By Sam Burnham
We are once again seeing a spat surrounding the display of Confederate flags in Georgia. This time the flags, which supporters are often told only belong in a museum, are reportedly being forced from a museum.
The Nash Farm Battlefield Museum has announced, in a statement on its Facebook page, that it will be closing permanently as of June 1st. The reason cited is that Henry County District 2 commissioner, Dee Clemmons, has ordered the removal of all Confederate flags from the property, including the museum and gift shop. According to members of the Friends of Nash Farm Battlefield, the group had already removed a Second National flag from the the flag pole in front of the museum as well as an entrenchment demonstration that had been installed as an educational tool.
According to an additional statements on the Nash Farm Battlefield Facebook page, Clemmons was invited as a guest at an awards ceremony the Georgia Civil War Commission was hosting inside the museum. While visiting the site for this event, Commissioner Clemmons made a demand to Cassie Barrow, past president of the group, that all Confederate flags be removed from the museum to avoid offending anyone.
What is even more troubling is that Clemmons is also reportedly demanding that the word "battlefield" be removed from the park's name citing that no battle took place there and that the land itself has no historic connection to the war. According to the website of the Civil War Trust, the Nash Farm was the site of the August 20, 1864 battle known as Kilpatrick's Raid, the largest cavalry breakthrough saber charge in Georgia's history.
Multiple attempts to contact Commissioner Dee Clemmons were unsuccessful and she did not respond to any of my messages. Commissioner Clemmons' District 2 is home to the Nash Farm Battlefield Park.
This represents the bulk of the information that is available to me as I write this. I will clarify that the remainder of this post is my opinion. It is what I have come to believe in light of the available information. What follows is commentary, not news.
I'd like to start out by saying that in nearly 40 years of visiting Civil War sites, museums, battlefields, cemeteries, etc, I have yet to encounter a Civil War museum that does not display Confederate flags. The purpose of such a museum is to tell the story of the battle or event that is being commemorated there. This involves telling the stories of both sides involved. It is unrealistic to expect such a museum to not display flags and emblems of both sides. I have never seen a museum censor the history they portray like Commissioner Clemmons is reportedly demanding the Nash Farm to do. Once you begin to censor history, you can effectively rewrite it to say what you want it to say. That is a very dangerous precedent for an educational and cultural center such as the Nash Farm Battlefield Museum.
Next we need to discuss the reported statements Commissioner Clemmons made about the historic significance of the battlefield. Insisting that this property is not a battlefield and that the word battlefield be removed from the park's name and signage suggests that the commissioner may be trying to keep certain areas of the park from being redeveloped as she sees fit, rather than strictly adhering to the recommendations of historians and preserving historically significant areas. It suggests that someone may not want to be bound by the need for preservation at the Nash Farm Battlefield. If this were the case, it could raise serious ethical questions about such changes.
And I don't want to ignore the economic impart of tourism in Georgia. Much of those tourism dollars come from historic sites, especially pertaining to the Atlanta Campaign and The March to the Sea. Events at and near Nash Farm Battlefield played a pivotal role in the Atlanta Campaign and helped lead to the fall of Atlanta. Censoring this history robs students and adults alike of a powerful educational resource that interprets the history of our state and teaches us about ourselves and the land we call home.
I can't think of any excuse that would justify censoring the history in the exhibits in the museum of The Nash Farm Battlefield. There is no other historic site in our state, or neighboring states, that is held to this dangerous standard. It makes me worry about what might be next. What will Commissioner Clemmons find offensive next? What will have to be censored next? And in seven years of operation, the only documented case of a museum visitor being offended that I've found was Commissioner Clemmons on the night of the Georgia Civil War Commission's awards ceremony.
The flags need to stay, the historians, not agenda-driven politicians, need to determine what is in the museum, and the battlefield must be preserved. This should be the only acceptable outcome of this spat.
Historian, self-proclaimed gentleman, agrarian-at-heart, & curator extraordinaire