January 12 - Lee-Jackson Day

Posted on January 12, 2018

All over the nation - particularly throughout the South - local governments and institutions are removing statues of and memorials to the Confederate "heroes" who fought - and lost - against the United States during the Civil War.

Including the two Virginia-born generals honored in this Virginia holiday: Robert E. Lee and Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson. 

Some people from other nations have helped me to see just how astonishing it is for a nation to hold up in great honor men who were traitors to their nation. "Why on Earth did we ever have statues to these guys?" they helped me wonder. "And why were we ever naming hospitals and schools and roads in their honor?"

A German guest in my home pointed out that his country doesn't have Hitler's face memorialized in statues in a variety of different cities, and it doesn't honor Hitler's name on college buildings or highways. It doesn't celebrate Hitler Day every April 20!

History is written by the winners, so the saying goes, and place names tend to honor winners, too - so why are there so many Robert E. Lee _______ [fill in the blank]? In his last and most impactful war, Lee did not win. He lost, big-time.

AND he was a traitor and an oath-breaker. Robert E. Lee betrayed this solemn oath:

"I, Robert E. Lee... do solemnly swear, or affirm, that I will bear true allegiance to the United States of America, and that I will serve them honestly and faithfully against all their enemies or opposers whatsoever, and observe and obey the orders of the President of the United States, and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to the rules and articles for the government of the Armies of the United States."

Lee swore that oath in 1840, but in 1862 he betrayed that oath, became a traitor to his Army and his nation, and won even more fame than he'd already earned by being really successful at killing American soldiers!!

I am not pretending that Lee didn't wrestle with the decision of whether to serve his nation or his state; I know that he wanted his country to stay whole, AND that (after his surrender) he called for reconciliation between the two sides, AND that he argued against the building of Confederate memorials and statues. I know that Lee had good ideas as well as bad ones, and that he was a product of his time, and that like all of us he was "only human," a big ball of good stuff and bad stuff, some good choices and actions and words as well as some bad choices and actions and words. 

But the bottom line is that he did break his oath when he turned traitor and took up arms against his nation.

Today's holiday in Virginia, Lee's home state, used to be Robert E. Lee Day. Lee's birthday on January 19 dictated the timing of the holiday, which was created in 1889. In 1904, another Confederate General, Stonewall Jackson, was added to the holiday. Why not? Jackson, too, was born in Virginia in January. Jackson, too, was a loser and a traitor. 

As you can imagine, there have definitely been some calls to end this holiday, which has been moved away from Lee's and Jackson's actual birthdays, onto the Friday before Martin Luther King, Jr., Day, in order to create a four-day weekend. 

Some Virginia cities have stopped holding celebrations or even observing this holiday. That includes the capital city of Richmond and the city where that awful and deadly white supremacy march occurred last summer, Charlottesville. 

But other cities hold parades, Civil War battle reenactments, wreath laying, and memorial services. 

From what I can tell, the town of Lexington will be holding a parade, a ball, "flagging" (people standing on street corners with Confederate flags), and military reenactments.

Last year there was also a peace-oriented King parade in Lexington - no news if there will be one of those this year....

Notice how different - colorful, informal, non-military! - last year's first-ever
 King parade was, in contrast to the usual uniforms-and-battle-flags
Lee-Jackson parade.

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