Tag Archives: Confederate

Why is the Confederate flag so offensive?

Clare Corbould, Deakin University

Most Australians — aside from a few groups dedicated to reenacting American Civil War battles and history buffs including Bob Carr and Kim Beazley — were not familiar until recently with the charged history of the flag of the Confederate States of America.

Now the flag is in the Australian news with reports SAS military in Afghanistan in 2012 used the bold red, blue and white flag to guide in a US helicopter. Two SAS personnel also posed for a photograph with the flag.

Why do these images of Australian soldiers posing with a flag from another country’s long-ago war provoke such strong reactions? Because the flag has long symbolised defiance, rebellion, an ideal of whiteness and the social and political exclusion of non-white people — in a word, racism.

The Confederacy defeated, but not punished

The flag represents the Confederate States of America (CSA or Confederacy), created in 1861 when 11 states seceded from the 85-year-old nation. This rebellion was prompted by the election of Abraham Lincoln as president. Lincoln argued slavery should not be extended to new territories the United States was annexing in the west. Southern enslavers feared slavery in their established states would be Lincoln’s next target.

The ensuing four-year Civil War between the CSA and US was resolved in 1865 with the defeat of the Confederacy and the near-abolition of enslavement.

In the aftermath of the war, a longer battle began: how to interpret the war. For 155 years, this struggle has turned largely on the contradiction that although the US fought to end slavery, most white Americans, including in the North, had little commitment to ending racism.

Read more:
The Confederate battleflag comes in waves, with a history that is still unfurling

After a decade of military occupation of the South, known as the period of Reconstruction, the US military withdrew its forces. White Southerners, who had retained their land, implemented unjust legal and labour systems, underpinned by violence and racist ideas about black people’s inferiority.

Memorials of war

The reembrace of white Southerners into the nation showed a desire to “heal” the nation by downplaying the horrors of enslavement and the struggle to end it.

New narratives depicted the war as a righteous, though tragic, struggle over “states’ rights”. By avoiding a conversation as to what those rights were about — that is, enslavement — by the 1890s, they remade the meaning of the war.

Read more:
From Louisiana to Queensland: how American slave owners started again in Australia

Confederate flags were a powerful symbol in reinterpreting the War of the Rebellion. In the 1915 box-office hit feature film, The Birth of a Nation, for example, the central battle scene involves a key character, Ben Cameron of South Carolina, ramming the pole of a Confederate flag down a United States army cannon.

In the very next shot, however, the injured Cameron is rescued from the no-man’s land between trenches by his longtime family friend, Northerner and US Army commander, Phil Stoneman.

The movie’s second half cemented the theme of reconciling white Southerners and white Northerners. As it stated in an intertitle, “The former enemies of North and South are united again in common defense of their Aryan birthright”. It even became a tool to recruit new members to the Ku Klux Klan.

The war, in this telling, was a struggle between white and Black Americans, not between the US and the rebel Confederacy.

Old film footage of Civil war film.
Jamming the flag in the famous war film The Birth of a Nation.

Blowing in the wind

The Confederate flag featured prominently in Gone with the Wind (1939), another immensely popular film that again glorified the way of life of white Southerners during and immediately after slavery. In this case, however, Hollywood used the more visually striking Confederate Battle Flag, which General Robert E. Lee had flown during the war, rather than any of the CSA’s national flags.

As Scarlett O’Hara (Vivien Leigh) arrives at a makeshift hospital, the camera pans back to a field of hundreds of wounded and dead soldiers. The scene shifts only once those soldiers are framed by a Confederate flag, blowing majestically in the breeze.

Confederate flag flies over the battlefield in Gone with the Wind.
The battlefield in Gone with the Wind (1939).

These two films buttressed a political economy that relied on a cheap labour force of disenfranchised Black Americans. But as African Americans began to make headway in the fight for civil rights, starting during World War II, symbols such as the Confederate flag became even more important to those who felt affronted by their gains.

Read more:
I am not your nice ‘Mammy’: How racist stereotypes still impact women

Enter the ‘Dixiecrats’

In the late 1940s, a new political party of Southerners opposed Harry S. Truman and the Democratic Party’s relatively sympathetic stance on civil rights.

These “Dixiecrats” adopted the Confederate battle flag as their party’s emblem. From that point, the flag was clearly associated with racist opposition to civil rights and with umbrage at perceived government intrusion into the lives of individuals.

When civil rights activism was at its most visible, in the 1950s and 1960s, many white Southerners became firmly attached to the flag.

The state of Georgia, where resistance to desegregation was fierce, adopted a new state flag that incorporated the Confederate flag.

A few years later, in 1961, neighbouring state South Carolina began flying the Confederate flag above its state Capitol.

Banning the flag

In 2000, after years of protest, South Carolina legislators moved the Confederate flag to the State House’s grounds. Then, after white supremacist Dylann Roof endorsed the Confederate flag and murdered nine black churchgoers in 2015, activist Bree Newsome shimmied up the pole and removed it in a galvanising act of civil disobedience.

Two weeks later, the flag in South Carolina’s house of government was finally removed for good. In the years since, hundreds of Confederate flags, statues and memorials have disappeared, including in the national Capitol.

In 2016, recognising the flag’s toxic history, major retailers announced they would no longer sell the flag.

In the wake of George Floyd’s murder, the removal of Confederate symbols has accelerated. In recent months, Southern company Nascar has banned the flag and the Department of Defense has effectively done so, too.

In a polarised political and media environment, many white Southerners continue to defend their allegiance to the Confederate flag.

They claim the battle flag represents their Southern heritage, as if that heritage comprises an innocent history of mint juleps and church-going. The problem with that claim, as the history of the use of the flag demonstrates, is that the heritage it symbolises is also that of enslavement, inequality, violence and gross injustice. The Conversation

Clare Corbould, Associate Professor, Deakin University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Today in History: 13 April 1861

Fort Sumter Surrenders to Confederate Troops

ABOVE: Fort Sumter

ABOVE: Fort Sumter from the Charleston Defences

On this day in 1861, Fort Sumter, the island fort in the entrance to Charleston Harbor surrendered to Confederate troops following a fierce bombardment that had begun the previous day. The Battle of Fort Sumter was the first major battle of the American Civil War.

For more, visit:

Within Fort Sumter, by A. Fletcher
Major Robert Anderson and Fort Sumter, by Eba Anderson Lawton

Today in History: 07 April 1862

American Civil War: The Battle of Shiloh Ends

On this day in 1862 during the American Civil War, the Battle of Shiloh ended in Tennessee, when Union troops under General Ulysses S. Grant defeated Confederate troops under General Albert Sidney Johnston and P. G. T. Beauregard.

For more, visit:

The Illustrated Comprehensive History of the Great Battle of Shiloh, by Samuel Meek Howard

Today in History: 06 April 1862

American Civil War: The Battle of Shiloh Begins

ABOVE: Scene depicting the Battle of Shiloh


On this day in 1862 during the American Civil War, the Battle of Shiloh begins in Tennessee, when Union troops under General Ulysses S. Grant confront Confederate troops under General Albert Sidney Johnston and P. G. T. Beauregard. Though the battle started well for Confederate forces on the first day, it ultimately turned to defeat on the second.

ABOVE: Generals Sherman and U. S. Grant


For more, visit:

The Illustrated Comprehensive History of the Great Battle of Shiloh, by Samuel Meek Howard

USA: Confederate Civil War Submarine H. L. Hunley

The world’s first successful combat submarine, the H. L. Hunley, was raised from the ocean floor near Charleston over 10 years ago and is now on display in the United States.

For more on this exciting civil war discovery, read:

For photos, visit:

Today in History – 2 January 1904

Confederate General James Longstreet Died

On this day in 1904, Confederate general James Longstreet died at Gainesville, Georgia, USA. He was known by General Robert E. Lee as his ‘Old War Horse.’ He was also known as ‘Old Pete.’

James Longstreet was born on the 8th January 1821, in Edgefield District, South Carolina, USA. He served in the military for most of his early life. He served with distinction in the Mexican-American War, in Texas and in the Confederate States Army.

General James Longstreet was one of the Confederate army’s leading generals, serving in both the eastern and western theaters of the American Civil War. Longstreet was severley injured at the Battle of the Wilderness, though he returned to the war.

Following the war, Longstreet lost many of his civil war friends, as he joined the Republican Party, helped President U.S. Grant and because of his highly critical comments on Robert E. Lee. His reputation has suffered great damage at his own hand, though it seems it is being restored with the passing of time.

For more read:

From Manassas to Appomattox, by James Longstreet (memoirs of the civil war in America, published in 1903)

Today in History – 10 May 1863

American Civil War: Thomas ‘Stonewall’ Jackson Died

On this day in 1863, Confederate General Thomas ‘Stonewall’ Jackson died from wounds sustained from friendly fire during the American Civil War. Following a magnificent victory at Chancellorsville on the 2nd May 1863, Jackson was making his way back to his own lines when he was accidently shot by Confederate pickets who mistook him and his staff for Union troops.

Having been returned to Confedrate lines, Jackson survived the amputation of an arm only to die of pneumonia on the 10th May 1863. It was a loss the south could ill afford. He was one of the greatest generals of the war.


Today in History – 26 April 1865

United States: John Wilkes Booth is Killed

On the 14th April 1865, John Wilkes Booth assassinated the President of the United States of America at Ford’s Theatre, in Washington D.C. Booth, a Confederate sympathizer, managed to escape the scene of his crime and fled on horseback to a farm in northern Virginia. It was here, 12 days after his attack on the president that Booth was shot and killed.

John Wilkes Booth was born on the 10th May 1838, into the well known Booth family and became a well known actor in his own right. But it would be his assassination of Abraham Lincoln that he would always be remembered for.

Eight other co-conspirators were tried and convicted for their parts in the assassination and other roles in the plot that resulted in the death of the president. Four of these were hung a short time later.


Today in History – 18 April 1861

Robert E. Lee: Turns Down Offer to Lead Union Troops

On this day in 1861, with the Civil War in the United States in its very early stages, Colonel Robert E. Lee was offered the role of Major General in the United States Army. Knowing that Virginia was likely to secede from the Union, Lee turned the offer down and resigned from the United States Army two days later. This despite having said to his son in a letter that ‘I can anticipate no greater calamity for the country than a dissolution of the Union.’ However, it was love for and loyalty to his home state of Virginia, that forced his hand to join the Confederacy. On the 23rd of April Lee took command of the armed forces of Virginia and began his role in the southern rebellion, in which he would rise to be the General-in-Chief of all Confederate forces. Almost four years later, on the 9th April 1865, his role in the war ended with his surrender to U.S. Grant at Appomattox Court House, Virginia.


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