Look Away, Dixie

Paul Fahrenheidt

Paul Fahrenheidt

Many a man thought himself wise, but what he wanted he did not know.

I won’t ever stop loving you my Dixie till they put me in the ground, and the last words they probably hear from me are God bless Robert E Lee.

– Johnny Cash, “God Bless Robert E. Lee”

From the turn of the 20th century until March 31st, 2022, a Confederate Statue stood across from my main campus building. It was erected with generous donations by the United Daughters of the Confederacy. An all-hispanic work crew was present to tear it down, watched over by a pair of cops.

On the statue, the words “Confederate Heroes” were emblazoned, engraved in gray granite like the uniforms of the men it memorialized. I stopped for a moment to watch the work. The statue was wrapped in yellow highlighter tape. A large crane stood next to it, ready to remove the statue from its foundations.

I was powerless to stop them, just as my fathers were powerless to stop Sheridan from burning their valley. I indulged in a pitiful act of defiance, and sang out the lines of Dixie as I walked past the cops. They likely registered me as some sort of threat.

I’m a son of the Confederacy some six times over. I’ve taken girls to Confederate Cemeteries on first dates. I always feel proud when I don a gray shirt, and when I talk to the silent bones of butternut boys buried in mass graves.

I can tell you each and every one of General Lee’s corps commanders. I can recount the entire saga of the Army of Northern Virginia from the Peninsula to Appomattox. If you were to look at the roster of Company K, 10th VA Infantry, or the horse artillery attached to Turner Ashby’s 7th VA Cavalry, you’d find men bearing my mother’s surname. You’d probably find more with my father’s surname, but his people didn’t keep records.

* * *

The third national flag of the Confederate States of America is called, “The Blood-Stained Banner.” It’s called that because the blood of my tribe stains it. It hangs in my room above my bed.

The banner is not the only thing which finds itself stained with the blood of my tribe. Kentucky, one of Virginia’s prodigal daughters, gets its name from the Red Man’s word for its “Blood-Soaked Earth.” Whether the name was memory or prophesy is irrelevant as battles in Richmond, Munfordville, Perryville, and Cynthiana proved.

If only blood-soaked earth was limited to those places named for such. You can find Kaintuck in every forest and field from Richmond to the District. You can find Kaintuck in the sands of New Mexico. You can find Kaintuck along the Red River in Texas. You can find Kaintuck everywhere between Corinth and Charleston, and in the bones of old Atlanta burned out of existence.

You can also find Kaintuck in a tiny little college town in central Virginia.

* * *

When retreating west from Richmond, Robert E. Lee made a stop in a Tobacco town on the Appomattox river. Anyone familiar with the region of Southside Virginia would be quick to tell me that this describes pretty much every town on the Appomattox river west of Richmond. The particular piece of dirt I describe is the appropriately named Farmville.

After Petersburg fell and Richmond was burned, Robert E. Lee was left with quickly diminishing options. Resolving that the best course of action was to meet up with the remnants of Joe Johnston’s army in North Carolina, Lee beat feet for Lynchburg where the Confederate government had planned to evacuate as early as two years prior. 

He fought a desperate holding action at Sailor’s Creek, where a good third of his army evaporated. He figured it’d buy him time to destroy the High Bridge over the Appomattox, but Grant’s army was already across the Appomattox by the time Lee had made it to Farmville. Grant overtook the withered gray army a few days later in Appomattox, a few dozen miles to the West.

In each town Lee stopped in, the men of his army had a homecoming. Mothers, wives, and daughters were all visited by shoeless hungry souls as they passed through like filthy ghosts. Just as soon as they’d come, they were gone with the wind, like the Confederacy, like the South, like America.

Half of the Army of Northern Virginia was related to the other half. Hell, Lee and Johnston had some sort of cousinship if I recall correctly. They fought in their hometowns, with their families behind them, in woods and fields which they’d hunted in and sowed since they were children.

When Lee signed the papers at Appomattox which dissolved his army, a good few walked the two miles back to their childhood homes. An unceremonious end to four hellish years of war. Some kept fighting, maybe because they wanted to enjoy the war. Peace tends to be terrible, you know.

* * *

Some can take solace in Machiavellianism. “They have power and we don’t, no use getting emotional,” or similar arguments. This is not untrue, and several merits come with it. It does not work for me.

There are men I know who are far more Southern in culture, speech, and sympathy than I’ll ever be. Men who grew up going to debutante balls in New Orleans, or eating rice outside of Charleston. Men who took up Civil War reenacting, or who met Shelby Foote, or had family land on the banks of the Mississippi delta.

These men have more a right to be angry than I: the product of Globohomo’s Epicenter around the District of Columbia. Yet I am angry. Powerless, to be sure. But angry. Seeing one’s history stamped in front of them tends to do this.

Maybe the shoe will be on the other foot in the decades to come. Maybe the continuing erasure of the South will be a part of the compromise any new order will make. All I know is that there was a statue I saluted every time I walked past it, for four years of attendance at this shitty little school. It no longer stands there.

I wonder how long the living men statues were modeled on will be allowed to stand.