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I salute the Confederate Flag
by Joseph Patrick Meissner


That is a provocative title! I will explain it as we go on.

We begin with Tuesday, June 30, 2015, at the Cleveland Culture Gardens along Dr. Martin Luther King Boulevard. This was entitled the "99 Red Balloons" and was held specifically in the German Cultural Garden.

"What a blast this was!" according to Dan Hanson who again turned-in a masterful performance as the MC for the event. (Dan did confess that the two hundred plus in attendance were primarily the result of his sister Deborah's work for inviting people as well as her successes in obtaining the delicious German brockwurst, buns, and salads for the event.

The 24-piece Cleveland Donauschwasbe Blaskapelle (brass band) played for the crowd in front of the magnificent Goethe-Schilling statutes and monument which is one of only five such statute groupings in the world. The event began with the Star Spangled Banner for which we all stood and I saluted even though I was not in my usual Army uniform.

When we completed that, either Harry Weller or Asim commented to me, "It was good to see you saluting as usual."

"Yes, I replied, "I always salute national anthems as well as all flags."

The German National Anthem was then sung and I again saluted, my right arm rigid, my right hand barely touching my brow.

Our German Brass Band next played a medley of pop songs and polkas. After, we were urged (commanded?) by Dan to gather around the monument and obtain one of the 99 red balloons which were firmly tied down so they would not float away into the blue sky dotted with white fluffy clouds. The elderly and even we ancient ones were invited to join this celebration and hold a red balloon. Photographs were taken of this large and diverse crowd, each holding a red balloon which for environmental concerns we could not release into the atmosphere.

This was followed by a fine luncheon of thick German brockwurst reclining in Kaiser rolls, thick yellow potato salad, a cup of white cheese and diced meat drowned in vinegar, and soda pop. ("Sorry, Joseph, no ginger ale.")

Why were we doing all of this? Because this was a great way to celebrate the 99th year of the Cultural Gardens. It was also focused on getting ready for the official kickoff of the Gardens' Centennial year while reminding us that the One and Only World Day is scheduled for the entire Sunday, on August 23, 2015. ("Sorry, no Italians welcome." I apologize, bad inside joke.)

Let us return to my theme of saluting all flags, including the present controversies about the "Confederate Flag, known as the Star and Bars," I have been doing some internet research related to the Confederacy and the role of Afro-Americans in that struggle. (Forgive me, but various names, have been used historically to refer to "Afro-Americans." These include "Colored," "Negroes, "Blacks," and "People of African descent." I mean no discourtesy to any of these terms, all of which have respectful pedigrees.

I was aware that during our Civil War, Afro-Americans served in the Union Forces, although usually in separate units and in general under Caucasian officers. Many of these brave soldiers gave their lives for the Union cause.

I had also read somewhere that Afro-Americans served in the Confederate forces. This is not generally known. So I have compiled some items from a Google search about this. Here are the questions I used in my research.

Did Afro-Americans serve in the Confederate forces?

How many Afro-Americans served in the Confederate forces?

Why did Afro-Americans serve in the Confederate forces?

What did Confederate military and governmental leaders think about this?

Was there ever an acknowledgment about Afro-Americans serving in the Confederate forces?

Did Afro-American veterans of the Confederacy receive pensions like other Confederate veterans?

Were Afro-American Confederate soldiers buried under the Confederate flag?

The following provide some answers and surmises to these questions.

Here is one Wikipedia entry about Afro-American soldiers serving in the Confederate forces:

With so many white males conscripted and roughly 40% of its population unfree, the work required to maintain a functioning society in the CSA ended up largely on the backs of slaves. Even Georgia's Governor Joseph E. Brown noted that "the country and the army are mainly dependent upon slave labor for support." Slave labor was used in a wide variety of support roles, from infrastructure and mining, to teamster and medical roles such as hospital attendants and nurses.

The idea of arming slaves for use as soldiers was speculated on from the onset of the war, but not seriously considered by Davis or others in his administration. Though an acrimonious and controversial debate was raised by a letter from Patrick Cleburne urging the Confederacy to raise black soldiers by offering emancipation, it would not be until Robert E. Lee wrote the Confederate Congress urging them that the idea would take serious traction.

On March 13, 1865, the Confederate Congress passed General Order 14, and President Davis signed the order into law. The order was issued March 23, but only a few African American companies were raised, A company or two of black hospital workers was attached to a unit in Richmond, Virginia, shortly before the besieged southern capital fell. A Confederate major later affirmed that the small number of soldiers mustered in Richmond in 1865 were "the first and only black troops used on our side."

Actually my research indicates that this last statement in the quote above is not true. Afro-Americans had indeed served in the Confederate military from the beginning of the Civil War in various situations.

There were varying accounts of black rebel troops. For instance on July 11, 1863, the New York Herald reported: "...And after the battle of Gettysburg in July 1863, ...reported among the rebel prisoners were seven blacks in Confederate uniforms fully armed as soldiers..." While determining an accurate number of African Americans who served in the Confederate armed forces may never be known, the United States Veterans Census of 1890 lists 3,273 Colored men who claimed to be Confederate veterans. Another 542 widows of Colored Confederate veterans were listed by the Census.

One such Confederate unit composed of Afro-Americans was the 1st Louisiana Native Guard (CSA). Here is some background on this unit which was active from the beginning of the Civil War.

The 1st Louisiana Native Guard (CSA) was a Confederate Louisianan militia that consisted of free persons of color. ….

Shortly after Louisiana's secession, Governor Thomas Overton Moore issued pleas for troops on April 17 and April 21, 1861. In response to the governor's request, a committee of ten prominent New Orleans free blacks called a meeting at the Catholic Institute on April 22. About two thousand people attended the meeting where muster lists were opened, with about 1,500 free blacks signing up. Governor Moore accepted the services of these men as part of the state's militia.

On May 29, 1861, Governor Moore appointed three white officers as commanders of the regiment, and company commanders were appointed from among the free blacks of the regiment. The militia unit was the first of any in North America to have African-American officers. This regiment was called the Louisiana Native Guard. …

One of the most prominent advocates for utilizing Afro-Americans in the Confederate forces was Major-General Patrick Ronayne Cleburne. An immigrant from Ireland and a practicing attorney, he would side with the Confederacy in the Civil War. "His choice was not due to any love of slavery, which he claimed not to care about, but out of affection for the Southern people who had adopted him as one of their own." (Wikipedia article about Cleburne.)

He fought bravely and "smartly" in a number of battles, leading his troops from the front. "Cleburne's strategic use of terrain, his ability to hold ground where others failed, and his talent in foiling the movements of the enemy earned him fame, and gained him the nickname 'Stonewall of the West.'"

It had become obvious to Cleburne by late 1863 that the Confederacy needed more manpower and was doomed if it did gain more soldiers. So he proposed enlisting Afro-Americans into the Confederate forces. Here is part of the letter he wrote in which he explained his views:

Satisfy the negro that if he faithfully adheres to our standard during the war he shall receive his freedom and that of his race ... and we change the race from a dreaded weakness to a position of strength.

Will the slaves fight? The helots of Sparta stood their masters good stead in battle. In the great sea fight of Lepanto where the Christians checked forever the spread of Mohammedanism over Europe, the galley slaves of portions of the fleet were promised freedom, and called on to fight at a critical moment of the battle. They fought well, and civilization owes much to those brave galley slaves ... the experience of this war has been so far that half-trained negroes have fought as bravely as many other half-trained Yankees.

It is said that slavery is all we are fighting for, and if we give it up we give up all. Even if this were true, which we deny, slavery is not all our enemies are fighting for. It is merely the pretense to establish sectional superiority and a more centralized form of government, and to deprive us of our rights and liberties.

Unfortunately, at this time, his ideas were not adopted. Later, however, in early 1865, they found a more receptive hearing and even were implemented including by the Confederate Government.

Another question concerns whether Afro-Americans as Confederate veterans ever received pensions after the war. Here is a brief summary and note that Mississippi of all places very early provided their Afro-American veterans with pensions.

African Americans who had served with the Confederate army were not included [initially for pensions] - except in Mississippi, which had included African Americans in the state's pension program from its beginning in 1888. It was not until 1921 that another state extended the eligibility for pensions to African Americans who had served as servants with the Confederate army. Unfortunately, black southerners who applied for Confederate pensions in the 1920s were, for the most part, very old men. Consequently, the number of black pensioners was small compared to the large number of Confederate veterans in the states that had allowed for pensions decades earlier.

For example, Mississippi, which was the only state to include African Americans from its program's beginning in 1888, had 1,739 black pensioners; North Carolina, which first offered pensions in 1927 had 121; South Carolina, which first offered pensions in 1923, had 328; Tennessee, which first offered pensions in 1921, had 195; and Virginia, which first offered pensions in 1924, had 424 black pensioners. (This quote is taken from "Black Confederate Pensioners After the Civil War" by James G. Hollandsworth, Jr.)

Forgive me for all these Internet quotes but allow me to provide a few more. These are from the source entitled "The Role of Black Soldiers in the Confederate Army" by SSG Harry W. Tison, II. While perhaps a little pretentious, SSG Tison does provide some specific examples of Afro-American soldiers serving in the Confederate forces.

…There was between 50,000 to 100,000 blacks that served in the Confederate Army as cooks, blacksmiths, and yes, even soldiers. Hollywood would have us believe that the Union Army first started letting Blacks fight with the movie "Glory", the story of the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry. This is not the case. Here is the history of these brave souls.

There are many references to the trials that blacks had to endure during this era. Not many though, tell the story of blacks that served in the Confederacy. Although it is true that a good number of slaves fled to the North, there were those that chose to stay in the South, to stay with their families or to fight what they saw as the tyranny of the Yankees. There is the story of a slave whose name were Silas Chandler and his master Andrew Chandler. (www.37thtexas.org) Andrew enlisted in the 44th Mississippi Volunteer Regiment and took Silas along with him as many Southerners did. Andrew was 15 years old and Silas was nearly 17 and very close friends with Andrew.

Silas traveled between the plantation in Mississippi and wherever Andrew was. Andrew wrote home on 31 Aug 1862, "If the Feds were to capture him, they might take him along with them." "I greatly fear another raid, don't let them catch Silas. Be sure to write when Silas gets home." Andrew was severely wounded in the Battle of Chickamauga. Army doctors were prepared to amputate his leg but Silas refused to let the doctors perform the operation. Instead, he used a piece of gold…., which he used to buy a bottle of whiskey to bribe the surgeons for Andrews release. He carried his master on his back and loaded him on a boxcar in Atlanta and better medical care. Andrew survived as a cripple and the two remained friends for the rest of their lives and both received pensions for serving in the war.

On the far side of Arlington National Cemetery, in a little known place, is the cemetery's largest monument. It is the Confederate Memorial that stands over the graves of Confederate Soldiers. On this monument is a carving of a black soldier, not in chains, but in a Confederate uniform marching alongside his fellow soldiers.

The sculptor of this monument was Moses Ezekiel. A Confederate veteran who knew what the true history of the war was. Ezekiel himself was a minority in the Confederate Army being Jewish, so he knew some of the trials the blacks were facing in the country. He was a native Virginian who graduated from the Virginia Military Institute and fought in the Battle of New Market where several black Confederates saw action. (www.37thtexas.org)

Although the Confederates did not officially enlist blacks until March 1865, some states allowed them to serve on a local level as early as 1861. Nobody really knows how many blacks actually served [as soldiers] in the Confederacy; some estimates go as high as 50,000.

A Union officer noted in his diary shortly before the Battle of Sharpsburg [also Antietam, 1862], "Wednesday, September 10: At 4 o'clock this morning the Rebel army began to move from our town, (Fredrick, Md), Jackson's forces taking the advance. The movement continued until 8 o'clock pm, occupying 16 hours. The most liberal calculation could not give them more than 64,000 men. Over 3,000 Negroes must be included in this number.

These were clad in all kinds of uniforms, not only in cast-off or captured United States uniforms, but in coats with Southern buttons, State buttons, etc. These were shabby, but not shabbier or seedier than those worn by white men in the rebel ranks. Most of the Negroes had arms, rifles, muskets, sabers, bowie-knives, dirks, etc. They were supplied with knapsacks, haversacks, canteens, etc, and they were an integral portion of the Southern Confederate army. They were seen riding on horses and mules, driving wagons, riding on caissons, in ambulances, with the staff of generals and promiscuously mixing it up with all the Rebel horde." (Union Sanitation Commission Inspector Dr. Louis Steiner, Sept. 1862.)

Another Black Confederate is Levi Miller, a former slave who became a Confederate hero. He was one of thousands of slaves who went to war with their masters as a bodyservant. He was voted by his regiment to be a full- fledge soldier after nursing his master back from a near fatal wound. He also exhibited bravery in battles in Virginia, Tennessee, Georgia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania. During the fighting at Spotsylvania Courthouse, his former commander, Capt. J.E. Anderson, said of him, "Levi Miller stood by my side and no man fought harder and better than he did when the enemy tried to cross our little breastworks and we clubbed and bayoneted them off, no one used his bayonet with more skill and effect than Levi Miller….

Upon his death, it is ironic that his coffin was draped with the Stars and Bars at a hero's funeral service. He was laid to rest in a black cemetery. [Emphasis supplied.] This is perhaps the biggest irony of all since the cemetery is near the spot where R.E. Lee is buried.

In a letter dated 27 March 1865, Lt. Col. Charles Marshall wrote a letter to Lt. Gen. Ewell stating that Gen. Lee regretted the "unwillingness of owners to permit their slaves to enter the service", and "His only objection to calling them colored troops was that the enemy had selected that designation for theirs". Also, "Harshness and contemptuous or offensive language or conduct to them must be forbidden and they should forget as soon as possible that they were regarded as menials".

….The following is a list of 4 soldiers captured at Ft. Fisher when it fell to Union troops in January 1865:

Charles Dempsey, Private, Company F, 36th NC Regiment, Negro. Captured at Ft. Fisher and confined at Point Lookout, Md., until paroled and exchanged at Coxes Landing, Va. 14-15 Feb 1865. (Taken from North Carolina Troops, Volume I)

Henry Dempsey, Private, Company F, 36th NC Regiment, Negro. Captured at Ft. Fisher and confined at Point Lookout, Md., until paroled at Coxes Landing, Va. 14-15 Feb 1865. (Taken from North Carolina Troops, Volume I)

J. Doyle, Private, Company E, 40th NC Regiment, Negro, Captured at Ft. Fisher and confined at Point Lookout, Md., until paroled at Boulware's Wharf, Va. On 16 Mar 1865. (Taken from North Carolina Troops, Volume I)

Daniel Herring, Cook, Company F, 36th NC Regiment, Negro. Captured at Ft. Fisher, and confined at Point Lookout, Md. Until released after taking Oath of Allegiance June 19, 1865. (Taken from North Carolina Troops, Volume I) ….

If you look at the make-up of Union troops, you can plainly see that blacks were segregated into separate units, while in the South, they were mixed in with the white troops. They were also given the same pay and rations as other Confederate troops as opposed to their counterparts in the North.

In June 1861, Tennessee became the first state in the South to allow the use of black soldiers. The governor authorized the enrollment of those between the ages of 15-50 and have the same rations and clothing as white soldiers. Blacks started appearing in Tennessee regiments by September of that same year.

At the Battle of Fair Oaks near Richmond, a black cook and minister with the Alabama regiment picked up a rifle and was heard yelling, "Der Lor' hab mercy on us all, boys, here dey comes agin!" As the Alabamians returned fire and mounted a charge, he was heard shouting, "Pitch in white folks, Uncle Pomp's behind yer. Send them Yankees to de 'ternal flames!" (Battlefields of the South. Vol. 2, page 253)

There are many stories about Black Confederates. I have listed only a few to give you a glimpse at them.

Perhaps that quote was a little long, but it does show that Afro-Americans did serve in the Confederate forces. It also suggests that a number of them were buried under the flag of the South.

Now let us return directly to the title of this article. Let me begin with the declaration that "I salute all flags."

First, of course, is our Star Spangled Banner. We all recall how Francis Scott Key composed our National Anthem as he watched the British naval bombardment of Fort McHenry during the War of 1812. At dusk he saw the American flag flying over the Fort's walls and again at dawn he was overjoyed to see an American flag still defiantly flying there. One story is that gutsy American soldiers exposed themselves and risked their lives to insure the flag continued to fly all night.

Another famous remembrance of our Flag is the monument near Arlington National Cemetery showing the six soldiers in World War II raising our flag atop Mount Suribachi during the Battle for the Island of Iwo Jima. The photograph of this event still stirs our souls, and it was used extensively throughout our Country in the Seventh Great Bond Drive to raise money for the war effort.

Another flag which I very much honor and salute is the banner of the Republic of South Viet Nam. It features three red horizontal stripes across a field of gold. I have never met in all my travels any American Viet Nam veteran who knew the meaning of that flag. In 1965 our leaders President Lyndon Johnson and Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, perhaps not understanding the South Vietnamese flag, in effect denied that flag's symbolism which may well have hurt the war effort.

The three red stripes stand for the North of Vietnam, the Center of Viet Nam, and the South of Viet Nam. The goal and dream was that one day all of Viet Nam would be united as one people and one nation, not some kind of divided regimes such as North and South Korea. Thus the forces of South Viet Nam sought "to drive to the North" much like our Union forces fought for one nation. But Johnson and McNamara said "there would be no drive to the North." This was their way of trying to limit the war. But this policy undermined the South Vietnamese morale and efforts, while North Viet Nam could and would claim that they alone stood for uniting the entire Vietnamese people.

I salute the South Vietnamese flag and the 300,000 soldiers who gave their lives for their country. However, I do not limit my salutes to the flags whose causes I support. Let me take you down into the vast array of Communist tunnels deep into the earth at Cu Chi which is northwest of Sai Gon. It has now become a tourist site where Vietnamese tour guides take groups below into these narrow tunnels in which the enemy Viet Cong once took shelter from our B-52 bombers. One of our guides for many years-since we return every year with volunteers performing humanitarian work under the sponsorship of our Friendship Foundation of American Vietnamese-- has been Mr. Nguyen who fought for the Viet Cong National Liberation Front in the Cu Chi area.

Once during our annual tours Mr. Nguyen took off his shirt and showed us where one of our deadly Huey Helicopters put a number of bullets into his shoulder. There were the scars and disfiguring marks.

In the tunnels, Mr. Nguyen always leads us to a command room where two flags decorate the walls. One is the NLF flag.

"See? Our VC flag had the top half red and the bottom half blue with a gold star in the middle," points out Mr. Nguyen. "The bottom was for the Southern liberation forces while the top red half was for the NVA soldiers."

He then draws our attention to the opposite wall which had a gold star in the middle of a solidly red background. "Now the flag is all red because we have one country, one people," asserts Mr. Nguyen. "We are finally together."

I salute both the bi-colored NLF flag and the one color current flag. Some 600,000 brave enemy soldiers were killed during the Viet Nam War. I totally disagree with their Communist goals but I can and will recognize courage and sacrifice.

Another Communist flag I salute is the old Soviet Union flag with its hammer and cycle emblem in the upper left. We fought a cold war against the forces of this flag for almost fifty years in order to protect freedom. But there was a period during World War II where the USA and the USSR were joined as Allies against the brutal Nazis. Can we not salute the Soviet Flag which symbolizes all the troops who gave their lives for democracy in that terrible war?

Finally I will mention the African Nationalist flag which I also salute. It has three huge stripes of red, black, and green. Here is some background for this flag.

The Pan-African flag - also known as the UNIA flag, Afro-American flag and Black Liberation Flag - is a tri-color flag consisting of three equal horizontal bands of (from top down) red, black and green. The Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League (UNIA-ACL) formally adopted it on August 13, 1920 in Article 39 of the Declaration of Rights of the Negro Peoples of the World, during its month-long convention at Madison Square Garden in New York City. Variations of the flag can and have been used in various countries and territories in Africa and the Americas to represent Pan-Africanist ideologies. Several Pan-African organizations and movements have often employed the emblematic tri-color scheme in various contexts. Each color has a specific meaning:

" Red: the blood that unites all people of Black African ancestry, and shed for liberation;

" Black: black people whose existence as a nation, though not a nation-state, is affirmed by the existence of the flag; and power

" Green: the abundant natural wealth of Africa.

This flag has a special significance for me because I was the long-time attorney for the UNIA in Cleveland Ohio and its dynamic leader, Secretary-General Mason Hargrave. Mr. Hargrave was the legitimate UNIA successor to the legendary Marcus Garvey who first raised the colors of the red, black, and green.

So let us return to the Confederate Flag. Why do I salute it? Perhaps you can piece together the justification for my saluting from the materials I have provided above.

First, this flag is an integral part of our American history. While I totally disagree with the South ambition to disrupt our union, I still must still treasure the value and qualities of people like Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, Major-General Patrick Ronayne Cleburne, and others.

Second, the Confederate flag stands for the bravery of the South's soldiers, for their warrior code, and their humanity displayed in war.

Third, some people have used or really misused the Confederate flag to advertise their racist views. But then there are people who hijack all sorts of symbolism, including religious ones, for less than noble reasons. I do not see why people should be allowed to hijack and misuse sacred symbols which includes the Confederate flag. When some well-meaning people call for us to shun the Confederate flag, this seems like desertion under fire. Hijacking and usurping this flag should not be rewarded at the expense of blaspheming the hundreds of thousands of courageous Confederate people.

Fourth, Afro-Americans were involved in defending the Confederacy. There were Black veterans from the South forces. Some Black veteran soldiers were and are buried under the Confederate flag. To now attack the Confederate flag and shun its use seems like an insult and an attack upon those Afro-American Confederate soldiers and their families. I myself will not participate in that. But more than such passive behavior, I will always salute those veterans as well as honoring and saluting their Confederate flag.

Lastly, the other evening I watched a television news report showing protests by both supporters of the Confederate Flag and those in opposition. Somehow the protests became heated and there was some physical jostling, but nothing injurious. Eventually, cooler heads prevailed on both sides. The TV clip then showed a young man of Afro-American descent at this protest obviously making his verbal case against the Confederate flag while a supporter proudly held a Confederate flag as he argued his side.

After their debate, the youth of Afro-American heritage reached out his hand to the outstretched hand of his adversary. Their hands touched. They shook hands while both smiled and laughed. I think veteran souls-of all races-- of the North and the South were also smiling.


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