Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Beauregard's Flag

Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard was one of the leading Confederate generals during the American Civil War. If the South had won the war, Beauregard would certainly have been one of the Confederacy’s greatest heroes. He is supposed to have fired the first shot at Fort Sumter in April of 1861. He took over command of the Army of Tennessee after General Albert Sidney Johnston’s death at Shiloh in April of 1862. He commanded the coastal defenses of the Eastern Seaboard for much of the war and was credited with helping to defend Petersburg in 1864. While reading Gone With the Wind, I came across a short story that described General Beauregard’s popularity with the Cajuns in Louisiana. The story goes that, when a Cajun hears another Southerner praising General Lee, he is silent for moment then says, “General Lee? General Lee? Oh, yes, I remember now. General Lee is the gentleman General Beau regard speaks so highly of.”

General Beauregard’s fame comes from his design of what became the Confederate battle flag. In the early stages of the war, the Confederate “Bonnie Blue” flag (13 white stars on a blue field with one red and one white stripe) was so similar to the American flag as to cause confusion. Beauregard came up with the idea of creating a flag with a blue St. Andrews cross against a red background. After the war, Beauregard went into politics and used his flag in his political campaigns. I recently learned a detail that astonished me. Beauregard’s political platform provided for complete equality between the races. Needless to say, Beauregard’s platform did not enjoy unanimous support.

My question for the present day is, does Beauregard’s flag stand for disunion and slavery, or can it merely be a symbol for Beauregard’s subsequent political platform. As Alice said to Humpty Dumpty, can you make a word (or a symbol) mean what you want it to mean.

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