JACK WEATHERLY — Shelby Foote and great-grandpa weigh in on the flag debate
Not long ago, I unexpectedly received a framed photograph of my great-grandfather.
I had never seen a photo of him.
It was almost mystical to see this face appear when I opened the UPS box. He had only been a name in the family Bible.
Now the name had become flesh, or at least an image. An icon, if you will.
I could see my grandfather, I could see my father, I could even see a little of me in that face.
I had known of Joseph Weatherly primarily for his role as a member of the 13th Mississippi Infantry during the Civil War.
The war was seen by some Southerners as the second American Revolution.
Not that I could ever say for sure that was his rationale for joining the Attala Minutemen, though the very name of the outfit gives me pause to wonder.
It got its name from the fact that colonists in state militias prided themselves in being ready to fight the Redcoats at a minute‘s notice.
The Attala County seat, Kosciusko, was named for one of the Revolution’s Polish heroes, Thaddeus Kosciuszko.
The Civil War began about four score years after the end of the Revolution, one long lifetime.
Among its valorous feats, the 13th Mississippi held off an overwhelming Union force trying to cross the Rappahannock River at Fredericksburg, Va., in December 1862.
In doing so, it gave Robert E. Lee and his generals time to marshal their forces on a ridge above the town after Major Gen. Ambrose Burnside did manage to take the city. The Army of Northern Virginia inflicted on the Union army one of its worst defeats of the war .
It gave rise to Lee’s famous quote as he surveyed the bloody and victorious battlefield: “It is well that war is so terrible — otherwise we would grow too fond of it.”
Private Weatherly understood. He was grievously wounded. His right leg had to be amputated at mid-thigh on Dec. 11, the first day of the battle, according to war records.
He started recovering in Richmond, Va., the Confederate capital, then Charlottesville. He returned to Attala County in July 1864, would marry a local girl by Christmas and begin fathering 13 children and eventually buy a 160-acre farm, which is still in the family.
My nephew Steven, a professional researcher who lives in Washington, D.C. and has a real appreciation for his heritage, sent me the copy of the photo after he found it via the Mississippi Department of Archives and History website. Joe Weatherly’s crutch is in storage there.
The Confederate battle flag, once again, became the center of controversy, this time in the wake of the murder of nine worshipers at a black church in Charleston, S.C. on June 17.
The South Carolina Senate voted, astonishingly and overwhelmingly, on Monday to remove from statehouse grounds the battle flag, which is not the official state banner, but holds a quasi-governmental cachet because of its location. The House subsequently passed the resolution and Gov. Nikki Haley, a Republican, signed the declaration.
It was discovered that the alleged gunman had brandished a Confederate flag in private photos and sought to start a “race war.”
Such was the enfeebled threat to civil peace by what a South Carolina lawmaker called a “deranged lunatic.”
The inglorious bastard, nevertheless, may have brought about the beginning of the end of such debates 150 years after the end of war, which has been marked and, yes, celebrated nationwide during the past four years of the sesquicentennial of the 1861-1865 conflict.
Mississippi, whose official state flag incorporates the battle symbol, is a house divided just now, at least among governmental leaders, as it so happens in an election year. Gov. Phil Bryant has said he will not call a special session of the Legislature. He says that the people spoke in 2001 when the issue was run up the pole. Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves says it’s not a matter for the Legislature.
House Speaker Philip Gunn has called for the flag to be changed. U.S. Sens. Thad Cochran and Roger Wicker have come down on the side of change.
Conservatives of various stripes, but conservatives all.
Who better to comment on the issue than Shelby Foote, native of Greenville and longtime resident of Memphis, who wrote the acclaimed, 1.5-million-word “The Civil War: A Narrative.”
“Believe me, no soldiers on either side gave a damn about the slaves,” Foote said in a videotaped interview evidently conducted as a lead-up to the 2001 referendum in Mississippi.
“They were fighting for other reasons entirely, in their minds. Southerners thought they were fighting for the second American Revolution. Northerners thought they were fighting to hold the Union together.”
Foote, who died in 2005, internalized the conflict over the flag. He said that the war produced two geniuses: Abraham Lincoln and Confederate Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest.
“The flag that people look at now is the flag that was carried during the demonstrations against civil rights. It was carried by Klansmen . . . . And that’s what it represents to a great many people. And I don’t wonder that they’re feeling pain and wanting to take it down. I understand perfectly well . . . .
“But to me they’re misidentifying that flag. That flag means many good things. And you have to translate yourself back into the time of the Secession.”
So, yes, I see the flag as meaning some “good things.”
Some have said that it needs to be relegated to museums.
As for me, I plan to buy a small Confederate flag and place it below my great-grandfather’s photograph, which I have hung in my study.
It is part of my heritage.
» Contact MBJ staff writer Jack Weatherly at firstname.lastname@example.org