Over three days in August, Union and Confederate re-enactors will meet on the fields of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, and reignite a battle that ended more than 150 years ago, with bayonets in hand and flags waving overhead.
On that battlefield and in more than five downtown Gettysburg businesses, flags, including the Confederate battle flag, will continue to wave. Several Gettysburg business owners said Confederate flag sales have actually picked up in the past few months.
But in light of the deadly Charleston, South Carolina, church shooting, many have questioned the proper use of the symbol that has come to represent so many facets of the Confederate era — ranging from historical context to Southern heritage.
The Confederacy had several flags during its existence, the most recognizable being the battle flag of the Army of Northern Virginia, said Jill Titus, associate director of the Civil War Institute at Gettysburg College.
That’s the square flag with the navy blue naval jack, white stars and red background, Titus said.
“Historically, it’s quite clear that the Confederate flag does represent the stated aims of the Confederate government, which were maintaining slavery and white supremacy,” Titus said. “Of course, the flag has been used in a variety of different ways since the end of the Civil War — it has been used by a lot of different groups to support a lot of different causes.”
Re-enactors, who will play out battles on fields adjacent to the historical grounds of the Gettysburg National Military Park, usually carry Confederate flags into battle each year. Still, some property owners of the fields will not, and have not, allowed the Confederate flag on their land in the past, said Andrea DiMartino, spokeswoman for the Gettysburg Anniversary Committee.
“The only impact that this [recent controversy] has had is the fear by the re-enactors that we might not allow them to fly their flags — that’s not true,” DiMartino said. “The Confederate flag was a symbol of their nation, and it is used in a clear, historical aspect only.”
Event organizers said the Confederate battle flag and associated flags will continue to be used in historical context in the battle re-enactments in August for the 152nd anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg.
However, the National Park Service’s bookstore at Gettysburg’s historic battleground will stop selling 11 of the 2,600 items featuring the flag.
“We strive to tell the complete story of America,” National Park Service director Jonathan Jarvis said in a news release.
“All sales items in parks are evaluated based on educational value and their connection to the park. Any stand-alone depictions of Confederate flags have no place in park stores,” the release stated.
Monocacy National Battlefield also followed the National Park Service recommendation and removed from its bookstore stand-alone items bearing the Confederate flag that hold no historical or educational context, park ranger Brett Spaulding said.
“In the museum, if there’s any sales items or DVDs and educational materials, we are keeping them,” Spaulding said of Confederate flag adorned items. “Any stand-alone items we’ve removed — like a Confederate flag on a pole, that’s a stand-alone item.”
Monocacy National Battlefield’s living history events and firing demonstrations will continue using the flag in historical context, Spaulding said.
“It’s still part of the history we have here and it is part of our history, but it needs more of an explanation for people to have some context,” Spaulding said.