The U.S. Army War College is deciding what to do with its (currently displayed) full-length portraits of Confederate generals like Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson. After the portraits were removed during an inventory process, certain unnamed faculty members started questioning why Confederate generals were represented at the U.S. War College when they were “enemies” of the U.S.
Though most arguments about the Confederate legacy tend to be about racism, this argument seems to have a little more to do with history. The Army War College teaches history and the lessons of war to Army officers looking to gain a promotion advantage. It will no doubt continue to teach about one of the most important conflicts in American history—the War Between the States. But the question is whether Lee and Jackson should have honorable tributes from the War College as generals of the United States.
Of interest, both Lee and Jackson graduated from West Point, received military honors from the U.S. Army for fighting in the Mexican-American War, and had high positions in the U.S. Army before the beginning of the War Between the States. Lee was offered the generalship over the Union Army, but declined. His loyalty to Virginia was greater than his loyalty to the Union.
It is certainly the case that Jackson and Lee are most famous for being Confederate generals. But was the Confederacy any less part of the United States than the Union? If the Confederate States were not truly part of the United States, why did the Union send federal troops down to secure Fort Sumter? The history of the War Between the States and Reconstruction is filled with these kind of questions. If the Confederacy was a different country, why were the Confederate States asked to endorse Amendments to the Constitution as a prerequisite to re-entering the Union? This makes no sense. Either they were not part of the States, which means they had no business voting on Amendments to the United States Constitution, or they were already in the Union, which makes “re-entering the Union” an empty reward.
I think it is high time the United States in general learn to accept history for what it is. Denying it for what it is does us no good, and it likely does us great harm. There were many brilliant, honorable generals in the Confederate Army who are worthy of holding in high esteem both for their military genius and their personal character. That they now find themselves on the wrong side of history seems inconsequential to me. Why is it so hard for people to praise what is good and reject what is bad? Our generation surely lacks all discernment.