Why The Confederate Flag and Confederacy NEVER Represented the South

Even after a terrorist mass murder, some still insist it’s a symbol of heritage, not hate. But the Confederacy and its flag never did stand for all or most southerners. In ten simple numbers:

1.4 million Blacks made up one third of the southern population. They were certainly never pro Confederate, for 180,000 Blacks fought for the United States (Union). 100,000 of them were former slaves. Slaves also made up almost all US Army scouts, spies, and guides. Only about 80 Blacks “fought” for the Confederacy. Actually they were hospital orderlies. But when the situation got desperate, they were sent to the front.

There’s no evidence these Black orderlies in Confederate uniforms fought. That hasn’t stopped Confederate apologists from making up deliberate falsehoods, or from pretending slaves building forts or brought as servants were somehow troops. The only way to pretend Blacks “didn’t count” as southerners is to dehumanize them, or to ludicrously claim they preferred slavery.

But that would contradict other numbers: Half a million slaves ran away during the Civil War. Nearly all fled whenever they saw their chance, when US armies were around. Perhaps 100,000 slaves successfully ran away before the Civil War, plus another 100,000 runaways during the American Revolution and War of 1812. There were also 22 slave revolts in US history.

2. Women were half of the Confederate population. We know from reading their letters and diaries that many southern women urged southern men to desert the Confederate military. Wives, mothers, sisters, and daughters urged their men to come home, and then hid, sheltered, and fed deserters. Southern women also frequently rioted against the Confederacy, protesting the war, its hardships and wrongs. Women’s resistance was central to defeating the Confederacy.

3. Four border states never joined the Confederacy, Missouri, Kentucky, Maryland, and Delaware. The great majority in these states remained loyal to the US. In Kentucky, three quarters of them were pro Union. All four states sent many US volunteers. When Confederates invaded border states, they found a population hostile to them.

4. 100,000 other white southerners fought for the Union. That’s volunteers from within Confederate states. Only a few northerners fought for the CSA. Much of the Confederacy remained pro-US throughout the war. West Virginia is the best known. South Texas was Mexican-American who, outside of wealthy landowners, opposed the Confederacy or were neutral. Central Texas was German-American, strongly abolitionist. Northeast Texas. east Louisiana, southwest Mississippi, east Tennessee, southwest and north Georgia, north Arkansas, north Alabama, central Florida, west North Carolina, and southwest Virginia were all strongly pro-Union. These areas had small farmers who saw the Confederacy as fighting a rich man’s war. They chased away Confederate authorities and often freed themselves of Confederate rule before the US Army returned. Even more impressive is the next number.

5. Half of white males in the Confederacy dodged the draft. Two thirds of Confederate troops deserted, often multiple times. People tend to associate draft dodging and desertion with the Vietnam War. Southern white males during the Civil War outdid Vietnam draft dodging by about twice as much. The most common draft dodging was starting a school or newspaper, because teachers and journalists were draft exempt. You might only have a single student, or publish a single page once a month. But either kept you from being drafted.

If you have ancestors in the Confederate Army, chances are strong they deserted. So don’t be proud of an ancestor who fought for the Confederacy. They likely were forced. But be proud if they deserted, and by doing so stood up to Confederate tyranny. For you see…

6. There were over 4,000 political prisoners in the Confederacy. The CSA was a tyranny ruled by elites, not a democracy. Free speech was banned, newspapers and telegraphs censored, abolitionist writings punished by death or banishment. Political parties were banned, with usually a single candidate on the ballot, just like the old USSR, or North Korea. There were mass executions of dissidents in places like Kinsella, NC. There also was no vote for secession in any of the southern states except Texas, where violence against loyal Americans dropped voter turnout by a third.

7.There were over 50,000 racist and political murders by Confederate terrorists in five years following the Civil War. In decades after that, 4,000 lynchings of Blacks, Mexicans, and antiracist whites kept segregation in place.

8.What’s thought of as the Confederate flag is actually the fourth flag. There were three CSA flags prior. The best known one today was actually the Confederate battle flag, flown only by CSA armies after earlier flags were confused with the US flag.

9.The Confederate battle flag was not pushed as a symbol of the South until the 1950s, as an angry racist threat to the Civil Rights Movement. South Carolina didn’t fly the battle flag on public buildings until 1962. The reason why is obvious. Nothing said opposition to equality clearer than flying the flag of an army defending slavery and white supremacy.

10.There are dozens of better symbols of the South than the Confederacy or its battle flag. John Stewart jokingly suggested barbecue. But seriously, Martin Luther King should be the symbol of the South. Who better represents southerners at their best? Who had more courage? King survived dozens of murder plots and hundreds of death threats until finally assassinated. Many other Black southerners also represent the South, Harriet Tubman, Medgar Evers, Rosa Parks, etc. So do Latino and American Indian southerners, Henry Gonzalez, Emma Tenayuca, John Ross, Osceola, etc. If white southerners insist on whites to represent them, why not Jefferson or George Washington? Or a southern intellectual, Mark Twain?

The Confederate flag is like the swastika, just as the Confederacy was much like Nazi Germany. All represent short periods of tyranny and white supremacy, not an entire people or their history.

Al Carroll is Assistant Professor of History at Northern Virginia Community College and author of Presidents’ Body Counts: The Twelve Worst and Four Best American Presidents Based on How Many Lived or Died Because of Their Actions.