John Cole had an excellent blog (Can’t You People Just Give It Up?) on the Virginia governor declaring April “Confederate History Month,” after his last two predecessors refused to. He concluded with this, and I answered him.
Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War Member Badge
Since I’m crushed for time, I’ll reprint my comments here:
If someone can explain to me why it is so important for people on the losing end of a war they fought to perpetuate an evil institution like slavery to be “recognized,” I would really love it. Why would anyone willingly be associated with that?
Comment # 76
Why would anyone willingly be associated with that?
There are two reasons for this, both with contemporary parallels.
First, the poor bastards of the Confederacy were sold a bill of goods about “freedom” and “states rights” and sent out to fight—not to protect the private “property” of the few wealthy landowners who could afford to own slaves, but actually against their own best interests. (“Tea parties” come to mind.)
And that still seems crazy, when you consider that virtually every Southern state’s statement of Secession contained specific reasons relating to slavery. But it was all wrapped up in a shining frosting of duty, honor, country, freedom and liberty, with the Founding Fathers tossed in for good measure. (Remember, there were many years of propaganda, and a long proxy war in Kansas beforehand.)
Secondly, AFTER the war, nobody could live the the idea and the shame that what had been fought for was as terrible as slavery, and our good father, grandfather, uncle, brother, etc. could NOT have died so ignobly. And so, the idea of the “Lost Cause” was born. And no one dared to challenge it. The North was weary, and sold freedom down the river in the stolen election of 1876, where Hayes bargained away Reconstruction in return for a House victory over Tilden (who won the popular vote, BTW.)
The Southerners would not honor “Decoration Day” (nor, for that matter, would they have been welcomed) which was promoted by the G.A.R. to decorate the graves of the fallen and the veterans who had died after the War. Decoration Day finally became “Memorial Day” which doesn’t really memorialize much, just a generic holiday and an excuse to get drunk in a motorboat.
Part of it really got going by “Swift-boating” President Grant, as being the pawn of corrupt men, of being a lousy president, and of being a drunken general (a calumny begun by Copperhead papers after Shiloh.) If you will go to the White House web bio, you will see how effective it was.
(Note: Robert E. Lee, when confronted with the slanders against Grant, told Washington and Mary’s honcho that if he ever heard another word against General Grant, that Lee and the college now known as Washington and Lee would part company.*)
[* General Robert E. Lee, C.S.A., to someone who had slandered Grant: "Sir, if you ever again presume to speak disrespectfully of General Grant in my presence, either you or I will sever his connection with this University."]
To this day, you can run a pro-Southern film like “The Outlaw Josey Wales,” with the “bluebellies” as enemies, but you can’t have an “Undefeated” without the Southerners all being gracious and noble and all that bullshit. BECAUSE it would not play in the South. On the other hand, Northerners have gone to see “Birth of a Nation,” “Gone With The Wind” and a zillion other Southern apologist films, and the victors never boycott the evil lunacy of them.
Just a couple of weeks ago, some bug fuck crazy Southern congressman referred to the “War of Yankee Aggression” on the floor of the House. The North never smacked down the South for this crap, and it was allowed to fester and breed, just as the 1875 Civil Rights law ceased being enforced after the Grant Administration (another reason he’s been libeled), was declared unconstitutional in 1883, and was essentially resurrected in the 1965 Civil Rights Act.
Nobody wants to think that their grand-dad died defending the monstrousity of slavery, just as no one in Texas will admit that remembering the “Alamo” would be to remember that Texas revolted against Mexico when Mexico outlawed slavery and after a couple years of being ignored, meant to enforce their law. THEN those “noble” Texans revolted against the “monster” Santa Ana.
You CAN rewrite history, and some have done just that. You CAN rewrite the “cause” you’re fighting for as “noble” and get dupes to die for your “property.”
We’ve seen it once. I wonder if we’ll see it again.
Sorry to be this long-winded, John, but you asked.
Let me add one piece of connecting tissue. Southerner James Knox Polk used the admission of Texas as a pretext for invading and annexing half of Mexico (after abandoning the famous “54° 40′ or Fight!”)
If you live in California, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Arizona, or New Mexico, now you know where your state came from.
A big chunk of the Civil War was about whether the South could export slavery into those new territories. Grant, in his memoirs, called it the evilest war ever fought by a powerful nation against a weaker one. Lincoln’s famous speech at Cooper Union (the ‘speech that made Lincoln president’) was entirely about whether the federal government could prohibit slavery in the territories.
In 2000, in a little-reported bit of election coverage, while the MSM was claiming that McCain was beaten in South Carolina because of a whispering campaign about a black baby via Karl Rove, the BIG kerfuffle was the John McCain didn’t proudly support the Confederate flag. The Sons of Confederate Veterans not only opposed him, but in 2008, they semi-merged with certain new Southern PACs, which I wrote at length about elsewhere. In 2008, McCain didn’t make the same mistake in SC. He had learned his lesson.
Neo-Confederate organizations still thrive, as John Ashcroft nearly got in trouble for his membership in during his Attorney General hearings, except the story just quietly vanished. As usual. See the Southern Poverty Law Center’s site if you want to learn more about Neoconfederates.
From the South Carolina 2008 primary
Oh, and Texas is the only state to ever fight for slavery TWICE. When was the last time you ever saw a pro-Northern film that wasn’t counterbalanced by Southern “nobility” a la “Gettysburg”? Its sequel “Gods and Generals” was such a gushing paen to Southern general Stonewall Jackson that I have never been able to sit all the way through it.
The losers never forget; the victors never remember.
Before you hurl insults at me, at least go to the link and read the Cooper Union speech, which has been forgotten in the conscious revision of history that began in the late 19th Century and continues to this day.
I don’t doubt that the majority of Confederate soldiers truly believed that they were fighting for noble and abstract causes.
They were constantly bombarded with the finest rhetoric that money could buy. But it WAS about the economic interests of the plutocracy, even if they never knew WHO they were really dying for. Just give ‘em a bible and a gun and tell ‘em they were fighting the BIG GOVERNMENT of the Northern Aggressors.
If you’ll look at the rhetoric of that time, it is eerily similar to the “libertarian” free market, freedom, states’ rights, 10th Amendment, Big government, etc. rhetoric of our own time.
Some historians note that it was the very “lassaiz faire” nature of Southern government that doomed them*. The weak central government couldn’t levy taxes or raise troops, and each state insisted on being in control of their own little armies and taxes etc.
The Confederacy’s greatest weakness was the difficulty Davis’s government had in controlling the individual states—the same problem the national Congress had faced under the Articles of Confederation. Though Davis attempted to assemble a national army to match the powerful Union forces, the Southern states did not work together to facilitate the undertaking, and Davis had no real way to force the state governors to comply and send men. As the war dragged on, some governors even refused to let their troops cross state lines to assist fellow Confederates who needed backup.]
Who knows? Last time it was abolition and states’ rights.
This time, it may well be abortion and states’ rights.
And thank you for the kind words, commenters.
Today’s date kept ringing a bell. Wikipedia April 6:
- 1832 – Indian Wars: The Black Hawk War begins – the Sauk warrior Black Hawk begins a war with the United States.[The war that Lincoln served in.]
- 1862 – American Civil War: The Battle of Shiloh begins – in Tennessee, forces under Union General Ulysses S. Grant meet Confederate troops led by General Albert Sidney Johnston.
- 1865 – American Civil War: The Battle of Sayler’s Creek – Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia fights its last major battle while in retreat from Richmond, Virginia.
- 1866 – The Grand Army of the Republic, an American patriotic organization composed of Union veterans of the American Civil War, is founded. It lasts until 1956.
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