Lee, Jackson, Davis: icons of the Confederacy

Sunday, August 20, 2017

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WASHINGTON, United States (AFP) — A campaign is gathering momentum in the United States to remove monuments to the pro-slavery Confederacy.

According to the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), a civil rights advocacy group, there are more than 1,500 symbols of the Confederacy on public land, mostly in the South.

They include monuments, memorials, statues, public schools, highways and county and city names, among others.

Here is a brief look at the three major figures in the Southern iconography and their chief symbol, the Confederate battle flag:

ROBERT E LEE

Robert Edward Lee (1807- 1870) is the most venerated of the Confederate generals and there are more than 50 public schools named after him alone, according to the SPLC.

Born in Virginia, the son of an American Revolutionary War hero, Lee attended the US military academy known as West Point and spent three decades in the US Army.

In 1859, Lee, then a colonel, led a party of marines sent to the Virginia town of Harper's Ferry to put down a raid by abolitionist John Brown, who had seized the local arsenal in hopes of inspiring a slave insurrection.

Brown was captured and hanged but his raid is considered by many historians to be the catalyst for the American Civil War.

In 1861, upon the outbreak of the conflict between the North and the South, President Abraham Lincoln offered Lee command of the Union forces. Lee declined, saying he could not take up arms against “my home, my family, and my native state of Virginia”.

In June 1862, Lee, a slaveholder, took over the Army of Northern Virginia and led it until his eventual surrender in April 1865.

Following the war, Lee became the president of Washington College in Lexington, Virginia, a post he held until his death.

THOMAS “STONEWALL” JACKSON

Thomas Jonathan Jackson (1824-1863) is considered one of the most tactically brilliant generals of the American Civil War, and ranks just below Robert E Lee in Southern adulation.

Born in Virginia, the deeply religious Jackson was a graduate of West Point and was decorated for bravery during the Mexican-American War.

He became a teacher at the Virginia Military Institute in 1851 and was commissioned as a colonel upon the outbreak of the American Civil War.

Jackson earned his nickname, “Stonewall,” at one of the first major battles of the war when another general is said to have rallied his men by saying, “There stands Jackson like a stone wall.”

Jackson went on to regularly outfox Union armies in the Shenandoah Valley with rapid movements which led to his “Stonewall Brigade” becoming known as “Jackson's foot cavalry”.

Jackson was accidentally shot by his own men on May 2, 1863 and died eight days later, a loss that was a major military setback for the South.

CONFEDERATE BATTLE FLAG

The red, white and blue Confederate battle flag is one of the most recognisable — and divisive — symbols of the secessionist South. The flag has a red background and is emblazoned with a blue 'X' that features 13 white stars.

The stars stand for the 11 states that seceded from the Union plus two others — Kentucky and Missouri — which finally did not formally join the Confederacy.

The flag stirs up markedly different feelings among Americans. “To many white Southerners, the flag is an emblem of regional heritage and pride,” the SPLC said in its report about Confederate symbols.

“But to others, it has a starkly different meaning — representing racism, slavery, and the country's long history of oppression of African Americans.”

The flag was not the official banner of the Confederate States of America but the battle flag of Lee's Army of Northern Virginia.

Following the murders of nine black churchgoers by an avowed white supremacist in June 2015, the Confederate flag was removed from outside the South Carolina state legislature.

But elements of the banner continue to be incorporated in the state flags of Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia and Mississippi.

Mississippi is the only state that still displays the full Confederate battle flag on its official emblem.

But that may change following the violence over the weekend in Charlottesville, Virginia, at a rally called by white supremacists to protest the planned removal of a statue of General Lee.

“It is obvious that the confederate battle emblem continues to be associated with attitudes of bigotry, hatred and racial superiority,” Mississippi House Speaker Philip Gunn said.

“I believe this association will only continue to increase, therefore providing more reason to disassociate with this flag.”

JEFFERSON DAVIS

Jefferson Finis Davis (1808-1889) was the president of the Confederate States of America, from its founding in 1861 to its defeat four years later.

Born in Kentucky but raised in Mississippi, Davis was a graduate of West Point and served in the US Army.

Owner of a big cotton plantation in Mississippi, Davis was a staunch supporter of slavery and possessed scores of slaves during his lifetime.

He represented Mississippi in the US House of Representatives and the Senate and served as secretary of war under President Franklin Pierce from 1853-1857.

 Davis resigned from the Senate in January 1861 after Mississippi voted to secede from the Union. He was named the provisional president of the Confederacy the following month.

Davis was captured by Union troops in Georgia in May 1865, a little over a month after the fall of the Confederate capital, Richmond, Virginia.

Davis was imprisoned for two years awaiting trial for treason.

But he was released in May 1867 andPresident Andrew Johnson issued a pardon and amnesty to former Confederates on Christmas Day the following year. Davis died in New Orleans in 1889.

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