April 9, 1865

grant_from_west_point_to_appomattoxToday is the 144th anniversary of Ulysses S. Grant’s victory at Appomattox Court House, Virginia and the end of a 4-year long rebellion.

48 thoughts on “April 9, 1865

  1. Brooks Simpson

    Well, not quite the end of the rebellion, but it is nice to remember who surrendered to whom … Grant was generous and gentlemanly in victory.

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    1. Kevin Levin Post author

      Brooks,

      I thought about throwing in a little footnote to make just that point, but I figured my intention was sufficiently clear. You apparently got it.

      Reply
  2. Bob Pollock

    I was born and lived my entire life on the west coast before moving to Missouri in 2003. I have had a love of history since I was a child. I visited Appomattox in 2004. Standing in the parlour of the McLean house and contemplating the enormity of what had occurred there was an incredible experience. What must the participants themselves have been feeling? Grant wrote in his Memoirs:

    “What General Lee’s feelings were I do not know. As he was a man of much dignity, with an impassible face, it was impossible to say whether he felt inwardly glad that the end had finally come, or felt sad over the result, and was too manly to show it. Whatever his feelings, they were entirely concealed from my observation; but my own feelings, which had been quite jubilant on the reciept of his letter, were sad and depressed. I felt like anything rather than rejoicing at the downfall of a foe who had fought so long and valiantly, and suffered so much for a cause, though that cause was, I believe one of the worst for which a people ever fought, and for which there was the least excuse. I do not question, however, the sincerity of the great mass of those who were opposed to us.”

    And, what was that cause? Grant wrote:

    “The cause of the great War of the Rebellion against the United States will have to be attributed to slavery.”

    Four years of bloody violent sacrifice were finally coming to a close, the United States would survive, and world history would be the better for it. As a historian, I understand the need to be as objective as possible when studying the past. As has been stated several times in some of the recent posts and comments of this blog, history is complex and open to interpretation. Nevertheless, I, for one, celebrate this day. I am an American, and though willing to acknowledge her faults, I am proud of this country. Thank you Kevin for acknowledging this day with this post.

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  3. Greg Rowe

    Kevin-

    Timely post, as usual. Simple, unobtrusive, but point made. Thanks for reminding us why Grant was a good man. What is the source of the artwork you selected? A very fine piece.

    Bob-

    Very good comment. Thanks for reminding us why Grant is worthy of our remembrance.

    Reply
  4. Will Hickox

    The image was from a series of chromolithographs published by Louis Prang beginning in 1888. Many of them were based on paintings by Thure de Thulstrup, one of the European masters of military art, and are widely considered to be some of the finest and most authentic “original” Civil War artwork.

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  5. Sherree Tannen

    I second Bob’s sentiment. I am an American, too, and I am proud of my country as well. Who our ancestors were, or which part of the country we come from, or if we were not born in America at all but recently made America our home, or if our ancestors survived the nightmare of slavery and made the words of our founding fathers more than just words but a semblance of truth, or if they were the true first Americans who were here for thousands of years in this the “New World” that was not new to them and who are still here, it does not matter in the end. What matters is who we are now. There is really nothing more to say. Thanks for this post, Kevin.

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  6. Robert Moore

    You know, sometimes I think I’m rather bothered by the fact that despite Grant being so generous and gentlemanly, so utterly subdued out of respect for his former foe (and reunited countrymen), that some actions of new era Confederate remembrance are so much the opposite.

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  7. Jim

    Thus ended the sectional battle for balance of power in the new territories. My great great grandfather was with Lee on that day and cut off a tree limb at Appomatox and placed it on his hearth thereafter.

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  8. Robert Moore

    I think I everyone knows what I meant, but it didn’t come out that way in the above sentence… some in the South, obviously, wanted to see slavery spread to the territories. With the conclusion of hostilities and with the Union as the victor, and the EP just over two years old officially, the aspirations of some Southerners to see slavery spread (and subsequently greater representation in Federal government on the part of slave states) was spoiled.

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  9. Sherree Tannen

    “… and so secured the fact that slavery would not spread to those new territories as some in the South had hoped to see.”

    Indeed.

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  10. Jim

    Robert – Union slaveholding soldiers were fighting too, and the vast majority of Confederates were not slaveholders. Thus, the Union was preserved as some in both regions had hoped. After all, you argue profusely of the “many” Souths.

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  11. Kevin Levin Post author

    Jim,

    The old saw that most Confederate soldiers were not slave holders simply doesn’t cut it given the latest research. First, soldiers don’t set policy. My guess is that before the draft Americans volunteered to go off to Southeast Asia for any number of reasons. That has little to do with why the United States was intervening in this part of the world. In addition, the question of slaveholding must not be understood simply as a matter of ownership. You can think in terms of families as well as the place of white southerners within the racial hierarchy of the South at the time of the war. You need to read Joseph Glatthaar’s new book on the Army of Northern Virginia.

    Reply
  12. Bob Pollock

    Jim,

    It was much more than a sectional battle for balance of power in the new territories. It was a question of who’s version of freedom would triumph. And, it was not just about freedom for slaves. Michael Holt in an essay in a book on the birth of the Republican Party argues that Northerners were less concerned about what happened in the territories than the fact that their own liberties were being infringed upon by Southerners intent on protecting slavery. Grant said essentially the same thing in his Memoirs, citing the Fugitive Slave Act as an an example. Grant said:

    “Slavery was an institution that required unusual guarantees for its security wherever it existed…Hence the people of the South were dependent upon keeping control of the general government to secure the perpetuation of their favorite institution.”

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  13. Robert Moore

    I’m well aware of Union men fighting who also owned slaves… just as much as I am aware of Southern Union men who owned slaves and acted in opposition of the Confederate government, but that’s not the point. In the end, Union man or Confederate man… it was official after May 1865. The Union had won and there were no more slaves… period. On top of that, the struggle by the majority of Southern politicians and slaveholders to see their power grow in the US government by extending slavery to the territories wasn’t going to happen. Thus… Hurrah for the Union!

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  14. Robert Moore

    On the matter of the typical Confederate soldier not owning slaves… is it really necessary to rehash this argument over and over again? Like I’ve said before, sure, it’s true, but as Kevin points out, there was a social hierarchy and the freedom of slaves threatened that. It seems it would especially unnerving to the simple dirt farm laborer, who was more regularly found in the Confederate army than naught. Furthermore, at the core, we have to look at motivation for service. I think the common soldier was fighting first for hearth and home, but the thought of defending social hierarchy was down in the ladder there somewhere… and maybe not all that far down the ladder. The threat that freedom of slaves posed to the simple man’s means of making a living was real. It was an argument brought up among many in the South years before the war and is most apparent in documents such as the Ruffner Pamphlet.

    Bob – yes, of course, that is correct… Huzzah! :-)

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  15. Kevin Levin Post author

    This thread is a wonderful example of why I love the blogging format. The point of my post was a simple one. First I wanted to acknowledge the anniversary of Appomattox, but I wanted to do so in a way that acknowledged Grant as the central actor. Most of the time the event is marked by referring to Lee’s surrender at Appomattox.

    Interestingly, the post has turned into an extended commentary on the meaning and outcome of the war. Brilliant!!

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  16. Bob Pollock

    Kevin,

    It is interesting to contrast your post with the one Richard posted on his blog regarding the same occasion.

    Reply
    1. Kevin Levin Post author

      Bob,

      Of course, Richard posted his in response to mine. I guess he was feeling protective again.

      Reply
  17. Robert Moore

    Kevin, That’s the beauty of blogging. You write a post focused one thing that you have in mind… where the discourse takes us, we have no idea, because of the unpredictability of the human element. I just love Web 2.0.

    Reply
  18. Sherree Tannen

    Well, Kevin, as Brooks noted: it was “not quite the end of the rebellion”. But then that is another story………(to be continued, no doubt, lol)

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  19. Jim

    Hurray for the Union? And people say the South doesn’t know the war is over. The social hierarchy was similar throughout the US, that is, white man first. Wealth distribution, competing industries of agriculture and manufacturing, fiscal policy such as import tariffs, social class, business cycles, states rights, and slavery were all involved in the CW. I am convinced that the Confederates did nothing but fight honorably for their country.

    Most Union soldiers were either pro-slavery or did not care about the slaves as 40% of them had voted for the Democrats in 1860. This doesn’t even include the border states. The slave trade in the North had created its own bourgeios all under the Stars and Stripes. Even after the war we see some Northern states refusing to ratify or rescinding their ratification of the 14th Amendment. And so on, etc.

    And I have always thought more about Lee’s perspective during the surrender. In fact, when I often visited Grant’s tomb in Manhattan I noticed that based on attendance hardly anyone today pays him much attention.

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    1. Kevin Levin Post author

      Jim,

      You said. “The social hierarchy was similar throughout the US, that is, white man first.” That is a generalization that makes almost no sense. It is simply false and not worth much more of a response.
      You said: “Wealth distribution, competing industries of agriculture and manufacturing, fiscal policy such as import tariffs, social class, business cycles, states rights, and slavery were all involved in the CW.” Again, another generalization not worth my time.
      You said: “I am convinced that the Confederates did nothing but fight honorably for their country.” Not a factual claim at all. As far as I am concerned you can believe whatever you want about how men fought.

      What do you mean by “most Union soldiers were pro-slavery or did not care about slaves”? There is a very rich literature on the attitude of northern soldiers during the war. My suggestion is to read Chandra Manning’s latest book. Yes, there was a slave trade in the North and northern banks financed Southern slaveholders. What does this have to do with anything?

      Reply
  20. Jim

    Using your own words “soldiers don’t set policy”. So when you talk about “rich literature of northern soldiers” it necessarily discounts the works of the progressives Manning and McPherson. And it’s James McPherson’s admission as to the pro-slavery slant of a significant proportion of northern soldiers that I’m relaying. But you’ve missed my point which is to show that some of the above comments do not demonstrate the complexity of reasons for the CW and the people involved. Time and again these discussions appear too narrowly focused on viewing all things Confederate through the lens of modern values.

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    1. Kevin Levin Post author

      Jim,

      To say that both Manning and McPherson find that “most” Union soldiers were “pro-slavery” suggests to me that you’ve never read these books. That is not what they conclude at all. Their conclusions are much more sophisticated and involve distinctions between race and slavery and take into account a host of other conditions including when and where.

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  21. Jim

    Yes, I know what Manning and McPherson conclude which is why I refer to them as progressives; however, using their own words, a significant number of Union soldiers were either pro-slavery or indifferent. I don’t agree with all or even many of their conclusions, but I know you respect them so I used their words. In the meantime, I’ll do some more reading and try and decipher your content with greater clarity.

    Reply
    1. Kevin Levin Post author

      Jim,

      Calling them “progressives” is absolutely meaningless unless you can explain what you mean. As far as I can tell you have not read their studies of Civil War soldiers. Unless you want to demonstrate some command of their argument than I suggest you end this thread. I refuse to continue to comments of yours that do a disservice to the work of two very talented historians.

      Reply
  22. Bob Pollock

    Jim,

    Where in this thread do you see “all things Confederate” being viewed “through the lens of modern values”? No one here denies the racism of whites throughout the country, but some folks even in the antebellum period said slavery was wrong. So, is it really a “modern value” to say they were right?

    You say based on your observations no one pays attention to Grant anymore. I say based on my observations here at Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site that people are still quite interested in Grant.

    What I’d like to know is do you really think we’d all be better off today if Grant had surrendered to Lee that day in 1865?

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  23. Sherree Tannen

    Kevin,

    This thread is another example of what I see as modern historical analysis evolving, in this sense: it is still necessary to counter the Lost Cause myth of the Civil War, because that myth still has power for so many people. In doing so, as I have said before and still believe, a counter myth has developed, in certain respects, of a “virtuous North”, as you have phrased it in pointing out what you and the historians who have commented here do NOT do, and if we are ever going to move beyond “tribalism” as President Obama has stated that the entire world needs to do, maybe we should start here in our own country. The fact that the United States–North and South–and Europe were involved in, and profited greatly from, the slave trade is relevant in assessing the morality of the actions of men and women in the past. For me (and for many others I am certain) to see our First Lady, the descendant of men and women who survived and triumphed over the institution of slavery, meet the Queen of England on an equal footing was a triumph for human history itself. Western Europe and the Unites States built much of our wealth on the backs of others. That is simply a fact. Where absurdity enters the argument, is when that fact becomes the foundation for a claim that the Confederacy was virtuous, because white Southerners were just doing what everyone else did. Then it is time to go watch “Confederate Cannibals” or talk about “Lincoln on the Bling”, or something, so I am beginning to understand your sense of humor. I am truly grateful to historians like the historians represented here, and like McPherson and Manning, who have written sophisticated histories of the Civil War, in which a greater understanding of the motivations of the men who fought in the war–particularly those men from the North–has been reached.(The myth of the virtuous North comes into play, in my opinion, for those Northerners who categorically equate the thoughts, sentiments, and goals of white Northerners with the thoughts, sentiments, and goals of African American men and women, which is just not the case, since neither the North nor the South were monolithic in nature, especially in regards to race. That is irrelevant, however, when it comes to the outcome of the war, in which four million black men and women were freed from slavery because the Union Army defeated the Confederate Army. It is relevant in assessing subsequent racism in the North. ) Now, it is time for a greater understanding of the men who fought for the Confederacy to be reached, in my opinion, and that seems to be in the process of taking place. As a reader of several blogs moderated by historians concerning this subject, I know which blog to read in order to find what I consider to be the best perspective from a certain point of view, then I put all of the ideas together and attempt to reach a conclusion. As you and others have stated, there is no such thing as a neutral text, and the wide acceptance of that concept shows tremendous progress, since once this belief was not widely held and historians thought that they were actually discerning “the truth”, whatever that might be. Also, there seems to be a need for a sense of the heroic in everyone, to a greater or lesser degree, and the historian does have to overcome any possible inclination to present history in terms of a narrative in which there are heroes and villains. In fact, the psychological mechanism at work in creating both a hero and a caricature seem, to me, to be two sides of the same coin. The presentation of the Southern soldier as the repository of all things heroic or of all things repugnant and evil, each is no longer a valid presentation, and the same is true of the Northern soldier. They were all just men, doing the best they could, and sometimes achieving the extraordinary. Thank you General Grant for recognizing what this cruel war was all about, for leading your troops with honor, for accepting the surrender of your opposing general with honor as well, and for accepting that surrender without stooping to humiliate your former foe, no matter how strongly you opposed his views. Maybe we should all do the same, with one major correction: this time–I think we could all agree–reconciliation must include all Americans, especially the African American men and women at the center of the storm. Thanks, Kevin, for again providing a forum for productive conversation.

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  24. Jim

    Look, the issue with Manning is that her methodology can be considered unrepresentative of views from each side. You simply can’t apply a random selection in a statistically valid way and therefore, Manning’s results are necessarily biased. I and other readers also get the sense that Manning begins with her assumptions and then fills in biased or cherry-picked data to support her claims. This is deduced from the fact that given the underlying data is not representative how did Manning arrive at her conclusions. Other historians have also stated that Manning’s work is inconclusive. Actually, I thought we went over this a year ago, so I’m surprised you’re approaching these issues as new.

    “What I’d like to know is do you really think we’d all be better off today if Grant had surrendered to Lee that day in 1865/” – Bob

    That’s a loaded question Bob. We don’t know what the outcome of a Confederate victory would be today. I can presume to list what the advantages and disadvantages are but it’s kind of irrelevant.

    Reply
    1. Kevin Levin Post author

      Jim,

      In what way is it unrepresentative? Manning uncovered archival material for a substantial number of soldiers from both sides. What conclusions are you challenging and what bias are you assuming here? You get the “sense” that she “begins with her assumptions”? Again, what assumptions? Explain what you are referring to rather than leaving us to decipher your meaning. You said: “This is deduced from the fact that given the underlying data is not representative how did Manning arrive at her conclusions.” I have no idea what this means.

      Reply
  25. Jim

    She concludes that the southern soldiers fought exclusively for slavery and Union soldiers almost exclusively fought for the removal of it even when there is evidence that the soldiers themselves did NOT say this. It’s a leap of logic. And I’m sorry but a “substantial number” is not a representative number statistically. Also, I would argue that the data isn’t substantial given the numbers served and the selection biases from literacy rates, to available materials to write, and to the survival of writings as well.

    Basically, to draw conclusions that the war is ever more clearly defined by slavery alone from this data is nothing short of a hypothesis that can never be definitively proved. It’s the nature of the information, not necessarily a swipe at Manning or her peers. Surely Manning herself has admitted this issue?

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    1. Kevin Levin Post author

      Jim,

      No, she does not argue that southern soldiers fought “exclusively”. What she concludes is that slavery was a crucial component in understanding a wide range of factors that motivated white southerners. Manning is perfectly clear in laying out the background of her statistical survey. Of course there are problems with any analysis of Civil War soldiers given the bias of the available documents, but this is not an argument against Manning since it is a challenge that all historians face. I am wading my way through it in analyzing letters related to the Crater. You do your best. I am not suggesting that Manning gets it right and that there are no shortcomings, but she offers an important interpretation nonetheless. Here is my review of the book for whatever it’s worth:

      Ever since Bell I. Wiley published his seminal studies, Johnny Reb (1943) and Billy Yank (1952) historians have examined Civil War soldiers to better understand, among other issues, the history of race relations, class conflict, ethnic identity, and national memory. One of the central questions that have emerged in recent years addresses why men went off to fight in 1861 and how they persevered through four years of horrific bloodletting. Historians such as Gerald Linderman, Reid Mitchell, Earl J. Hess, Randall Jimerson, and James McPherson have all offered explanations that explore a wide spectrum of motivating factors such as Victorian concepts of manhood and courage as well as religion, along with rich descriptive accounts of how the realities of battle and camp life forged strong bonds of esprit de corps and camaraderie in the ranks that often outlasted the war itself. While Wiley and others failed to explain the ways in which Americans framed the war in the abstract language of politics and ideology, most historians today acknowledge that the men on both sides of the Potomac were motivated by competing definitions of self-government, equality and liberty, along with competing assumptions concerning God’s expectations as well as the proper balance between government, society, the family and the individual.

      Chandra Manning builds on this scholarship not by challenging this wide net cast by her fellow historians, but by arguing that at the center of these competing regional views lay the institution of slavery:
      The problem, as soldiers on both sides saw it, was the opposing side threatened self-government. It threatened liberty and equality. It threatened the virtue necessary to sustain a republic. It threatened the proper balance between God, government, society, the family, and the individual. And no matter which side of the divide a Civil War soldier stood on, he knew that the heart of the threat, and the reason that the war came, was the other side’s stance on slavery. (p. 21)

      Manning surveys the archival records of 657 Union and 477 Confederate soldiers, along with regimental newspapers, to tell the story of how slavery and race influenced the men who volunteered and fought through the Civil War. She surveys soldiers from all theatres, native-born and immigrant Union enlisted men, non-slaveholding and slaveholding Confederate soldiers, and United States Colored Troops. For those familiar with the relevant historiography many of Manning’s interpretive points will sound familiar. In 1997 James McPherson published With Cause and Comrades (Oxford University Press), which provided one of the most sophisticated interpretations of how slavery and race shaped the political and ideological outlooks of soldiers in both armies. Manning adds to the debate by analyzing these views over time in hopes of uncovering the often-subtle ways in which the soldiers’ statements concerning slavery evolved.

      Perhaps one of the most interesting claims made in this book is Manning’s contention that Union soldiers advocated for emancipation as early as the second half of 1861, ahead of civilians, political leaders, and officers, and a full year before the Emancipation Proclamation. “Enlisted soldiers came to the conclusion that winning the war would require the destruction of slavery,” writes Manning, “partly because soldiers’ personal observations of the South led many to decide that slavery blighted everything it touched.” (47) Manning’s claim that observations about the horrors of slavery and their usefulness to the Union war effort must figure in any causal analysis of emancipation compliments research by Ira Berlin who also maintains that interaction between slaves and soldiers steered the Lincoln administration towards emancipation. Such a bottom-up analysis places Civil War soldiers at the very center of the events that led Abraham Lincoln to issue the Emancipation Proclamation in September 1862. Most Northerners had little direct contact to its realities before the war apart from various printed sources, so whom and what they saw in the South dramatically shaped their thinking.
      It is important to note that Manning does not conflate slavery and race when interpreting the written record left by Union soldiers. She clearly demonstrates this in her analysis of white Union soldiers who took part in the battle of the Crater in July 1864. The failure of the Union Ninth Corps to breach the Confederate lines at Petersburg along with the participation of a division of United States Colored Troops provided an easy target for soldiers who searched for an obvious scapegoat, and their frustrations were overwhelmingly voiced in overtly racist terms. Still, by 1864 there does appear to be sufficient evidence, according to Manning, that a significant number of soldiers felt compelled to confront their own racial prejudices, though they varied in the degree to which they seriously considered the concept of racial equality.

      While the notion that Union soldiers did in fact pay careful attention to the issues of slavery, race, and emancipation is an important corrective to our tendency to see Civil War soldiers as apolitical, Manning’s conclusions about Confederate soldiers is important on a number of levels. Most importantly, Manning’s emphasis on placing slavery at the center of her analysis of Confederate soldiers will challenge those in certain circles to rethink assumptions of how slavery figured into the lives of most white southerners. While other issues certainly animated Confederates at different times, according to Manning, the issues of race and slavery served to focus the army. She examines the ways in which Confederate soldiers’ beliefs that abolition would erase the privileges of white manhood, endanger their families, and destroy the very fabric of Southern society motivated even non-slaveholding Confederates to fight. Internal fissures may have threatened the unity of the Confederacy, but these problems never trumped the importance of defending the “peculiar institution.” Regardless of status white southerners held to the belief that the maintenance of slavery guaranteed their respective place in the political/social hierarchy. More importantly, they feared that defeat would likely lead to race wars and miscegenation.

      When focused on Confederates Manning’s analysis takes on a reductionist tone in its tendency to interpret a spectrum of reasons for joining the ranks as an extension of one basic motivation. While both sides claimed to be fighting for freedom and their understanding of the Revolution, Confederate notions could not be divorced from individual interests, or from slavery. Manning provides ample evidence of how various arguments can and should be understood within the context of slavery. Slavery played many roles,” according to Manning which non-slaveholders considered to be vital to themselves and their families.

      Even the argument that Confederates were defending hearth and home must be understood ultimately as a defense of slavery. Few southerners believed that the war would drag on to a point where “yankee” invaders actually penetrated into the Confederacy. Accordingly, letters including promises to defend home and loved ones dramatized the myriad ways in which slavery impacted the lives of white southerners on a personal level. Manning concludes that Confederates were committed to defending their property as an expression of his “understanding of liberty.” Non-slaveholders did not have to own slaves to understand the necessity of its survival. Their individual freedom was guaranteed only with continued enslavement of southern blacks. The institution of slavery guaranteed ideas of liberty since it guaranteed white egalitarianism and prevented the amalgamation of the races. “Non-slaveholding Confederate soldiers regarded black slavery as vital to the protection of their families, interests, and very identities as men,” writes Manning, “and they relied on it to prevent race war.” (39) The survival of their families through Confederate independence also included the hope of one day becoming slave owners themselves.

      What This Cruel War Was Over will no doubt give professional historians and Civil War enthusiasts a great deal to ponder. However, it is the latter group that stands to benefit the most from this study given the continued resistance in some circles to acknowledging the central role that slavery played in both the cause and outcome of the war. A quick perusal of message boards, blogs, and listservs suggests that a wide range of readers are indeed reading and discussing the book. Manning’s study reminds us that the Civil War was not simply a slugfest between two armies, but a war about whether the United States would continue to be a slave-owning nation, and that it was the soldiers themselves who figured prominently in the outcome of that contest.

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  26. Sherree Tannen

    With all due respect to Chandra Manning for her hard work and obvious talent, and to you, Kevin, for presenting so clearly her interpretation, the conclusions that she reaches concerning the Confederate solider and the structure of the white Southern family are so off base, that I don’t even know where to begin. I do believe that it is time to reexamine much scholarship, and I also believe that this is a positive and productive exercise. It is a weakness of some members of the academic community, I have been told by an academic who is a close friend and one of my lifelong mentors, to begin to believe that they know the people they are studying better than those people know themselves. You and I have been conversing for a year now, and I think you would have to agree that if this interpretation were correct, my family, and no doubt many other families, could not have come out of the South. I can’t agree to this interpretation, Kevin, for if I do, I deny what I know to be true–not a myth of what is true, but what is actually true. To quote Tevye from Fiddler on the Roof; “if I bend that far, I’ll break.” Once it was widely believed by society at large and by academicians, who were members of that society, that women were inferior to men in every respect. Once it was believed by society at large and by academicians, who were members of that society, that black men and women were inferior to white men and women. Now, it is believed by society at large, and by some academicians, who are members of that society, that white Southerners are inferior to other Americans. I know historians have safeguards to prevent a bias from entering their work, but historians are only human like the rest of us, and those safeguards do not always work. Manning is a brilliant woman who is passionate about her work and who has written a fine study, and I am grateful to her for this, as I stated above, because a more sophisticated understanding of the Civil War is definitely needed. She got some of it wrong, however, and I am certain that she is a scholar with integrity and that she will revisit her work throughout her life. Again, for me to say that she is absolutely right, however, is to deny my own experience, and that I cannot and will not do, and no one is asking that I do. We–Northerners and Southerners, white and black–are only going to learn to understand one another, it seems, one person at a time. What I understand about you, Kevin, from my perspective, is that you are in search of scholarship that portrays as accurately as possible, the history you are studying. All other academics are as well, but the difference here, at this point, is that you have entered a wide open forum at ground zero, in the crucible itself, in which the nation’s original fault line collapsed in onto itself and melted down to the core–and that is where the answers are to be found. I don’t need to be lectured to from academics from afar about what it means to be a white Southerner, or about race relations in the South. Let me put it this way, then let’s analyze with an objective eye. Until you know what it means to look into the eyes of an African American woman who was so close to your mother that she was present at her death, and to subsequently learn that one of your ancestors was in a battle that included a “massacre” of black soldiers, but who then went on to become the bedrock of a white family that fought for black men and women consistently for generations, don’t presume to know who we are. John Hope Franklin can lecture me any day. So can my mother’s best friend. That is the difference. They both know that there is no progress in hate. In presenting the history of the Civil War, many scholars mention, in passing, characters in the novels of William Faulkner. I have yet to hear the character of Shreve McCannon, the Canadian roommate of Quentin Compson at Harvard, referenced. Shreve is Quentin’s Northern counterpart who begins to live the story of Thomas Sutpen as Quentin tells Sutpen’s story, and who, when the moment of truth arrives in the “iron New England dark” as Faulkner describes it, backs away from the subject and allows Quentin to self destruct. That is the story of white Southerners and white Northerners, or as the professor who taught that novel to me stated over thirty years ago, and who was himself not a Southerner: “We are all in that room with Quentin, Shreve, and Thomas Sutpen, and how we relate to that story, tells us who we are.” Thanks, Kevin. I have to be a dissenting voice here, and if that dissent is too far for you to go in your beliefs, then this is your blog and I will refrain from commenting in the future. Either way, you have my continued admiration and respect for your dedicated determination to understand an impossible history, and for your true talent for moderating debate. In this case, I am not interested in debating, however. There is nothing to debate. Any number of scholars can provide data that proves that I don’t exist. I do exist, however, so I will just go on existing, with or without permission, much as my Indigenous friends do.

    Reply
    1. Kevin Levin Post author

      Sherree,

      I appreciate the comment, but I honestly don’t know what you are objecting to in Manning’s study. Did you read it? Please be specific as to which of her arguments you are referring to here. Please keep in mind that I do not believe the book is without problems, but I can point to those if pressed.

      Reply
  27. Sherree Tannen

    “When focused on Confederates Manning’s analysis takes on a reductionist tone in its tendency to interpret a spectrum of reasons for joining the ranks as an extension of one basic motivation.”

    Thanks for responding, Kevin.

    What you have stated above is my problem with the study, and with many other studies. I am not, therefore, saying that slavery was not the reason the Civil War was fought, as I have stated before. It was the reason the war was fought. Every single Southern soldier did not have the preservation of the institution of slavery on his mind every hour of the day as he went into battle, however, in my opinion, anymore than every soldier in the bush in Vietnam thought every hour about defeating communism. We have covered this before, and I thank you for having the patience to revisit this issue. It is the assumption behind the theory that is so troubling–the assumption of a morally superior North. That is a narrow view of what constitutes a moral action. It is easy to paint the Southern soldier as totally degenerate and less than human. (I am not saying Manning does this. I am making an overall point.) In contrast, it is easy to paint the Northern soldier as heroic, even though we are in a post heroic age. The only heroes in this cruel war were the black men and women who survived it, and who overcame the legacy of slavery. On the other hand, it was time for the Union soldiers who did begin to understand the magnitude of the devastation caused by the institution of slavery to be recognized and for them to take their place in history, and Manning and other scholars have helped to contribute to this. It seems that this was done at the expense of the Southern soldier, however. I can only give you examples from my own backyard, Kevin. But if my ancestor I referred to above, had been a rabid racist who had aspired to become a slaveholder some day, and who had been waiting impatiently for his chance to become a slaveholder, and who went off to war to protect the institution of slavery so that the South could win the war and he could achieve his dream of becoming a slaveholder, then why, after the war was over, did he set the example that became the key to the interaction of my family with the black community in our area for generations in our small microcosmic slice of history that mirrors this much bigger history–ie, he had a black man sit down at the table with him to eat one day–he, a Confederate veteran. That happened. It is not a myth. Where did he come from? He went beyond the entire structure of society in both the North and the South. Did the war teach him this, or did he know it before he went to war? I know some of what his father was thinking as he went off to the Battle of Greenville, Tennessee, because he recorded a will in which he left his horse to his son. He was subsequently killed. Was he thinking about the preservation of the institution of slavery, even though he did not have any slaves? As far as I can tell, he was thinking about his horse and how his son would need it to keep plowing. There is a question that is not being answered: how are white Southerners to be portrayed in the history of our nation? Pariah? Parody? What is the role of the white southerner in American history? Thanks, Kevin for your time and for the respect you show for all points of view. I know you don’t agree with me. That makes me respect you more for continuing the conversation, and for attempting to understand. My next door neighbor in college was from New Jersey as well. He was open minded, too. Maybe that is a New Jerseyian trait. My apologies for the length of this. This subject can’t be covered in a few words, or at least I don’t know how to cover it in a few words. Sherree

    Reply
    1. Kevin Levin Post author

      Sherree,

      I appreciate the comment, but this has very little to do with Manning’s study. You may want to take the opportunity to read it given your concerns. I assure you that her interpretation is not as narrow as you make it out to be.

      Reply
  28. Bob Pollock

    Sheree,

    I think there were many whose beliefs, assumptions, and opinions were profoundly changed by the war itself. They saw African American soldiers bravely fight for their own freedom and the preservation of the Union. They saw thousands flee their masters. Benjamin Butler, John Logan, George Thomas to name just a few prominent men. I’m sure there were countless others whose names we’ll never know, and I’m sure there many were Southerners.

    Reply
  29. Sherree Tannen

    Thank you, Bob, and thank you again, Kevin. I am being too harsh on Manning. I did read her book, but I read it last year, so it is not fresh enough in my memory to go into specifics. I do need to read it again, so I just called our local library and the black woman who works there, and who has been ordering books for me, reordered the book. “Have you been talking to your blogger friends again?” she asked. “How did you guess?” was my answer. It was a nice way to end the thread for me, until I read your kind remark, Bob. I live in the Deep South. The history is right in front of me everyday. We still have a long way to go. Yet, we have come a long way, at the same time. So, the best approach–it would seem to me–is to keep moving ever steadily forward, as we just did: Northerner now a Virginian ; Virginian, now a deep South Southerner (I am known as a “Yankee” here, by the way, lol); and former westerner, now a Northerner. Now, that’s America!

    Reply
  30. Jim

    First, let’s address the technical issues. How representative are the “archival records”? If any segment of the population is left out, then there is no solution to correcting the resulting bias. What kind of selection biases end up in the archival records? This would include things like the proportion of officers to non-officers, availability of writing materials, and which records survived. We know that many Confederate records did not survive.

    If the above is satisfied then what is Manning’s sampling technique? It must contain random sampling at its core or all results will be biased. If she did random sampling then how many soldiers does she need? Typically, polls seeking 95% confidence with +/- 3 percentage points in error need to sample at least 1,000 subjects drawn randomly. This number needs to be over 1,500 for a 99% confidence level. Does she need 1,000 Union and 1,000 Confederate? If so, she’s short here. If she did not apply random sampling then her results are biased and misleading.

    Next, let’s look at Manning use of quotes to support her views. How and why were they selected? This is the perfect place to apply a process called “cherry picking” in order to reach pre-assumed conclusions. It would be important to see the distributions of the responses to know whether 10 letters or 400 randomly-selected letters supported a conclusion.

    Manning also makes some of the most grandiose stretches of causation regardless of methodology that I’ve witnessed in the social sciences, and that is, concluding that simply because a soldier rode horses all his life, then he must be fighting to continue to ride horses. I would argue that it’s the idea behind the Constitutionally-legal ownership of real property that was at stake. If the government moves to take a liberty from its citizens, then what protection does that citizen have for all other liberties? None.

    Next, I completely fail to see how one can conclude that protecting one’s family, community, state, and country from invasion, destruction, and conflagration can be perceived to have the single most important common denominator of slavery when the majority did not own slaves. And to assume that the ultimate desire of all whites was to own slaves seems incredibly negligent with no data to support it. Example, if some argue that Union soldiers motivations evolved during the war, then why don’t these same individuals argue, like other researchers, that similar changes in Confederate soldiers such as Confederates ever-more identifying military service with protection of home and family as the war progressed?

    I also see the irony of applying the same reverse logic of Manning to Union soldiers. If Manning can make the amazing assumption that southerners fought for slavery simply because slavery was known in the South, then how can Union soldiers not be fighting for the sentiments that they plainly acknowledged from giving over 40% of their votes to the Democrats in 1860 and by plainly stating that Union was their primary objective. In addition, how can we explain significant numbers of slaveholding Union soldiers? How can actual brothers end up on different sides of the conflict? To state that the bulk of Union soldiers as a whole attacked slavery as anything other than both a punitive measure against the South and a way to replace their ranks seems unbelievable to me.

    Another thing I didn’t like about Manning was her language regarding the failure of southerners to care much about anyone outside of their own family and tying this to more government authority. If you read her dissertation, then you’ll remember this. It portrayed modern progressive views that further revealed conjecture in place of objectivity.

    I thought this review from Publishers Weekly said it best, “Based on the author’s dissertation, the book is free of academese and appeals to a general audience, though Manning’s harsh condemnation of white Southerners’ feelings about slavery and her unstinting praise of Union soldiers’ “commitment to emancipation” TAKE A STEP BEYOND SCHOLARLY OBJECTIVITY.” (emphasis added by me)

    Reply
  31. Sherree Tannen

    “I would argue that it’s the idea behind the Constitutionally-legal ownership of real property that was at stake. If the government moves to take a liberty from its citizens, then what protection does that citizen have for all other liberties? None.”

    Jim,

    Just one question: what do you mean by the phrase “Constitutionally-legal ownership of real property?” Are you referring to the “ownership” of men and women? If so, there is no liberty for anyone, and the government has, therefore, lost all legitimacy and authority. If you are defending the right to own another human being under the sanitized notion of defending “property rights”, you are not saying anything new or helpful. Neither are you saying anything that I, or the majority of the population of the United States (I would think and hope) could ever defend. It is interesting that this simple post prompted this discussion yet again. What you have said and what I have said are not the same thing. To clarify: I am certain that slavery was the cause of the Civil War. You seem certain that it was not. That is not the point I was attempting to make, and I won’t tax our host or his readers by belaboring my point again. Thanks, Kevin.

    Reply
  32. Jim

    Sharee, in 1860 slavery was legal. We cannot confuse the past with today. Of course, I don’t advocate slavery; however, some Northerners and Southerners did or were simply indifferent to slavery. I’m not arguing that slavery was not a major role in the Civil War; however, I am arguing that many Confederate soldiers were fighting for the ideal of self-rule which included but did not end with the right to maintain slavery as well as the protection of family, home and country.

    I would also like to argue that a good part of the Union targeting slavery was to remove a military, political and economic threat as much if not much more so than any altruism toward slaves.

    And let’s not get into the moral contest as many atrocities were committed under US rule such as the extermination of Native Americans (kind of ironic that following the Union army’s “great transformation” much of that same army slaughtered or virtually imprisoned western tribes), the annexation of Mexico, or the shipping of slaves, etc. Fortunately, society’s ethics and laws are dynamic. This is why a static Confederacy is not comparable with a dynamic Union, but it mistakenly happens anyway and in my opinion leaving the South to bear a disproportionate amount of ire.

    Reply
  33. Sherree Tannen

    Jim,

    I started to respond to what you have said, but was interrupted by a thunderstorm and power outage, and it is just as well. I agree with you that the South has born “a disproportionate amount of the ire” in recent years when it comes to how the Civil War is remembered, but I don’t agree with your assessment of the reasons as to why this is true. I won’t go into that here, however, because if I do, then both of us will have overstayed our welcome. Thanks for clarifying, Jim. And–as always–thanks for providing the forum for discussion, Kevin. On April 9, 1865, “four years of bloody violent sacrifice were finally coming to a close, the United States would survive, and world history would be the better for it”, as stated above by Bob. I find that assessment of the situation to be fair and correct. Maybe we all will some day.

    Reply

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