“May God have mercy on Bobby Lee, for I will have none,” decreed Union General Joe Hooker during the Civil War. His druthers are my druthers. Confederates have invaded the Sierra Nevada mountains and we must force them out.
As a high school history teacher, I spend considerable time studying and teaching America’s deadliest war. In the summer, I like to turn my attention to other pursuits, like hiking and climbing.
But during such outings, more than 150 years after the Civil War ended, Johnny Reb shows his face with surprising frequency.
What in tarnation? Jeff Davis Peak, Jeff Davis Creek and Pickett Peak in Eldorado National Forest all honor Confederates who led 11 slave states into four bloody years of treason.
Gen. Robert E. Lee’s name defaces an otherwise beautiful and ancient tree in Sequoia National Park. Scalawags even named the Alabama Hills, an area of picturesque rock formations in the Eastern Sierra, after a Confederate battleship.
Talk about carpetbaggers. None of the honored Southerners ever visited the Sierra Nevada mountains nor California and certainly did nothing positive in this loyal Union state. Rather, it seems that after the Union prevailed on the battlefield, pro-Confederacy migrants hornswoggled the names of geographic features in defiance.
Let’s put the kibosh on geographic names that honor Confederates. By hook or crook, we should restore the landmarks’ original designations or choose new names to honor others more worthy. Pro-slavery traitors do not deserve to associate with beautiful national treasures, especially in the West.
Those who believe otherwise may argue that many place names honor Americans of dubious virtue. Celebrated leaders like George Washington and Thomas Jefferson owned slaves, for instance. If we start altering Confederate names, these critics say, we’ll have to change countless others and rewrite every map.
Balderdash. Without defending anyone’s actions in furtherance of slavery, Washington and Jefferson made important and positive contributions to the nation despite their complicity in the vile institution. Confederates had no such merit to balance their cause’s monstrosity.
Neo-Confederate yahoos tirelessly endeavor to rewrite the war’s history with a narrative of states’ rights. Some even claim the South fought for the cause of freedom. If that don’t beat all!
Let’s acknowledge the corn: the record clearly shows that Confederate states attempted to secede and instigated war to preserve and expand slavery. Their purposes and actions were wholly selfish, immoral, murderous and inexcusable. Because of them, at least 700,000 Americans died (more dead than from all the nation’s other wars combined) and millions more suffered in torturous bondage.
This is no criticism of those Southern states nor their hunkey dorey residents today, but redeeming qualities of the 1860s Confederacy are scarce as hen’s teeth.
“Those who deny freedom for others deserve it not for themselves,” said President Abraham Lincoln, who favored a forgiving peace. Yet I suspect he would find the practice of honoring Confederates well outside the South with place names, statues and monuments incomprehensible.
So should we. A 50-state facelift is in order and we’d might as well start with Jeff Davis Peak, Pickett Peak and General Lee Tree, which all deserve more honorable titles. The US Board on Geographic Names has the authority to change them; speak up if you agree. Let’s roust the rebels from our mountains. Huzzah!