When asked which side they would’ve taken in the Civil War, only 10% of Americans responding to a new poll picked the Confederacy. That’s less than the number of respondents who said they would’ve tried to be neutral. Republicans were more likely to say they would have supported the South, but would-be Confederates still made up a mere 20% of GOP respondents. I don’t know about you folks, but I would’ve expected the percentages to be higher, especially among those on the Right.
Tag Archives: Civil War memory
So there’s an effort underway by the Sons of Union Veterans to set up a monument at Olustee in order to “balance the cultural representation” on the battlefield, and some folks in the Sons of Confederate Veterans are opposed to the idea, calling it “a large black Darth Vadar-esque [sic] shaft that will disrupt the hallowed grown [sic] where Southern blood was spilled in defense of Florida, protecting Tallahassee from capture.”
My opinion has always been that older monuments have intrinsic historical and artistic value, but when it comes to setting up new ones, I’d rather see these groups spend their money on something else, like buying endangered battlefield land, conserving artifacts, and so on. I’m not opposed to new battlefield monuments on principle; I just don’t see the need to make sure every historical constituency involved with a site is represented with a slab of granite.
But having said all that, I don’t really get the SCV’s logic here. Indeed, I’m not sure there’s any logic to be had. There are Union monuments on countless battlefields across the South, just as there are Confederate monuments at Gettysburg and Antietam. If this new monument is going to disrupt the site’s historic integrity, then fine, but I haven’t seen anybody make that case. What the heck is the issue?
A lot of people think Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game is the best science fiction novel ever, or at least one of the top contenders, so I decided to read it before seeing the new movie adaptation. I enjoyed it, although it didn’t have the impact on me that it seems to have had on thousands of other readers over the years. The movie’s not bad, either.
A story about children training to fight space aliens is just about the last place you’d expect to find anything relating to popular Civil War historiography, but in his introduction Card identifies the work of Bruce Catton as one of his main influences:
I remembered so well the stories of the commanders in that war–the struggle to find a Union general capable of using McClellan’s magnificent army to defeat Lee and Jackson and Stuart, and then, finally, Grant, who brought death to far too many of his soldiers, but also made their deaths mean something, by grinding away at Lee, keeping him from dancing and maneuvering out of reach. It was because of Catton’s history that I had stopped enjoying chess, and had to revise the rules of Risk in order to play it–I had come to understand something of war, and not just because of the conclusions Catton himself had reached. I found meanings of my own in that history.
I learned that history is shaped by the use of power, and that different people, leading the same army, with, therefore, approximately the same power, applied it so differently that the army seemed to change from a pack of noble fools at Fredericksburg to panicked cowards melting away at Chancellorsville, then to the grimly determined, stubborn soldiers who held the ridges at Gettysburg, and then, finally, to the disciplined, professional army that ground Lee to dust in Grant’s long campaign. It wasn’t the soldiers who changed. It was the leader. And even though I could not then have articulated what I understood of military leadership, I knew that I did understand it. I understood, at levels deeper than speech, how a great military leader imposes his will on his enemy, and makes his own army a willing extension of himself.
Card thus takes the Civil War (at least the war in the East) primarily as the story of an army in search of its commander. Framing the war with this narrative is not at all uncommon, but is it accurate? And is it possible to draw such broad general lessons about the nature of war and the human experience from the study of one particular conflict?
I don’t really care what people call it, but the term “War Between the States” wasn’t all that common during the war itself. It didn’t really come into common use among Southerners until after the whole thing was over. If “Civil War” was good enough for Davis, Lee, and Forrest, you’d think it would be good enough for the UDC.
In some European countries, the common name is “War of Secession” (Guerra de Secesión, as the Spanish put it). Maybe we should start using it here in America; I think everybody could agree that “War of Secession” is pretty accurate.
WaPo examines the different ways libertarians interpret the Civil War, from those who embrace neo-Confederate ideology to those who are embarrassed by it.
My main complaint with neo-Confederate libertarians who vent their rage on the Lincoln administration is their failure to follow through on their arguments. Sure, the Union government became more centralized and invasive in order to fight the war, but so did the Confederate government. Governments usually become more centralized and invasive in wartime as a matter of course, simply because a war requires nations to marshal their resources and suppress dissent more effectively than in peacetime. That was the case for the Union, and it was certainly the case for the Confederacy.
And if you’ve got philosophical problems with the Union’s attempt to block secession, shouldn’t you support independence for Unionist majorities in East Tennessee who tried to stay out of the Confederacy?
I’m uncomfortable with any attempts to moralize history by trying to identify who was on its right side and wrong side, but if you’re going to go down that road, at least be consistent about it.
Several years ago, when I was in the museum business, we decided to do a temporary exhibit on the Gettysburg Address. I e-mailed the NPS to see about borrowing a few artifacts, and they graciously obliged us with some fantastic material. Somebody had to drive up to Pennsylvania to pick it up.
I had never been to Gettysburg, and I was always looking for an excuse to get out of the office anyway, so I booked a rental van to haul the artifacts and got a good friend of mine to tag along, and off we went. Both of us had been on a Civil War quiz bowl team in high school, and everybody on the team had talked vaguely about making a collective trip to Gettysburg over the years, but it had never worked out so that all of us could go at the same time.
Some history road trips get added value from the landscape along the way, and this was one of them. It was a beautiful drive northward through the Shenandoah Valley along I-81. The background music, unfortunately, was ill-suited to the occasion. This was the year that Nelly Furtado’s song “Promiscuous” was released, and for some reason it seemed to be playing incessantly on every single radio station during the drive up. To this day, I associate that song with Gettysburg. (Weird, I know, but your brain is gonna do what your brain is gonna do.)
We got there just after sunset, with just enough daylight left to make out some monuments and wayside markers. There are football towns and college towns and music towns; Gettysburg was a history town. The restaurants were named after generals, the stores sold Confederate t-shirts, and our hotel had Troiani prints in the lobby. It seemed like there was a museum or attraction on every corner. The place had this irresistible mixture of historic architecture and landscape alongside examples of tourist kitsch, a combination I’ve never encountered in the same way anywhere else. It sounds jarring, but it worked; it had an appeal all its own.
The old visitor center was still open then, but many of the artifacts had been moved out in preparation for the opening of the new building. We watched the electric map show and checked out the exhibits, case after case after case full of rifles, swords, and bullet-riddled doors. Then it was out onto the battlefield itself.
We did the “must-see” highlights, the high-water mark and Little Round Top and all the rest of them. All those places mentioned in books and labeled on maps were really there, not as ink on paper but as soil and rock and vegetation. It was like meeting a celebrity and realizing that behind the magazine covers, movie posters, and TV appearances is a real live human being who is standing right in front of you. Right there was the stone wall, and over there was the copse of trees, and there was that hill, all of them instantly recognizable and looking like they hadn’t aged a day since Gardner had taken his photographs.
Like a lot of historic sites, this one had a personality all its own, with its open fields framed by hills and mountains. It looked the way Gettysburg should look, an appropriate arena for a great contest, as if the landscape had known that two armies would be meeting there and had been arranging itself for the occasion. Maybe not for the war’s most decisive battle, but certainly its definitive one.