Getting rid of a military base in the name of the South Army stirs passion | WGN Radio 720

Virginia Blackstone (AP) —Civil War history casts a long shadow over Virginia, the birthplace of South Army generals, and is a scene of surrender, now a military base honoring rebel leaders. We are at the crossroads of the controversy over the name change.

In and around Blackstone, about 50 miles southwest of Richmond, the shadows can stir your passion as you move on to the nearby Fort Pickett. Some are plagued by Congress demanding that the picket name be removed as part of a broader scrub of military base names commemorating the Navy or the honorary officers who fought for it. In total, at least nine army bases in the six states will be renamed.

Others here say it’s time to drop the name.

“Change!” Says Nathaniel Miller, a black member of the town council stationed in Pickett after returning from Vietnam in 1973. “It must have happened long ago,” he says. American history where blacks didn’t speak out.

The same name for Fort Picket is Major George E. Pickett, best remembered in the failure of the South Army assault in Gettysburg, which became known as Pickett’s Charge. Originally from Virginia, he graduated from West Point and resigned from the US Army Commission shortly after the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861.

The move to rename Fort Pickett and other bases is a national calculation with centuries of racial injustice caused by the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis in May 2020. It is a part. For years, the military defended the base’s name after a South Army officer. Most recently, in 2015, the Army argued that the name did not respect the cause of the rebels, but a gesture of reconciliation with the South.

Congress easily agreed last year to force a name change to remove what is seen by many as a symbol of human bondage and black oppression.

Reflecting a change in military thinking, Army General Mark Milley, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, today has a legacy of black pain reflected in the name of the Army’s Army base, where at least 20% of its soldiers are black. Talked powerfully about. He said those names could remind black soldiers that rebel officers fought for institutions that might have enslaved their ancestors.

Millie told the House of Representatives in June 2020 that the South Army was not worthy of such a memorial.

“It was an act of rebellion, at the time it was an act of rebellion against the Union, against the Star-Spangled Banner, and against the US Constitution,” he said. “And those officers turned their backs on their vows. Now some have different views on it. Some think it’s a legacy. Others don’t like it. . “

No one around Blackstone seems to know why the government first chose the picket name. The 1942 dedication ceremony for what was originally called the Camp Picket, attended by the descendants of the Shogun, was held on July 3rd to coincide with the 79th anniversary of his Gettysburg indictment. An Associated Press article at the ceremony said Virginia Governor Colgate Darden said the story of Pickett’s Charge “lives forever as an epic of great courage” that made Virginia “immortal.”

Some, such as Air Force veteran Greg Eins, who grew up in the nearby town of Crew, see the removal of Pickett’s name as a disdain for rebels and their descendants.

“In my opinion, wearing velvet gloves is nothing more than a cultural slaughter,” says Enes, standing by a still visible trench in the South Army on the battlefield in an adjacent county. “The South has a unique history. Many of them have ancestors and families in the South Army. In my opinion, it would be wrong to dismiss their concerns. Just arbitrarily. Just reject it. “

Still, removing the connection with the Southern Army from Fort Pickett is rarely talked about here.

“There was probably a time in my life when this would have offended me,” published a local newspaper, Billy Coleburn, 52, from Blackstone, the mayor of a town of about 3,500 inhabitants. ) Says.

“Times change,” he adds.

Local innkeepers Jim and Christine Hasbrook praise the removal of the name of the South Army general.

“We need to stop putting them on the pedestal,” says Jim.

Fort Pickett is primarily used by Virginia National Guard. Located in what is known as the South Side of Virginia, it lies approximately halfway between Richmond, the former capital of the South Army, and Appomattox, where General Robert E. Lee surrendered the South Army in 1865.

This is a Republican-dominated region where Joe Biden voted 57% to 42% for Donald Trump last November and supported Trump four years ago by 55% to 42% over Hillary Clinton. Civil War reminders are not hard to find here. Climb the road between pine, elm, maple and oak grove to Sailor’s Creek Battlefield State Park. This was a series of battle scenes on April 6, 1865, in which the South Army, including a unit commanded by Pickett, was defeated. Three days later, Lee surrendered to Apomatox.

Last year’s parliament created a federal commission recommending new names for at least nine army bases named after South Army officers, including three in Virginia. Others are located in North Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Louisiana, and Texas. The law passed Trump’s opposition, claiming that the name change downplayed those trained at the base.

Two active naval vessels will also be renamed. The USNS Morley marine research vessel is named after Matthew Fontaine Morley, a naval officer and scientist who resigned from joining the Navy. The cruiser USS Chancellorsville is named after the 1863 South Army victory in Chancellorsville, Virginia.

Tom Wilkinson, a Blackstone resident and former Army colonel who commanded Fort Pickett from 2008 to 2012, accepts the decision to change the name, but says he thinks it is a mistake.

“If I can look back on it later, I’ll leave it as it is,” says Wilkinson. “What’s next? Are you going to change the street name across America?”

In fact, the post-George Floyd debate over racial injustice goes beyond the name of the military base. Pickett, for example, is a controversial name up to Washington. In 2019, the Bellingham City Council resolved to remove the name of Pickett from the bridge built by the army under his command when he founded the Frontier Post called Fort Bellingham in the 1850s.

The hottest topic here in Nottoway County is the November referendum on whether to relocate the Navy War Memorial, which has stood in front of the Courthouse since 1893.

Fort Pickett is one of the last bases visited by members of the Federal Naming Commission, founded by Parliament. On other visits, commissioners were generally well received by the community, but some “have had the opportunity to vent a bit,” according to retired Admiral Michelle Howard, who leads the committee.

Apart from his decision to use force against the federal government, Pickett’s military records are subject to contradictory interpretations by historians. However, it is generally accepted that his performance is at best uneven.

After the division was decimated in Gettysburg in 1863, Pickett commanded the South Carolina and Virginia Confederates. His defeat at Five Forks, about 20 miles east of Blackstone in 1865, was particularly humiliating as he unexpectedly slipped down to burn fish earlier, unexpectedly from Union’s attack. A few days later, after his men were overwhelmed and forced to surrender, he fled the battlefield of Sailor’s Creek.

Whatever the details of his heritage, people who grew up near Fort Pickett say the name change isn’t really important.

“It’s always a picket for me,” says Lee Hart, who was born and raised in Blackstone. “It will be a picket forever.”

Getting rid of a military base in the name of the South Army stirs passion | WGN Radio 720

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