Only one hundred and fifty years after Appomattox, southern states are beginning to give up public displays of Confederate battle flags and other emblems of what my two grandfathers called the War for Southern Independence or the War of Northern Aggression.
But what about private displays? And what about memories of private displays?
Here are two memories of private displays:
Growing up in Louisiana during the Second World War, I was nurtured by the rival stories of my grandfathers Smith and Riggs about their fathers’ service under P. G. T. Beauregard. General Beauregard, according to many accounts, was the gallant leader who insisted his soldiers needed a recognizable battle flag and chose the design with the star-studded Saint Andrews cross–the flag that flew over the South Carolina state house until recently, that graced part of the Georgia State Flag until 2001.
In the dead center of my grandfather Smith’s house was a large windowless room with the massive pool table on which I was allowed to play war games with hand-painted lead soldiers, horses, and cannon representing the Blue and the Gray. Three walls of this room were lined with a fine collection of hunting and fishing trophies–and paintings of dogs playing poker. The fourth wall was reserved for a display of his father’s collection of weapons and banners, including a tattered Confederate Battle Flag.
My grandmother Smith, the daughter of a wounded Union soldier who stayed down south without benefit of a carpet bag, gave away all the contents of the windowless room when she became a widow. But she could not give away my memory of that room at the heart of the house.
Here’s a more recent memory I will take to my grave: about twenty years ago, stuck in a line of traffic during road repairs in Brunswick, Georgia, I got out of my pickup to stretch my legs and noticed that the radiator of the huge truck behind me was covered by a stained Confederate Battle Flag–and that the truck driver was a large black man.
Making a faulty assumption, I asked him how he felt about his boss making him drive with such a banner leading the way.
“This is my truck,” he replied, smiling proudly.
Why did he display that banner on his radiator, I asked.
“Because it catches the bugs”, he said, drawing out that last word with a dying fall.