Battle Over A Flag

by Patrick J. Buchanan – July 27, 1994

“I’m going to march to Richmond…and when I go through South Carolina it will be one of the most horrible things in the history of the world. The devil himself couldn’t restrain my men in that state.”
So pledged Gen. William T. Sherman as he reached Savannah and the sea, after destruction of Atlanta. Ordered to board ship and sail to Virginia to join Grant outside Richmond, Sherman rebelled in rage and wrote to Gen. Halleck:

Northerners “would rejoice to have this army turned loose in South Carolina to devastate that state… This war differs from other wars, in this particular. We are not fighting armies but a hostile people, and must make old and young, rich and poor, feel the hard hand of war.”

On Feb. 17, 1865, “Uncle Billy’s” army entered the lovely little capital to make her “feel the hard hand of war.” When Sherman departed 72 hours later, Columbia had been gutted and burned – homes, hospitals, colleges, even an Ursuline convent Sherman had personally pledged to protect.

Today, in Columbia, an astonishing debate is under way: Should South Carolina remove from its capital the battle flag of the boys in gray who fought to stop Sherman’s army from burning the city?

Why is South Carolina even discussing this? Because the NAACP’s board chairman, William Gibson of Greenville, has issued an ultimatum: Take down the flag – or face an NAACP boycott. The threat appears to have unnerved Mayor Bob Coble and local business leaders who have filed suit to force South Carolina to capitulate.

Stonewall Jackson, though shouldst be living at this hour!

At the Baltimore African-American summit, the NAACP’s Ben Chavis warned South Carolina: “We will determine where we have to apply the heat. And I assure you, heat will be applied.”

Now, to be fair, Ben has a track record of “applying the heat.” In 1971 he and nine chums were convicted of firebombing a white-owned grocery store in Wilmington, N.C. for which Ben did four-and-a-half years in the state pen. Who is this arsonist and ex-con to be preaching to anyone?

The battle flag issue is synthetic and phony from the get-go. A June Harris Poll found that more than two-thirds of black Americans have no problem whatever with replicas of the old battle flag being part of the state flags of Georgia and Mississippi. And are Chavis and Gibson totally ignorant of what happened in Columbia when the confederates withdrew and Sherman’s army marched in?

Here is an excerpt from Burke Davis’ “Sherman’s March”: “There were no reports of raped white women, but black women of the city suffered terribly, [the novelist William] Simms claimed many of them…being left in a condition little short of death. Regiments, in successive relays, subjected scores of these women to the tortures of their embraces.”

At the convent Sherman had pledged to protect, “The schoolgirls were kneeling, reciting the rosary, when the chapel door was broken in… Drunken soldiers piled over each other, rushing for the sacred gold vessels of the altar… At three in the morning its cross plunged earthward in a cascade of flames.”

What kind of timidity and cowardice are today gripping South Carolina that so many of her sons will not defend the battle flag of kinsmen who fought and died to prevent this from happening?

“That flag represents the worst of America, and we must not only take down the flag but what the flag represents,” rails Chavis.

Well, to better men, long ago, it meant something else. In High Tide at Gettysburg, Glen Tucker described what that flag meant to the men of North Carolina’s 26th regiment at McPherson’s Ridge.

“Though he belonged with the staff, [McGreery] foolishly seized the regimental flag…and rushed out in front of the line. He was shot instantly through the heart. Lt. George Wilcox of Company H ran forward and pulled the blood-covered flag from under the body; Wilcox had taken only a step when two bullets struck him…

“Seeing the regiment waver, Burgwyn seized the flag as it fell from the hands of Wilcox and shouted, ‘Dress to the colors’… Pvt. Frank Honeycutt of Company B ran from the ranks and requested the honor of advancing it. Burgwyn had turned to hand over the flag when a bullet struck his left side, passed through both lungs, spun him around with its force, and dropped him mortally wounded. He carried the colors down with him. Honeycutt seized them, but almost instantly he was shot through the head. Thus for the thirteenth time in the attack, the flag of the 26th North Carolina was on the ground.”

What has happened to South Carolina that she would permit a pair of noisemakers like Gibson and Chavis to frighten them into hauling down these colors of courage?