Let Trump Try To Defend Racist, Traitorous Confederates. Congress Can Still PrevailRoundup
tags: Civil War, military history, memorials, Confederacy, monuments, public history
Ty Seidule, the Chamberlain Fellow at Hamilton College and professor emeritus of history at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, N.Y., is the author of Robert E. Lee and Me: A Southerner’s Reckoning with the Myth of the Lost Cause, forthcoming in January.
President Trump has vowed to veto a bill authorizing more than $740 billion in defense spending because it aims to change the names of 10 Army installations. The posts honor Confederate generals who fought against the United States during the Civil War.
Few things unite a fractious Congress during these divisive times, but removing the names of men who committed treason to preserve slavery brought them together. Months ago, the House and Senate passed versions of the defense authorization bill with veto-proof majorities, but now The Post reports “softening” among Republicans.
The two-thirds majority in each house needed to override a presidential veto may be in danger, and some members are searching for ways to revise the bill, pushing the decision about renaming the Army bases into the next administration and the next Congress.
Such temporizing would be a disgrace in this year of racial reckoning. Congress should take a stand, letting the president know that it will override his veto and withdraw the honors for these Confederate generals, who constitute a motley assortment of pro-slavery activists, postwar white supremacists, poor tacticians, traitors and war criminals.
John Brown Gordon, namesake of Fort Gordon in Georgia, never served in the U.S. Army. After his service in Confederate gray, he led the Ku Klux Klan in Georgia, a group of racist terrorists he called a “brotherhood of … peaceable, law-abiding citizens.” In 1868, Gordon gave a speech to Black people in Charleston, S.C., in which he promised that if they demanded equal rights, he would lead a race war and “you will be exterminated.”
The Fort Pickett Army National Guard installation in Virginia is named for George Pickett, immortalized in history for leading a failed charge at Gettysburg in 1863. The following year, Pickett ordered the summary execution of 22 U.S. soldiers who had had once served in the Confederate army. He hanged the men in front of their families. After the war ended, he fled the country because he feared he would be charged for war crimes.
Fort Lee, also in Virginia, is of course named for Robert E. Lee. He and his wife, Mary Custis Lee, enslaved many people; during the Gettysburg campaign, Lee’s forces kidnapped Black people and brought them back to Virginia for return to their owners or for sale. After the 1864 Battle of the Crater in Virginia, Lee’s troops massacred Black prisoners of war.
Army posts named for Confederates Braxton Bragg in North Carolina, John Bell Hood in Texas and Leonidas Polk in Louisiana honor some of the worst-performing generals of the entire Civil War. The other Confederates among the 10 Congress targeted are similarly contemptible.
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