Frank Underwood is a complicated man.
For those who have never met him, he is our current Vice President. That is, if you follow the Netflix original series, “House of Cards.” Many years ago, during my college days, I was active in politics, working on several congressional and gubernatorial campaigns, so watching the series has brought back a lot of memories from my political past.
Imagine my surprise when, during the fifth episode of the second season, Underwood appears at a Civil War reenactment, commemorating the 150th anniversary of the Overland Campaign. In the episode, you see an amazing transformation occur with him as he is confronted with his past, literally.
Following a day of opening ceremonies where Underwood is among the crowd watching the reenactment (which is nicely filmed, bringing honor to the Civil War reenactor – a group of individuals who participate as a way to remember their ancestors). He appears bored, as if he’s attending just another political event he’s called upon to do in his role as the Vice President.
Later, Underwood is given a personal tour of the Spotsylvania battlefield by a National Park Service Ranger. As they tour the “Bloody Angle” portion of the battlefield, the Ranger brings forth a Confederate reenactor, who is portraying Corporal Augustus Underwood of the 12th Regiment of McGowan’s Confederate Brigade, the Great-Great-Great Grandfather of the Vice President. Underwood is initially taken aback, making it clear that his father never mentioned anyone from their family fighting for the Confederacy. Assured they had extensively researched his ancestry, Underwood visits with the reenactor – visits with his “ancestor” – his past. You can almost feel how troubled he is with this encounter, for what we’re not sure. As he continues on with his tour, he continues to look back at young Augustus Underwood, looking back at his past.
Later, during the night, Underwood travels into the Confederate camp, where he again seeks out his “ancestor”, wanting to know more about him and how he died.
When he returns to Washington, he begins a journey, one I’m not clear on yet as the series is still progressing. He starts reading numerous books on the Civil War and more importantly, he begins a new hobby…constructing a Civil War diorama in his home. Previously, when he arrived home at night, he would relax by immersing himself in a video game, some sort of combat game. He trades the video games to relaxing at his desk painting miniature soldiers. You can feel him reaching for something internally – of what I’m not sure yet.
Initially, before his encounter with the reenactor, Underwood, showing his boredom with the entire reenacting event, walked away after delivering a few words to the crowd, and, looking into the camera (which he does often in the series, speaking to us in the “4th wall,” where the character brings us into the story), says this:
“In Gaffney people [the town where he was from] called it the ‘War of Northern Aggression.’ I personally take no pride in the Confederacy. Avoid wars you can’t win and never raise your flag for an asinine cause like slavery.”
At the end of the episode, Underwood is there again before a crowd and the reenactors, who are standing at attention in front of him. He is there to ceremonially turn the first shovel of earth for a new visitors center. When the moment comes for him to do it, he pauses, and asks his “ancestor” to do the honors. Once done, he turns to the reeanctors and says:
“A moment of silence and prayer…for the dead.”
Then he kneels down and does something truly interesting; he buries his class ring from the “the Sentinel,” a fictional version of The Citadel. As he kneels, with no one able to see, he removes the ring and buries it in the soil. He pauses for a moment – his mind lost in thought. Why he buried that ring has deep meaning to him, which continues to develop in future episodes.
I believe there was a “before and after” moment found in that episode. One that perhaps many of us have faced as we examine our past. One of the things I don’t appreciate is when 21st century people attempt to judge the actions and behavior of 18th and 19th century people. There are some moves afoot among some to “sanitize” our history – by that I means allowing political correctness to steer the direction of all things. Specifically, I am referring to some who would like the see the likes of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson removed from our history books because of their “support” of the institution of slavery. I seek not to justify nor explain their actions. I look at the past for what it is – the past.
Publisher Marcus Garvey once wrote: “A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots.”
We seek to honor the men who fought at Jenkins’ Ferry, and the other battles of the Camden Expedition, not because of the horror of war, but for the sacrifices of these brave men, blue and grey. These men are our roots, for without them we would not be where we are today as a nation.
Never mistake my reasons for my interest in preserving the memory of Jenkins’ Ferry. It is about bravery and honor – and it always will be.
Vice President Underwood was transformed after his encounter with his Civil War past. There are scores of people who live within twenty-five miles of Jenkins’ Ferry who, not only know nothing of what occurred there, but more importantly, don’t realize the chances are good they had an ancestor who fought there.
If you continue to educate the public about Jenkins’ Ferry, you will reach someone out there who will have that “Frank Underwood moment,” where they confront their past – and learn a little more about who they are and where they came from.
They will be amazed at what they might might find.