The controversy over the Confederate battle flag and what it symbolizes continues to rage. But it is rarely if ever explained why many decent people of good will are so proud of their Confederate ancestry.
Basically, it is because our ancestors showed amazing courage, honor, and valor, enduring incredible hardships, against overwhelming and often hopeless odds, in fighting, for their homeland — not for slavery, as is so often said, but for their families, homes, and country.
Put simply, most Confederate soldiers felt they were fighting because an invading army from the North was trying to kill them, burn their homes, and destroy their cities. And anyone with family who fought to defend the South, as mine did, cannot help but appreciate the dire circumstances our ancestors encountered.
Near the end of the War Between the States, my great grandfather, Andrew Jackson Moses, who ran away from school to become a Confederate scout, at 16 rode out to defend his hometown of Sumter, South Carolina, as part of a hastily formed local militia. Approaching rapidly was a unit of Sherman’s army, which had just burned Columbia and most everything else in its path, and Sumter expected similar treatment.
Along with a few other teenagers, old men, invalids, and wounded from the local hospital, Sumter's rag-tag defenders amazingly were able to hold off these battle-seasoned veterans, Potter's Raiders, for an hour-and-a-half, at the cost of several lives. (Jack got away with a price on his head, and Sumter was not burned after all. But some buildings were, and there were documented instances of murder, rape, and arson by the Yankees, including the torching of our family's 196 bales of cotton.)
Meanwhile, Jack’s eldest brother, Lt. Joshua Lazarus Moses, who was wounded in the War's first real battle, First Manassas (Bull Run), was defending Mobile in the last major battle of the War. His forces being outnumbered 12 to one, Josh was commanding an artillery battalion that, before being overrun, fired the last shots in defense of Mobile. Refusing to lay down his arms, he was killed on the day Lee surrendered, in a battle, Fort Blakely, in which one of his brothers, Perry, was wounded, and another brother, Horace, captured while laying land mines.
The fifth bother, Isaac Harby Moses, having served with distinction in combat in Wade Hampton’s cavalry, rode home from North Carolina after the Battle of Bentonville where he commanded his company, all of the officers having been killed or wounded. He never surrendered to anyone, his Mother proudly observed in her memoirs. He was among those who fired the very first shots of the War, when his company of Citadel cadets opened up on the Union ship, Star of the West, which was attempting to resupply the besieged Fort Sumter in January, 1861, three months before the War officially began.
The Moses brothers' distinguished uncle, Major Raphael J. Moses, from Columbus, Georgia, was General James Longstreet’s chief commissary officer, and was responsible for supplying and feeding some 40,000 men. Their commander, General Robert E. Lee, had forbidden Moses from entering private homes in search of supplies in raids into Union territory, even when food and other provisions were in painfully short supply. And he always paid for what he did take from farms and businesses, albeit in Confederate tender, often enduring, in good humor, harsh verbal abuse from the local women.
Interestingly, he ended up carrying out the last order of the Confederacy, which was to deliver the last of the Confederate treasury, $40,000 in gold & silver bullion, to help feed and supply the defeated Confederate soldiers straggling home after the War — weary, hungry, often sick, shoeless and in tattered uniforms. With the help of a small group of determined armed guards, Moses successfully carried out the order from President Jefferson Davis, despite repeated attempts by mobs to forcibly take the bullion.
Major Moses’ three sons also served the Confederacy, one of whom, Albert Moses Luria, was killed at 19 after courageously throwing a live Union artillery shell out of his fortification before it exploded, thereby saving the lives of many of his compatriots.
One cannot help but respect the dignity and gentlemanly policies of Lee and Moses, and the courage of the greatly outnumbered, out-supplied but rarely outfought Confederate soldiers. In stark contrast, Union generals Sherman, Grant, and Sheridan and their troops burned and looted homes, farms, courthouses, libraries, businesses and entire cities full of only civilians (including Atlanta), as part of official Union policy to not only defeat but utterly destroy the South, in violation of the then-prevailing rules of warfare.
And before, during, and after the War, this same Union army (led by many of the same generals, including Sherman, Grant, and George Custer) used similar tactics, and worse, to massacre and nearly wipe out the Native Americans, in what we euphemistically call “The Indian Wars.” So the Union army was hardly the forerunner of the civil rights movement, as many would have us believe.
There are countless stories of valor by soldiers on both sides of this tragic conflict, and their descendants can take justifiable pride in this heritage. This is especially true of the brave and beleaguered Confederates who risked all and sacrificed much in the service of their country, against a formidable, implacable, and often cruel foe. A Lost Cause, yes, but an honorable one, which should not be forgotten.
Lewis Regenstein [send him mail], a Native Atlantan, is a writer and author.