… RINGGOLD — The Confederate battle flag at the city’s historic depot will come down.
Ringgold City Council members voted 3-2 Monday night to remove the battle flag from the Depot’s Civil War monument honoring soldiers who fought in or were from Catoosa County.
Instead of the battle flag, the city will now raise the Hardee/Cleburne flag, the regimental flag of General Patrick Cleburne, who defended Ringgold Gap against Northern forces in 1863.
Since early February several Ringgold residents led by Ringgold’s African American community urged council members to remove the Confederate battle flag flying over the Depot stating that it has become a sign of hate.
Ringgold resident Ruby Johnson opposes the battle flag’s display.
“We have come down for one reason and one reason only," she told the council. "We did not come here for a history lesson. We know why the Civil War was fought. We came here to ask you to take the flag down.
“We have done this with dignity,” she added. “I don’t want to keep coming back. We want the flag down."
Johnson said she was pleased with the council’s decision. Ringgold resident Keith Guyton cited Biblical teachings as foundation for the flag’s removal.
"If it offends someone – don’t do it," he said. "Our family cannot spend (money) in Catoosa County because of that flag.”
Catoosa County Chairman Bill Clark said that the flag will mean to an individual whatever he or she desires it to mean.
He noted that the Hardee flag does not pay tribute to the approximately 700 local soldiers who got on a train and went to fight for the South elsewhere.
"With the Hardee flag you have failed to honor the local boys," he said.
Roy Neal, commander of Joseph McConnell Sons of Confederate Veterans Camp 1859, told the council it is its choice as to what flag the city flies.
"We didn’t put the flag up but we support flying it," he said. "There was no flag flying during the Battle of Ringgold Gap. It was an ambush. It was a fantastic move on (General Patrick) Cleburne’s part to conceal his troops.”
CLICK HERE: Express your opinion. Send a letter to the editor.
CLICK HERE: Get all the local news and sports with a subscription to the Walker County Messenger
Graysville area businessman Bill Thornbury said March 28 by telephone that groups should not pick and choose what is heritage and what is not.
“They want to have their cake and eat it too,” he said.
He said that African American groups desire to take pride in their heritage, even celebrating distinct holidays such as Kwanzaa and recognizing their roots here and abroad.
“The Confederate flag is part of their heritage too, and they want to leave that out,” he said. “The American flag is the most hated flag in the world. If they want to get rid of the Confederate flag we just better take them both down.”
Mayor Joe Barger said the council considered the issue of the historical design when the original landscaping at the Depot was created.
He said that he only wanted the Confederate battle flag to fly if the United States flag of the same era flew by its side.
Councilman Bill McMillon made the motion to bring down the flag and along with Councilmen O.C. Adcock and G. Larry Black cast a vote to remove the flag. McMillon said the council represents the people that elected them and sometimes despite their own personal beliefs you must vote in the best interest of the whole community.
“If you are going to fly a flag it should be historically correct,” he said. “According to some recent research we have been presented from a researcher updating flags for the state, the Cleburne flag was flown here.”
Councilman J.B. Petty, who voted against the battle flag’s removal, suggested the council consider using the first flag of the Confederacy created in 1861, the Star and Bars, instead of the battle flag but did not make that motion.
"This is one of the most important decisions in my 14 years on the board," he said.
Councilwoman Martha Denton also voted against the change saying that the battle flag honors both the Union and Confederacy.
"I love you all," she told the flag’s opposition. "We are not trying to degrade you by hanging(the battle flag)."
Barger said both the Confederate battle flag and the 1863 U.S. flag will be taken down until the city receives a Hardee/Cleburne flag and both flags will be replaced at that time.