The Confederate Flag

I suppose that the Confederate battle flag represents slavery and racism to some, but to others…well let me tell a personal story. I am Allen Polk Hemphill – the Polks of Tennessee and the Alabama Hemphill families married each other “back in the day” with some regularity. 

I was born in Alabama, orphaned by age five, raised in Texas, and upon high school graduation was sent to Columbia Military Academy in Columbia, Tennessee, the home of the Polks, for a summer to engage in my Polk heritage. I visited James K. Polk’s home, but one home left a lasting imprint on my memory: the plantation home of the 11th president’s brother, George Washington Polk.

The plantation home is named “Rattle and Snap” because George won it in a dice game from the Governor of Tennessee! 

(My family is filled with colorful characters and iconoclasts!)

Saying the plantation was a wreck when I visited it in my youth would be an understatement. I had two elderly aunts living there, but there were chickens in the living room and other farm animals roaming the rooms. Even a Yankee soldier would have wept at the sight. 

A squad of Yankee soldiers was sent during the Civil War to burn the grand plantation home, but didn’t do so because the Masonic squad leader saw a portrait of the plantation owner, and a Masonic ring was visible in the picture.

The home might have been better served had it been burned. Grand homes across the South were torched because there was a conscious effort by the North not to win the war, but to destroy the South. They succeeded spectacularly! The South was destroyed and impoverished, the word “reconstruction” was an oxymoron, and my grandmother (born 1890) who raised me, spat out the word “Yankee” as an ultimate insult.

As part of a motorhome-based family-roots tour with our grown children and their children, my Yankee wife and I toured several old plantation homes in South Carolina. In one we marveled at the intricate wood carvings of a beautiful room, the result of many British woodworkers. After admiring the magnificence of the room, the guide threw open huge doors on each side to show long mounds of dirt, “those are the remnants of many other rooms, similarly built and appointed, burned to the ground by Yankee soldiers.”

At another plantation, after the tour of a grand home, the guide said to our astonishment, “This was not the grand home. That was burned to the ground. This building was actually the family’s hunting lodge, hidden downriver. It was laboriously shipped to this site for your enjoyment.”

At each site, you could hear and feel the resentment for the destruction. The Confederate battle flag represents some of that lasting resentment. It was not just the rich who suffered as a result of the grinding, purposeful and needless destruction.

(A more pleasant note: Rattle and Snap remains was bought by major Fort Worth philanthropist, Amon Carter. The grand home and plantation were fully restored to their full 1860 glory — you can Google “Rattle and Snap” for photos of the beautiful restoration — and the Carter family lived in an adjacent special-built structure just for the family.)

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