Show respect for this flag (News Letter)

20030711 Confederate Flag

Show respect for this flag
OPINION: Billy Kennedy (News Letter)
11 July 2003

The Alliance Party appears to be exercising some muddle thinking over the origins and the legitimacy of the American Confederacy flag which is being flown in some loyalist areas of east Belfast in the run-up to the Twelfth.

For Alliance to summarily dismiss the Confederate flag as a racist emblem is to grievously insult the memory and the sacrifice of men and women of great courage, who fought a noble but unsuccessful fight against the numerically stronger and better equipped Union Army in the American Civil War of 1861-65.

The Confederate flag — the distinctive Stars and Bars — has, admittedly, been wrongly used by racist elements in the United States, in a way that sometimes the Union Flag, the Ulster Flag, or the Irish Tricolour, can be dragged in the gutter, by those who, while purporting to uphold what it stands for, show absolutely no respect for it.

While not wanting to enter into the argument over whether or not it should be flown here over the Twelfth, the Stars and Bars is not an illegal paramilitary flag.

It flies from many civic building in the United States — and is an emblem with more relevance to Ulster/Irish culture and history, than the Israeli or Palestinian flags that can be seen flying from lamp-posts on our Northern Ireland streets.

The Confederacy in the United States during the mid-19th century was a cause considered lawful and respectable by many millions of people in the Southern states in America, quite a number of whom had Ulster-Scots Presbyterian family origins.

Indeed, support for the Confederacy in the South also came from a significant percentage of Americans from an Irish Roman Catholic background, many of whom left Ireland after the Great Irish Famine, in 1845-49.

Together, rightly or wrongly, many in the Ulster and Irish diaspora settled in the Southern states considered it a duty to resist the imposition of federal laws by the then Washington Administration.

The Confederate nation composed of 11 Southern states (Texas, Arkansas, Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Florida, South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia) that seceded from the United States in 1861.

It came into being at a convention in Montgomery, Alabama, where a constitution was drawn up and a provisional government formed.

The Southern nation survived for four years, but it could not maintain its independence against the greatly superior population, industrial capacity and economic might of the North.

Some of the most distinguished Confederate generals in the Civil War were of Ulster stock, proudly fighting under the Stars and Bars.

General Thomas Jonathan “Stonewall” Jackson, from the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, is considered one of the foremost army leaders in military history. Jackson, a deeply committed Christian, was the great grandson of John Jackson, who came from the Birches-Tartaraghan area in Co. Armagh.

Another highly acclaimed Confederate general from the Shenandoah Valley was James Ewell Brown (JEB) Stuart, whose great-great grandfather was Londonderry man Archibald Stuart, who emigrated to Pennsylvania in 1726.

There were also Generals Joseph Egleston Johnston, Albert Sidney Johnston, Daniel Smith Donelson and Leonidas Polk, other leading Confederates with direct family ties to Ulster.

In the Charlotte-Waxhaws region of North Carolina, the homeland of celebrated Ulster-Scots President Andrew Jackson, an estimated 75 per cent of Confederate soldiers in the Civil War were of Ulster origin.

And it was General Robert E. Lee, the legendary commander of the Confederate Army, who, when asked “what race of people makes the best soldiers?” replied: “The Scots who came to this country by way or Ireland — because they have all the dash of the Irish in taking up a position, and all the stubbornness of the Scotch in holding it”.

The Confederate flag definitely does have a certain resonance in Ulster history and culture which has absolutely nothing to do with racism!

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