I saw this carving by a local carver with my brother and one of my best friends in an eclectic shop. I was enthralled with it and kept thinking about it for days, so I returned and picked it up. That the cataclysmic civil war subject matter always intrigues me wasn’t what kept me thinking about it; it was the posture of the confederate soldier, the missing star on the rebel flag that evokes something meaningful, a sad wisdom about human frailty and weakness. I don’t know. I do know that the confederate cause was repugnant, and that the confederate soldiers were outgunned, outmanned, ragged, and hungry, and also that their was a lot of greed fuelling the carnage on both sides- I’m almost certain that there were exploitative, opportunistic carpetbaggers who did a lot of damage to the cause of justice and reconciliation after the war too. I wonder if there is a sympathetic connection between the British empire loyalists, who had to retreat to Canada, and the confederates because they’re both losers- Like Al Purdy said, the country around Belleville is a land of defeat because the Loyalists settled here after they lost the Revolutionary war. More than that, though, they both fought a lost cause that was tied to tradition and honour and duty, but also a government and social system that was deeply rotted with brutal oppression (though I think a number of the loyalist and confederate fighters were probably just fighting for their homes- many poor confederate soldiers didn’t own slaves or think much about politics, but still ended up in a war on their front porches).
The carving really seems to be another moving example of the Dying Gaul, one of the first examples I can think of in art where the loser is portrayed in a moving way. It’s even more complicated because the soldier was repugnant is so many severe ways too, so it makes you want to fight against evil on earth and at the same time it makes you want everyone to be saved! It’s a paradoxical mix of human strength and weakness. Leonard Cohen had some very wise things to say about that kind of thing.