I am struck by the image of a Black soldier who, upon considering the name of his military base, asks himself, “Why are we honoring a man who believed that his great grandchildren should buy and sell me?”
Surprisingly, the Army Memorialization Board’s naming regulation requires only that the individual “held a position of high and extensive responsibility” which, when combined with equal measures of hallowed tradition and bigotry, explains why 10 posts are still named for Confederate generals.
Looking forward, wisdom advises against naming a U.S. Army fort after a particular Revolutionary War officer whose service included the capture of Fort Ticonderoga from the British and who served as commandant of West Point. He was Benedict Arnold.
A look at the service of the 10 Confederate generals is enlightening, as described by Tim Stickings of the DailyMail.com. Gen. Robert E. Lee’s fort is in Virginia. He inherited 189 slaves from his father-in-law, whose instructions were that his slaves were to be freed five years after his death. When five years had come and gone, Lee, the alleged epitome of Southern integrity, found it convenient to ignore the late man’s wishes.
Fort Bragg in North Carolina is named for Gen. Braxton Bragg, who presided over a number of Civil War losses, then quit the Confederate Army. Perhaps subsequent Confederate history is explained by the fact that the less-than-spectacular Gen. Bragg next served as military adviser to the South’s president, Jefferson Davis.
A fort is named for Gen. P.T.G. Beauregard who, following the war, wrote that, “In 75 years the colored race [will] disappear from America along with the Indians and buffalo.” If nothing else, he gets points for helping to persuade Jefferson Davis to surrender.
Fort Polk, Louisiana, is named after a West Point dropout who became an Episcopal Bishop. He owned 400 slaves and he gets a fort? Gen. John Bell Hood’s base lies in Texas. He once gave orders for his men to procure 4,000 blacks to serve under his command.
Gen. A.P. Hill never owned slaves. But like the others, he fought to bring down the Stars and Stripes. Hill engaged the U.S. Army at Harper’s Ferry and took the town.
Georgia’s Fort Gordon honors the ironically named Gen. John Brown Gordon, who became a post-war governor of Georgia. When he wasn’t troubling himself with the mundane details of governing, he found time to head the state’s chapter of the Ku Klux Klan.
Speaking of the Klan, Fort Rucker in Alabama is named for Gen. Edmund Rucker, who participated in the massacre of hundreds of Black U.S. Army troops at Fort Pillow, Tennessee. Following the war, Rucker became the business partner of Nathan Bedford Forrest, the first Grand Wizard of the KKK.
Gen. George E. Pickett is remembered for one thing, his disastrous performance at Gettysburg. Perhaps he slept through the West Point course on battle tactics. Pickett once executed 22 U.S. Army officers.
Fort Benning sits on the Georgia-Alabama border. Henry Benning ranted to the Virginia legislature that abolition would lead to, “black governors, black legislatures, black juries, black everything …” At least he viewed Blacks as loaded with talent. He concluded by saying that he would prefer “pestilence and famine” to an end to slavery. Clearly, the anti-psychotic drug Haldol was invented too late.
Surely it’s time to rename the forts, and everything else that “honors” those who took up arms against Old Glory. There is, however, a related matter. Some have advised that we should also abolish memorials to George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin and others among the founders who owned slaves. But there is at least some room for seeing them in a different light.
The founders conceded the slavery issue (though that doesn’t excuse their owning slaves) in order to keep the nation united in the fight for independence from King George III. In contrast, the South’s generals were willing to tear the nation apart in order to maintain slavery. And if Washington, Jefferson and Franklin had lived at the time of the Civil War, surely they would have sided with the Union.