“Southern Knights.” 150 Years of Memories
A Commentary by J. D. Longstreet
150 years ago today, around 3 PM, some 12,000 Confederate soldiers, "stepped off" on a death march into a hailstorm of
lead and canister shot poured into their ranks from well dug-in Union
positions and artillery batteries on the outskirts of a little
Pennsylvania town called Gettysburg.
Those doomed Confederate
troops would walk nearly three-quarters of a mile -- over open ground --
with no cover of any kind, while the union forces poured lead into
their ranks toppling bodies like a scythe in a wheat field.
The Confederates were slaughtered. It was the turning point of The War Between the States.
James Longstreet was unhappy with Gen. Robert E. Lee's command to
attack the Union positions. When it came time for him to issue the
order for George Pickett to take his men across that great killing
field, he simply could not bring himself to say the words. He merely
nodded with bowed head. Pickett ordered his men into the sluice of
death, in line abreast, extending nearly a mile in breadth.
less than an hour it was over. That field was littered with Confederate
dead. Over half of Pickett's Division lay dead upon the field... over
three thousand men. All 15 regimental commanders, including two
Brigadier General's and six Colonel's were dead. Their skill, their
experience, gone forever.
When George Pickett finally made his
way to Lee, Lee ordered him to prepare his Division for a possible Union
counter attack. Pickett replied to Lee: "Sir. I HAVE no Division!"
Pickett never forgave Lee.
forces did not counter attack -- their commanders not wishing to face
the still formidable Confederate forces nor the Confederate artillery
dug-in on Seminary Ridge.
The next morning, the morning of July 4th,
1863, dawned dark and foreboding with skies that soon opened with
torrents of rain. Lee seized the opportunity and retreated.
It still hurts.
few years ago, I stood in the cemetery of a small, rural, southeastern
North Carolina church and helped to dedicate six granite Confederate
Veteran Grave Markers for six “Heroes of the South” who were veterans of
the Confederate Army.
As the exceedingly bright September
afternoon sunlight shone down upon those gathered for this solemn
ceremony, three flags snapped in the strong fall breeze as it danced
it’s way across the cemetery embracing each stone in turn, and forcing
our flags to flutter and, at times, stand straight out with their
halyard as taunt as a bow string.
At the top of the flagstaff was
the Stars and Stripes, the flag of our country, the United States of
America. Just below “Old Glory” was the state flag of our state, the
state of North Carolina, and directly below that was the Confederate
Battle Flag, the flag of no country, and no state, just a battle field
ensign, but… it was the flag under which the men we honored had marched
and fought and died.
As I spoke to those assembled on that sacred
ground, I let my eyes drift casually over the onlookers. I saw one
child, a little sandy-headed boy, about 4 maybe 5 years of age. He was
the only youngster there.
I thought, that young man needs to hear this, he needs to have his parents tell him what all this color and honor means. He needs to be told… before it is too late.
children have been taught a “revisionist history” about this unique
part of the United States. Generation after generation of American
children had been led away for their roots until southern children,
especially, no longer know who, and what, they are.
history of the United States, and the people of the US, is colorful the
history of the Southern portion of our country is even more colorful.
Settled primarily by Scot-Irish peoples, with French Huguenots along our
southeastern coasts, the people of the early South always felt the
difference between them and their northern brothers and sisters.
South was agrarian… a land of farmers. The North was industrialized... a
land of factories and immigrant workers from, mainly, northern Europe.
is inexplicably tied to the weather, to the seasons, and weather and
the seasons move at their own pace, a pace which is, for the most part,
much slower than the pace of impatient man. Factories, for the most
part, were not dependent upon the weather as the workers were most often
inside out of the elements so their manner of work and life was at a
much more rapid pace than that of the South.
Our dress was
different from that of the north. Hot and humid, the south demanded
lighter weight clothing, and lighter colors, than that of our nothern
Our speech mannerisms became a birthmark of the
Southron. We spoke slowly… almost poetically. Our northern neighbors
spoke in a more rapid-fire cadence.
The early South was much more
prosperous than the North. At the outbreak of the American Civil War
the gross national product of the South was three times that of the
North. For all intents and purposes, the South was supporting the North.
North demanded more and more southern money to run the government and
laid tariffs and taxes against the South and the South’s trade with
Europe until the Southern people said: “enough”. The government of the
US would not give an inch on the tariffs, and taxes, and the South
parted company with the US and formed it’s own country, the Confederate
States of America.
The Confederacy had a Congress, a President,
an Army, and a Navy, and a land area, and population, much larger than
that of the 13 original colonies. Plus, the South had… the money.
Without the South’s money the US government was broke.
And so, the US invaded the Confederate States of America. (Always follow the money, dear reader.)
of the hallmarks of the Scot-Irish people is their willingness to fight
and… the intensity with which they fight. The ancient Romans got a
bellyful of the Scot-Irish warriors when they tried to tame them.
don’t mention slavery, here, as a cause of the American Civil War …
because it wasn’t. It WAS dragged into the war later… but, at the outset
of the war, slavery, in the South, was not THE issue. In fact, Lincoln had said publicly he was not against slavery.
are the words of a proposed 13th amendment to the US Constitution…
House Resolution 80 (Joint Resolution of Congress, Adopted March 2,
Full Text of H.J.R. No. 80, the "Ghost Amendment":
by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of
America in Congress assembled, That the following article be proposed to
the Legislatures of the several States as an amendment to the
Constitution of the United States, which, when ratified by three-fourths
of said Legislatures, shall be valid, to all intents and purposes, as
part of the said Constitution, namely:
ART. 13. No amendment shall be
made to the Constitution which will authorize or give to Congress the
power to abolish or interfere, within any State, with the domestic
institutions thereof, including that of persons held to labor or service
by the laws of said State.
--12 United States Statutes at Large, 36th Congress, 2nd Session, 1861, p. 251.
The resolution above is often referred to as the “Ghost Amendment”, the proposed original 13th Amendment.
The argument still rages today as to whether it passed… or not. At least two states ratified it… Ohio and Maryland!
The opening shots of the Civil war occurred in 1861. The Emancipation proclamation did not take effect until January 1st of 1863.
The real 13th amendment, abolishing slavery, passed the Senate easily
in April 1864, but was defeated 95 to 66 the first time it went before
the House of Representatives in June. It took the House six more months
before it reconsidered the amendment and adopted it 119 to 56 on January
31, 1865. The war ended at Appomattox Courthouse, Virginia, in April of
The four years of turmoil left scars upon the South, which
have never healed. North Carolina, as an example, lost 40,000 of its
men to the war. The US was involved in the Vietnam War for nearly ten
years. The US lost 58,000 men as a result of that nearly decade long
war. Compare that to the 40,000 men NC lost… in just four years. The South’s population was nearly stripped of it’s young men... for a generation.
southern men who survived came home to a land devastated. All the
advancements made in the 80 years since their grandfathers had fought
the British for Independence was, for all intents and purposes… gone.
Many found it impossible to start over so they packed up they families,
and whatever meager belongings that had left, and went west.
Those who stayed turned to the hard work of rebuilding a society, which had been utterly destroyed, and began rebuilding. The South has continued to rebuild ever since.
But the scars are still evident, if not in our buildings and our landscapes, then certainly on our psyches. As
the only part of the US to be invaded, and conquered, and occupied, we
have a greater sense of liberty and freedom than, perhaps, any other
part of this great country.
But we don’t talk about it. We aren’t allowed.
We cannot remember our heroes who gave their lives in defense of their
homes, their families, and their country… the Confederate States of
America. The scars are still tender. Poke around them and you will be
surprised at the vehemence with which you will be challenged by a
We fly our Confederate Battle Flag, not as a
put down, or as an implied expression of a deep-seated desire to secede,
but in remembrance of the sacrifices the South made.
Our Southern children are forbidden to celebrate their heritage. It is a heritage of heroes. Yet,
too many feel threatened by the truth to allow a southern student, in
public school, to wear even a belt buckle with the battle flag under
which his ancestor fought and most likely died.
the detractors of the South have overlooked. Their attitude does little
to meld this nation into one. If anything they continue to drive a wedge
between the people of the South and the people of the North.
Suppression of the celebration of one’s heritage creates a smoldering
anger, which will burn until it bursts into flames. When that finally
happens, more than just feelings will be hurt.
All this was pouring through my mind as I spoke to those assembled for the dedication of those stones.
is a great country. Somehow we have managed to get along since 1865
with a modicum of courtesy toward each other. But we must realize that
we are yet two nations within one country. There is no way to ever
remove the wall of separation between the North and the South unless,
and until, we allow the truth to be told to our children and future
generations of Americans. Continuing to cover-up the truth of our
heritage, the good and the bad, is unhealthy and it needlessly feeds
into the bitterness over wrongs done half of this nation 150 years ago.
There is no reason for half of this great country to feel threatened by the other half.
Our Southern ancestors meant the US no harm when they parted ways in
the 1860’s. What they did was perfectly legal and was their way of
righting an injustice. The South had no interest, whatsoever, in
overthrowing the government of the US. And yet, the US invaded and
overthrew the government of the Confederate States.
The scars are deep here in the South.
I carry a partial list of my blood kin who were killed in battles with
US troops, or died later, as a result of wounds received in those
battles. Southern families consider those men heroes of the highest
order. And we bristle when their good name is besmirched by some
ignorant, politically correct, individual, from a Congressman, to a
Senator, to a public school administrator.
The Confederate History of THIS family WILL be
passed on to the children and grandchildren, and great grandchildren,
so that we may keep their memory alive for the generations yet unborn.
walk through a cemetery of a southern church can be a journey back in
time. Looking at the dates, and the military ranks, carved in the
headstones of our southern heroes can sweep one back to the days of Southern Knights
in their gray and butternut uniforms. It also takes us back to the
second half of that war when those same Southern Knights walked mile
after mile on bloodied feet, in tattered uniforms, on empty stomachs,
and still managed to claim victory, time and time again, against the army of a fledgling superpower.
You think we’re not proud of them, of their legacy, and our heritage? Then you have no understanding of the South, at all.
© J. D. Longstreet