Friday, May 31, 2013

Military Honors

The New York Times Sunday Review: The Opinion Pages contained a thought provoking piece by Jamie Malanowski titled "Misplaced Honor."  Mr. Malanowski  wrote that after the Civil War the "recognition of common loss helped reconcile North and South." He continues by noting "Equivalence of experience was stretched to impute an equivalence of legitimacy." This led to actions to "whitewash the actions of the rebels." "The most egregious example of this was the naming of United States Army bases after Confederate generals."

He discusses the military installations in the South and the generals that the bases were named after.
He points out that these bases are "named after generals who led soldiers who fought and killed United States Army soldiers." Mr. Malanowski says that it is time to rename these bases for men whose names are not linked to rebellion, slavery, and racism.

The New York Times opinion page article says that there are 10 US bases "named after generals who led soldiers who fought and killed United States Army soldiers." The following is a list of 11 posts that I assembled:
  1. Fort Rucker - Alabama - Edmund Rucker - Confederate "General" Honorary title - Industrialist
  2. Fort Gordon - Georgia - John Brown Gordon - Confederate Major General and State Governor
  3. Fort Benning - Georgia - Henry L. Benning - Confederate Brigadier General
  4. Camp Beauregard - Louisiana - P. G. T. Beauregard - Confederate General
  5. Fort Polk - Louisiana - Leonidas Polk - Confederate General and Episcopal Bishop
  6. Fort Bragg - North Carolina - Braxton Bragg - Confederate General
  7. Fort Hood - Texas - John Bell Hood - Confederate General
  8. Camp Pendleton State Military Reservation - Virginia - William N. Pendleton - Confederate Brigadier General 
  9. Fort A. P. Hill - Virginia - A. P. Hill - Confederate Lieutenant General
  10. Fort Lee - Virginia - Robert E. Lee - Confederate General
  11. Fort Pickett - Virginia - George Pickett - Confederate General 
Fort Jackson in South Carolina is named after Andrew Jackson and Camp Davis in North Carolina is named for Major General Richmond P. Davis (1866-1937).

There are also a number of Civil War generals whose names graced military posts that are now closed.  On the Union side, there is Fort McClellan, Camp Stoneman, Fort Ord, Fort Winfield Scott, Fort McPherson, Camp Grant, Fort Sheridan, Camp Sherman, and Fort Meade. Some installations named after Confederate officers have also been closed such as Camp Maxey and Camp Wheeler.  Actually, more bases named after Confederate generals seemed to have survived than Union generals.  I found Fort George G. Meade in Maryland, Fort Custer in Michigan, and Camp Sherman in Ohio.

This issue is a subset of a greater question: "Should we accord Confederate soldiers the same honors that are bestowed upon soldiers who fought to defend the Union and end the rebellion?"  This issue is part historic and part political. These bases are located in the South and serve to honor local heroes. The names also serve as reminders of the conflict and warnings for future generations. The names were undoubtedly part of the very pork barrel legislation that brought the bases to the South in the first place. However, these forts may also be tributes to the "Lost Cause" belief that arose after the war.

Those who want to retain the names of Southern leaders on bases, parks, and public buildings usually state the historical connection.  Those that argue for name changes base their desire on removing any honors for those who supported, what Malanowski terms, "a racist slavocracy."

General William Worth
In most cases the attachment to the person whose name appears on the post is hardly remembered.  I doubt that many people know who Fort Worth is named after much less the details of General William Worth's life.  As I wrote this I wondered how Dallas got its name.  According to the Texas State Historical Association, the origin of the name is unknown.  It might have been George Mifflin Dallas, vice president of the United States, 1845–49; his brother, Commodore Alexander J. Dallas, United States Navy; and Joseph Dallas, who settled near the new town in 1843.  Will the origins of the names of military posts suffer the same fate or will they be replaced by a new state hero?

Another question that Malanowski raises is whether the honor is even appropriate.  He cites the dubious credentials of Braxton Bragg, Leonidas Polk, John Hood, and George Pickett.  If southern leaders wanted to honor their great generals, why not nominate Thomas Jackson, James Longstreet,  J.E.B. Stuart, or either of the Johnstons?

General Lewis Armistead
Some attribute the names to healing the nation's wounds and remembering that all of the men were Americans.  I doubt that any Southerner thought of himself as either an American or Confederate.  A scene in the movie, Gettysburg, really defines the men's allegiance.  On the onset of Pickett's Charge, another technically incorrect label, Brigadier General Lewis Amistead urges the men forward by calling on their pride as Virginians.

There is no answer for the decisions made in selecting the names of these posts.  We cannot impose today's values and attitudes on choices made decades ago.  Time and new heroes will alter the names and the connection to man honored will fade into memory.

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