Texas SCV Calls for a New Strategy
Recently Mark Vogl, Lieutenant Commander of the Texas Division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, called for a shift strategy in that organization's approach to "heritage defense," away from throwing up legal challenges to perceived slights and instead focusing on a more proactive, less-confrontational approach. Even with some edits, it's a long piece, but it covers a lot of ground:
For many years heritage defense was understood to be a reactionary activity where Southern patriots, through the Sons of Confederate Veterans engaged lawyers to file law suits to battle for issues and beliefs under attack by our political and philosophical enemies, or by those without an understanding of Southern heritage, symbols and history. Hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars have been spent to battle in an arena unfriendly to the Cause of the South. . . .
I would like to offer the idea of an expanded view of heritage defense. It is not a view which centers on our reaction to attacks, but includes a positive view of all we do to educate our friends and neighbors about who we (the South) are. Heritage defense is about vindicating the Cause. We do that with every breath, every beat of our hearts. . .
Reenactments, living history, visiting classrooms all of these activities are good, wholesome, effective ways to reach out to the general public to tell our story. And these activities are being supplemented with programs like Flags Across Texas, and the great memorial Commander Granvel Block is constructing down on Interstate Ten will be a real testament to our heritage, and to the present day Sons of Confederate Veterans. I believe Granvel’s work is the most important project we are currently involved in. Granvel’s efforts will exist for decades, if not centuries, and be a daily reminder to tens of thousands of travellers [sic.] of the nation that was the Confederate States of America.
In the past, these type activities have been seen more as heritage promotion than heritage defense. But in my view, activities like these sustain our presence in the public mind, spread the word and introduce the idea of the Southern Cause. . . .
I would like to suggest there are other heritage defense operations which need to be engaged in. These operations are more aggressive, more dependent on an advanced knowledge of our antebellum and political history, and more reliant on funds.
As I have visited camps around Texas I have discovered two things. First, that our camps are filled with dedicated, talented men. Many of the camps have talented communicators, both speakers and writers. And second, that in the hugeness of the Texas, local towns and communities each have their own history, heroes, and stories. These unique heritage aspects need to be developed and written into stories. To defend our heritage people must know what our heritage is. Not just the big issue, big question stories, but the local heritage.
I propose camps should work to research their local areas. Try to find the militia and company rosters. If you have them, try to get local newspapers to publish those rosters. Maybe write a brief story of the unit’s history, but the key is getting the roster published. I believe once the roster is published locals will look to see if their family was involved. This could lead recruiting opportunities. Recently a few senior officers in the Texas Division attempted to estimate how many Confederate descendants there are. I thought there might 10 to 30 million. But it seems, I may be wrong, by a lot. One conservative estimate was 80 million! As many as 80 million Americans living today are of Confederate blood. I doubt many Americans realize that more than 25% of today’s population is of Southern blood.
But back to heritage defense. Write down the histories of your local area. If enough of the 80 camps did that, we might be able to produce a unique Texas history, and publish it as Division book! We are presently working on publishing The Road to Secession which will hopefully generate revenues for the division.
And on a totally separate path, we need to become active in the world of governance in the state of Texas. Our Constitution prohibits us from becoming involved in the election of officers of the state and local governments. That is not an unusual restraint on a not-for-profit organization. However, our Constitution does not prohibit us from contacting local and state officials to lobby for decisions in our favor. In fact, we already do that to some extent. We communicate with the Land Office and Historical Commission. We even have a Legislative Day in Austin where we are encouraged to spend money to travel to Austin to walk the halls.
Vogl holds the conceit, common among its membership, that the SCV represents "the South" (second paragraph). And I remain skeptical of some of what he proposes, especially sending out speakers who are chosen more for their enthusiasm and commitment to "the Cause of the South" than for any formal training or preparation they might hold. That can go spectacularly, horribly wrong.
Reenactors are understandably popular in the classroom, but fidelity to bone buttons and hand-stitched, wool clothing doesn't necessarily make one a good teacher, or someone who can discuss the larger issues of the conflict in ways that are both accurate and accessible to the public/grade level of the audience. (And sometimes reenactors can go spectacularly, horribly wrong, too.)
That said, I think there are some good ideas to work with in Vogl's message, particularly as it involves local history. There is a lot of room for more research that can be done at the local level. In particular, I would encourage SCV camps to do research on Civil War veterans (from both sides) who are either from that area, or settled there later. A lot of that happens anyway, I think, as part of the effort to document military service to obtain grave markers, but the research ought to go beyond that, to better understand those men as individuals. For most veterans, particularly those who lived into the 20th century, the war was only one element in their stories, which are important to tell in their entirety. As but two examples, you can make a strong case that for two men interred near me, Peter Phelps and Charles DeWitt Anderson, their military service during the Civil War was the least interesting thing about their long lives.
The Texas SCV has done some very worthwhile projects, including working to raise funds to preserve Civil War flags in the state. They need to more things like that, frankly, and it will be interesting to see if Vogl’s proposal gets any traction, either around the state or within the larger, national organization.
Photo Credit: Author's Private Collection.