---An Old Wound Opened---
The Confederate battle flag, to put it bluntly, was generally not welcomed by Union veterans of the Civil War. While great strides had been made in reconciliation between the former soldiers of the blue and gray starting in earnest in the mid-1890’s, certain things remained contentious until the end and still continue to linger with us to this day. The public display of the “Stars and Bars” flag was a frequent flashpoint for ill feelings. The troublesome issue boiled over for a gathering of former Union soldiers in June 1931 in Baltimore, Maryland.
A parade was staged June 14, 1931, in Baltimore in observance of national Flag Day. Flag Day had been sporadically observed since the late 1880’s but it was officially established by an official proclamation from President Woodrow Wilson in 1916. The United States flag held a nearly religious significance for the Union veterans, so they eagerly participated in patriotic events like Flag Day parades to pay honor to “Old Glory.” The year’s observance also made special recognition of the song, “The Star-Spangled Banner” being adopted as the national anthem. Speakers of the day included several regional dignitaries and a number of descendants of Francis Scott Key.
The parade was formed at the Baltimore War Memorial and was ready to begin its march when the flag bearers took their place at the head of the column. The Union veterans were stunned to see a boy scout take his place with the Confederate “Stars and Bars” beside the American flag and the state flag of Maryland. Promptly, the old Union soldiers protested, broke ranks and stepped out of the procession. They refused any further participation and left, returning to their homes. The Confederate flag maintained its place at the head of the parade. The day’s program remained unchanged excepting the departure of the Union veterans.
The Union veterans readily expressed their opinions on the situation. John King, a past national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, did not mince words on the subject. He stated frankly that the Confederate flag “had no place in the line.” He continued, “that flag represents the attempted destruction of the stars and stripes.” King was also ready to cast blame and frustration towards those he thought responsible for the outrage. “It’s the Daughters of the Confederacy who are always scratching open the wound,” he declared. “We don’t want any controversy. We are too old for that.”
Despite the passing of the decades since the Civil War, the difficult feelings and emotions born from the conflict always remained just beneath the surface of a fragile sense of reconciliation for many veterans.
Sources: - “Union veterans quite parade in protest on flag” Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Seattle WA June 15, 1931, p. 5 - “GAR refuses to follow flag of confederacy” The Daily Times, Salisbury MD June 15, 1931, p. 1 - “GAR refuses to trek behind southern flag” The Cumberland Evening Times, Cumberland MD June 15, 1931, p. 1
Cumberland Evening Times, Cumberland MD
Daily Times, Salisbury MD
War Memorial, Baltimore MD