of s—,” he said. “I don’t like the guy in the White House, either, but the South isn’t going to rise again.”

– Staff writers Jason Nark and Stephanie Farr contributed to this report.

There are clearly times when displaying it are entirely appropriate, such as on Confederate memorials, or the graves of Confederate veterans. There are many other times, though, when it is completely tone deaf, completely inappropriate, and downright offensive, and when it’s involuntarily rammed into people’s faces such as what the so-called Virginia Flaggers want to do along I-95 near Richmond, it’s akin to flipping the rest of the world that infamous obscene gesture that involves raising one’s middle finger. For many blacks, the Confederate battle flag is every bit as offensive a symbol as a swastika flag would be to a Jewish person. Brooks Simpson has done a superb job of documenting this particular travesty on his blog, Crossroads, and if the whole travesty of the Virginia Flaggers interests you, I commend Brooks’ blog to you. He deconstructs each and every argument of theirs and demonstrates the hypocrisy of their positions.

I completely understand wanting to honor one’s forebears. What I don’t understand is why it has to be done with such a controversial symbol. Why not use the Confederate first national flag–the Stars and Bars–which does not have the same very negative connotation? You will honor your ancestors, but you do so without offending everyone else. It seems a reasonable compromise. Too bad it’s not, since only a real in-your-face “*^%# you!” seems to be acceptable to them. Like I said, too bad.

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Susan and I spent much of the day on Saturday visiting some of the newer monuments on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. We had not yet seen the Martin Luther King Memorial, the FDR Memorial, or the World War II Memorial. When the opportunity to do so presented itself, we visited those monuments and were struck by their beauty and dignity.

Washington, D. C. is, in many ways, a giant memorial. Most of the prominent Union heroes of the Civil War are honored with prominent monuments in traffic roundabouts, with none more prominently honored than U.S. Grant. In many ways, the whole city is a memorial to the Union veterans of the war.

Stereogram of Statue at the Vietnam War Memorial, Washington, DCThe first large memorial to be dedicated was the Vietnam War Memorial, which has taken on an iconic status. Although its design was initially excoriated, it remains a moving and incredibly respectful memorial to the American soldiers who sacrificed so much in the far-away jungles of Southeast Asia.

Then came the memorial to the forgotten war, the Korean War. This gorgeous memorial depicts cold, wet, tired American soldiers fighting to protect the freedom of the South Korean republic. It is moving and haunting all at the same time. It is an appropriate monument to their sacrifices.korean-war-memorial-1

1294270_10153466379970413_269324027_oThe most recent memorial to be dedicated was the massive monument to the American contribution to the Allied victory in World War II. We visited it on Saturday, and given that my father and his brothers were members of that generation, and I have known many World War II vets, I found it to be an incredibly moving experience. There were dozens of old vets visiting the memorial, brought there by Honor Flights (an incredibly worthy cause that I encourage all of you to support). I thanked many of them for their service and found myself missing my father a great deal.

world-war-I-wwII then realized that, despite the fact that 2,000,000 Americans served in World War I, there is national memorial to them. I found that staggering, and it made me terribly sad. There is a small memorial to Washington, DC’s contributions to World War I, but no national memorial. Until recently, this memorial was largely forgotten–it did not appear on maps of the Mall, it was not maintained, and it was in bad shape. Fortunately, it has been restored, but I never even knew it existed before Saturday, when I saw it for the first time (and I lived in Washington, DC for a year in college and spent a lot of time on the Mall).

bucklesxThe last World War I veteran, Frank Buckles, who died in 2011, made the placement of a national memorial to World War I a priority of his. Mr. Buckles testified before Congress in 2009 and lent his name to the effort to place a proper memorial on the Mall. That’s a photo of Mr. Buckles, seated in his wheelchair in front of the Washington, DC World War I Memorial. Legislation was introduced in Congress, but it failed. Given that the Congress is the most incredibly dysfunctional institution in the United States, that sadly comes as no surprise.

Please consider supporting the placement of a national memorial to the 2,000,000 American soldiers who served in World War I on the National Mall Please consider helping to make Frank Buckles’ last wish come true. For more information, click here.

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sheridanphiliphbioThis announcement was passed along to me today:

The Phil Sheridan Society
Perry County Historical and Cultural Arts Society
Somerset, Ohio

The Perry County Historical and Cultural Arts Society are proud to announce the formation of the Phil Sheridan Society to help promote an understanding of the many aspects of the Civil War. The Phil Sheridan Society is dedicated to not only promote the history of the Civil War but to also promote the legacy of General Phil Sheridan. To accomplish this The Phil Sheridan Society is having a lecture series encompassing all different topics of the Civil War.
The public is cordially invited to attend all of the lectures and any events put on by The Phil Sheridan Society! The lecture series will commence on September 28, 2013, with a discussion by John Dye on Civil War medicine. The group will have a social hour at 6:30 pm at the Somerset Courthouse with the lecture starting at 7:30 pm. There will be a small $ 5.00 fee for the public or they can purchase a lecture series membership which will allow them access to all of the lectures for free. This is done to help offset some of the costs for the speakers so that the public will have access to some of the premier Civil War authorities within the state and the nation. The Phil Sheridan will meet on the last Saturday of the month with the lecture series lasting from September 2013 to May of 2014. Some of the other topics will include Morgan’s Raid in Ohio, Ohio’s Forgotten Civil War Generals, Ohio’s wartime governors, Medal of Honor Winner Milton Holland, Abraham Lincoln, Nellie Sheridan, and of course, Nellie’s famous son Phil Sheridan!
If you wish to get more information on The Phil Sheridan Society feel free to contact Craig Phillips at cphill17@columbus.rr.com with any questions.

I’m just guessing, mind you, but I’m thinking that they won’t be asking me to come speak to their group any time soon….. 🙂

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So, I managed to get myself double-booked for two different events the first weekend in October. One is the annual Middleburg conference, which I described here.

The other is my friend Ted Alexander’s fall event for the Chambersburg Civil War Seminars for October 2013 is titled The Cavalry at Gettysburg, and should be quite good. If I hadn’t gotten myself into the pickle of double-booking myself, I would be there for the whole event.

Here’s the schedule:

FRIDAY, OCTOBER 4

9:00am – 12:30pm – Sessions at the hotel

The Battle of Monterey Pass – John Miller

Cavalryman of the Lost Cause: JEB Stuart’s Ride to Gettysburg – Jeffry Wert

McNeil’s Rangers in the Gettysburg Campaign – Steve French

12:30pm – 1:30pm – Lunch

1:30pm – 6pm – Sessions at the hotel

Prelude to Gettysburg: Aldie, Middleburg and Upperville – Ed Bearss

“If Only I Spoke” – A Gettysburg Witness Tree – film by – Radford Wine

The Stuart Horse Artillery at Gettysburg – Robert Trout

“General Insubordination: Custer vs. Kilpatrick in the Third Cavalry Division” – Bruce Venter

6:30pm – Buffet Dinner at the hotel

7:30pm – George Washington Sandoe and the Militia Cavalry of 1863 – Scott Mingus

SATURDAY, OCTOBER 5

Bus Tour – Lunch included

7:30am – 6pm – “The Cavalry at Gettysburg” – Eric Wittenberg, Ed Bearss and Jeffry Wert. Sites visited include –

East Cavalry field
Buford’s Cavalry positions
South Cavalry Field including Farnsworth’s attack

6pm – Dinner on your own

8pm – The Battle of Brandy Station – Eric Wittenberg

SUNDAY, OCTOBER 6

8:30am – 12:00pm – Sessions

“He’s a Bully General”: Custer and his “Wolverines” – Jeffry Wert

Valor in the Streets: The Battle of Hager- stown – Steve Bockmiller

“Forward the Harris Light!”: The 2nd New York Cavalry in the Gettysburg Campaign” – Bruce Venter

Ted’s programs are always terrific, and he’s got lots of good speakers lined up. To register for this event, click here. I hope to see some of you there.

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1 Sep 2013, by

I’m back!

Those of you who follow this blog regularly know that with the 150th anniversary of the Gettysburg Campaign, I had an insanely busy spring and summer this year. When you mix in a family wedding in northern Michigan and our annual summer beach vacation, we were gone every weekend but one from early May until the end of July. Every one of those was a driving trip, averaging six hours at a shot. And when I was in town, I still had my professional responsibilities to my clients to fulfill. I also had my Buford at Gettysburg manuscript to complete. In short, all of it just plain wore me out. I’m only just now feeling back to normal again.

That means that I will be posting here with more frequency again. I regret the lack of posts, but there are only so many hours in a day, and only so much energy to go around, and I had reached the limits of what I had left in the tank.

More to come. Stay tuned…..

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