During one of my seven trips to Gettysburg last year, I had the pleasure of taking a coworker and his Canadian girlfriend. During the two and half hour drive to the battlefield, I took the opportunity to probe what they knew about the war, its causes, and the Gettysburg campaign. I started with the Canadian and asked her, “What do you know about the Civil War?”
My friend and his Canadian girlfriend at Devil’s Den
“Lee, Grant, Lincoln,” she responded.
“That’s a good start. When did the war take place?”
“The seventeen hundreds!” she responded confidently. I shook my head. She shyly tried again, “The sixteen hundreds?”
Realizing I had a lot of work to do, I started with the Constitution, the 20-year rule concerning slave trade, and the cotton gin. As I worked through some of the more important legislature, I let out that the Confederacy lost. She abruptly stopped me, “Wait! The Confederacy lost?”
My friend and I checking out the view from Little Round Top
I was puzzled as to whether she was joking with me at first, “Yeah, they were defeated in the end.”
“But that doesn’t make any sense,” she exclaimed.
Her boyfriend was a little embarrassed, “Come on, babe. You knew that.”
I tried to downplay it, “Maybe the Civil War isn’t a big topic in Canadian schools.”
She remained adamant, “No, this does not make sense! If the Confederacy lost, then why do Americans allow people to dress up like Confederate soldiers? And why do I see the Confederate flag everywhere I go in America?”
Realizing the issue, my first response was simply, “Because this is America where people are free to dress up however they want and fly whatever flag they want.” I later explained the efforts toward reconciliation and that America has come to view the war as a necessary event.
The more I thought about it, the more I have struggled to answer the question succinctly. Interestingly enough, when I visited the Chalmette Battlefield in New Orleans this past November, I was intrigued to see a British flag flying on the British side of the field.
My wife, Dawn, posing in front of the British flag at the Chalmette Battlefield
Yet, is this only an American thing? I doubt there are Nationalist flags flying on Chinese battlefields. As I get a chance to visit battlefields outside of America, I will especially be looking for what monuments exist for the vanquished side.