When I was younger, my mother would tell stories about how, through one way or another, I was related to a Civil War general.
Yeah, right. Sure. Next thing, someone’s going to tell me that because my last name is Miller, I’m related to the guy who sang “Fly Like an Eagle.”
No wait, hear me out.
Somehow, according to whatever story she spun at the time, my grandfather – Charles Bragg – was a direct descendant of some sort to Civil War general Braxton Bragg.
Yeah, I’m not sure how to react to that.
This is a picture of Civil War General Braxton Bragg, who led several battles against Union soldiers and armies. Well, he was the general for those armies, but for all intents and purposes, he was one of the worst generals on either side of the Civil War. Of the seven or eight battles for which he led, he lost almost every one of them – despite having more manpower and weapons.
Just my luck. I’m supposedly related to a Civil War general, and I would have had better fortune had my ancestor been General Nuisance or General Aches and Pains.
And I’m still not convinced that I’m related to the guy. My grandfather, Charles Bragg, was born in 1919 in Boston. Braxton Bragg passed away in 1876 in Galveston, Texas. Maybe one of his sons or grandsons moved to Boston at some point in time …
Yeah. I’m more likely to be related to singer Billy Bragg than I am to this guy. Trust me, the only resemblance between Braxton Bragg and me is that killer smile in the photo above. Man, look at those pearly whites…
But what if it were true? What if I’m Braxton Bragg’s great-great-great grandson (or maybe just great-great grandson)? Does this mean that, for all intents and purposes, I have any sort of say in the current debate about whether Confederate monuments and statues should be removed from public squares and the like?
It’s a thorny and polarizing issue. What do the statues represent? When were they installed? And, in many cases, WHY were they installed?
Personally, as a nation, we’ve evolved culturally through the generations. Minstrel shows are thankfully a thing of the past. Cartoons with offensive caricatures are culled from broadcast. Sports teams hare removed Native American imagery from their logos and nicknames.
But as much as we’ve evolved, we have a tremendously long and rutted journey ahead of us. Last weekend in Charlottesville proves that. And it’s not just Charlottesville. It’s the slaughter in a South Carolina house of worship. And a car-weapon in Times Square before that. And the destruction of the Murrah federal building in Oklahoma City long before that. These are the tears of anger and torment and hate. And they have to stop. Now.
We have to evolve. We have to save our humanity and our purpose on this planet. We need to help, not hurt. We need to save, not scare. We need to try, not torment.
I probably understand this need for unity in our country – in that my own personal lineage speaks of various cultures in our united melting pot. Yeah, maybe I have the lineage of a Civil War general in my blood, but my matrilineal heritage also includes Native American bloodlines – mostly through my maternal grandmother’s parents and forefathers.
Add to that the bloodline of immigration from Eastern Europe that produced my father’s side of the family. My Grandma Betty’s parents and grandparents survived famines and pogroms in lands that would evolve into the Soviet Union, and would eventually evolve from that into their own republics. Those relations arrived at Ellis Island and their last names were Americanized into Miller.
Somewhere along the vast storms of history, these cultures somehow blended together. The final product produced from these blends – me. Whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing is certainly left to your opinion.
But be that as it may, even if I do have a connection to the War Between the States, that doesn’t mean that I still believe in that cause. Braxton Bragg is no longer with us, and his deeds and doings are relegated to the history books and the census records; so too will all of us at some point in time.
We are who we choose to be. And we can choose to be the best persons possible. In this incredibly short life that God has given us, let us use that opportunity to bring brightness and warmth to others. Give until it hurts, and then give some more. Now, today, more than ever, we need to do this.
I don’t know if that’s what my alleged great-great-(great?)-grandpappy would say…
But it’s what I say. And as far as I’m concerned, I’m the only one that can speak about what matters to me in this world.
And I choose good.
And so should you.