Appomattox Fluff

I don’t usually post about editorials that reference the Civil War but this one was too good to pass up.  Given the content of this editorial I am surprised that it hasn’t been used more often, but perhaps it is just another indication of the extent of our lack of interest in history.  Anyway, it seems that one Silvio Laccetti, Professor of Social Sciences at Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, New Jersey, believes that reflection on the meaning of Appomattox will help to begin to heal our own divisive wounds.  As all of you know, Laccetti is referring to that reassuring and self-congratulatory belief that Lee’s surrender at Appomattox and Grant’s generous terms marked the beginning of national reconciliation and healing. 

Amid this rancor and discord, the stillness at Appomattox Court House in
Virginia offers modern-day America a glimpse of how to rededicate the nation to
its founding and unifying principles. This historic site of the dramatic
surrender of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee to Union Gen. U.S. Grant is
fittingly named – by local agencies – as the place "where the nation

Nothing could be further from the truth.  Healing and reconciliation came at a heavy price, which included Jim Crow and continued violence against African Americans throughout the South and other parts of the country.  I refer you to the excellent article "The 1873 Battle of Colfax: Paramilitarism and Counterrevolution in Louisiana" by James K. Hogue which is posted over at Civil WarriorsLaccetti closes on what appears to be a sincere emotional reaction based on a false historical view. 

Just a couple of weeks ago, at high noon, I entered the confines of
Appomattox Court House National Park. On my car radio, I heard a DJ eulogizing
one of our soldiers who died in Iraq. Saddened to hear of yet another American
casualty, I parked my car and stepped out to get some air. All was quiet; all
was still. I thought about the sacrifices Americans have to make, and wished we
didn’t have to, but this is a price for the continuation of America’s experiment
in freedom.

I thought about all the shrillness and harshness of our public debate. I
wondered if America could be reconciled to itself or whether we might be rent
asunder by these so-called culture wars.

I embraced the stillness and breathed it in.

I wonder what we will be asked to set aside this time around for the purposes of national healing and reconciliation – whatever this means?  Will the price be ignoring that this war in Iraq was one of choice and not necessity?  Perhaps we will be asked to ignore that our government misled this nation into war?  With 2,500 brave men and women already having made the ultimate sacrifice it seems that the convenience of forgetting is too high a price to pay for this blogger. 

Searching for Black Confederates: The Civil War’s Most Persistent Myth

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4 comments… add one
  • elementaryhistoryteacher Jul 1, 2006 @ 11:09

    I agree that reconcilation came at a very high price. As I read your post I thought about Lee….though he was treated with respect at Appomattox his decision to lead the Confederate army cost him dearly. For one thing he lost Arlington…his wife’s family’s plantation. I contend that the healing isn’t over with even today….we are still dealing with issues from 1865. While I like to compare and contrast historical events some are obviously far reaching.

  • Kevin Levin Jun 29, 2006 @ 21:34

    Nicely stated David. I couldn’t have said it any better myself. By the way, I thoroughly enjoyed your two most recent posts.

  • David Woodbury Jun 29, 2006 @ 20:46


    Appomattox is at least symbolic of reconciliation, but with only somewhat more depth than the way iconic images of the first “thanksgiving” are symbolic of peace and harmony between Europeans and Native Americans (that probably lasted a week). Appomattox is more symbolic of capitulation.

    It drives me nuts when people, like your editorial writer, subtly associate the elective invasion of Iraq with other wars. The alternative is to publicly admit that our servicemen and women — let alone the untold 10s of thousands of civilian casualties — have died for nothing, or at least for nothing that pertains to U.S. security, or liberty. No one responsible for this war is ever likely to acknowledge that.

    There’s a tendency in many quarters to conflate the performance and bravery of the troops with policy. If there is nobility in the former, then there must be nobility in the latter.

    Not so, this time around. The bravery and sacrifice of the troops is independent of the corruption and cravenness of the policy architects who manufactured this war, despite their enduring efforts to paint opposition to the war as unpatriotic, or even treasonous.


  • Marc Ferguson Jun 29, 2006 @ 11:14

    Could it be that “reconciliation” is code for not squarely facing our national problems, and for cutting off discussion of those problems?

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