Friday, August 19, 2011
Florida Veterans Hall of Fame
By Bob Hurst
It seems that the well-intentioned plan of the Florida Legislature to create a Veterans Hall of Fame has become embroiled in controversy. The controversy has centered around two primary areas – the inclusion of the sitting governor as a nominee for induction into the Hall and the inclusion of six former Confederates, all of whom also served as governor of the state, among the list of possible inductees. There has also been some complaining that the list of the first twenty-one nominees is not diverse enough but that type complaint has almost become a given in this day and age.
The first controversy has been settled as Governor Scott has asked that his name be withdrawn from consideration. This is good since it is bad form for the sitting governor, or any official currently holding a high state office, to be considered for this recognition. The second primary controversy, which involves detractors claiming that no Confederate should be considered among the possible honorees, makes no sense. Yes, I know there are people so afflicted with Confederataphobia that even the mere mention of the "C" word sends them into a debilitating state of apoplexy. These individuals also seem to have the irritating belief that their feelings should always trump those of everyone else.. They also tend to be historically ignorant. Let me explain.
Public Law 85-425, enacted in 1958 during the administration of President Dwight Eisenhower, recognizes Confederate veterans as American veterans and grants to all Confederate vets the same rights and privileges as any other American vet. This includes providing headstones and footstones for the graves of Confederate veterans at no cost just as with all American veterans. This completely negates the claims by the haters that Confederates were "traitors".
During the Spanish-American War, some thirty years after the War Between the States ended, four former Confederate generals (Fitzhugh Lee, Joe Wheeler, Tom Rosser and Matt Butler) and one Confederate colonel (William Oates) served as generals in the U.S. Army. It is highly unlikely that the U.S. government would have approved the promotion to the rank of general officer of any individual even suepected of being a "traitor".
It is also unlikely that the U.S. government or military would approve the naming of major U.S. military installations for "traitors". Interestingly, the largest military post in this country, Fort Hood, is named for a Confederate general – John Bell Hood. Likewise, Fort Benning is named for Confederate general Henry Benning. Fort Bragg is named for Confederate general Braxton Bragg. Fort Polk is named for Confederate general Leonidas Polk. Fort Gordon is named for Confederate general John B. Gordon and the list goes on including Fort Campbell, Fort A.P. Hill, Fort Rucker and others. By the way, there is no Fort Benedict Arnold anywhere in the country.
Undoubtedly, then, Confederates should be eligible for nomination and induction into the Florida Veterans Hall of Fame. The guidelines for nomination include performing admirably during military service or making significant contributions outside the military. Let’s then consider the six Confederates included among the first twenty-one nominees for the Hall.
Madison Starke Perry was the 4th governor of Florida serving from October 5, 1857 to October 6, 1861. Starke Perry’s term in office was marked by much development of railroads in Florida thus opening many parts of the state for development. It was Governor Perry who called for a state convention to consider the question of secession and it was during his administration that Florida became the third state to secede. When his term as governor ended in October 1861, Starke Perry became colonel of the 7th Florida Infantry Regiment and served the Confederate army in that capacity until failing health forced him to resign at the end of April 1863. He died in 1865 before the war ended. The city of Starke, Florida is named in his honor.
Abraham Allison was serving as president of the Florida Senate when Governor John Milton committed suicide in April 1865. He became acting governor from April 1, 1865until May 18, 1865. His greatest contribution, to me, was his military service at the Battle of Natural Bridge. That Confederate victory, of course, prevented the blue coats from taking the capital and allowed Tallahassee to remain the only Confederate capital east of the Mississippi not to fall to the yankee horde.
William Bloxham was the first native-born Floridian to serve as governor of the state. He served two non-consecutive terms as governor. His first term was from 1881 to 1885 and his second term was from 1897 to 1901. He was, thus, Florida’s 13th and 17th governor. Prior to being elected governor he had served as secretary of state. During the war, Bloxham organized and commanded an infantry company. He was born on his family plantation in Leon County and is buried in Old St. John’s Cemetery in Tallahassee.
Edward Aylesworth Perry was the 14th governor of Florida with his term running from January 7, 1885 through January 8, 1889. Perry entered the Confederate Army as a private and ended the war as a brigadier general. He was a general of distinction and was thought of highly by Robert E. Lee. He was the type general who led from the front and was wounded several times in combat, severely at the Wilderness. He was also stricken with typhoid fever during the war and was unable to lead the Florida Brigade at Gettysburg. During his administration as governor, Florida adopted a new state constitution and established the state board of education. The city of Perry, Florida is named in his honor.
Francis Fleming was the 15th governor of the state with his term running from January 8, 1889 through January 3, 1893. He served the Confederacy as a captain in the Confederate Army and commanded a volunteer company at Natural Bridge. During his term as governor he formed the state board of health. He was also responsible for the creation of the current state flag. The old flag had been a solid white field with a state seal in the center. Governor Fleming had red saltires added to the flag thus giving it its present (and far more becoming) appearance. After his term as governor, he was offerred a seat on the Florida Supreme Court but turned it down to return to private practice of law in Duval County.
Henry Laurens Mitchell served as the 16th governor of the state with his term running from January 3, 1893 to January 5, 1897. He was serving as the attorney general of the state when the war began and resigned his position to enlist in the Confederate Army. In July 1863 he left the army to take a seat in the Florida House of Representatives to which he had been elected. He was appointed to the state supreme court in 1888 and served until 1891. He left the court to run for governor and was subsequently elected. His home for most of his life in Florida (he was born in Alabama) was in Tampa and he is buried at Oaklawn Cemetery there.
This is certainly an impressive list of outstanding Floridians to be considered for induction into the Florida Veterans Hall of Fame but there are two glaring omissions from this list – Edmund Kirby Smith and David Lang.
Florida’s greatest Confederate hero was General Edmund Kirby Smith. Kirby Smith was one of only two native-born Floridians to attain the rank of general officer in the Confederate Army. In fact, he was one of only eight Confederate generals (out of 425) to reach the rank of full general (4-star equivalent). He commanded one of the three armies of the Confederacy (the Army of Trans-Mississippi) and, as such, was equal in rank to General Robert E. Lee.After the war he returned to the field of education and served as a university president and mathematics professor until his death. His statue is one of two statues of prominent Floridians (along with Dr. John Gorrie) to stand in the United States Capital as part of the National Statuary Hall Collection.
Another omission is Colonel (later General) David Lang. Colonel Lang (C.S.A.) was an outstanding military leader who commanded the Florida Brigade at Gettysburg in the absence of General Edward Aylesworth Perry. His greatest contribution to the state, however, was after the war. David Lang was appointed adjutant general of the Florida Militia by Governor Edward A. Perry and, in this capacity, General Lang oversaw, and was greatly responsible for, the evolvement of the militia into the great organization known today as the Florida National Guard. In fact, David Lang is known as the "Father of the Florida National Guard". General Lang is buried in the Old City Cemetery in Tallahassee. A state historic marker stands alongside his grave.
These two along with General (later Governor) Edward Aylesworth Perry are the three former Confederates who absolutely must, without doubt, be included in the Veterans Hall of Fame. This is not to say that other Confederates should not be inducted but, merely, that these are the best of the field. Certainly the other governors mentioned above deserve serious consideration along with educator, judge and missionary James Hamilton Wentworth.
In closing, let me say that if the always complaining people and the various chattering classes of Confederate-haters are successful in having all Confederates dropped from consideration for the Hall then it is time for the State of Florida to establish a Confederate museum so that the true story can be told.