It's Time To Push Out Confederates From Gettysburg For Good
Imagine if one of the first things we acknowledged about the Confederate army, when it entered Pennsylvania in the summer of 1863, is that it included thousands of enslaved men. It would change how we think about the campaign, its outcome, and its place in the broader trajectory of the war.
For a brief moment the institution of slavery entered a free state. In that time, Confederates captured and sent back south hundreds of free Blacks in central Pennsylvania. Black families in and around Gettysburg were forced to flee. Their property around the battlefield, including the Bryan Farm, witnessed some of the most violent fighting of the entire war.
Unfortunately, with a few rare exceptions, we acknowledge none of it.
If we did, scenes like yesterday would not take place.
Every year Confederate reenactors are invited to march alongside United States soldiers in Gettyburg’s Remembrance Day Parade, which commemorates Lincoln’s famous address.
That’s right. On the same day that the community gathers to reflect on Lincoln’s words, Confederate flags are marched through the streets.
Over the past few years, Gettysburg College historian Scott Hancock has taken the initiative to remind his neighbors of their complicity in this sad spectacle.
Few people know that Lee’s army included thousands of enslaved men and that it functioned as a slave catching army throughout the war.
Remembrance Day commemorations began in 1957 and within a few years Confederate reenactors were invited to take part in the parade. Their inclusion dovetailed with the beginning of the Civil War Centennial and its emphasis on the theme of reunion that was embraced by most white Americans, before calls for civil rights reminded the nation of its “unfinished work.”
Throughout this time, according to historian Jill Titus, Black Gettysburgians experienced discrimination and segregation on a daily basis. African Americans in Gettysburg and on a national stage called out the hypocrisy of the centennial celebrations as a betrayal of what the nation fought for and the role that Black soldiers played in helping to save the nation and end slavery.
This history’s absence from our collective memory of the war is compounded by the culture of the town. There is no shortage of Confederate flags and other Lost Cause-inspired gifts in the shops that line Steinwehr Avenue and the Baltimore Pike.
A first-time visitor to Gettysburg with no knowledge of the Civil War might be excused for not knowing who won the battle or the war for that matter.
It is sad and disturbing to think that even after the 2015 massacre in Charleston; the white nationalist rally in Charlottesville in 2017; and the January 6 insurrection, the town of Gettysburg still allows men dressed in Confederate uniforms to carry the battle flag through town.
Only after the heinous murders committed by Dylann Roof in Charleston and the surfacing of photographs of him holding a Confederate flag did the gift shop at the Gettysburg battlefield visitor center pull items that featured the battle flag.
I can only imagine how the Black community feels about the sight of Confederate uniforms in their streets on this day. Any decent American should be disgusted.
It’s time to push out Confederates from Gettysburg for good.
Note: Thanks for reading. Please keep in mind that rates for paid subscribers will increase on December 1. Subscribe today for continued access to the comments, the chat room, and podcast.
Civil War Memory is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.