Confederate lionization manifests itself in other ways. Six states include elements of Confederate flags in their official flags today. There are nine official state Confederate holidays. And as SPLC notes, there’s also the especially weird case of the 10 forts and military bases named for heroes of a cause that sought to defeat the U.S. military and killed tens of thousands of its soldiers. At the heat of the renaming push last summer, the Department of Defense was asked whether it was considering changing those names. A Pentagon spokesman said it was not.
The debate continues, in part because no one agrees on its terms, much less what conclusions they dictate. Some defenders of the Confederacy continue to insist, incorrectly, that the war was fought over something other than slavery. But some people, including those who deplore the Confederacy, have staked out middle grounds, like arguing for the removal of flags but not all monuments.
“Leaving Confederate memorials up and supplementing them with more accurate historical monuments as well as contextualizing markers is not a perfect solution,” Ethan Kytle and Blain Roberts wrote in The Atlantic last year. “But the statues also bear mute witness to the Jim Crow culture that venerated men who initiated a bloody civil war to protect an inhumane institution. If they make the public uneasy, that is because this past is uncomfortable.”
This argument seems to founder on the details. Does the grand boulevard of Richmond’s Monument Avenue stand as a rebuke to the white-supremacist South where it was built? Or does it simply glorify the traitors it depicts in elaborate, heroic fashion? The unanimous vote by city leaders to add a statue of the black tennis star Arthur Ashe in 1995 certainly implied the latter, but the tacked-on juxtaposition simply accents the inherent flaws in Monument Avenue’s existence.
Some of the sites on SPLC’s list raise more subtle questions, however. The organization says it has excluded “approximately 2,570 Civil War battlefields, markers, plaques, cemeteries and similar symbols that, for the most part, merely reflect historical events,” but some are judgment calls. Does a 10-inch cannon installed at Mobile, Alabama, glorify the Confederacy? Others mark easily defensible and historically important sites in unfortunate ways: A marker in Bloomfield, Iowa, that marks the furthest northern incursion of rebel forces into the Hawkeye State, for example, sports a Confederate flag and a plaque placed by the neo-Confederate group the Sons of Confederate Veterans.
A monument to Confederate Secretary of State Judah P. Benjamin, who fled the country as the war ended, may be plainly out of line. But what about Joe Wheeler? The Confederate lieutenant general’s name graces 11 separate sites, according to SPLC’s count. But Wheeler is a particular rarity: After serving as a top CSA officer, he rejoined the U.S. Army at the age of 61 in 1898, and served a major general in the Spanish-American War, leading into battle units of the same army he’d tried to defeat decades before. (According to legend, Wheeler became disoriented in the midst of a battle, encouraging his troops by shouting, “Let's go, boys! We've got the damn Yankees on the run again!”) Is Wheeler a goat, or a redeemed hero?