Do Confederate Veterans Count?

confederate memorial

The following is excerpted from a letter which I sent to my State Senator

At the Florida State Fair, Governor Rick Scott and his Cabinet tabled the question of whether Confederate soldiers – in particular, Samuel Pasco, David Lang, and Edward A. Perry – were eligible for admission to the Veterans’ Hall of Fame, requesting the legislature’s “clarification.” The apparent problem – that Confederates are technically not U.S. veterans and thus ineligible for admission – actually has an easy solution. In 1958, while raising pension rates for widows of U.S. veterans, Congress stated that “the term ‘veteran’ includes a person who served in the military or naval forces of the Confederate States of America during the Civil War.” Confederate veterans may also be buried in Arlington National Cemetery, which is reserved for U.S. veterans. Therefore, Confederate veterans, strictly speaking, are U.S. veterans. In fact, U.S. Presidents such as Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry Truman, Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, and Ronald Reagan have all publicly honored Confederates. That should settle the technicalities of the issue, although there is a more fundamental question that needs answering: were the Confederates American heroes or traitors?

Both sides in the War Between the States were proudly American. Both sides believed with total sincerity that they were the heirs of the American Revolution, defending the fundamental principles of their country’s freedom. Pulitzer-winning historian James M. McPherson studied 25,000 letters and 100 diaries from Federal and Confederate soldiers in an exhaustive effort to understand why Northerners and Southerners fought. “What were they fighting for? If asked to define it in a single word, many soldiers on both sides would have answered: liberty,” explained McPherson. “They fought for the heritage of freedom bequeathed to them by the Founding Fathers. North and South alike wrapped themselves in the mantle of 1776, but the two sides interpreted that heritage in opposite ways.” Looking backward from the present, it is simple to scoff at the Confederates for fighting for a lost cause. Looking forward from the past, however – which is how history should be studied – the reason Confederates fought makes sense.

Indeed, Confederates were Americans fighting for their own America, not traitors betraying their country. William C. Davis, acclaimed historian and three-time winner of the Jefferson Davis Award, noted that 90% of the “Johnny Rebs…never owned a slave, had no stake in the slave economy, and were not at all fighting to preserve slavery.” Instead, said Davis, “They were fighting for purely American values that millions of other men and women, North and South, white and black, have fought for for generations – defense of home and hearth and what they perceived as their country.” According to Davis, the motives of the Confederate soldier “represent the best that all of us have to give – courage, patriotism, self-sacrifice.” Regardless of the flag to which they pledged allegiance, such Americans are worthy of respect.

Not only are Confederates U.S. veterans by law, but also are authentic American heroes who should be remembered rather than forgotten.

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