How did Coal Region veterans of the Civil War feel about the destroyed Confederacy and its symbols?
We’ve written about these veterans of the US Army and their animosity toward symbols of the “Lost Cause” in the past. We’ve also written about how shameful it is to see symbols of the “Rebellion” waving over homes in the Coal Region today.
But an incident in the Schuylkill County community of Port Carbon in May 1905 gives a keen example of just how offensive the confederate battle flag was to local Union veterans who survived the Civil War and their descendants,
This dramatic event occurred on Decoration Day (Memorial Day) in 1905. On Pike Street in Port Carbon, the sister-in-law of a local physician flew the “stars and bars” from the third floor of the family’s home just before the town’s parade to honor local soldiers who died during the Civil War.
The Pottsville Republican details what happened next:
Pottsville Republican, May 31, 1905
THE CONFEDERATE FLAG TORN DOWN
The patriotic sentiments of the good people of Port Carbon were stirred up yesterday by an incident which for a time created an ugly feeling when the stars and bars of the defeated Confederacy were hung above the stars and stripes at the residence of Dr. T. F. Heebner.
The flag was displayed from a third story window by Miss Nellie Matthews, a sister of Mrs. Heebner, whose home is in North Carolina, but who has been spending most of her time with her sister. She was ordered to take it down by Chief Burgess Wagner but refused to do so, and it was not until Allison Brothers Post, G.A.R. marched to the house in a body and demanded its removal on threat of having it shot down, that the flag was taken down.
At the Heebner home the national colors were displayed from the porch roof in accordance with the decorations of other residents along Pike St. But soon after they had been thrown to the breeze the neighbors were aroused when the stars and bars of the secessionists appeared over Old Glory. It was considered by all who saw it to be an insult and Chief Burgess Wagner was quickly notified.
He went to the Heebner home and demanded its removal peacefully or else submit to its being torn down by force. The demand was refused but before any further action was taken the inspiring music of a drum corps was heard approaching from Washington St. They played a patriotic air and behind them marched the grizzled veterans of the Rebellion.
Their faces were flushed and their steps were quickened by what they considered an insult to them and to their country. Around the corner they came with their flag flying proudly at their head and arriving at the Heebner home they halted.
A formal demand was made to have the flag taken down at once under penalty of having it shot from its fastenings. The spirit of the ‘60s had been again aroused in the hearts of the old veterans and they meant business. This was recognized in their stern features and the objectional piece of bunting was removed.
The post then returned to their rooms where the line of parade was formed…
The Republican reporter who documented the story reached out to the local doctor for comment. He was horrified by the incident when told – he wasn’t home at the time it took place. He believed that it was a joke down out of “frivolity.” His sister-in-law, a woman from North Carolina named Nellie Matthews, wrote to the local veterans she had infuriated and wrote: “I was out of town at work at Cressona, but Mrs. Heebner phoned me in alarm when she heard the sentiment. You can joke with the people sometimes but not always.”
The historical record is silent about how the members of the Allison Brothers Post of the G.A.R. took the old “it was a joke” defense.
These veterans felt strongly about the issues they fought over in the Civil War and believed they fought in a righteous cause to save the Constitution and the United States of America. They were rightly indignant to see the flag of the rebellion flying in their hometown. These patriotic American citizens understood what that flag stood for: slavery and a failed attempt to overthrow the United States government. In the effort to put down that rebellion, they risked their lives so that the nation could have a new birth of freedom. And in that effort, they sacrificed their health and their limbs and lost countless friends and loved ones.
So when you see that confederate flag blowing in the wind or slapped on a bumper sticker, remember these veterans and their indignation at that symbol being emblazoned in the heart of the Keystone State. They were right – the flag has no place in Pennsylvania’s Coal Region. And if you have read this to the end, I hope you will seriously consider what that flag stood for in the Civil War, during Reconstruction, Jim Crow, and segregation, and what it stands for today.
Featured Image: Scene from an illustration of the Battle of Franklin, Tennessee in 1864 (Library of Congress)