Monument to South Carolinians Unveiled on Spotsylvania Battlefield

_2MM1779.JPGThis weekend the Sons of Confederate Veterans from South Carolina unveiled a monument to McGowan’s brigade on the Spotsylvania battlefield.  The monument commemorates the fighting that took place at the “Bloody Angle” on May 12, 1864.  New monuments are barred from most battlefields, but the federal legislation creating the Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park in 1927 permits states to continue to place markers on the field.  As of 4/12/09 there were two comments following the article:

1. The McGowan Brigade Monument is a fitting tribute honoring brave soldiers who died in a misguided attempt to subvert the Constitution and attack the United States of America. No one should misinterpret this monument as a tribute to the Confederacy.

2. Thank you for this well writen article. I enjoyed it very much. I realized how far from home our Confederate soldiers traveled in their attempt to preserve our Constitution in their 2nd War for Independence.

16 responses... add one

I guess I’m a little unclear on how Confederates were preserving our Constitution.

Mobilizing federal forces against its own citizens was a *glowing* example of preserving it. Bad, BAD Confederacy! No biscuit!

David,

You didn’t explain how Confederates were preserving our Constitution.

Regarding your comment, Confederates had declared themselves to be no longer citizens of the United States. They were siezing Federal property. It was open insurrection.

Bob,

Great point. Those who make the silly argument about Lincoln waging war against American citizens always conveniently forget that it was THEY who withdrew and began seizing U. S. property. Ft. Sumter and various arsenals across the South come to mind. They insisted they were no longer U. S. subjects, but then complained when Lincoln called for troops to quell the rebellion. Sounds to me like they wanted it both ways. Even more amusing are those who 145 years later try to make the same argument.

Eric

British citizens once wrote the following: “When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.”

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.”

Were those southerners still loyal British subjects? Eighty-five years had passed and some people just didn’t seem to think that this option was no longer an option. Treason? As treasonous as those colonists were in 1776. Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Hancock, Franklin… the whole lot should have been hung, right? Death to traitors?

As for the Contitution, it would be a good thing to read William Rawle’s “A View of the Constitution” first published in 1825. It happened to be a textbook used at The United States Military Academy by all those up and coming military minds of the day.

I’ve recently picked up a new book entitled “Clash of Extremes: The Economic Origins of the Civil War.” I have yet to read it all but it is thought provoking.

We certainly have a divided nation today. Red states, blue states. But nothing easily seperated geographically. And what of this myth that the party of Lincoln has now become the party of racism and the Democrates are now the party of the people? What would George Wallace have said? Seems like things are a bit manipulated for the right to control the “Vox Populi.”

Money, money, money… MONEY! Therein lies the rub!

I neglected to mention the author of the new book “Clash Of Extremes”, his name is Marc Egnal and he is a professor of history at York University and the author of several books, including “A Mighty Empire: The Origins of the American Revolution” and “Divergent Paths: How Culture and Institutions Shaped North American Growth.”

John,

I’ve already read Egnal’s book. It is first rate, but has little to do w/ the content of your comment. Your last thought is much too simplistic for my taste. It teaches me nothing about the Civil War. I would also venture to suggest that had the colonists failed in their effort at independence we would now consider the leaders to be traitors. Isn’t that how it usually works with failed revolutions? Just a thought.

Well Kevin, you are more transparent as time goes on. Apparently it does not matter who is right or wrong, its a matter of who wins, right or wrong. If you find my attempts to stimulate your admitted limited analytic skills as far too simplistic for your taste, it certainly confirms my suspicions when confronting your postulations: You are right and I am wrong. Ad infinitum. That does not make for healthy debate nor show prowess. And yes, once again, you will offer that I don’t have to participate in these discussions if I don’t want to. But why should it ever come to that? Discussion has no merit without conflict. This is the nature of the beast.
I make no attempt to wave bloody shirts, I present items to ponder with no fear of my belief system being torn down around me.

John,

I’m sorry that you feel that way. You offered a comment and I responded. I have in no way attempted to keep you from commenting nor have I ever reduced a discussion down to right or wrong. Perhaps you should go elsewhere if you feel this way. There are plenty of other blogs out there to choose from. As always I appreciate your comments.

I’m thinking that Confederate uniforms weren’t really grey. Over the years, the only recollection remembrance organizations had was through black and white photographs, thus they misinterpreted what they saw and remembered the uniform colors incorrectly.

Of course you have the occasional reference to “butternut” but these are too few and not representative of the whole. And it doesn’t prove that they DIDN’T believe uniforms were gray. They also made reference to the “blue” of Northern uniforms, which is of course correct because they were drawing from non-biased Northern sources. And since there is far less academic rigor invested in unearthing Northern inconsistencies or monitoring the subtle nuances of markers placed by non-Southern remembrance groups, that means there is a consensus on their reliability.

I’ll come back with a more cogent response. I have two kindergartners running around my home which require closer attention.

John,

As an American I revere the Declaration of Independence. I must say I find it ironic, however, that you want to use the Declaration to justify the Confederacy.

First, many secessionists were openly criticising the Declaration’s assertion that all men are created equal.
Lincoln said:
“The declared indifference, but as I must think, covert real zeal for the spread of slavery, I can not but hate. I hate it because of the monstrous injustice of slavery itself. I hate it because it deprives our republican example of its just influence in the world – enables the enemies of free institutions, with plausibilty, to taunt us as hypocrites – causes the real friends of freedom to doubt our sincerity, and especially because it forces so many really good men into an open war with the very fundamental principles of civil liberty – criticising the Declaration of Independence, and insisting that there is no right principle of action but self-interest.”

Second, there is no question America was born in revolution, and we must therefore recognize an inherent right to revolution, but only when the cause is just. The rallying cry for the colonists was “no taxation without representation.” Southerners had representation. They had agreed to all the compromises up to the time of Lincoln’s election. Most of the preceding Presidents had been Southerners. Lincoln was elected in a fair election yet, Southern states began seceding before Lincoln even took office. Where is the evidence of a “long train of abuses and usurpations” leading to “absolute despotism” that the Declaration says is a prerequisite for revolution? Secession without cause is anarchy. I will repeat what U.S. Grant said – the cause of the Confederacy was “one of the worst for which a people ever fought, and one for which there was the least excuse.”

Bob,

I will assure you I am making no effort to justify the Confederacy, but rather I am providing evidence of how they may have justified it themselves. And that is the heart of the matter. As far as the “all men are created equal” can we comfortably make a judgement on a mindset that was widespread, north and south? Chief Justice Taney decided that. Can we ignore what Lincoln says in 1854, further on in the same document you handily quote? As an example, Lincoln says: …”If all earthly power were given me, I should not know what to do as to the existing institution. My first impulse would be to free all the slaves and send them to … their own native land. But a moment’s reflection would convince me that whatever of high hope (as I think there is) there may be in this in the long run, its sudden execution is impossible.… What then? Free them all and keep them among us as underlings? Is it quite certain that this betters their condition? I think I would not hold one in slavery, at any rate; yet the point is not clear enough for me to denounce people upon. ”
“What next? Free them and make them politically and socially our equals? My own feelings will not admit of this, and if mine would, we well know that the great mass of white peoples will not. Whether this feeling accords with justice and sound judgment is not the sole question, if, indeed, it is any part of it. A universal feeling, whether well- or ill-founded, cannot be safely disregarded. We cannot, then, make them equals. It does seem to me that systems of gradual emancipation might be adopted; but for their tardiness in this, I will not undertake to judge our brethren of the South”.…

Maintaining an equilibrium of interests within Congress was defined by the anxious southern states, thus their interest in a slave state for every free state.

What the Declaration of Independence suggested, the Constitution guaranteed. Exercising the options presented by both documents, and as they saw it, protecting the power given to the states, the south exercised its options.

How we see things today, after 150 years, can not be compared to the way they were viewed then.

As I see it, our founders provided us with a peaceful means of revolution built into the Constitution. The revolution was successful — Lincoln was elected — meaning some voters (though not an overwhelming majority, a majority nontheless) chose to see the country go in an entirely different direction. It wasn’t Douglas Democrats who led the charge for secession. They might not have liked the fact that Lincoln won, but they were at least willing to accept a duly elected President, which is more than most Southern Democrats were willing to do.

In November 1860, when residents of Huntsville, Texas, wrote Texas Governor Sam Houston a letter asking his advice on the secession question following Lincoln’s election, he responded thusly, “Mr. Lincoln has been constitutionally elected and, much as I deprecate his success, no alternative is left me but to yield to the Constitution.” (You can find the complete text of Houston’s letter at http://tides.sfasu.edu:2006/cdm4/document.php?CISOROOT=/SamHouston&CISOPTR=429&REC=1&CISOSHOW=425) Houston, as an Independent Democrat (his party affiliation in the 1859 governor’s race, he had been a Southern Whig before that), was not convinced of the constitutionality of secession in 1860, and remained adamant in his opposition until he was booted from office during the secession convention of January 28-February 1, 1861. Unfortunately, the larger portion of the Texas population, on one of the few occassions, did not back General Houston and voted to approve the ordinance of secession when it was put to a referendum.

The point is some leading white Southerns at the time were not clearly convinced that secession was proper or the answer to the dilema. How, then, can those today, some 145 year removed from the events, be so certain that secession was the correct thing to do, that it somehow can be construed as a defense of the Constitution or that it is supported by Jefferson’s statements in the Declaration of Independence?

Great point, but worth remembering is it was not just “some” southerners, but many, as witness the points made in Current’s “Lincoln’s Loyalists” about southern whites who enlisted in the US Volunteers, the regulars, the Union state regiments, the Navy, etc.

There were white US regiments recruited in every Confederate state but South Carolina.

The question of how representative any of the secessionist state governments were – even of the electorate as it was constituted in 1861 – is well worth considering as well.

Back to the McGowan Monument –

“Monument Inscription on Back: CSA “THE BLOODY ANGLE”.

“In the rainy gloom of May 12, 1864, Brigadier General Samuel McGowan’s brigade of South Carolinians battles their way into the disputed earthworks here, near the apex of the Muleshoe Salient. For eighteen hours the 1300 South Carolinians defended these works against relentless attacks by thousands of Federals, sometimes engaging in hand-to-hand fighting. By battles end, 451 men of the brigade were killed, wounded, or missing. The slight angle in the works they defended would forever be known as the Bloody Angle. ”
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I was there for the Monument Dedication and listened to the moving words of Civil War author, Gordon Rhea. What I remember was a comment that he made about – If there was ever a Monument that “Needed to be Erected”, It was this monument dedicated to the Courage and Bravery of the South Carolina Troops who fought so valiantly in the effort to defend that piece of ground.

NPS Personnel were very helpful in working with Reenactors and Individuals throughout the event, and a Hats Off to their Efforts. Attending the event were a large number of South Carolina descendents and South Carolina legislators. The many speeches and comments, I failed to hear once where Slavery was mentioned or that Slavery was at Issue here. Descendents of McGowan were there including a Grandson (I believe) that offered some words about his Ancestor. NPS Personnel also spoke at the event mentioning the Importance of the Spotsylvania Campaign and mentioned how important Lee’s Line was, at the Point of the Bloody Angle. There was a long process in getting the Monument approved through the NPS and every word on the Monument was “Scrutinized”. From the discussions above, I just didn’t hear this “Rhetoric” at the Ceremony. What I saw was a very important part of the Battlefield being Interperted by a Monument dedicated to a Concept called “Courage”.

Please Feel free to Check out my Photos from this Event. Feel free to download and Use as you May. Several have found their way to other sites. Enjoy!

http://www.mediafire.com/?sharekey=d0e1e18a6d5d04e47069484bded33bcdc14335d2cd1a5ee5

Well, of course you didn’t hear such talk at the monument dedication given the constituencies involved.

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