145th Anniversary of The Battle At Chickamauga, An Open Report

From: HK Edgerton

Sent: Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The Chattanooga Times Free Press on Thursday, Sept 18, 2008 in section B on two different occasions, one in living color and another in Black and White, would post a picture of me and several young students from the Chattanooga School for the Liberal Arts. It would only carry a caption that read ”the students listen to HK Edgerton discuss the Confederate flag on Wednesday as part of the 145th anniversary of the Battle of Chickamauga.” The baby girls shown just happened to be Black and clearly the looks on their faces was indicative of the subject matter that I had put before them as I talked about how Lincoln with no authority to do so, had called out the troops against the State of South Carolina while Congress was not in secession that led to this battle and War, and importantly the place of honor and dignity that folks who looked like them and I had earned under the Southern Cross. I spoke to them about the home places in the South where their ancestors who were skilled in their labor, made all the implements of war, provided the food stuffs to feed the Southern army, how the trusted Black hands who stayed home on the plantations guarding the mistress and her children from the Northern invader, of how their ancestors had served as teamsters, cooks, blacksmiths, farriers, laborers, servants, and in many cases as the close friend of the White man they would accompany to battles like this at Chickamauga. But most importantly I would tell them about the bond of love and affection between Black and White transcended the institution of slavery and that the Black Confederate understood his duty as God gave him the light to perform it, and that he performed without expectation of reward or promise of freedom, but knew that if he worked and struggled and fought hard for the Confederate Cause as a loyal subject, the White people of the South would do right by him and his family back at the home place.

It is unfortunate that Meghan Brown did not print any of the aforementioned statements above. However right below that caption was an article written by Ms. Chloe Morrison that would set off a chain of events which would lead me to hostile confrontation with the man who would portray Lincoln, and some of his Colored and White troops. Ms. Morrison would report that many of the students agreed that Abe Lincoln was the most exciting part of the day. She wrote that the legendary president was portrayed by Dennis Boggs, of Nashville, Tennessee. He said that he took on the role full time nine years ago and said __one of the most recognizable faces in the world __ always provokes interest and intrigue. He went on to say, “Most of us __ whether you are North, South, East or West _we have grown up with this Father Abraham image.” Mr. Boggs said. ”When a child sees someone like Abraham Lincoln, they are enthralled.”

Needless to say, this article didn’t sit well with me. Living history lessons it was entitled. In that same tent with Lincoln was the Honorable General Robert E. Lee and not one word mentioned of his presence by the Southern babies, their families or the lady who wrote the article. My babies enthralled by a man who had caused so much devastation, loss of life and importantly the hate that his henchmen would usher in during the 12 year period of so called Reconstruction between Black and White Southerners as they developed a policy aimed at divided and separating loyal Black folks from their Southern White family. A policy that is still in effect to this very day. I was not about to let the moment pass to do something to amend this injustice.

As the thousands of babies and their teachers and Principals continued, passing through my station, I would ask if they had seen Lincoln yet and if they had, did their teachers or they ask of him: 1. Why he had raised a army and declared war upon the South while Congress was not in secession? 2. Ask of him why the Emancipation Proclamation freed no slaves in the territories and States where he had controlled, and if it truly was written to gain European sympathy so that he could keep doing business with them, and furthermore was it aimed at causing insurrections among the Southern slaves, a goal that failed? 3. Ask of him, why he as a sitting President would sign the original 13th Amendment that basically stated that if the South would agree to his proposed tax increases Congress would never be able to end the economic institution of slavery in any state? 4. Why would he condone and supported a total war policy on the innocent civilian population as his soldiers burned the land and killed the animals meant to feed them? The babies I would learn later would ask.

On Friday afternoon, the day that Dick Cheney was to arrive, I would be asked by the Honorable General Robert E. Lee (portrayed by Mr. David Chaltas of Kentucky) to join him, General Jackson, Colonel Taylor, his sharp shooter at their station, now positioned just below the stage where Cheney was to speak. Not far from us was a Confederate Band that was now entertaining the throngs of students, parents, and guests that had come in anticipation of Cheney’s arrival. I asked the Band Director, why they had not played Dixie? His response to me was that he was told not because Cheney had asked them not to. I was also told that Cheney had refused to attend the Honorable Strom Thurmond’s funeral because the Senator had requested the playing of Dixie. I had attended that funeral in full Confederate Dress and alongside my baby brother Terry Lee marched behind the Senator’s caisson with the Southern Cross. I positioned myself in front of that stage and began to sing Dixie with some of the young students singing and whooping up the Rebel Yell until I began to lose my voice. It was glorious. I never saw Cheney or heard him speak, because I would join up with the 19th for Pass and Review. However, we were so far away from the stage, it was impossible to see Cheney, but you can believe I talked about his actions and surely passed out thousands of the letter that I had not only written to George Bush, but put in his hands at a Town Hall Meeting as I crawled out onto a rail to deliver it to him in my home state in the Capitol of Raleigh, North Carolina.

My actions needless to say would not go unnoticed by either Lincoln or his soldiers. Later that afternoon as I stood posing for a picture for one of the many thousands I would take on this week of activities; a Union soldier would pass and utter these words: “Nigger, what are you doing in that uniform, carrying that rag, pointing to the Southern Cross, putting your people to shame? The two ladies that were standing with me were in a state of shock as well as I. I could not believe my ears. I told him of the over forty Black soldiers who had rode with the Honorable General Bedford Forrest, the hundreds right down the road from Ringgold, Georgia, South Carolina, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, North Carolina. However, before I could go on, he called me nuts and stormed away. Later that afternoon, I would give a speech in a large tent that just happened to be positioned across from the Federal headquarters tent. As I ended my speech, I would tell those gathered to not forget my donation box because I had given away far too many of my shirts from the Black History series of Dixie Outfitters that I used help pay my expenses to the many of the students who gathered and had leaned on me for one. The same Union soldier who had proclaimed me to be a Nigger earlier stepped from where he had stationed himself to hear my speech, and told the many gathered that I was a damn liar and that I had been paid some $600.00 to come and belittle myself and people. He was going on with his tirade until he saw members of Company A of the Tennessee Mechanized Confederate Calvary and other Confederate soldiers heading towards him.

Saturday afternoon, having had a glorious time on the field of battle with the 63rd N.C. Regiment as I had had the day before with the 19th Tennessee, I would head once again to Activity tent 1 to deliver another speech. Only this time, having heard about the hassling that I had received, General Lee would come with a regiment of Confederate soldiers to stand within and at the entrances of the tent who would serve as guards and escorts to me as I again delivered a speech. The Confederate Mechanized Calvary from Commander-Roderick Camp 2072 also made their presence known.

Sunday morning as pass through the hotel kitchen on my way to load up my car before heading back to the Battle site, Abe Lincoln who was sitting with some members of the Federal Colored troops and their wives in a voice that sounded somewhat menacing called out my name and said that he had been in my presence at least three other times and if I had some questions to ask of him that I should at least be a man and ask him to his face. I told him that I had no question to ask him. His response was that I was lying because many students had asked him the questions. I told him that I already knew the answers to the questions and that it was not personal, and I hoped that he had answered the questions for the children and their teachers and parents. I began to tell him that he was a Southern White man and that if I were a Southern White man; he angrily interrupted me and said that he was a Southern White man and that I was not. I told him that I was however a Southern Black man and Lincoln had caused more harm to my people than any man alive or dead and I didn’t know how any true Southern White man could feel comfortable playing the role of Lincoln. One of the Colored soldiers seeing that I was having the best of Lincoln interrupted saying that we needed to drop the conversation. I told him that I had not solicited it and that since he had not paid for my hotel room, I wasn’t taking orders from him. Lincoln returned moments later and apologized to his party for his actions. Later the same Colored Sgt. came over to me and apologized and wished me safe travels home. I knew that he knew that I had spoken the truth to Lincoln.

Later that morning, General Lee would beckon for me to sit beside him at the Camp church services. Lincoln was at his side. After the service, Lincoln would come over to me with outstretched hands asking for an apology for his earlier actions. I accepted, but felt his actions were disingenuous. I headed to activity tent 1 where I was to give my final speech of the event. I had earlier promised Ms. Dana E. Davis who had authored a book entitled “TOMORROW IS BETTER , The Story of The Kingston Woman History Club, 1861_ Tomorrow, that I would share some of my speaking time with her to introduce her book. Her web site is www.directfromdana.com. Standing at the opening of the tent were three Union dressed soldiers with fixed bayonets, one young Black and three White. They demanded that I answer some questions they had for me. I told them that I had a speech to give and in no uncertain terms they told me not until I answered their questions, and my reply was that they could get out. Seconds later, a Union officer appeared and asked if I would answer some questions for him, and I told him not now because Ms. Davis had the floor and that I would after I spoke. God bless Ms. Davis because she began to attempt to diffuse what had become an ugly situation. She began to tell of how the Southern ladies in her book had began decorating the graves of both Union and Confederate soldiers in lieu of the burning, raping, robbing, and killing of the animals of the townspeople.

Just as Ms. Davis ended her talk, the Black Union soldier wanted to ask her about Major Wirtz. I told Ms. Davis that I would answer the question. His reply was I thought you weren’t answering any questions. I continued on that Major Wirtz was used as a scapegoat in the trial that led to him being hanged, and how Grant had suspended the prisoner exchange program because he knew full well that one Confederate soldier was worth more than a thousand Union soldiers, and when Major Wirtz had attempted to send Grant hundreds of his men, he responded by sending them back to Major Wirtz, knowing full well that Major Wirtz was having a hard time feeding his own men in the overcrowded prisoner of war camp. I reminded him of Colonel Sweet who had been charged and court-martialed for his actions at Camp Douglas where if a black soldier was taken, he would be immediately shot and left for the rats to eat. Sweet instead would be promoted to Brigadier General by Lincoln. It was getting ugly under Tent 1, so I asked someone to have General Lee notified so that I might deliver my speech. General Lee came himself accompanied by a Union General that I have forgotten who he was. The heckling Union soldiers immediately left. God bless General Lee and the Union General who was with him.

Chickamauga had become one of the most satisfying moments of all of my adventures in the journey for truth and reconciliation in the healing process that was derailed in 1865 with the establishment of the Federal Public School System and the Northern policy of divide and conquer, couple with the economic strangulation that fueled the fires of hate between Black and White Southerners.