A new Confederate-flag fight

Tuesday, Sep 11, 2007

A flap over a Confederate flag is breaking out at the Virginia Capitol.

The dispute isn’t over whether to display a Confederate flag — it’s over which Confederate flag to display.

Despite the concerns of Confederate-heritage enthusiasts, officials are not returning a battle flag — the "Stars and Bars" — to the Old House Chamber, where it stood for years a short distance from the spot where Gen. Robert E. Lee accepted command of Virginia’s armed forces at the beginning of the Civil War in April 1861.

General Assembly officials, looking to the approaching 150th anniversary commemoration of the start of the Civil War, say their decision is rooted in historical accuracy, not political correctness.

So, another Confederate flag — the "second national flag," which is white and features a Stars and Bars canton in the upper-left corner — will be put on display in the newly constructed Capitol annex, added as part of $105 million restoration of the Thomas Jefferson-designed statehouse.

That flag, officials say, is more closely associated with Richmond because it was adopted in 1863, when the Confederate Congress met here. Richmond was the second seat of the rebel government, after Montgomery, Ala., and before Danville, the final capital in the closing days of the war.

A reproduction of the second national flag — referred to as such because it was among three adopted by the Confederate Congress — will appear with likenesses of others that have flown over the Capitol since it was completed more than 200 years ago.

They will include versions of the American flag — the "Stars and Stripes" — and flank the restored 11-foot-by-22-foot Virginia flag that flew over the Capitol when Richmond fell to the Union army in April 1865. The Virginia flag is blue and features a bare-breasted Roman goddess, Virtus, standing over a fallen man, representative of tyranny.

If the battle flag, which became a symbol of Southern defiance to desegregation in the 1950s and 1960s, is being replaced "for political correctness, it’s a problem," said Fred D. Taylor of Suffolk, a third-year law student and member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans. Taylor yesterday suggested that the state display all three Confederate national flags.

The Stars and Bars, Taylor said, is known as the "soldiers’ flag" and was synonymous with the Army of Northern Virginia, the name later given to the Lee-led force. Taylor said the Stars and Bars was never sanctioned by the Confederate Congress.

The battle flag stood in the Old House Chamber until the renovation of the Capitol began nearly two years ago.

In a letter to Speaker William J. Howell, R-Stafford, House Clerk Bruce F. Jamerson said research did not reveal when the flag first appeared in the Old House Chamber, though it turned up in a 1981 photograph of the room, along with an American flag, two Virginia flags and a flag of the U.S. Military Academy.

The chamber became a shrine to Lee during the 1926-30 administration of Gov. Harry F. Byrd Sr., who procured a bronze statute of the general. The statue was a focal point of a room that Byrd said should be in "the condition in which it was at the time General Lee entered its doors" to accept command of a rebel army.

Howell, in a memorandum last week to Jamerson, said the second national flag should be displayed for several reasons.

Among them: That it is a flag that was adopted by the Confederate Congress when it met in Richmond; that the flag was likely manufactured in the city; and that it was used to cover the coffin of Gen. Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson, the famed Virginia cavalryman who was fatally wounded when one of his troops shot him at the Battle of Chancellorsville in 1863.

The battle flag is not the only artifact removed from the Old House Chamber.

Another, Jamerson said, is a brick from the Jamestowne Church, where Virginia’s first representative body convened in 1619. The brick will be on display in the 27,000-square-foot extension, buried beneath the south lawn of Capital Square.

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