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Friday, June 10, 2016

Should US Flags Fly Over Confederate Graves?

One of the Confederate mass grave sites at the Shiloh National Military Park.

This week a somewhat interesting topic was brought up by many of the more vocal members of the Confederate heritage community about the practice on the part of some people to put small United States flags on the graves of Confederate soldiers. 

This became an issue late last month when some individual removed 163 US flags from the Confederate graves at Shiloh National Military Park in Tennessee the Saturday before Memorial Day (May 30th). Park staff discovered the flags were missing and replaced them in time for official ceremonies on Memorial Day. 

The next day a custodian found the flags in a bag accompanied by a handwritten note of apology for the removal, and expressing the individual's feelings that "American flags" should not be flying over the graves of Confederate soldiers. 

The Shiloh battlefield was the site of one of the bloodies battles of the Western Theater of the War Between the States (American Civil War) in April of 1862. Five burial trenches are the final resting places for thousands of the Confederate dead. Union soldiers are buried in the nearby Shiloh National Cemetery.

The administration of the park issued a post on the national battlefield's facebook page explaining why the US flags were placed there, emphasizing that no disrespect is intended to The post itself makes a very good case - including recognition of the Confederate soldiers buried on the battlefield as recognized American Veterans, a statement from a government-run source that probably has a certain "civil war blogger" in need of sedatives. The post makes an excellent and well-reasoned case for the display of the US flags at the mass grave sites, including a photo of United Confederate Veterans standing at the same site with US flags on the ground at the mass grave, and carrying the US flag in parade.

Overall, it is clear that the traditional display of the US flag at the site has historical precedent, and - from this blogger's point of view - was not done as a sign of disrespect to either the dead, nor the living. It was done as a sign of respect for their status as American Veterans on equal terms with US soldiers of all other conflicts. 

By contrast, the removal of the flags by a misguided, yet seemingly well-meaning individual, was also not intended to be disrespectful in principal; though the removal of federal property from federal land is not acceptable, nor is robbing from a grave site under any circumstances. 

Why Do Some Put US Flags On Confederate Graves 

The act of putting US flags at Confederate graves is far from a new thing. The practice goes back to the end of the War itself. 

At the time of the Damnyankee Occupation of Dixie (also known historically as Reconstruction) the display of Confederate banners was illegal under the rules of martial law. In those early memorial observances when the Confederate dead were honored flowers were placed on the graves without bunting of any kind. 

The Union occupiers would sometimes bury their own dead at Confederate grave sites and build memorials in order to permanently get the idea across to the local population that they - by God! - were in the Union to stay. Since only the US flag could legally fly on those occasions, when the Yankees took up the practice of honoring their dead buried in Southern soil, the US flag would fly over all the graves. 

When the Union soldiers finally left a decade later, the United Confederate Veterans (UCV) and United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC) began honoring the Southern dead properly with flowers and flags. The Union graves in the South continued to be honored with US flags, often during the same services. Since the UCV and UDC were American patriotic groups, the US flag was mandatory as their functions. 

By the time the Spanish-American War (1898) came around, the former Confederate Veterans and their Union counterparts patriotically united under the share title of Americans that both proudly declared themselves, even during the War Between the States itself. It was around that time of reconciliation that the practice of honoring the men of the North and the South from the War as American Veterans was largely established and both the flag of the United States and the Confederate battle flag began flying respectively over the graves of the dead. 

This practice continues today in modern times, though there is controversy from both sides of a rather heated argument. 

Some camps of the Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV) and United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC) placed both US flags and Confederate flags on the graves of the Confederate Dead and have done so for decades. These groups also traditionally put US flags on the graves of Union dead in local cemeteries out of common respect and honor for those lain to rest. 

More often that not this happens on federal property, or Northern land where Confederate soldiers are buried. The best example of this are the graves of the Confederate dead buried at the site of Camp Chase Prison Camp in Columbus, Ohio. The local SCV decorates the graves with both flags on Confederate Memorial Day and US Memorial Day respectively. 

Confederate Soldiers' Monument at the Camp Chase Confederate Cemetery in Columbus, Ohio, USA.
Note the US flags placed at the graves beneath, and the word: AMERICANS on the arch of the monument.
More Confederate graves at Camp Chase Confederate Cemetery.
Nearly 2300 Confederate soldiers died in prison here of diseases and other causes.

In the Southland itself, the practice of putting US flags on Confederate graves is something of a mixed bag. 

Some Confederate descendants see the placing of US flags on Confederate graves as an insult to the memories of the men buried their, particularly those of an ancestor who died during the War itself.

Southern nationalists in particular are critical of such displays claiming that (and folks these is actually direct quotes): "the g--d--m flag of the Yankee Empire does not belong on the grave of the Confederate soldier." Yeah folks, I also feel a headache reading stuff like that. Y'all better get the aspirin ready, because I have another one: "Don't put a Yankee rag on a Rebel grave." 

The fact that many former Confederate soldiers and their descendants later fought proudly under that "Yankee rag" and the vast majority of Southerners of Confederate descent proudly claim the US flag as their own, no less important to the battle flag of the Southland respectively, is largely lost on this mindset. 

Other Southerners descended from Confederate soldiers put only US flags at the graves to honor the dead ancestor, while at the same time trying to distance themselves from modern displays of the Confederate battle flag. Obviously such thinking is misguided and to some degree embarrassing. This mode of thinking is an attempt at compromising and appeasing the irrational ideals of modern-day political correctness, and are usually lost on the practitioners of that obscene paradigm.

There are also those misguided people who believe that Confederate flags should fly over the graves of Confederate soldiers buried on federal owned land, or that the Confederate soldier deserves no honor at all, but that is a topic we will discuss in a future blog post later this month. 

Conclusions and Suggestions

Overall, despite the claims of many of the more hard-core Southern heritage folks with wild conspiracy theories, the practice of putting US flags with Confederate flags on graves is not some plot by the US government to denigrate the Confederate soldier or his descendants - though there is no denying that some individuals with warped social justice mindsets would enjoy that particular outcome and advocate for it for that reason. 

The organizations and individuals who continue to do so are not entirely misguided, though I can understand and sympathize to a degree with those who feel that US flags have no place on Confederate grave markers. I would agree completely that the US flag alone should not fly at Confederate graves - particularly those of Unknown soldiers. 


Let me explain to you a my own common sense solution when it comes to this issue. 
As both an SCV member and someone who has helped take care of both Confederate and Union graves for years, I can only say with certainty about the graves I watch over on Confederate and US Memorial Days respectively. 

I watch over 57 graves of soldiers who served in the War Between the States located at Elmwood Cemetery in downtown Chester. Of these are 54 are “Unknown” CSA soldiers, 2 are known Confederates (one dead during the war and one an aged veteran) and 1 Union soldier who died in late 1865 of illness. 

This is the manner in which personally I handle this issue of US and Confederate flags on these graves:

On Confederate Memorial Day (May 10th in the Carolinas) I place ONLY Confederate battle flags on their graves of the 54 Unknown CSA soldiers who died in the War.

For the one Confederate Veteran after the war (who probably took the oath after the War) I put both the US flag and a battle flag on his grave. 

For the Union soldier, I place a 36 star Union stick banner at his - sometimes both the historical US flag and the current 50 star flag.

On US Memorial Day (Last Monday of May) I place a pole with a Confederate Battle Flag at the Confederate gravesite and another pole of equal length with the current US flag at the Union gravesite respectively sun up to sundown. 

That is my personal solution to the issue and how I honor our shared American dead using good plain old Southern Fried Common Sense


  1. Well I guess it's nice to see that in the 'America's Got Idiots' competition it's not just a bunch of dopey Northerners taking home all the trophies.

    Calling the modern US Flag a "Yankee" Flag is just plain stupid. And there's no shortage of Northerners who think that same stupid thing. Educating all these Northern and Southern dopes is gonna take some time and effort even though it's not all that hard to figure out.

  2. Be advised C.W. another problem looms with these Southern Secessionists. They are already poised to take over the whole Confederate Flag conversation and some of their nutty extremists are dangerous, Dylan Roof types. Now, some among them are even more dangerous with this Orlando tragedy dominating the news.

    You are one of the 'Heritage not hate' Southerners. The "heritage IS hate" southerners are secessionists and they'd trash Union graves given the chance.

    Right now the probability of one of those nuts going killer-Roof has increased dramatically. Imagine what happens if a mass killing occurs where a Dixie Cross is combined with the slogan "sic semper tyrannis". That slogan then becomes a noose around the neck of anybody who used it without precisely defining in words what it meant to them BEFORE the killings occur.

    With the anniversaries of the church murders and Haley taking down the Confederate Flag in South Carolina approaching, soft targets in South Carolina are at increased risk.

    People need to monitor and report to the authorities any pro-secessionist, suspicious activities during this time of increased danger.

    1. LOL Steve, these Southern Nationalist types are a very small minority of hotheads who have no real political power and their ability to influence the entire Southern heritage community in any significant way is next to nil.
      Oh to be sure there are some frustrated fruits and nuts in that bowl, but aside from some disgruntled ex-military types, none of them pose a serious danger...other than being useful in providing a good distraction for certain overly-paranoid civil war/social justice bloggers who pay more attention to them than they deserve while ignoring the rest of us and our long-term plans.
      Oh I do have a few of them on my facebook friends list -- largely to keep an eye on certain more outspoken individuals among that crowd as you suggest, believe me I am the cautious type -- but I have seen no evidence that any of them are on the verge of going postal like the individual you mentioned. Just a bunch of angry talk from a bunch of embittered folks mooning over a pipe-dream.
      I do thank you for your concern and for broaching the subject.