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Stop participating in the slander of our soldiers, Rep. Baxley

December 7th, 2013 9:41 am | by

Dennis Baxley is a Republican state representative from Ocala. A few days ago, he participated in and condoned a public meeting that saw some of the most offensive imaginable insults hurled at the memory of United States soldiers killed in action fighting for our country. It disgusted me. Over on my Florida History site, Blood and Oranges, I’ve written Baxley an open letter. I’m reprinting it here. I’m also calling on our local legislators, Rep. Seth McKeel and Rep. Neil Combee, and state Sen. Kelli Stargel, to condemn Baxley behavior and the wanton slander of the memory of brave American soldiers. Here’s is Baxley’s email. I hope you’ll drop him a brief line, too.

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Dear Rep. Baxley:

You recently attended a public meeting during which an unruly crowd hurled epithets at the memory and service of United States Army soldiers who died with honor at the Olustee Civil War Battlefield.

You sat by without objection as ruffians called these veterans who made the ultimate sacrifice for freedom and our country “rapists.” You uttered not a peep as someone said, “Putting a Union monument at Olustee would be like placing a memorial to Jane Fonda at the entrance to the Vietnam memorial.”

And at the end of the meeting, you took the side of the desecrators.

“There is a sacred trust that’s being violated when you go in and change an historic site from the way it was commemorated by those who established (it),” Baxley said.

He suggested getting the matter “off the table” by means of a bill that he would sponsor. “I can do a very simple proposal to the Legislature that we protect all monument sites,” Baxley said to cheers and applause.

Here is a simple fact, Rep. Baxley:

There’s a Confederate monument at Olustee (also known as Ocean Pond), Florida’s most significant Civil War battlefield. Here’s a picture.

The monument inscription reads:

“Here was fought on February 20, 1864 the Battle of Ocean Pond under the immediate command of General Alfred Holt Colquitt, ‘Hero of Olustee’. The decisive engagement prevented a Sherman-like invasion of Georgia from the South. Erected April 20, 1936 by the Alfred Holt Colquitt Chapter, United Daughters of the Confederacy, GA Div.”

There is no counterpart commemorating our country’s point-of-view of the battle or war. There never has been. As a distant relative of Robert E. Lee, a fifth-generation Floridian, one who grew up in Palatka, not far from your Ocala home, let me say that I have come to revere Gen. Sherman, the Patton of the Civil War.

He ruthlessly and brilliantly deployed American power in the service of individual freedom and the realization of American values. He and other Union generals and soldiers made the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments of the United States Constitution possible. I do not appreciate that the state of Florida today continues to use General Sherman’s name as an epithet on a civil war battlefield monument.

However, I also understand the horror and brutality of the war he waged under the orders of Abraham Lincoln, our finest president. I am fine with the Confederate monument remaining as a reminder of Confederate point-of-view, although I profoundly disagree with it because I am an American, not a Confederate. I am what your unruly allies would call a scalawag — a white son of the South who prizes my country and the values of its foundational documents more highly than the customs and heritage of the land where I happened to be born and grow up and still call home.

As distasteful as the ongoing denigration of General Sherman is, it cannot compare to your contempt for United States soldiers. Many of these soldiers were black men literally fighting for their freedom while knowing they’d be murdered by Confederates if wounded or captured. Perhaps you have the seen the movie Glory. Movies seem to be the only means by which politicians get history. If you did see the film, I feel certain you found yourself rooting for Denzel Washington and Morgan Freeman and Andre Braugher and their depictions of the men of the 54th.

That makes it all the more difficult to accept that you would tolerate and even support the desecration of the memory of the actual men of the 54th. Many of them fought and died at Olustee. Many were murdered as they lay wounded on the field of battle after fighting for our country. By Confederates. Perhaps by the ancestors of your allies in that public meeting.

If you take even a moment to look at the Battle of Olustee website, you’ll find a host of letters and documents written at the time of the battle by soldiers or witnesses. Here are a few excerpts:

“A word about the terrible defeat in Florida … The rebels allowed us to penetrate, and then with ten to our one, cut us off, meaning to `bag’ us. And had it not been for the glorious Fifty-fourth Massachusetts, the whole brigade would have been captured or annihilated. This was the only regiment that rallied, broke the rebel ranks, and saved us. The 8th United States Colored lost their flag twice, and the Fifty-fourth recaptured it each time. They have lost in killed and missing about 350. They would not retreat when ordered, but charged on them with the most fearful desperation … If this regiment has not won glory enough to have shoulder straps, where is there one that ever did.”

—-

I cannot fail to contrast this treatment which rebels receive at the hands of our authorities, with that meted out to the negro soldiers by the rebel authorities. A flag of truce was sent out to the rebels the other day, and when asked about the negro prisoners and officers, the reply was: “We will hand every d–d negro officer we catch.”

We can learn nothing of the colored prisoners. It is reported that they were killed on the field. When shall this weakness and folly on the part of our authorities cease? And when shall these atrocities be met with that vengeance and retaliation they so justly merit? Where are the colored prisoners captured on James Island, July 16th, 1863, and those captured at Fort Wagner, July 18th? And, lastly, where are those captured at the Battle of Olustee, February 20th, 1864? Can any escaped prisoner answer? Can any Federal spy answer? Can any one in authority answer? Can any man answer this question? If, while we are pampering and petting rebel prisoners, Federal prisoners are hung and enslaved, we are exchanging smiles for kicks – paying gold and honor for dross and dishonor.

The simple fact is that however honorably and skillfully the Confederate Army fought at Olustee, it dishonored itself acutely with its atrocities afterward. And yet the state of Florida still commemorates Olustee’s Confederate soldiers and spurns the men of the 54th and the other American soldiers. These American soldiers fought under orders issued by their commander-in-chief as surely as our veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan did.

That you would encourage this historical insult and seek to codify it through legislation is the most despicable act of statesmanship I’ve had the misfortune of encountering.

T.D. Allman, in his controversial and critical book about Florida, wrote this about annual re-enactment of Olustee:

Every year the Confederates advance gloriously. Everyone whoops and hollers as the United States gets defeated. Neither the organizers’s promotional literature nor their websites mention the words massacre, colored, black, or Negro. None of the participants reenacts white Confederates murdering wounded black soldiers.

As I wrote in my review of Allman’s book, the part of this passage concerning literature is demonstrably untrue. And in my experience, from attending the 2011 re-enactment, the whooping and hollering did not happen. In fact, the idea for a Union monument seems to have emerged from re-enactors themselves. That is consistent with my experience of Olustee.

But what you and your rabble have done vindicates Allman’s description of Olustee as an unreconstructed haven of Lost Cause fantasy. That same fantasy underpinned Jim Crow America in the 20th century. To indulge it today is not just awful history but a sickening display of ignorance and dishonor. You and your rabble have no more right to Olustee than I do — or my father or grandfather, both American soldiers, not Confederates, who fought in the uniform of our country.

If you cannot simply add a monument to our state’s most sanctified battlefield acknowledging that US soldiers died and were murdered there while fighting for their freedom and the values of the United States of America, you need to remove the Confederate monument. And it’s time to start removing the monuments to the slave power that still tower over most town squares and courthouses in this state.

Sincerely,

Billy Townsend

Posted in Commentary
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13 Responses to “Stop participating in the slander of our soldiers, Rep. Baxley”

  1. C.W. Roden Says:

    Well Billy, that is certainly one way of looking at the situation. That it is all together correct is another matter but I’m not here to debate the issue.
    The objection is not to the monument itself just its location. There are plenty of places to put it in the park rather than on the original acres of the battlefield itself.

    As for your use of the term “Lost Cause fantasy” if you want to be taken seriously I suggest keeping idiotic nonsense terms like that out of the discussion and stick with the details.

  2. Michael Confoy Says:
  3. Billy Townsend Says:

    Yes, C.W., you are obviously not here to debate. I find it odd that you and your fellow travelers object to the point-of-view of your country being expressed on one of its battlefields, especially when the soldiers of your country — unlike any before or since — literally fought and died to end their own bondage and earn their freedom. I can think of no more patriotic act. Can you explain to me why that’s wrong and why you object to the term “Lost Cause fantasy”. Do you not revere that Lost Cause?

  4. Tim Adkison Says:

    Billy, as a claimed “fifth-generation Floridian” it is entirely possible that your family arrived in the South after the War Between the States which would actually make you a carpetbagger, not a scalawag. Although, your currently stated opinions would seem to fit the latter description. If your family was in Florida during the war years then you should start begging forgiveness from them now for your attitude regarding their heritage, even if you don’t agree with it. You see, the Confederacy WAS America to people living in the South. That’s why their country was the Confederate States of America. They despised Unionist efforts to force their nation into being something that they didn’t want to be. I am not defending the concept or act of slavery here, but it should be noted that the institution of slavery was not illegal in the South, so the Union troops that were invading Florida were here to change the ways of Southern Americans who were not doing anything illegal. Even the idea of dividing into a separate country was put forth by Lincoln himself as a viable alternative to living under government that was not wanted. In January 1848 he said: “Any people anywhere, being inclined and having the power, have the right to rise up and shake off the existing government, and form a new one that suits them better.” Under these concepts the Union troops were marauders and were treated as such just as I would expect to be treated if I went into someone else’s homeland and tried to force them to change.

    By the way, I’m a seventh generation Floridian the first five of whom were Lee’s in Hamilton County with several riding at Olustee in 1864. I’m also a veteran of the U.S. Army Infantry and proud citizen of this country that I have defended. I just happen to have Southern pride and am not ashamed to state it.

  5. Ben Says:

    From what I understood, no one there disrespected our brave soldiers, only those damn Yankee invaders that came down here killing our children, stealing our food, and raping our women. Damn thugs

  6. Billy Townsend Says:

    Oh, of course, you’re not defending slavery. None of you ever are. You’re just insulting and lying about the men fighting not to be slaves.

    Tim, my family came from Alabama and Tennessee, and sympathized with the traitorous side for many generations. So I assure you I am a Scalawag, not a Carpetbagger. I do find it funny that you think you’re insulting me either way. I am as proud of what Sherman did to the slave power as I am proud of what Patton and Eisenhower did to the Nazi power.

    I’m sorry you hate your country and its principles. I’m sorry you’re finding yourself shrinking island of moral and intellectual denial. It’s not a crime. But you don’t get to claim history as your own and write it on behalf of the debauched murderous planters and their minions. It’s not 1923 any more. Get over it and try a little honesty.

  7. glen saucier Says:

    Mr. Townsend. You’re obviously too young to have as yet done enough reading to fully comprehend the scope of the destruction wrought upon the armies and civilians of the Confederacy.
    When you finally get around to it, start with Shelby Foote’s opus, “The Civil War, A Narrative”, and keep in mind that history is usually written by the victors, and you’ve obviously been well indoctrinated. Also keep in mind that our government lies, therefore you must keep an open mind.
    Also take note that the Confederacy did not want, or attempt, to overthrow the government of Lincoln (BTW, I recommend “The Real Lincoln” by Thomas Dilorenzo), hence, not a civil war, but a war for southern independence much akin to the American Revolution. Not so for Mr. Lincoln or Sherman and his henchmen.
    General Banks was defeated at Mansfield, La. Upon his retreat with a detachment of Sherman’s men, they burned everything in their path, including slave quarters and my home town, stealing what they could, even a priest’s mule.
    I have 6 Confederate ancestors, none of whom owned slaves, most being sharecroppers struggling to feed their own families.
    Don’t forget that, after the war, many of the “humanitarian” Union officers graduated to participating in the attempted genocide of the American Indian.

  8. Tim Adkison Says:

    Really? Hate my country? I have put my life on the line to defend the Constitution of the United States while you had your nose in a book in some liberal arts program. Hate its principles? The security my defense helped to provide allows YOU to exercise your right to free speech such as this site. Too bad for you that it didn’t defend the right to speech that only YOU like. The only hatred expressed here seems to be that of your government-educated opinion regarding your family and part of America’s history.

    By the way, if my intent was to insult you I can assure you that it would be very clearly stated as such. If you like Sherman that’s fine. If you like liberals and Communists that’s fine, too. That’s your right. But you need to get over yourself and take your revisionist history views with you.

  9. Billy Townsend Says:

    Tim, between the two of us, which is the one afraid of adding speech to a battlefield? HMMM?

    You’re the one furious that your country’s point-of-view might get expressed in honoring the dead. I’m happy to leave the Confederate monument there on even terms. Because I’m generous. I’m happy for you to believe and express the stupid, backward, historically ignorant things you believe and express. If you want to believe Birth of a Nation was a documentary, who am I to stop you? But free speech does not mean I’m required to make you feel good about yourself for saying these stupid, ignorant things. They teach that in liberal arts programs.

    “Revision?” People like you have revised black soldiers out of existence — or lied about them — from the beginning of the Republic, from Olustee to WWI to Vietnam. So it’s not surprising you would lie about them and revise them out now, even at this late hour. And frankly, the men who you’re happy to insult and pretend didn’t exist contributed more and gave more to your country than you ever did. By a long shot. My gratitude lies with them, not with unreconstructed goofballs who like to play with fake guns and imagine how much better it would be if South woulda won.

  10. Billy Townsend Says:

    And yes, this is the point where you go, “Come to Olustee, toughman, and Ill show you how fake my gun is.” So why don’t we just skip the part where you threaten me or call out my manhood or try to schedule a duel.

  11. Billy Townsend Says:

    And Ben, you’re right, I’m much too young to written a book largely concerned with the role of your Lost Cause mythology in driving the murderers of Jim Crow Florida. And I guess you’re old enough to recognize that your treasured mythology of the Civil War and the soldiers who fought it it waning and will pass on with your generation, leaving behind a far more honest portrait of the war and who fought it and why and how.

  12. Tim Adkison Says:

    Billy, I would never call you out onto a field of honor over something like this. Your commentary here isn’t important enough to me to warrant spending time incarcerated. Nor am I furious about the possible existence of a monument at Olustee to the Union troops. I have been given an option by the State of Florida to state my opinion and I have done so. I’m not sure why you accuse me lying about black soldiers or insulting them when that hasn’t even been a topic that I have discussed. But no matter, your comments here demonstrate your grasp of actual history. Or should I say, lack of. I just hope the articles you write are more factual-based than your comments here. I guess it’s that whole liberal-arts thingy.

  13. Susan Henry Says:

    Sounds like some here aren’t aware of all that history. My family did live in Florida before and during the Civil War. They lived across the south before the Revolutionary War.

    Wiregrass Runners: Conscription, Desertion, and the Origins of Discontent in Civil War South Georgia, 1863-65

    All was not well in Dixieland.

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