Recognizing the Battle Flag


The Society for Creative Anachronism is a recreational history group. The object is to relive the middle ages, not as they were, but as they should have been. If there are more lords, ladies and knights in the society than surfs and plague victims, this is fine. The idea is to focus on the good parts.

The society has small groups all over the world, having fun, and keeping history alive. According to society legend, one small SCA group was, in real life, the crew of a US Battle Tank in the Desert Shield / Desert Storm effort. Thus it came to pass that the flag of the Christian Kingdom of Jerusalem came to be flown in battle once again.

Then a US officer visited the tank. "Our hosts have recognized your flag. Take it down."

The bane of recreational history is those who take history seriously, those who have long memories, those who have just grudges, those who remember flags unseen in centuries, those who feel in their hearts the words "never again".

Having recreated for fun ancient battles of sword and shield, it is easy to be sympathetic with those fighting once again the North American Civil War. It is understandable that players of such historic games want only to recreate and celebrate the good parts. However, this does not mean the distinction between play history and real history should be forgotten. This does not mean the real issues of the war, and the real hurts which occurred, should be buried behind a fantasy dream which idealizes what was truly a bitter and ugly time. For many, the wounds have not yet healed.

The original intent in creating these pages was to counter the many southern perspective pages denying or minimizing the role of slavery in causing the war. I was angry at revisionist history. However, more recently, the director of the Gettysburg National Military Park announced his theme for a congressionally mandated "causes" display, "slavery caused succession, and succession caused the war." I found myself equally angry at a simplistic presentation of the northern position. The result is my own "Four Perspectives" article, several angles quite distant from either period culture from which the conflict might be viewed.

This site intends no disrespect for the Confederacy. Another of my pages, Human Nature, discusses how decent human beings come to kill each other in large numbers. Men attempting to maintain the resources necessary to sustain their families, and to continue their father's way of life, will have no difficulty seeing themselves as fighting for a proper cause. They will see outsiders attempting to force change as evil. Legally, the Confederacy was more often in the stronger position. The north had no legal footing to challenge slavery in states where it was already established. The question of whether the south was fighting to uphold their rights under law or to maintain slavery might from a certain perspective be meaningless. The two causes were the same.

Still, to say slavery was not an issue is incorrect as well. There is a tangle of perspectives, legal, moral, economic and religious. To claim all participants in the war, on either side, fought primarily for one reason is very simplistic. Still, most of these perspectives, from one angle or another, touch upon the issue of slavery.

To my mind, the most neglected aspect of the situation is westward expansion. The congressional debates and preliminary bloodshed focused on both parts of the country wishing to expand westward. The North was growing faster, which would have upset the political balance of Congress. The economic pressure was such that the country was going to expand. Slavery made coexistence of northern and southern settlements in any new territories impossible. Lincoln's platform was not to destroy slavery in the South, but to prevent its spread into new states. This was unacceptable to the South, who believed they had as much a right to expand their culture as the North. Lacking the economic and imperialist expansion pressures, it is possible that the issue would not have come to blows.

But if this aspect is somewhat neglected, as neither North or South wishes to remember the war as a struggle over who gets to steal Native American lands, this imperialist aspect is just that, one aspect. It is not coincidence that the first Union Congress to meet without southern representatives present authorized a major wave of westward settlement and the intercontinental railroad, major initiatives that had been blocked by Southern votes. However, to say that large numbers of northern men joined the army so the intercontinental railroad could be built is absurd. This is not a simplistic issue.

The Civil War Circuit web ring features a quote by Confederate Maj. Gen. John Brown Gordon, C.S.A. as part of its membership criteria.

The unseemly things which occurred in the great conflict between the States should be forgotten, or at least forgiven, and no longer permitted to disturb complete harmony between North and South.... It will be a glorious day for our country when all the children within its borders shall learn that four years of fratricidal war between the North and the South was waged by neither with criminal or unworthy intent, but by both to protect what they conceived to be threatened rights and imperiled liberty; that the issues which divided the sections were born when the Republic was born, and were forever buried in an ocean of fraternal blood.

I concur with this. I would be the last to slow the coming of the general's "glorious day for our country." Still, that glory is unlikely to come without truth. If a web site which focuses on the words of the succession leaders on the causes of the succession is still too controversial to allow membership in the Circuit, truth has been lost somewhere. That day is still far distant.


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