Al Jazeera Reports on the Sesquicentennial

This is an interesting little report on the commemorative events surrounding the sesquicentennial of Fort Sumter.  A number of people are interviewed, but what I find so interesting is the difference in tone between NPS interpreter, Michael Allen and the Kennedy brothers (aka the Civil War’s Statler and Waldorf), who identify themselves as “Southern Historians.”  I just love that reference.  It has nothing to do with regional identification because if it did they would have to include hundreds of historians who were all born and raised in the South.  I live in the South.  Am I a Southern Historian in their eyes?  You get my point.  No, that identification marks a certain way of looking at the history of the South and its tone is overly defensive and presentist – a perspective that I suspect does not reflect the views of most white and black southerners.  The language used reflects very little interest in the nineteenth century itself.  Just listen to these two describe the federal government as tariff and money obsessed and intent on going around the world to oppress innocent people at the point of a bloody bayonet.

You certainly leave with a sense of their emotional connection to the issue, but it’s not much of an explanation.

The bigger problem here is that the media’s insistence on interviewing people like the Kennedy brothers reinforces the assumption that this is the Southern view of the war.  They may be entertaining and they may refer to themselves as Southern historians, but they do not speak for the South.

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50 comments… add one
  • Phil Ross Apr 16, 2011 @ 9:37

    Ms. Carden, I think it’s entirely appropriate to honor your great-great-great grandfather. I certainly do with my Confederate (and Union) ancestors. It is completely possible to do that and still question the motives of the people who got him into the fight.

  • judycarden Apr 15, 2011 @ 5:50

    i think you are so wrong about the history of the civil was about the taxes, and not about gggrandfather was in the civil war and i honor him for what he done.there was not anyone in my family own know the north own slave before the was wrong to own any one.lincole was the cause of all need a history lesson…..its history just like any history……………

    • Jim Miller Apr 15, 2011 @ 9:29

      I’m sorry. Read the secession ordinances. It ***was*** all about slavery, and that is directly out of the mouths and pens for the participants themselves.

    • Rob in CT Apr 15, 2011 @ 9:39

      Aside from being borderline incoherent, this comment is inaccurate in the extreme. It was not about taxes (tariffs). Though tariffs were a political issue they were not particularly important in 1860 (the South’s preference – low tariffs – was ascendant at the time). The states that seceeded explained quite clearly why they did (the protection of the institution of slavery from supposed abolitionist Yankees), in response to Lincoln’s election victory.

      What the leadership of the Confederacy wanted and what the rank and file Confederate soldiers wanted probably wasn’t exactly the same (though both groups were certainly white supremacists, as was nearly everyone on the Union side). So your great grandfather may not have owned slaves, but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t fighting a war expressly begun to protect the institution of slavery (poor fellow).

      • Rob in CT Apr 15, 2011 @ 9:41

        Nearly everyone on the Union side at the start, anyway. I doubt the members of the USCT were white supremacists! Heh. It’s funny. Even I can fall victim to viewing the CW as a conflict amongst a bunch of white people (only). That was careless.

      • Billy Bearden Apr 17, 2011 @ 8:57

        You mean if I were to list EVERY reason given by all 11 total seceeded states, 2 partial seceeded states, 2 territories, and the 5 Civilized Tribes as to why they left, it would ONLY be 1, and that would be slavery? Really? Honestly? Slavery was the sole reason given by everyone? Seriously?

        And do you really need to belittle Ms Carden that way?

        • Brooks D. Simpson Apr 17, 2011 @ 13:11

          Billy, reading those documents, what do you conclude was the primary reason the original seven seceding states acted as they did?

          • Billy Bearden Apr 17, 2011 @ 18:23

            Rebutting Mr Miller’s “I’m sorry. Read the secession ordinances. It ***was*** all about slavery, and that is directly out of the mouths and pens for the participants themselves.”

            For some of the original 7 it was mainly slavery, others not so much and definantly not all. Today 150 years ago Virginia chose to seceed, slavery not the issue.

            • Will Stoutamire Apr 17, 2011 @ 23:12

              “Today 150 years ago Virginia chose to seceed, slavery not the issue.”

              You might want to check the 4-volume, 3000-page set of secession debates in VA before drawing that conclusion.

              • Billy Bearden Apr 18, 2011 @ 5:30


                Having already voted to remain in the Union till Lincoln’s violation of the Act of 1795 calling up 75,000 troops to invade a foriegn country, Virginia finally voted to leave – the secession document was not 3000 pages long, nor was slavery the issue on April 17th, 1861, or when it was ratified by the populace on May 23rd 1861.

                Sic Semper Tyrannis !

                • Kevin Levin Apr 18, 2011 @ 5:34

                  The point Will is making is that the Virginia secession convention focused a great deal on the future of slavery in the state. The major divide was between western and eastern Virginians. Will Freehling has put together an edited collection of the convention proceedings, which is worth looking at:

                  • Billy Bearden Apr 18, 2011 @ 11:47

                    Kevin, thanks for the link. Being a native Virginian I will certainly be wanting to add this to my library of WBTS books.
                    It is ironic you mention Freehling as you did, because he was telling the media yesterday what I was saying above about Virginia’s secession pretty much at the same time.


                    • Kevin Levin Apr 18, 2011 @ 12:03

                      I wasn’t suggesting anything that challenges Freehling’s points in the article. It is important to understand that the slaveholding South did not secede en mass. What I was pointing out is the common mistake which suggests that Virginians did not debate slavery during the secession winter. Freehling’s book makes it perfectly clear that it was a central issue during the convention. The important point, however, is that the debate did not simply pit North v. South, but Virginians v. Virginians (east/west). It is well worth reading.

                • Mark Snell Apr 18, 2011 @ 5:44


                  Virginia troops subsequently and illegally siezed the US naval facility at Portsmouth/Gostport and the US armory at Harpers Ferry–a month prior to the referendum. Speaking of ‘tyrannis’!

                  • Billy Bearden Apr 18, 2011 @ 12:53


                    What was Lincoln doing blockading Va & NC ports before they officially seceeded?
                    Tyrannis = Abe

                    • Kevin Levin Apr 18, 2011 @ 13:08

                      With all due respect, but aren’t you just a little embarrassed with these references to “Tyrannis = Abe”. It sounds so childish and uninteresting.

                    • Margaret D. Blough Apr 18, 2011 @ 20:40

                      In Virginia’s case, at least, having the state militia seize federal property by force would, by any standard, place Virginia in a state of rebellion regardless of the official internal status of the secession ordinance.

  • John Maass Apr 15, 2011 @ 3:16

    These 2 “historians” have plenty of folks eager to lap up what they pour out…check out the CNN poll that show 4/10 southrons still sympathize with the CSA. 54 percent of respondents said they believe the war was over slavery, and 42 percent said that wasn’t the main reason. Those percentages didn’t change substantially when it comes to Northerners versus Southerners.

  • K.P. Marshall Apr 14, 2011 @ 17:56

    No thinking person can not think that the US is an imperial power enforcing its will at the point of a bayonet. What else would one call it? Are we not fighting people on the soil of their countries in 3 different places at this very moment? Do we not have 700 military bases around the world? Although you may not like it and it may not be what you voted for the facts, my friends, are the facts.

    • Brooks D. Simpson Apr 15, 2011 @ 9:24

      So, do you equate the Confederacy to the forces fighting that imperialism? And exactly which army did Joe Wheeler fight for in 1898?

      If you want to proclaim certain terrorist groups as freedom fighters, then come right out and say that you support those groups, and equate the CSA’s resistance with the resistance of those groups. I hear that from some people all the time who still embrace the Reconstruction era KKK. So have the courage of your convictions and point to the logical conclusion of your remarks.

      • K.P. Marshall Apr 15, 2011 @ 10:50

        Mr. Simpson I don’t know what else to call it when a foreign country wages an aggressive war against its neighbor and after said war of aggression exploits the people and the resources like a conquered province. Did the Allies not charge and convict the German Leaders at the Nuremberg Trials on this charge? I do not equate the SOVEREIGN NATION which was the C.S.A. defending itself against an invasion of coercers as a terrorist act. It was an act of self defense which all countries who have the courage of their convictions would have engaged in.

        • Brooks D. Simpson Apr 15, 2011 @ 20:25

          You simply assume as true what was in fact contested. Somehow, given the economic system that was plantation slavery, I think it’s ironic to complain about the exploitation of people and resources. However, if advocates of the Confederacy like to compare themselves to the Taliban and Saddam Hussein, they are free to do so.

          • K.P. Marshall Apr 16, 2011 @ 3:23

            Mr. Simpson as much as Americans would like for it to not be true the economic system of which you speak was protected under the law of the United States of America. It was as legal as breathing. Morally indefensible as it was. What, exactly,do I assume to be true which is contested? Is there another definition of imperialism other than the standard? If you do not believe the US to be that kind of power I suggest you read up on the “other massacre at the crater” in 1906 which drew the ire of such esteemed people as Mark Twain. I I have never met anyone who compared our struggle with the Taliban, whom i have some first hand experience with, or the former leader of Iraq. A more apt comparison would be to the Scots or the Irish.

            • Brooks D. Simpson Apr 17, 2011 @ 0:57

              You folks have drawn the comparison, not me. Your complaint is with the Kennedy brothers. It’s too bad you don’t want to live with the consequences of that comparison.

              As for issues of legality, the election of 1860 was perfectly legal, too, but some folks had a problem with the result. If the best you can do when you complain about the exploitation of human beings is to defend slavery as legal, well, then you really aren’t that bothered about exploitation after all., and you are clearly endorsing a movement for separation based on defending something even you admit was morally indefensible. Finally, please remind me when American imperialism attacked the Scots or the Irish. After all, white southerners were always part of American imperialism in every other case (ask James K. Polk and Jefferson Davis about their war with Mexico, a war to spread slavery). Or are you arguing that white southerners are not Americans?

              As for what you assume to be true that’s contested, I thought you would understand that reference was to your claim that the CSA was a “sovereign nation.” You may choose to believe that, but that does not make it a fact. You’re entitled to your opinions, but you are not entitled to claim they constitute fact.

              • K.P. Marshall Apr 17, 2011 @ 4:23

                Mr. Simpson…… I am an admirer of yours and own several of your books. I consider your works on Genl. Grant to be the preeminent works on the subject. There are really too few good books on him. Not intending to flatter, but stating what I consider to be fact, it can be said that you are the Douglas Southall Freeman of Genl Grant without blushing. That being said, and I don’t want to get into a Constitutional debate with you as I know you are a busy man, do you not believe that the States had the right to secede? Do you not believe that the National Government was a creation and a creature of the several States? Do you agree that in every other crisis where Secession was spoken of before, Hartford etc, that it was viewed as a horrible thing but a remedy that the States enjoyed? UNTIL it involved SOUTH CAROLINA. Why is that? Why is a right that no one questioned when the New England States contemplated it suddenly treason when Mr. Calhoun spoke of it?

                As far as exploitation goes……Yes the institution of slavery, everywhere, is the very definition of exploitation. I was only pointing out that it was legal when practiced. Moving into an area with an Army and coercing free people to remain your countrymen is not a right I believe the National Government enjoys. That may be in some doubt. However, there is no doubt that moving into an area and fixing elections, stealing, murdering, and using the Government “of the people, by the people, and for the people” to facilitate the stealing of land and personal enrichment is not legal anywhere.

                I mention the Scots and the Irish as other examples of minorities who struggled for independence against imperial power and were defeated. I think the comparison to those great peoples is more worthy of our struggle and more in line with the facts than to compare the Confederate States of America to the Taliban or the former regime in Iraq. It stinks of the popular refrain in some of the special interest groups to compare the Confederate States to National Socialism and Nazi Germany. I think you are above that and would hope that when you hear those sentiments you would correct them. As a point of fact the Northern view on the relationship between the States and the National Government is far closer to the fascist view than is the Southern.

                Of course white southerners participated in our wars of empire. Most notably Mexico. In fact one could say that with the #’s engaged per section in the Mexican War, the South, who sent the majority of the troops, made the victory possible. It is with no small amount of pride that I mention the Palmetto Regiment which distinguished itself on every field and was trained by Cadets from my alma mater The Citadel. Our Northern friends thanked us for the sacrifice by trying to legislate us out of the lands gained with our blood.
                It also worthwhile to note that during the War of 1812 while our New England friends were contemplating Secession in the midst of a foreign war and trading with the enemy. White Southerners were in large numbers fighting the British. Those that screamed the loudest at Southerners moving into the lands gained by that war were the same ones who committed what one could describe as treason as they aided and abetted the enemies of our country.
                Although, it would be a tragedy and I hope it never comes to that again, if South Carolina decided tomorrow to leave the Union in my opinion it would be just as legal now as it ever was and I would go with her. Because it is her right as a State with sovereignty to leave if the association becomes obnoxious to her.
                The Kennedy Brothers do not speak for me but one cannot deny that they have a view and are not bashful about expressing it.
                We actually met once when I was a teenager. My parents have some very good friends who live in Spartanburg and their daughter took me to a lecture you gave while you were a Professor at the school of the ankle biting nuisance dogs. LOL…..

                • Brooks D. Simpson Apr 17, 2011 @ 9:30

                  I don’t happen to believe that secession is a constitutional right. I believe there are ways to go about transforming the Union (including to allow secession) and that there is a right of revolution. That said, on some level that doesn’t matter, because whether secession was a constitutional right was contested intellectual territory in 1860. Moreover, given how pro-independence forces felt about the consequences of Lincoln’s election, I understand why they did what they did, and I don’t think they would have acted much different if they rejected secession as a constitutional right. Even in the event itself, the first seven seceding states did not follow the procedure offered by secession’s defenders, but launched a preemptive first strike.

                  I don’t see the Hartford Convention as representative of very much, let alone New England. Even there, secession was a minority sentiment at best, and that’s been debated. One could simply say that two wrongs don’t make a right. And it seems that the Davis government was not keen about the issue of states rights itself, which I’ve always found telling. You say: “Moving into an area with an Army and coercing free people to remain your countrymen is not a right I believe the National Government enjoys.” Guess what the Confederacy did in places such as East Tennessee?

                  I think that to compare either the Union or the Confederacy to Nazi Germany simply creates more heat than light, and it derails conversation and discussion. Oh, one could offer contrasts and comparisons, but the cost in terms of the impact on the discussion’s too much, and there are better ways to make certain points.

                  Thanks for the kind words about me. I have fond memories of South Carolina.

              • Margaret D. Blough Apr 18, 2011 @ 20:34

                President Madison, a Virginian and a slaveholding planter, was prepared to use military force to suppress secession if one or more New England states had attempted it after the Hartford Convention, and the president who was prepared to use military force to suppress secession/nullification against South Carolina during the Nullification Crisis was Andrew Jackson, a Southerner (Tennessee) and a slaveholding planter. During the Nullification Crisis, former President Madison issued letters denouncing nullification and secession as unconstitutional.

  • Brooks D. Simpson Apr 14, 2011 @ 15:28

    So the Kennedy brothers “equate the Confederacy to others currently resisting the American military” … so … well, you know whether that leads …

  • Ken Noe Apr 14, 2011 @ 9:30

    Did I just hear the Kennedys say on AL JAZEERA that the United States is an “imperial power” enforcing it’s rule around the world “at the point of a bloody bayonet?” Or equate the Confederacy to others currently resisting the American military? That sort of aid-and-comfort should go over very well in certain circles in the Arab world.

    And before you ask: family in Virginia since the 1750s, five Confederate ancestors, southern by birth and choice, and a career writing about the south. What do I win?

    • Phil Ross Apr 14, 2011 @ 10:52

      On the other hand, it’s going to go over quite poorly in certain circles here. WHY DO SOUTHERN HISTORIANS HATE AMERICA?

    • Andy Hall Apr 14, 2011 @ 11:51

      Did I just hear the Kennedys say on AL JAZEERA that the United States is an “imperial power” enforcing it’s rule around the world “at the point of a bloody bayonet?”

      That rhetoric is straight out of the League of the South/Abbeville Institute crowd.

      • Ken Noe Apr 14, 2011 @ 16:08

        Yes, I remember the LOS initial response to 9/11.

    • John Maass Apr 15, 2011 @ 4:03

      One need not look to Al Jazeera for the interp that the United States is an “imperial power” enforcing it’s rule around the world “at the point of a bloody bayonet.” See Kagan’s “Dangerous Nation” (2006) for instance, or “The War Lovers” by Evan Thomas (2010), and “The Sorrows of Empire” by Chalmers Johnson (2004). Or anything by Noam Chomsky?

      • Kevin Levin Apr 15, 2011 @ 4:22

        Yes, but it’s so much more fun when it comes from this crowd. 🙂

        • Ken Noe Apr 15, 2011 @ 4:59

          You got my point, Kevin. The left gets hammered regularly for these sentiments, but with the exception of Bill O’Reilly, “this crowd” has had a free media pass since 9/11. Where’s Lynne Cheney? Where’s the chalkboard outrage? Why is no one asking these two why they “hate America?”

          • James Kabala Apr 15, 2011 @ 11:56

            Mr. Noe: You must have missed this infamous article from 2003. (Many factual statements in the article are questionable or outright false, so I don’t put it forward it as an accurate guide to anyone’s thought on either side, but it will make you aware of the deep fault lines on the right of which many on the left are unaware.)


  • Michael Lynch Apr 14, 2011 @ 9:22

    I have two observations. First, Al Jazeera went looking for talking heads on the Civil War and found the Kennedy brothers. Weird.

    Second, I agree that this report sort of perpetuates the view of a monolithic South, where we all supposedly sit around mourning what could have been and railing against the federal government. (Well, I’ve been railing against it today, but I just had my taxes done, so it doesn’t count.) It’s a case of Confederates in the Attic syndrome–will people assume that these notions are commonly held by southerners?

    Most of us here in the South, I think, have the same attitude toward the Civil War as the rest of the country; it was an interesting and important historical episode, and that’s about it.


    • Kevin Levin Apr 14, 2011 @ 10:13

      Good point.

    • Phil Ross Apr 14, 2011 @ 10:57

      Not weird at all, Michael. I wonder if the Kennedy brothers realize they’ve been used. Further, I wonder if they would care.

  • Mark Snell Apr 14, 2011 @ 9:12

    Er, perhaps ‘carpetbagger’ would be a more correct description in my case, since I’ve moved back and forth from the North to the South to the North (and other places) many times over.

  • Mark Snell Apr 14, 2011 @ 8:57

    From the correspondent: ” . . . it’s been carefully planned to ensure historical accuracy.” That is, except for all of the middle-aged, overweight re-enactors (which is why I no longer re-enact, as I too, fall into that category.) And why were all of those Napoleons and other field pieces simulating the firing on Fort Sumter? Wouldn’t their maximum effective range prove to be a bit short of the intended target?

    • Kevin Levin Apr 14, 2011 @ 9:03

      Hey Mark, are you a Southern Historian?

      • Mark Snell Apr 14, 2011 @ 9:10

        Nope. I’m a ‘scalawag’ of the worst sort: a Pennsylvanian who works in West Virginia, the only state created (apparently illegally created, according to some folks) as a result of the Civil War.

        • Kevin Levin Apr 14, 2011 @ 9:14

          So, I have more of a claim to that title given that I was born and raised in southern New Jersey, which resembles much of the South and I’ve lived in Virginia for 10 straight years. 🙂

          • Margaret D. Blough Apr 18, 2011 @ 20:27

            Don’t forget that, as of the 1860 census, New Jersey was still technically a slave state (18, to be exact).

    • Chrisitne Smith Apr 15, 2011 @ 3:20

      I also understand that they are going to have women and African Americans as soldiers represented at the surrender. So much for historical accuracy, since they were not there.
      My re-enactor friend (who isn’t overweight) was invited to be in Sumter and didn’t go for that reason and other restrictions. History is history and one shouldn’t tamper with it, although I think that fat or thin re-enactors do a great service if they are educating people about the war.

      • Kevin Levin Apr 15, 2011 @ 3:25

        I tend to think that re-enactment and historical accuracy are contradictions.

        • John Maass Apr 15, 2011 @ 4:04

          Such sweeping generalizations should be avoided as inaccurate themselves!

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