Leaving the Lost Cause

Leaving the Lost Cause

At long last, U.S. military installations are playing taps for the ignominious mythology of the Lost Cause, stripping the names of Confederate officers and replacing them with the names of genuine heroes and heroines. It’s about time.

Earlier this week, the third-largest Army base was named for Gen. Richard Edward Cavazos, the first Latino to become a four-star Army general. The Texas installation had previously been named for John Bell Hood, a Confederate general. Fort Cavazos is among ten installations that had honored insurrectionists but are undergoing long-overdue name changes.

The first to be redesignated was the Virginia base that had been named for Gen. George Pickett, who led the disastrous “Pickett’s charge” at the Battle of Gettysburg. (He was not only a traitor but also a woeful military strategist.) In March, it was named for Col. Van Barfoot, a World War II Medal of Honor recipient who happened to be Native American.

In late April, the Virginia garrison that had previously commemorated Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee was renamed Fort Gregg-Adams, honoring Lt. Gen. Arthur Gregg and Lt. Col. Charity Adams Earley. As black Americans, both overcame the harsh prejudices of the Jim Crow era to rise to leadership positions in the Army in the 1940s and ‘50s.

While these renaming ceremonies are a welcome step forward in a nation that still cannot come to terms with a violent and racist past, it’s nevertheless worth pointing out the obvious: U.S. military installations should never have honored traitors. Hood, Lee, Pickett and their compatriots — Braxton Bragg, Henry Benning, Leonidas Polk, among them — took up arms against their government because they wanted to be able to continue to enslave black men and women. Happily, they lost. 

Their nation forgave them and granted them amnesty. That was a wise step toward reuniting a cleaved nation. But during the administration of Woodrow Wilson, Lost Cause apologists and other segregationists found reason to name military installations after them — as if soldiers should look up to men who turned on their country. The bases commemorating Confederates became part of a long running ahistorical traditional — a lie, in fact — that distorted the causes of the Civil War and cozied up to the terrorism being visited upon black citizens.

The new designations were proposed by a Naming Commission that looked to celebrate Americans who rendered admirable service to their country. One of those was Dr. Mary Edwards Walker, an abolitionist and skilled surgeon who served the Union Army. She became the only woman ever to be awarded the Medal of Honor, and her name will soon grace Virginia’s Fort A.P. Hill.

Some will denounce the new names as the “woke” politics of leftists who hate their country. Former President Donald Trump opposed the name changes when Congress required them in 2020, going so far as to veto a massive defense authorization bill which included the directive.

 Then there are those such as Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Al.), who claimed in a recent radio interview that defense readiness is suffering  “because the Democrats are attacking our military, saying we need to get out the white extremists, the white nationalists.” Just in case he misspoke, a reporter followed up by asking him whether he thought white nationalists should be in the military. Tuberville’s response? “Well, (Democrats) call them that. I call them Americans.”

Americans? Yes, they are that by dint of citizenship but not by dint of service. The real patriots are not white racists but rather men such as my father, who fought in Korea to defend a nation that wouldn’t allow him to eat in a restaurant or sit at the front of a bus. They are men and women such as Gregg and Adams and Walker, a feminist ahead of her time, who valiantly served a nation that didn’t treat them as if they were full-fledged citizens.

The Naming Commission recommended a raft of valiant men and women who “embody the best of the United States Army and America.” Theirs is the service that deserves to be remembered.