Erasing Southern History: The Bonfire of the Portraits

When traveling recently to Virginia Beach, I couldn't help but notice that I was no longer in Yankee land.  I was in an entirely different world, one still significantly defined by the Civil War.  

I passed street after street named after famous southern generals -- General Jackson Drive, General Lee Drive, General Beauregard Drive, and General Hill Drive.  Though he was a "general" of a different sort, even General Booth, founder of the Salvation Army, has a boulevard named after him. 

It was clear to me that Southerners revere their generals.

And for good reason.

The South's generals have long been a part of the proud history of the region.  Robert E. Lee's and Stonewall Jackson's military strategies are considered some of the most brilliant in the history of warfare, and this is to say nothing of their exemplary characters.  They are honored to this day for their bravery and brilliance.  That is why their portraits are on the walls of the U.S. Army War College, which is dedicated to the training of future generals, some of whom may one day show that they, too, have absorbed a code of honor and chivalry.

But according to the Washington Times, revisionists are mulling over a decision to remove Lee's and Jackson's portraits from the walls of the War College, lest that august institution be sullied by the memory of generals who fought on the wrong side.  

The article reports that the College's spokeswoman, Carol Kerr, stated there was someone who complained about the portraits.  "This person was struck by the fact we have quite a few Confederate images," she said, adding that the portraits were re-hung on a third-floor hallway.  "[Lee] was certainly not good for the nation. This is the guy we faced on the battlefield whose entire purpose in life was to destroy the nation as it was then conceived[.] ... This is all part of an informed discussion."

How "informed" the discussion will be is anyone's guess.  Historians of the Civil War will be mightily interested in the outcome of "Portrait-gate," as expunging of the South's greatest generals from the historical narrative might change the overall story a smidgen. 

The portraits may or may not be in the third-floor hallway now.  They will probably progress to the basement later, and then at the last be thrown into a bonfire.

I am reminded of the actions of Thutmose III and Akhnaten of Egypt, both of whom assiduously devoted themselves to having Queen Hatshepsut's images chiseled off monuments dedicated to her so no one would remember her.  The pharaohs are a reminder that historical revisionism is nothing new.  Certainly, if similar "off the wall" action is applied to the Southern generals, it will appear to future cadets that the only worthy military heroes of the Civil War have been from the victorious Northern States.  Other "losers" like Hannibal, Hector, Napoleon, Rommel, and Von Manstein -- all of whom fought well but ultimately lost -- may also be nixed from the list of study-worthy generals, their place consigned to the dustbin of history.

While the fate of the portraits is still under discussion, one can draw a few conclusions and hazard some predictions should the offending visages be permanently obliterated from the walls of the War College and other military institutions such as West Point.

First, the left's smoldering animus toward the South will once again be revealed.  For many progressives, the South is still a bastion of racism.  The institution of slavery and the guilt associated with it never have been and never will be expunged as far as progressives are concerned.  Attaching the guilt of slavery to the South still provides a handy and frequently used political tool.  Progressives are loath to have that tool taken out of their hands, as it reinforces their punitive attitude toward the region and conservatives in general.  Removal of the portraits doubtless is seen as just retribution for the sins of the past.

Second, progressives love divisiveness and conflict, as it splinters the opposition and provides political capital.  Stoking the fires of the old Civil War and lighting a match to a new civil war probably is seen as a positive development.  After all, turning Americans against one another provides a chance for progressives to divide and conquer, as well as to effect "fundamental transformation."

Third, the question of just what happens to the history of the Civil War if a revisionist trend becomes established protocol for writing history must be asked.  Are we soon to see Matthew Brady's and other great Civil War photographers' work PhotoShopped, the faces of the offending Southern generals erased?  Will revisionist history take on the flavor of the Stalinist regime, which forbade any portraits or photos other than those of the victorious?  Will Southern history go down a memory hole?

God forbid.

But perhaps there is a bright side to Portrait-gate.  Poking the South in the eye may backfire.  The insult to the South's military leaders may be one of many ways to stimulate a Southern stampede to the right.

Many Southerners are sick to death of the left's condescending stereotypes.  They are tired of being despised for their devotion to religion; tired of contemptuous dismissal of their view of the history of the Confederacy; tired of being categorized as still being in the backwoods, both culturally and socially; tired of being thought of as ignorant rednecks descended from regressive stock. 

The seemingly insignificant but hubristic takedown of Lee's and Jackson's portraits may be a symbolic indication that Democrats in Virginia could themselves be in danger of a takedown. 

Certainly it would be pleasant to think of the prospect that Virginia, which has been slowly turning purple due to strangulation by progressives, might once again become bright red with rage.

The conservative South may yet rise again.

Fay Voshell is a frequent contributor to American Thinker.  She may be reached at