CINCINNATI (AP) — As much as President Donald Trump enjoys talking about winning and winners, the Confederate generals he vows will not have their names removed from U.S. military bases were not only on the losing side of rebellion against the United States, some weren’t even considered good generals.
The 10 generals include some who made costly battlefield blunders; others mistreated captured Union soldiers, some were slaveholders and one was linked to the Ku Klux Klan after the war.
Trump has dug in his heels on renaming, saying the bases that trained and deployed heroes for two World Wars “have become part of a Great American Heritage, a history of Winning, Victory, and Freedom.”
However, there is growing support in the GOP- led Senate to remove the Confederate names and from former U.S. military leaders such as retired 4-star general David Petraeus, who wrote last week that the bases are named ”for those who took up arms against the United States, and for the right to enslave others.”
Trump administration Housing Secretary Ben Carson, who is black, said Sunday that naming bases after Confederate generals was done in post-war reconciliation efforts and to change them now would have “exactly the opposite effect” — and that society needs to stop looking for history to be offended by.
“We have to recognize that we have a history and to try to hide that history is probably not a smart move,” Carson told Chris Wallace on “Fox News Sunday.”
Long revered in much of the South, Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee has often been a flashpoint for opponents of honoring Confederates who triggered a war that killed hundreds of thousands of Americans on U.S. soil in some of the bloodiest fighting ever seen.
Trump paid tribute to Lee as “a great general” in an impromptu Civil War history lesson during a 2018 rally in Lebanon, Ohio, saying Abraham Lincoln developed “a phobia” about trying to defeat Lee before turning to Gen. Ulysses S. Grant of nearby Point Pleasant, Ohio, for success.
While Lee’s early victories put the Union Army on the defensive, his failure at the decisive battle of Gettysburg in 1863, capped by the disastrous Pickett’s Charge into Union fire, was the turning point of the war.
Lee has been portrayed in the South as a gentlemanly hero, but he had been a slaveholder in his native Virginia and at least one of his former slaves testified that Lee had him whipped brutally.
Gen. Braxton Bragg, namesake for the famed North Carolina Army base, was also a slaveholder and an unpopular general who resigned his command after defeat in 1863 at Chattanooga.
On ABC’s “This Week” Sunday, George Stephanopoulos asked Sen. James Lankford, R-Oklahoma, if it’s time to stop having military bases named after Confederate generals like Bragg.
Lankford indicated agreement, comparing it to names of schools and saying that children should be able to have their school’s namesake as a role model.
“You would have that on a military base as well,” Lankford said. “So, if you have a military base that is named after someone that actually rebelled against the United States government, then you would want to be able to go back and look at that name. That should be a pretty basic principle.”
Gen. John Bell Hood, namesake of the Texas base, and his other commanders slept at Spring Hill, Tennessee, after a long day of mostly successful fighting in 1864, allowing Union soldiers to get away on a road so close to the sleeping Confederates that some reportedly used the rebels’ campfires to light their pipes. He followed with defeat at Franklin, Tennessee, and the late historian Shelby Foote wrote in “The Civil War: A Narrative” that “Hood had wrecked his army, top to bottom.”
Gen. A.P. Hill, namesake of a base in Virginia, was killed in battle in 1865 but is remembered for actions after the Battle of the Crater in 1864, where some rebel troops were enraged by the North’s use of black units. Some soldiers wrote letters describing rebels executing defenseless black soldiers. Historians say Hill ordered white Union prisoners to be mixed with black soldiers to be paraded through the city of Petersburg to hear racist jeers from the townspeople.
Virginia base namesake Gen. George Pickett, the big loser at Gettysburg, had 22 Union soldiers executed and later fled to Canada. Gen. John Brown Gordon, an effective commander, became governor of Georgia after the war but was suspected of being a Klan leader in the state.
Some scholars of the South, such as history professor Ted Ownby, say it’s not clear how renaming the bases would play politically. He said people in the communities around the bases might take offense, but that in today’s South, there’s not as much fascination or identification with Confederate leaders as in older generations.
“What Southern means and who Southerners are has expanded to be much more … that being Southern isn’t rooted in support or respect for the Confederacy,” said Ownby, of the Center for the Study of Southern Culture, at the University of Mississippi.
Editor’s Note: Sewell, The AP’s Cincinnati correspondent, is a former Atlanta-based Southern Regional Writer. Follow him on Twitter at https://www.twitter.com/dansewell.