Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Confederate re-enactor article misses the point on John W. Douglass

Last night, the Huffington Post published an article by Lucia Graves that describes 5th District congressional candidate John W. Douglass' hobby of participating in Civil War re-enactments.
Douglass founded Stribling's Battery years ago, after participating in a Union unit with the 28th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry for several years, a campaign aide said. According to Carol Robinson, a longtime battery volunteer, Douglass' reenactment unit boasts several dozen members and is headquartered in Fauquier County. Meetings typically are held on Douglass' farm in Hume, Va., where the unit's cannons are kept. 
The battery's website features a 4,500-word historical treatise excerpted from Michael J. Andrus' book, “The Brooke, Fauquier, Loudoun, and Alexandria Artillery,” and one part, featured in bold on the site, suggests great pride in its history. "In the War, all reward a Confederate Soldier expected was that his manhood should be recognized, for love of home and country was his inspiration," it reads.
Douglass doesn't just participate: he owns a battery of Civil War cannon--that's a pretty big investment in a hobby.  On the other hand, I don't want to belabor the point, because I don't think Douglass' Civil War Hobby is his biggest problem as a Democratic candidate going forward, but the article raises some questions worth addressing.  Civil War re-enactor groups can be problematic for several reasons:

1) They tend to whitewash history by providing a very romanticized and slanted vision of that history. The South did not fight the war to preserve mint juleps and the virtue of Southern women. The fought to preserve slavery and a racist hierarchy. Most re-enactors don't address that fact; many actively obscure it by claiming the war was about "state's rights" and they actively promote a "Lost Cause" attitude towards the history of the war.

2) Many Southern re-enactor groups are havens for Neo-Confederate thought. These people don't just commemorate the Old South (which was based on slavery and racism) they celebrate it, and wish to re-create it. There is a person who serves as the chairman of a Republican county committee in Virginia who used to actively promote the idea of the South seceding again and who posted his own designs for uniforms and insignia for a future Confederate Army. Now I don't believe for a moment that John W. Douglass is a closet Neo-Confederate who wishes to re-fight the Civil War, but it is important to acknowledge that those groups exist and they provoke a negative reaction among certain groups of voters.

3) Slavery is rarely if ever portrayed. Neither are Southern atrocities like Andersonville or the Fort Pillow Massacre. Southern troops routinely executed captured Black Union soldiers. Troops under Robert E. Lee killed captured Black troops, and on at least one occasion, at Fort Walker, Union Black troops retaliated by killing all the captured Confederates in their hands. None of this ever gets portrayed, and so our vision of history is skewed by re-enactments. 

As noted above, I very seriously doubt that John W. Douglass is one of the "bad kind" of re-enactors, but I can certainly understand why it might provoke some questions from certain groups, particularly African-Americans.  After all, it wasn't all that long ago that a young man studying and playing football at the University of Virginia displayed a Confederate flag on his car and amused himself by driving around the part of Virginia that comprises the 5th District stuffing severed deer heads into the mailboxes of African-American families.

Fair or unfair, the image of the Confederate re-enactor politician is a damaged one.
I see now that it has taken me a lot longer to make my point about Civil War re-enactors, so I will conclude this post and start a fresh post in which I discuss what I perceive to be John W. Douglass' real problems when it comes to Virginia's 5th Congressional District race.

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