Do Confederate soldiers count for Memorial Day?

There was bound to be an argument on Facebook sooner or later, but I didn’t dream that I’d be a part of it.

Here’s the argument: an Alabama TV station has posted pictures from various wars and some tidbit about Alabamians involved in it. For the Civil War there’s a sepia-toned picture of reenactors and the following statement:

Okay, I have several problems with this including phrasing, but I’ll start with a nitipick: there were 30,000 deaths of Alabama soldiers, not casualties; there were conservatively twice that number of casualties, and if you broaden it to include problems in later years aggravated by their military service probably several times that number. However, the big problem is that I don’t think Confederate deaths from Alabama or any other state should be honored on Memorial Day. This isn’t because of any rabid hatred of all things Confederate: as I’ve mentioned many times, I am a direct descendant of several soldiers who served in Confederate regiments from Alabama, and while I don’t take any pride in them (there are few things sillier to take pride or shame in than the actions of people you got a few genes from but never met or in any way influenced) neither do I vilify any of them solely because of their service to the Confederacy. (Insert the “another time/another place” disclaimer with stuff about regionalism and mindset and conscription and not wanting to fight friends and family on the fields and all that that here".)

However, I don’t consider those who died in the service of the Confederacy (which one of my ancestors did [albeit of measles]) to be worthy of respect on Memorial Day for what I would think would be obvious reasons, but will list them anyway:

  1. If you do not accept the right of the CSA to have existed, then the Confederate dead were rebels or traitors (which legally they were all declared to have been after the war- 99.999% were pardoned, but they were legalyl traitors nonetheless), in which case it is disrespectful to the U.S. soldiers who died in the fight to end the rebellion.

  2. If you do accept the right of the Confederate States of America to have existed; that being the case Confederate dead should not be honored because not only were they fighting against U.S. armed forces but they were fighting them specifically so that they would not be considered Americans, therefore it’s disrespectful to the Confederates themselves to “honor” them on Memorial as by counting them as Americans you negate the very cause for which they were fighting.

  3. Last and least, there’s already a Confederate Memorial Day that’s a state holiday in Alabama and some other states. Why should Confederate soldiers get two holidays when soldiers who died in every other conflict from Lexington to Libya only get one?

But, most seem to disagree with me in a thread that’s peopled largely by Alabamians. One argued by cutting and pasting big chunks of the Wikipedia article (because that an authoritative cite makes), though I will repost one part of which does seem to check out:

The holiday really does seem to have begun as a bi-regional day of remembrance for the Civil War dead. Whether in expanding from that it should have come to discount the Confederate dead or not is something I can see as a gray (and perhaps butternet) area.

So what’s your opinion?

PS- At least 9,000 Alabamians fought for the Union (roughly 2:1 black-white ratio), of whom hundreds died, but assume that the 30,000 is speaking only of Confederate deaths from Alabama.

I like to think that Memorial Day is for everyone who laid down their lives in the service of their country, whether they were on the “right” (or winning) side or not.

You can honor the sacrifice without honoring the cause. While they were in the wrong, the Confederate rank-and-file fought bravely and honorably, and they deserve respect for that. And, in the eyes of the law, they were Americans before, during, and for those who survived, after the war.

I voted toward leaning to yes …

Weirdly, the most information I personally have about Memorial Day comes from researching Decoration Day as part of a project related to women’s daily life around 1910 - 1920. The part I was the most interested in was how families would make up big festive picnics and go and clean and decorate the graves, of both soldiers and other random people. As far as holidays go, it was somewhat solemn in remembrance of the dead, but there was also A LOT of “most awesome dessert recipes for bringing to the cemetery!” and “new trendy ways to trim your hat ribbons for Decoration Day!” advice aimed at women.

I feel like I could make a decent case for Memorial Day/Decoration Day being greatly motivated by women’s experiences of war, because grave-keeping tended to be a ladies’ activity, and part of the motivation is to recognize how crappy it is for a woman to lose a husband or son in the war. I would say that kind of loss crosses political lines, and is seen in a lot of writing from the time about mothers and wives of soldiers on both sides kind of coming together in sympathy – like the women who would do charitable work for prisoners’ camps would cite the fact that they wanted a woman on the other side to do the same thing for their sons, etc.

The idea of Union and Confederate veterans celebrating together, and toasting fallen comrades, was pretty prevalent. It came up in several descriptions of Decoration Day activities, and at least one hokey short story that described a bunch of old geezers from both sides talking about their war experiences in kind of a “good old days” context. I don’t know how accurate that fictional story would have appeared to people of the time, but it was assumed that readers were familiar with the concept.

I voted leaning toward yes, but the more I think about it, the more firmly I think both sides can be honored although I’m still willing to entertain arguments from people who feel strongly against it. Just out of curiosity, do you feel personally offended by the inclusion of Confederate soldiers, or is it more of a “if I were designing Memorial Day from scratch, this is how it would make the most sense” thing.

In my understanding, Confederates were not fighting to ‘not be Americans.’ They wished to establish themselves as a politically distinct body of Americans. The idea of the unitary “American” nationality that we all grew up with is the one forged by the particular outcome of the War–and the gestures of reconciliation and melding that followed the winding down of “Reconstruction,” like the joint veterans reunions, and the explicit incorporation of Confederate leaders into United States military lore.

I thought it was for people who laid down their lives for our country. Not Russians defending against Germans, etc. Confederate soldiers were not fighting for the U.S. They might have been brave and honorable, but they weren’t fighting for our country by any stretch.

I included my Confederate relations in my Facebook Memorial Day photo album for several reasons:

  1. I really don’t keep track of Confederate Memorial Day here in Georgia.

  2. They were Americans from a generation of Americans who wrestled with a problem that even the Founding Fathers took a pass on.

  3. Many of them had descendents who earned their own Memorial Day spot thru their service in WWI, WWII, Korea, etc.

Look at it this way - you should be glad that they fought & that they fought well. An early Union victory would have preserved the Union as it was. No war at all might have only postponed the conflict. The Civil War was bad enough with black powder weapons; I’m glad they settled matters before the weapons of WWI became available.

This article may be of some interest here: Happy Memorial Day. Thank the Confederacy.

Referencing the tradition begun in the South to commemorate their dead, the article notes

It goes on to say

To be honest, I had never considered the question before (I voted can’t decide/don’t much care).

I think Memorial Day is for honoring those who died in the service of the United States. It is not for honoring the sacrifices of enemy combatants including the CSA. Including Confederate dead makes as much sense to me as including members of the Taliban who have died fighting American soldiers.

Plenty of Southerners disagree. And really, thoughtful, patriotic Americans of all sections should.

The fact that the Confederates lost a military struggle which was, from our perspective, within our modern unitary nation does not disinherit them or their descendants from that nationality, any more than losing this or that political struggle disinherits adherents of the losing political party.

I voted no, but after seeing the quote about how Decoration Day was originally for both union and confed, I probably would change my vote.

They were fighting for a monstrous cause; they were traitors both to America and to humanity. I wouldn’t give them any respect for any reason. Should the Germans give their respects for the Nazi SS who died in WWII?

Nope, I exclude anyone from Memorial Day honors who actually actively helped to place people into the category of people we honor on this day. By, you know, killing them. It’s a logical disconnect I can’t overcome: our dead are honored for their sacrifice on this day, and so are some of the guys who killed them. I accept that I lack the necessary imagination for this thought exercise.

I’m being obstinate and picky, I know. But I’m consistent. I don’t honor the Nazis or North Koreans either.


Why on earth should the entire country honor those who fought against the United States? The wore the uniform of an enemy combatant.

Hell no. Confederate soldiers should be given zero recognition or remembrance. They took up arms against the country. I would sooner honor Soviet soldiers killed fighting the Nazis.

The Confederate soldiers were as American as the Union soldiers. That’s part of what makes the war such a great tragedy. And I say this as a descendent of at least three Union soldiers.

This Memorial Day I joined the local Boy Scouts in planting thousands of flags at the gravestones of American soldiers who fought on both sides of the Civil War, as well as many wars since, all lying side by side.

That makes it worse, not better, IMO.

Can’t we all just get along?

It was long ago. It was sad when Union soldiers were killed; it was sad when Confederates were. Let us all learn and try to avoid anything like this happening in the future.


I’m basically always on the anti-South side of every argument I’ve ever joined on the SDMB. People who try to downplay the confederate flag? I lay into them with both proverbial barrels. People who say that everyone else is just as racist as the South? I’m skeptical.

But in this case I have no problem whatsoever with remembering all the civil war dead (barring, say, those who were convicted of war crimes).

Solemnly remembering the horrible human cost of war and the loved ones that are lost in no way endorses the political aims that one side was fighting for.
As for the comparison to the Nazis, well, suppose there’s a family in Munich who had a grandfather who was a Luftwaffe pilot shot down in 1941 and a great-grandfather who was a pilot shot down in 1916. Should we tell them that they can only mourn or remember one of the two?