Use “War Between the States”

Today I received a letter for an essay contest sponsored by the local chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy here in Charlottesville.  I have to say that I got a kick out of it.  The contest offers students in three different grade levels the opportunity to compete for a prize of $50.  Students in grades 4-6 must write a 1,000 word essay on Commodore Matthew Fontaine Maury; students in grades 7-9 will write about the life of Judah P. Benjamin; and high school students in grades 10-12 get to explore the important contributions of Stand Waite.  Your guess is as good as mine as to why Stand Waite was chosen.

The guidelines are quite telling.  My favorite is the following:

Use “War Between the States” rather than “Civil War” unless quoting directly from a source.

The UDC also offers the following observation concerning sources:

The internet plays  such an important role in education today that books are no longer being used.  Please encourage students to use at least one book as a source for their information.

Guess what ladies, you can actually find books on this thing called the internet.

[Image: Mrs. Homer S. (Jane) Durden III, President General, 2008–2010]

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41 comments… add one
  • TF Smith Mar 22, 2010 @ 17:46

    I like the fact that Mrs. Durden III’s title is “president general”….

    Is there a president specific, as well?

  • woodrowfan Mar 20, 2010 @ 8:31

    A $50 prize? Looks like their historiography isn't the only thing living in the past.

    • Kevin Levin Mar 20, 2010 @ 10:17

      I'm just happy to hear that the good ladies have heard of this thing called the Internet.

  • mariannedavis Mar 20, 2010 @ 4:23

    We must applaud the UDC for encouraging our children to read books. More than that, we must be especially grateful for their not having insisted those be written by the Sons of Confederate Veterans' pseudo-historians, the brothers Kennedy. I suspect any child who really wants the $50 had better be careful about her bibliography.

    • Kevin Levin Mar 20, 2010 @ 10:16

      And the reason we should be weary of this is because of their insistence that students refer to the war as “The War Between the States.” The stipulation is indeed revealing, but not surprising.

      • mariannedavis Mar 20, 2010 @ 21:55

        The UDC has an extensive library. I wonder if their collection includes any Declarations of War between, say, Alabama and Michigan, or Georgia and Massachusetts. If they were simply at war with other states, why were they firing on United States ships and fortifications? Language is powerful, we have to be careful when it is manipulated.

  • Marc Ferguson Mar 19, 2010 @ 20:56

    Georgia Congressman Paul Brown prefers “that Great War of Yankee Aggression.”

    • Kevin Levin Mar 19, 2010 @ 21:05

      I noticed that as well. I use 'Civil War' simply because it is the most neutral. It's safe to say that the overwhelming majority of uses refers simply to the war that took place between 1861-1865.

      • margaretdblough Mar 19, 2010 @ 23:14

        I figure that if the term “civil war” was good enough for Abraham Lincoln as well as the United States Supreme Court (the Prize Cases decision-1862) during the war, it's good enough for me, although I also like the War of the Rebellion (as in the OR).

  • Brooks D. Simpson Mar 19, 2010 @ 18:22

    Students in grades K-3 will write an essay on Dabney Maury, “Lee's Unwanted Virginian.” At a time when Lee was shipping unwanted generals out west after the Seven Days, he showed no interest in bringing back Matthew F. Maury's nephew. Alternative title for this paper: “I Rode with Van Dorn: And, Boys, The Stories I Could Tell.”

  • Scott Manning Mar 19, 2010 @ 15:50

    I am not familiar with the UDC, but could “War Between the States” simply be to clarify which civil war the paper covers? If John Keegan titled his latest book “The Civil War,” the UK release would have been a little confusing for the Brits who might identify such a title with the War of the Roses.

  • Bob_Pollock Mar 19, 2010 @ 12:45

    Does the UDC still award a “loving cup”? Blight's account of Mildred Rutherford in “Race and Reunion” has always stuck in my mind. He wrote: “In 1915 in Seattle, Washington, a young girl recieved the annual 'loving cup' for her prize piece honoring the men of the Klan,” which Rutherford was a staunch supporter of. Rutherford assembled scrapbooks (which I understand are at the MOC) which are filled with “photographs and postcards of Klansmen, lynchings, and especially 'loyal' ex-slaves.”

    • margaretdblough Mar 19, 2010 @ 23:23

      The postcards of lynching collection stuck in my mind as well. Lynching was state sanctioned terrorism, designed to keep the black population in line both before and after slavery officially ended.

  • Stephen Gosling Mar 18, 2010 @ 21:10

    As a Southern Traditionalist I am sad to see that the once premier defenders of the Cause are also entering the realm of the Great Dumbing Down. I expect Reactionaries of the better sort to be highly lettered and informed. Oh well. I attribute it to an 'Excess of Democracy'

    • Kevin Levin Mar 18, 2010 @ 21:18

      Unfortunately, if you understand the history of the UDC there is nothing inconsistent here:

      • Stephen Gosling Mar 18, 2010 @ 21:47

        You are partly correct about UDC. Some of the facts and issues that were edited and censored by UDC had the effect of giving a more genuine interpretation based on the same facts and issues a lesser chance of a hearing.
        Like Joe McCarthy they have done more harm to their cause than their enemies ever could have.

        • Kevin Levin Mar 18, 2010 @ 22:00

          Since you didn't provide any examples of what you mean I will refrain from responding. I will say that the upshot of their overall view of the war is fundamentally flawed. And that's ok with me. The UDC is a heritage organization and not in the business of doing serious history. They are not in the business of revision as good historians should be.

          • Stephen Gosling Mar 18, 2010 @ 13:45

            I am saying that their overall view of the war is essentially correct but that their approach in imparting it is seriously flawed. I believe that one can take a Pro-Southern position but it must not be subject to censorship or a overly narrow partisan perspective. Scholarship and an open mind are not precluded when presenting an enlightened defense of the Confederate experiment in republican goverement and society.

            • Kevin Levin Mar 18, 2010 @ 22:23

              I'm not sure I understand your distinction, but that's o.k. I don't know what you mean by pro-Southern position. Either the interpretation holds up based on competing views and evidence or it doesn't. Which pro-Southern view do you mean exactly? Does it include the black Southern view and pro-Unionist view? Please help us to understand.

            • stephen gosling Mar 19, 2010 @ 0:31

              The view would be a representation of the central ethos of the Southern ruling class .Views and perspectives of other elements in Southern society are important of course in obtaining a balanced view of the subject under consideration but are peripheral and usually the result of more specialised later studies. Writing a history of the Civil War through the eyes of the ruling class, with sympathy, is a legitimate way of understanding history as Alan Tate understood.

              • Kevin Levin Mar 19, 2010 @ 1:14

                I couldn't agree more that studying the history of the ruling class in the South is crucial to understanding the antebellum and Civil War South. The problem is when we reduce southern history down to the ruling class as if there is a monolithic South. That is not what Alan Tate was suggesting. I tend to agree with William Freehling who frames his analysis around the idea of “Many Souths”. I find that to be much more helpful in coming to terms with the complexity of the region's past. After all, the ruling class did not operate in a vacuum.

  • Jane Johansson Mar 18, 2010 @ 13:29

    Personally, I’m pleased that Stand Watie was included in the UDC contest. Including him as a topic serves several purposes such as highlighting the role of Native Americans, emphasizing the fact that many actions occurred in the trans-Mississippi, and allowing students to delve into the important role of raiding and guerrilla tactics during the conflict.

    • Kevin Levin Mar 18, 2010 @ 22:20

      Hi Jane,

      That's definitely a legitimate interpretation of their choice. I don't think that does explain they why, but it does have that benefit.

  • Michaela Mar 18, 2010 @ 15:13

    Well, at least they got it right that something happened in the 186os that involved canons and gunfire. When I played a concert for the Daughters of the American Revolution in Mobile one lady asked me if we still had a German emperor and if Germany was a constitutional monarchy. That's when I had the intercultural epihany: these gals were not a group of rich ladies supporting the studies of American history. Forgive my ignorance, but I also thought that Newt Gingrich was a comedian the first time I read an article by him in the Boston Globe in 1993. I got a good laugh out of it until a friend enlightened me regarding the source. I just couldn't believe that this was somebody who seriously meant what he wrote. Now, that I call the US my home I am just eternally grateful for God's gift to comedy.

  • Ken Noe Mar 18, 2010 @ 14:40

    Years ago a friend of mine–we'll call her Dr. X–joined the UDC in order to look at some files at the national headquarters. All went well until she used the phrase “Civil War” in a conversation. They immediately had security remove her from the building.

    • Kevin Levin Mar 18, 2010 @ 14:55

      It sounds to me like Dr. X got exactly what she deserved. 😀

      • Ken Noe Mar 18, 2010 @ 15:28

        Well, she was a “real daughter”

        In fairness, don't forget, it was the UDC that came up with the term “War Between the States” in the 1880s. As John Coski points out, most people north and south to that point used–“Civil War.”

        • margaretdblough Mar 19, 2010 @ 3:41

          It was also the UDC that was behind the big push during the early days of the Civil Rights era, IIRR, to name white Southern high schools after Confederate leaders and generals.

          • Stephen Gosling Mar 19, 2010 @ 12:44

            Naming educational institutions after Confederate Leaders and Generals is a worthy undertaking. One hopes, of course, that it will be from a higher motive than to enhance the cause of vulgar racism.

            • Kevin Levin Mar 19, 2010 @ 12:46

              It's indeed a worthy undertaking, especially for those people who wish to celebrate these men. Not everyone does and that is why this subject is currently in the news. Local governments now reflect a wider range of constituents which allows them to enter the debate over the naming of public institutions such as schools. That unfortunately is a very recent development that followed the civil rights movement.

            • Bob_Pollock Mar 19, 2010 @ 15:01

              And what might that “higher motive” be? Wouldn't it be just as easy to name these institutions after Southerners who didn't seek to destroy our nation?

            • stephen gosling Mar 19, 2010 @ 19:58

              The higher motive is to give honor to those who defended their homeland with courage, devotion and integrity. Their motive was not to destroy the Nation but to obtain their independence. I believe that in the North their are many Lincoln High Schools. Toleration should be shown for all the cultures and perspectives. “Let us do all that may achieve a just and lasting peace”

            • margaretdblough Mar 19, 2010 @ 23:21

              Actually, it was in the 1950s, post Brown v. Board of Education, which the UDC officially opposed & was a symbolic protest against that decision. It was quite explicitly done in the name of white supremacy and massive resistance. The ones named after Nathan Bedford Forrest have proved the most controversial since Forrest wasn't just a slave owner; he made his fortune as a slave trader and thus was able to become a plantation owner.

  • Terry Johnston Mar 18, 2010 @ 14:38


    Re: the inclusion of Stand Watie, perhaps it comes from the same, or a similar, impulse as the one that motivates the modern-day push to 'prove' the existence of black Confederates. In other words, the need to show that the Confederate ranks were racially diverse, containing rebels of 'color' as well. Then again, it's just a guess.

    • Kevin Levin Mar 18, 2010 @ 14:54

      I think that is the explanation.

    • JohnF Mar 19, 2010 @ 14:19

      Not sure. After all he was an actual general, and as far as I remember the last Confederate general to surrender. What status did Waitie have in history, say, twenty or thirty years back?

      • Terry Johnston Mar 20, 2010 @ 16:54

        I certainly didn't mean to suggest that Stand Watie is someone unworthy of study—far from it. I was just guessing as to why, per Kevin's question, he was included in the UDC contest. Again, I'm inclined to believe it might be out of some kind of attempt to illustrate diversity or inclusiveness in the CSA ranks.

        By the way, I wonder how well any essay-writer who highlights Watie's background as a slaveowner will fare in the contest.

        • Kevin Levin Mar 20, 2010 @ 17:03

          I completely agree with you that he is worthy of study. At the same time I find it curious that that a Va. chapter of the UDC would choose him as a topic. That the UDC stipulates the use of “War Between the States” is a sufficient indication that they are looking for a certain bias. That is the reason I refused to share the contest with my students.

          • Terry Johnston Mar 20, 2010 @ 17:44


            Agreed. It's hard to put aside thoughts of ulterior motives given the UDC's mission and history.

            As for not sharing the contest with your students, it makes sense. If only you might be assured that all essays would be returned with comment, it could make for an interesting exercise. Anything short of that, and your students likely would be waisting their time.

  • ericwittenberg Mar 18, 2010 @ 13:55

    The dumbing down of America on full display…..

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