Why US flags don’t go on Confederate graves
The intention is likely good, but one wonders what individuals who place American flags on the graves on Confederate soldiers are thinking.
In what is becoming an increasingly frequent occurrence, more and more markers for Confederate dead – including those killed in battle – are being festooned with the Stars and Stripes, usually around Memorial Day.
One supposes the thought among some of the more history-challenged is that a veteran is a veteran is a veteran, but there seems something slightly disconcerting about marking the graves of Confederate soldiers with the flag of the nation that invaded their homeland.
This isn’t an isolated incident, either. In cemeteries across South Carolina graves of numerous Confederate veterans are being decorated with American flags.
Among these is an antebellum house of worship in Fairfield County known as the Old Brick Church which features the markers of four Southern soldiers in a row. All feature the distinctive peaked gravestones common to graves of Confederate veterans.
On a recent visit to the site, the last grave in the line, marking the final resting place of David S. Douglas, Co. C, 12th S.C. Infantry, had a small American flag in front of it (above photo).
Confederate records being what they are and the fact that one out of four SC white males of fighting age from South Carolina died in the 1861-65 conflict, it can sometimes be difficult to determine the fate of individuals who signed on to fight for the Southern cause.
After a bit of research, it was possible to learn that Douglas was a private in Company C of the 12th South Carolina, a unit formed in Fairfield County. However, Douglas’s fate wasn’t readily apparent.
The gravestone commonly used for Confederate veterans doesn’t list birth or death dates, so it was impossible to learn from it whether he survived the war.
However, there was information was available about the three men buried next to him, brothers who were also in the 12th S.C., but in Co. F:
- Second Lt. Henry Chappell died of disease on Jan. 12, 1862;
- Private Joel Chappell died on July 17, 1863, in Gettysburg, Pa., from wounds suffered two weeks earlier in the pivotal Battle of Gettysburg; and
- Corporal David Hicks Chappell survived being wounded at Gettysburg but was killed April 1, 1865, at the Battle of Five Forks, less than two weeks before Lee’s surrender at Appomattox.
The 12th S.C. saw action at some of the war’s bloodiest battles, including Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Cold Harbor, Gaines’ Mill, Second Manassas, Antietam, the Wilderness and Spotsylvania, in addition to Gettysburg and Five Forks.
Given that the four graves appear to be the only ones in the cemetery with the peaked-style markers and that the three graves next to Douglas’s are all the final resting places of men who died during the war, it would seem likely that Douglas too was a casualty of the War Between the States, one of more than 17,000 from the Palmetto State.
As such, perhaps the best way to respect Douglas’s memory would be not to mark his grave with the flag that represents forces which, if they weren’t directly responsible for his death, certainly caused the deaths of many of his friends and countrymen.
It could be argued that placing the Stars and Stripes on the graves of Confederate soldiers is hardly different from marking the graves of Plains Indians warriors or British Redcoats with American flags.
Winners may get to write the history books but that doesn’t mean they always get to candy coat the past. Like it or not, the men who took up arms for the Confederacy did so with the goal of forming a separate nation.
We can debate their motivations and reasons, and the more simplistic among us can denigrate the men of the Gray by applying 21st century values in a blanket fashion to individuals who lived 150 years ago without attempting to employ any context.
But don’t think all was well once the Southern armies laid down their arms in the spring of 1865.
Hard feelings persisted throughout the lives of myriad veterans, and many who put down their weapons at the end of the conflict would have shuddered at the thought of being buried beneath the flag that cost the lives of so many of the neighbors and countrymen.
We don’t have to agree with every (or any) aspect of the cause for which the Confederate soldier took up arms in order to respect the memory of the dead. Basic common sense tells us they stood apart from the men they fought against and deserve to be remembered separately.