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The Confederate Legend

The late Bruce Catton, a renowned historian of the War Between the States, was a northerner who won the Pulitzer Prize for his history of the Union Army of the Potomac. In the 1950’s, though, he wrote a short essay called, “The Confederate Legend.” It begins as follows:

“There is no legend quite like that of the Confederate fighting man. He reached the end of his haunted road long ago. He fought for a star-crossed cause and in the end he was beaten, but as he carried his slashed red battle flag into the dusty twilight of the Lost Cause, he walked straight into a legend that will last as long as the American people care to remember anything about the American past.”

I thought about Catton’s words Thursday as I sat in the gym at Maryville High School during its Veterans’ Day observance. I thought about all those Tennessee boys who had put on gray and left their homes to go and fight for a just and precious cause, and how their fathers had fought for America’s independence and how their sons and grandsons would later fight to preserve that same America. I thought how in their honor, Maryville had chosen to name its sports teams the Red rebels, and how the school had adopted their flag so proudly, for so long. I thought how even Ken Burns had said they belonged to “one of the greatest armies of all time.”

And then I thought how sad and strange it was that on this day of richly deserved honor for the veterans of all of America’s other wars, there was no mention of those Tennesseans in their threadbare gray and butternut. And when a well meaning young man began to read excerpts from the Gettysburg Address, which was delivered by the man who was greatly responsible for America’s most gallant and tragic war, I thought it was about time to leave. So I did.

HK Edgerton