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  1. Opinion

Ruth: Slavery's reality contradicts Sons of Confederate Veterans, Civil War revisionists

A monument at Olustee Battlefield Historic State Park honors Confederate troops.
Published Jan. 20, 2014

It seems fitting that the de facto anthem of the Confederacy during the Civil War, which some people might still be shocked to learn the North won, turned out to be "Dixie."

After all, since Gen. Robert E. Lee surrendered at Appomattox there's been no shortage of looking away, looking away at the reality of history when it comes to the Civil War.

Nowhere is that full flower of denial more apparent than among the followers of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, which is upset about a proposal to erect a monument to Union soldiers who died in the Battle of Olustee, regarded by historians as the largest and deadliest engagement in Florida during the "wowrah."

Next month marks the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Olustee, about 45 miles west of Jacksonville. Some 2,000 Union troops died in the conflict, while 1,000 Confederate soldiers also perished in an engagement that did not substantially alter the course of the Civil War.

The 3-acre Olustee Battlefield Historic State Park includes three monuments honoring the Confederate troops who fought and died in the encounter. But when the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War pushed for a memorial on the site to pay homage to the sacrifices of their forbearers, hostilities ensued. So did illiterate silliness.

It is not surprising that at the center of the debate can be found state Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Foghorn Leghorn, who seized upon the Union monument dust-up as yet another issue where he can be wrong.

Baxley is a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans. In an interview with the New York Times, the Ocala Republican argued a memorial to the Union dead was a terrible idea because: "My biggest concern is that this is revisionist history and that these decisions are being made by park officials and not an elected body." Don't worry. It's not you. I just read that again and it still doesn't make any sense.

Revisionist history? If anyone has more egregiously twisted the facts of time, it has been the Sons of Confederate Veterans, who would have you believe the Civil War was all about defending the rights to have juleps on the verandah.

On its website the group argues the Confederacy "personified the best qualities of America. The preservation of liberty and freedom was the motivating factor in the South's decision to fight the Second American Revolution."

And if you believe that poppycock wrapped in balderdash enshrouded in piffle, you probably also buy into the notion the nearly 4 million people owned as chattel by their slave owners at the start of the Civil War happily wiled away their hours, gleefully toting those barges and lifting those bails with their only care in the world centered around how to invest their 401k plans.

The Civil War wasn't about honor. It wasn't about tradition. It wasn't about some obtuse romantic notion of strolling under the kudzu. It was about slavery. It was about economics. It was about the South's desire to maintain a cheap means of agricultural production.

The Sons of Selective Memory are a presence here in Tampa Bay with their massive Confederate flag flying at the intersection of I-75 and I-4. About the only thing missing is a giant neon sign blinking, "Welcome To Gooberville."

As for the Olustee Union soldier memorial, what Baxley and his band of bumpkins fail to acknowledge is the proposed monument would sit on state-owned public land. The property doesn't belong to the Sons of Confederate Veterans. It belongs to Floridians — all of them, even the descendants of slaves.

Does anyone believe if the decision to include the Union memorial was left to folks like Baxley, who has a considerable conflict of interest, it would be denied? The Florida Division of Recreation and Parks is more than capable of objectively resolving the issue in the interests of fairness and respecting the history of the Olustee battlefield.

If it will make the Sons of Confederate Veterans happy, there will be an annual reenactment of the battle next month. And just as on Feb. 20, 1864, the guys in gray still get to win. How exciting.

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