How Does Confederate History Mesh With Black History?

The following documentary by filmmaker Shukree Tilghman will air on New Hampshire Public Television on February 12, 2012.  It looks to be pretty interesting.  Watch the trailer for some truly bizarre claims made by the Sons of Confederate Veterans.  My personal favorite: “After the war there was a major move to squash Confederate history.”  Only someone completely ignorant to the trajectory of Civil War memory could make such a ridiculous claim.

104 comments… add one

  • dean Dec 10, 2011

    no you sound completely ignorant! The true story of the south has been lost. The victors of any war will write history to make them always look good, Just because you won it doesn’t make you right

    • Kevin Levin Dec 10, 2011

      You should spend some time looking at the activities of the Sons of Confederate Veterans and United Daughters of the Confederacy at the turn of the twentieth century. They spent quite a bit of time reviewing history texts used in schools to ensure that they included their preferred version of the war. Take a look at the monuments on court house squares throughout much of the South, which were placed beteween 1880 and 1920. It doesn’t take much of an effort at all to realize that a Lost Cause narrative flourished after the war. This occurred not just in the South, but in the North as well. Lee became a popular figure of national reunion throughout the country. As an introduction to this subject I suggest you read David Blight’s book, Race and Reunion.

      • dean Dec 10, 2011

        I have seen everything you are talking about, I live it! But today in school… the truth about the Civil War does not exist! The facts have been manipulated to make the north totally without blame in the war. One text book I have actually seen says the southerns were “traitors” for seceding from the Union. When in fact what they did was totally within their rights. They make Sherman look like a hero, he was a war criminal at the highest level! His men were allowed to rape, torture and kill civilians. They burned farms and homes of civilians and stole their life’s possessions, not military targets but civilians. What about Lincoln? What about all the times He violated the Constitution, throwing news paper editors in prison for questioning his government is just one example. The history books have been manipulated to make the south look like a bunch of racist rednecks just like it continues today, but that couldn’t be further from the truth.

        • Kevin Levin Dec 10, 2011

          I suggest you pick up a copy of James McPherson’s Battle Cry of Freedom. It’s hard to know where to begin to address your points given that none of them really have do with history. Thanks for taking the time to read and comment.

          • Scott MacKenzie Dec 10, 2011

            Here’s the quality of neo-Confederate history:

            Lt. Simeon Cumming, an engineer on the CSS Alabama, accidentally killed himself when his shotgun went off while hunting in South Africa in 1863. The crew buried him there, the only Confederate serviceman buried abroad in the entire war (at sea is a different matter.) In 1993, some American neo-Confederates arranged for his remains to be returned to the US. They buried him in Columbia, Tennessee (south of Nashville.) For a people allegedly committed to historical accuracy, they overlooked one obvious mistake:

            He wasn’t from there!

            Cumming was born in New York and lived in Louisiana when the war began. You can’t make this stuff up, but apparently they do.

            • Allen Dec 11, 2011

              Scott, it would have been helpful if you had bothered to include all, or at least a few more of, the relevant facts with regard to Lt. Simeon Cumming. You seem to know enough of them, so I can only presume that you chose to omit others in an effort to be, uhhh…, insulting. Or at least purposely provocative?

              The return of Cumming’s remains was not accomplished by “some American neo-Confederates”, but rather was a personal project of the man who, at the time, was the Executive Director of the Sons of Confederate Veterans. He/they made every effort to locate Cumming’s family in the U.S., and either none was found or they agreed to have the re-interment take place in Columbia, Tennessee. Columbia, as it happens, is the location of the SCV’s headquarters facility, an antebellum home and estate known as Elm Springs. Cumming’s remains lay in state in the home before being placed just outside the wall of the original owners of Elm Springs family cemetery on the grounds. The grave is marked with VA-issued stone.

              So, no one made anything up, and quality of “neo-Confederate history”, whatever you might think that to be, had absolutely nothing to do with anything. I’d be surprised if you and I were the only two persons who read this particular blog entry who know anything about Lt. Simeon Cumming. But somehow, no one other than me bothered to respond to you. I wonder why that is?

              • Scott MacKenzie Dec 11, 2011

                Probably because few know about it. Your new facts do not change my analysis one bit. It still comes across as the exploitation of a dead man’s remains by a third party for their purposes, no matter how ‘respectful’ the SCV may have been. They’ll do anything to spread their cause, history, facts, logic, heritage be damned. I just wonder what they thought of Apartheid South Africa.

                • Allen Dec 11, 2011

                  Actually, Scott, I did not expect to change your analysis one bit. My reply was not particularly for your benefit, but rather for others who might read it and appreciate a perspective based on fact as opposed to your polemic.

                  • Scott MacKenzie Dec 11, 2011

                    One man’s polemic is another’s sound history.

              • Roger E Watson Dec 11, 2011

                “…the Executive Director of the Sons of Confederate Veterans.”

                I think he might qualify as a neo-confederate !!

                • Allen Dec 11, 2011

                  Perhaps you, or someone, might one day define the term “neo-Confederate”? It strikes me as being highly subjective…

                  • Kevin Levin Dec 11, 2011

                    I tend to stay away from that reference. It’s not very helpful and it usually stifles discussion. It reminds me of the “politically correct” reference.

                    • Roger E Watson Dec 11, 2011

                      The following does come from Wiki but they do have references to the original works.

                      >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>
                      The term “neo-Confederate” has an extensive history. James McPherson used the term “Neo-Confederate historical committees” in his description of the efforts from 1890 to 1930 to have history textbooks present a version of the Civil War in which McPherson writes included that secession wasn’t rebellion, the Confederacy didn’t fight for slavery, and the Confederate soldier was defeated by overwhelming numbers and resources.[13] Historian Nancy MacLean used the term “neo-Confederacy” in reference to right-wing groups that formed in the 1950s to oppose Supreme Court rulings demanding racial integration.[14] Former Southern Partisan editor and co-owner Richard Quinn used the term when he referred to Richard T. Hines, former Southern Partisan contributor and Reagan administration staffer as being “among the first neo-Confederates to resist efforts by the infidels to take down the Confederate flag.”[15] It is possibly the earliest use of the term “neo-Confederate” in Southern Partisan.

                      This definition is not necessarily accepted by neo-Confederates, though Mel Bradford, who was a key figure in the neo-Confederate movement and frequent writer for Southern Partisan from its founding, was pleased to title one of his books The Reactionary Imperative: Essays Literary and Political.

                      Another use of the term was used in 1954. In a book review, Leonard Levy, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for History in 1968, wrote, “Similar blindness to the moral issue of slavery, plus a resentment against the rise of the Negro and modern industrialism, resulted in the Neo-Confederate interpretation of Phillips, Ramsdell and Owsley.”.[16]

                      >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

                    • Kevin Levin Dec 11, 2011

                      I think it is always preferable to critique the argument rather than the individual.

                    • Arleigh Birchler Dec 11, 2011

                      Amen, Kevin.

                • Arleigh Birchler Dec 11, 2011

                  Just my personal perspective, but I tend to feel the terms “neo-confederate”, “Lost Cause”, or “politically correct” are all so nebulous and ambiguous that they add nothing to the discussion. They are simply this decades acceptable derogatory labels.

                  • Ray O'Hara Dec 11, 2011

                    Neo-Confederate just means “new confederate” when these people claim the ‘ethnicity” of being a Confederate American” is it really derogatory?

                    as for Lost Cause
                    The Lost Cause

                    The “Lost Cause,” the title of Edward A. Pollards 1866 history of the Confederacy, first referred to the South’s defeat in the Civil War, but in time it came to designate the regions memory of the war as well.

                    http://www.civilwarhome.com/lostcause.htm

                    it was coined by the South to apply to themselves. again hardly derogatory.

                    • Kevin Levin Dec 11, 2011

                      My problem with its use is that it tends to stifle discussion and it includes a generalization about what motivates people. I can appreciate that given that I am regular target of such generalizations.

                    • Allen Dec 12, 2011

                      “Will correspondents for the Veteran please take notice that the two detestable terms, “New South” and “Lost Cause” will not be printed. Many a fairly good article is turned down by use of that last term. They both originated assuredly in the minds of prejudiced Northerners, and they both so reflect upon the Southern people that the Veteran will not use articles where substitutes are not admissible.” – Sumner A. Cunningham, Editor, Confederate Veteran,
                      Volume Ten, Number 12, December, 1902.

                    • Kevin Levin Dec 12, 2011

                      Thanks for passing this along, Allen.

                    • Ray O'Hara Dec 12, 2011

                      Edward A Pollard was born in Va, was Editor of the Richmond Examiner during the CW until captured on a blockade runner in 1864 and he was placed in the POW camp in Ft Warren on Georges Island in Boston Harbor.

                      So it seems Mr Cunningham was incorrect on the origin of the term.

                    • Arleigh Birchler Dec 12, 2011

                      Yes, Ray, “Lost Cause” was used as the title of a book written just after the end of the War by a Southerner who was presumably a supporter of the cause that had been lost. Currently I see the term thrown around a lot in ways that I find confusing. Perhaps if I read Mr Pollards’ book I would have a greater understanding of the matter. I suspect some here are familiar with the contents and can clarify.

                      The impression I get when I hear the term used currently is that it indicates some general trend of thought which is historically incorrect and which glorifies the South in the War. I think it might be related to the writings of General Jubal Early in the post-War years. I think I have read that Early was a bitter opponent of Grant’s pre-War friend, James Longstreet. From all of this I take it that the term has something to do with the opposite camps that championed Longstreet or Early, and has a lot to do with the events and activities of the two during those three days in early July in Pennsylvania.

                      As an aside, I think that the video stresses the way we feel about current events as they relate to the events of 1850 to 1870, more than to the facts about what happened during those two decades. I think our feelings are very relevant here.

                    • Kevin Levin Dec 12, 2011

                      I’ve linked to this essay I don’t know how many times: http://www.encyclopediavirginia.org/Lost_Cause_The

                    • Arleigh Birchler Dec 12, 2011

                      Yes, Kevin, you have linked to that excellent article in the Encyclopedia Virginia several times. If reading one article gave me a thorough understanding of any issue, I would be an expert on a great many things.

                    • Kevin Levin Dec 12, 2011

                      Sorry, I didn’t get that impression from reading your comment.

                    • Allen Dec 12, 2011

                      Ray, just because Pollard used the term in the title of his book does not mean it originated with him. Either way, Sumner Cunningham obviously did not care for it.

                    • Kevin Levin Dec 12, 2011

                      Yes, Pollard coined the phrase and yes, Cunningham was apparently not happy with it.

          • Aaron Kidd Dec 10, 2011

            Levin, I’ve read a textbook that calls the Southern seccession a revolt and rebellion. Is it right that that’s being taught in the schools?

            • Kevin Levin Dec 10, 2011

              Jefferson Davis describe it as a rebellion. As for the textbooks, please provide author and title as well as the passage[s] in question. It would be nice to have something to work with.

        • Jim Dick Dec 10, 2011

          How was it within their rights? The concept of secession was debated in the ratification of the Constitution in 1788. Mercy Otis Warren and David Ramsay both noted in their histories that the nation would not be a compact under the Constitution. Warren would later change her mind and start echoing the Jeffersonian line from his Kentucky Resolution, but that was in 1800, twelve years after the ratification. Ramsay, who lived in Charleston, South Carolina and was a prominent political figure there, wrote that it wasn’t a compact as late as 1809 in his History of South Carolina. The Anti-Federalists agreed that it would not be a compact and that secession was not possible because it was a perpetual union as denoted in the preamble.
          The arguments by today’s secessionists ignore too many facts while making up a few major allegations such as everyone said that secession would still be legal during the ratification process. The overwhelming evidence of that time shows they stated repeatedly that it would not be legal and would be contradictory to the point of creating the government under the Constitution. Jefferson tried to change that with his insistence that it was a compact and when he became president he continued that rhetoric which is why he gets quoted so much by secessionists. However, Madison denied that any state had the right of secession as well as nullification. So that’s where the second allegation comes up by today’s secessionists…they lump the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions together. They were written by two different men who used different wording on purpose.
          They also ignore the fact the the rest of the states repudiated those Resolutions in no uncertain terms and called them traitorous.

        • Bryan Cheeseboro Dec 10, 2011

          Kevin,
          While I agree with you that there was no “major move to squash Confederate history” after the war, I try to stay away from shaming the opinions of others (i.e. the SCV reenactor who claimed there was a post-war agenda to erase Confederate/Southern history), even when I think they are absolutely wrong. To be sure, if such a movement existed, think of all of the Confederate monuments that have stood for a century that would not exist.

          Dean’s posts and comments touch on something Professor Gerry Prokopowicz of East Carolina University has talked about: high school students in Southern states get US history textbooks written by people who, in a few words, write the history of the Civil War as “North (abolition, democracy) good; South (slavery, secession/treason) bad.” No surprise that Southern kids reject this shame-based interpretation. But the problem from there is that many of them- and it sounds like Dean is one of them- learn Civil War history from the unfounded falsehoods that are all over the internet.

          When Dean and other Confederate apologists say things like Southerners were , “in fact… totally within their rights,” I can’t help but think of the 3.5 million African-Americans in the Confederacy who had no rights at all, certainly according to CSA VP Alexander Stephens- “Our new Government is founded… upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery, subordination to the superior race, is his natural and normal condition.” I believe it is a complete misreading of history to believe Southerners seceded with the intent to live in racial harmony and peace, as slavery gradually died off, until Lincoln’s Yankee invaders- the real racists, as some would have you believe- came and upset the social equilibrium with their war, abolition and liberal godlessness.

          • Kevin Levin Dec 10, 2011

            That’s a strange choice of words. I wasn’t “shaming” anyone; rather, I was simply suggesting that the claim is without merit.

            high school students in Southern states get US history textbooks written by people who, in a few words, write the history of the Civil War as “North (abolition, democracy) good; South (slavery, secession/treason) bad.” No surprise that Southern kids reject this shame-based interpretation.

            Perhaps you can explain what this means by providing a few examples. I’ve never seen such a book. Thanks.

            • Bryan Cheeseboro Feb 15, 2012

              Kevin,
              I finally found the reference to Professor Prokopowicz’s criticism of US history textbooks and how Southern American students react to them. The comments are at 17:17 from this November 9, 2007 interview with Dr. James McPherson.

              http://impedimentsofwar.org/singleshow.php?show=410

              • Kevin Levin Feb 15, 2012

                Thanks, Bryan.

        • Ray O'Hara Dec 10, 2011

          they acted unconstitutionally, and made war on the United States. that is treason..
          States do not have the right to secede.

    • James F. Epperson Dec 10, 2011

      If the “victors … write the history,” please explain the existence of memoirs by Jefferson Davis, Jubal Early, James Longstreet, Richard Taylor, John Gordon, John Bell Hood, Joseph Johnston, Porter Alexander, Moxley Sorrel, and countless others.

      • Kevin Levin Dec 10, 2011

        …Southern Historical Society Papers, Confederate Veteran, Battles and Leaders, etc, etc, etc. :-)

      • Corey Meyer Dec 10, 2011

        All one really needs to do is look here…

        http://confederatereprint.com/

        Seems to me the losers have had a say regardless of what one wants to think, the North or the US did not stop people from the south from writing books or histories on the war. To believe otherwise is just plain silly.

        • Arleigh Birchler Dec 10, 2011

          I was pretty surprised for a long time when I heard someone in a Southern heritage group saying that they do not teach this or that in school. Most of the things were things that I think I knew since I was very young, and I suspect I learned a great deal of that in school. I guess that I leave the question open as to whether or not schools in the South had text books and teachers that were more narrowly constrained than those we had in Central California. The folks I grew up with were pretty equal in terms of what region their ancestors came from. My Mom’s family was definitely Confederate and my Dad’s was strongly Union. I think I knew the refrain to the Bonnie Blue Flag when I was a very small child. We sang both Dixie and the Battle Hymn of the Republic in grammar school. I do not rule out the possibility that textbooks and teachers were more biased toward the Union in the South.

          • Brooks Simpson Dec 10, 2011

            The problem with these claims is that I don’t see them documented. But, as Mr. Kidd’s comment reveals, maybe the real problem is that the textbooks today don’t reflect the bias of Confederate Romantics; that was not always true.

            • Kevin Levin Dec 11, 2011

              Well, until they provide some examples their claims are not worth a response.

              • Arleigh Birchler Dec 11, 2011

                Brooks and Kevin, I suspect both of you have talked about these things with Mr Kidd before, and that you are responding to things said in other discussions. I could not find anything in this thread that seemed to correspond with your responses. I do admit, however, that I often miss the obvious, so perhaps I just did not find the comments you are referring to.

                • Brooks D. Simpson Dec 11, 2011

                  Check above. To quote Mr. Kidd:

                  “Levin, I’ve read a textbook that calls the Southern seccession a revolt and rebellion. Is it right that that’s being taught in the schools?”

                  Not sure how you missed it.

                  • Arleigh Birchler Dec 11, 2011

                    No, Brooks, I had read that comment. I guess it just did not seem to me to be something to respond to. It is not hard for me to imagine a textbook written some where in some time in history making such a statement. As a student I doubt that I would pay much attention and just think of it as a subjective remark and not a matter of fact. I guess I really do not engage in the “we versus them” very much, even though folks often assume a lot about my beliefs based on simple comments,.

                    • Kevin Levin Dec 11, 2011

                      It is not hard for me to imagine a textbook written some where in some time in history making such a statement.

                      You can probably find a textbook with all kinds of outrageous claims at one point or another. The individual was called out to provide one example of a book that is currently in use, which makes specific claims about the war. That individual has yet to provide the reference.

                    • Brooks D. Simpson Dec 11, 2011

                      I think that sometimes you assume that others engage in polarizing discussions, suggesting your willingness to use that construct as a sorting tool. In any case, I’m still puzzled that you are puzzled, as other people have been making claims about what happens to be in school textbooks. I see no harm in asking them to give specific examples. Do you? Or is it good enough that people make claims without much in the way of support? That may satisfy you, but it doesn’t satisfy me, especially as it’s step one in constructing an image of the Other (in this case a strawman) in order to justify whatever follows.

                      You’ve observed that people operate through constructs. Any problem in deconstructing them by asking for some empirical evidence? Wouldn’t that be a step to transforming the conversation from “us versus them”? Or would you prefer that conversation to continue so that you can reduce it to a construct while portraying yourself as interested in dispassionate objectivity above the fray? That’s a construct, too. :)

                    • Arleigh Birchler Dec 11, 2011

                      Thanks, Brooks. I think that what you said about constructs was well written and understandable. Perhaps it is ego or paranoia, but I thought that post might be direct to me. I just spent a lot of time going back through all the posts and re-reading what you said, and now I do not think so. For my own part, it saddens me that it is hard to discuss anything about this war. My inability to do so can be easily explained by my ignorance and lack of training or communication skills. What I mean is that in reading messages they seem to always be heated debates, with a lot of blaming. Marc Ferguson and I used to correspond frequently. We tried to figure out why I seemed to draw the ire of some people. Perhaps it is, as Kevin seems to imply, because I am not really adding anything to the discussion.

                    • Kevin Levin Dec 11, 2011

                      I am not implying anything, that is exactly what I am saying. I appreciate you taking the time to read, but you seem to feel a need to treat us to your own stream of consciousness.

                    • Brooks Simpson Dec 11, 2011

                      I just think it’s not unreasonable to ask people to support what they say with actual evidence, and I’m surprised someone would either object to this or speculate about one’s motives in asking for evidence. After all it was a simple request. I have no idea why you chose to respond as you did or what purpose it served.

  • Matt McKeon Dec 10, 2011

    Note the passive voice, always a clue to bs:

    “After the war(when 1870, 1890, 1910?) there was a major movement(by whom?) to squash Confederate history(how?).”

    Unless you’re describing Jubal Early and Margaret Rutherford, with an assist from D.W. Griffths.

    • Kevin Levin Dec 10, 2011

      Richmonders had a hell of a time getting permission to develop what became Monument Avenue. And don’t forget what a close call it was down in Stone Mountain, Georgia. :-)

  • M. Fox Dec 10, 2011

    The claim that “After the war there was a major move to squash Confederate history” is certainly true if it means “to squash [the truth about] Confederate history,” including the core fact that the Confederacy existed in order to create an empire for slavery.

  • Will Hickox Dec 10, 2011

    “The victors of any war will write history to make them always look good, Just because you won it doesn’t make you right”

    I’ve long respected you as a historian and a blogger, Kevin, but I never knew you were such a gifted military strategist and tactician. Congratulations on winning the Civil War.

  • Arleigh Birchler Dec 10, 2011

    Thanks for posting this video, Kevin. I am having a lot of mixed emotions. When I saw the name of this blog post (sorry if I am calling it by the wrong name) I was excited. What I thought I had read was something that interests me very much. Then I logged on here and read the comments. I was feeling like they had nothing to do with the topic given in the title, but just the same arguments back and forth as in so many other “discussions”. Finally I went back to the top and re-read the title, realizing that my mind had automatically substituted “Southern History” for “Confederate History”. Then I watched Shukree Tilghman’s fine video (or is this a trailer for a longer video?). I was very pleased to find that his last words in the video where exactly what I had been thinking. The only difference was that I was saying “four years” while he said “a few years”.

  • Bryan Cheeseboro Dec 10, 2011

    I realize few people, if any, ever seem to be converted to a different opinion in these internet forum debates. But I just wonder if comments like “Only someone completely ignorant to the trajectory of Civil War memory could make such a ridiculous claim” do more to alienate people and further entrench them in the misconceptions of the Lost Cause than bring them to an honest understanding of history and memory.

    I’m not sure which episode of Civil War Talk Radio it was but Professor Prokopowicz once talked about how students come to college without much interpretation of the Civil War because the history they learned in high school didn’t present a very good picture of Southerners. Others may know more; I didn’t go to school in the South.

    • Kevin Levin Dec 10, 2011

      Bryan,

      I think you ascribe to me way too much power.

      • Bryan Cheeseboro Dec 10, 2011

        Umm….. okay, Kevin. Whatever you say. :-)

        Anyway, I’m on your side with the history and memory thing. I don’t but the Neo-Confederate, Lost Cause, Reconciliationist version of events. I look forward to seeing Mr. Tighlman’s documentary next year.

    • Michael Dec 10, 2011

      Conversely, someone who comes into a discussion with guns blazing, telling someone he sounds “ignorant,” and robotically reciting rhetorical buzzwords is hardly likely to be swayed anyway, no?

      • Dean Dec 11, 2011

        Michael, you need to follow the entire blog I did not come in with “guns blazing, telling someone he sounds “ignorant” it was in response to the original story in which the writer said ” Only someone completely ignorant to the trajectory of Civil War memory could make such a ridiculous claim.” So for you to come in with “guns blazing” should be aware of what you are talking about. And I agree that those that are robotically reciting rhetoric can not be swayed, So try to come up with something constructive instead of your rhetoric.

        • Kevin Levin Dec 11, 2011

          And as a number of people have pointed out in the comments section with examples that claim is “ridiculous.” Not only was a narrative that was favorable to the Confederate cause not suppressed, it flourished throughout the nation by the early twentieth century.

        • Michael Dec 11, 2011

          Dean, I haven’t the foggiest about what you mean by “follow the entire blog.” Doesn’t make sense. If you mean this thread, I have read it as well as all the comments. And I watched the trailer. I agree with the sentence you quoted. It’s based on fact, not feeling. Now, you and I both know you ain’t got nothin’, bless your heart. Else you’d have come in with some facts instead of coming in with insults, i.e., “guns blazing.” I’m interested in facts. I’m not interested in trading barbs with you.

  • Ray O'Hara Dec 10, 2011

    Actually someone counting on others ignorance of history would make that claim.

  • Arleigh Birchler Dec 10, 2011

    For what it is worth (half a bit, maybe), I don’t pay too much attention to the argument about whether secessionist were traitors or Northern armies were foreign invaders. I think most people are more interested in the facts and documents than which side was right or wrong. My impression is that the role of slaves and freedmen in those years is very poorly studied or documented. Most of what I see is just stereotype. I understand the great obstacles to getting information about what slaves thought or did during those four years. I feel that there is probably a lot more useful information that could be objectively studied than what shows in books or discussions. It is just too highly charged of an issue to be studied without being obscured by strongly held moral and philosophical beliefs. I would hope that folks like Shukree Tilghman might be able to make a difference. I doubt that I have said this very coherently, but perhaps some of you will understand what I am trying to say, and perhaps explain it to all of us, including me.

    • Kevin Levin Dec 11, 2011

      I feel that there is probably a lot more useful information that could be objectively studied than what shows in books or discussions. It is just too highly charged of an issue to be studied without being obscured by strongly held moral and philosophical beliefs.

      There is an incredibly rich body of scholarship that examines the lives of slaves as well as studies of material culture.

  • Dean Dec 11, 2011

    Ok, if the Civil War was truly all about slavery and that is how you want to believe, then answer this. Ulysses S. Grant, commander of the union armies, was he himself a slave owner. He inherited them from his father-in-law, and kept them until 1865, 2 years after the Emancipation Proclamation and after the end of the Civil War. He did not free them until the State of Missouri officially abolished slavery. Robert E. Lee, the commander of the Confederate army also had slaves, which he freed in 1862 after his father-in-law died. That would be 1 year before the Emancipation Proclamation, and was quoted as saying in a letter to President Pierce “There are few, I believe, in this enlightened age, who will not acknowledge that slavery as an institution is a moral and political evil.”
    Now if the north was right and the south was evil, and the war was all about slavery then why would the commander of their army be a slave owner until he was forced to free them? And the commander of the evil racist south freed his under his own free will and without the force of law. And if he thought slavery to be evil why would he fight for it?
    Maybe just maybe there was more to it then what people of today have been lead to believe.

    • Kevin Levin Dec 11, 2011

      Unfortunately, your comments betray very little understanding of the facts. On the subject of Grant and slaves I would suggest you begin with this National Park Service site: http://www.nps.gov/ulsg/historyculture/slaveryatwh.htm You may also want to check out Brooks Simpson’s blog Crossroads as well as his biography of Grant. Professor Simpson is considered to be an authority on the life of U.S. Grant. Lee’s views on slavery have been the subject of much debate, but I highly recommend Elizabeth Brown Pryor’s recent biography, Reading the Man, which you can now pick up for $8.

      With all due respect, your comments come through more as rants than anything resembling serious study.

    • Michael Dec 11, 2011

      There are a few incorrect assumptions that you’re refusing to look past.

      1. The Union did not go to war to end slavery. The Union went to war to preserve the Union. Period. The Confederacy, however, started the war because they believed that slavery was threatened. The primary sources make that quite clear.
      2. Whether Grant had slaves or not (and you need to do some actual research on that) has nothing to do with whether the war was about slavery on the part of the Union. See above.
      3. Please point me to any comment that said the “north was right and the south was evil.” That’s a straw man that, to date, I’ve only seen put forth by Confederate apologists.
      4. Lee did indeed free those slaves after his father-in-law died. FIVE YEARS AFTER. Custis’ will manumitted those slaves on his death without specifying a time frame, other than to say that they were to be freed, “in such manner as may to [them] seem most expedient and proper.” And he set an upper limit of five years on that event. The argument can be made that he intended to give his executors time to complete the necessary legalities related to the manumission. He didn’t say, “keep them for five years, then free them.” In any case, Lee kept those slaves, worked them and even hired them out until he legally had no choice but to free them.
      5. The letter you partially quote was not to Pierce. It was to Lee’s wife. You quoted one sentence from it and left out his next words:

      “In this enlightened age, there are few I believe, but what will acknowledge, that slavery as an institution, is a moral & political evil in any Country. It is useless to expatiate on its disadvantages. I think it however a greater evil to the white man than to the black race, & while my feelings are strongly enlisted in behalf of the latter, my sympathies are more strong for the former. The blacks are immeasurably better off here than in Africa, morally, socially & physically. The painful discipline they are undergoing, is necessary for their instruction as a race, & I hope will prepare & lead them to better things. How long their subjugation may be necessary is known & ordered by a wise Merciful Providence.”

    • Arleigh Birchler Dec 11, 2011

      Please note that this is based on my limited reading. I would certainly bow to anyone who has specifically studied these topics and would appreciate any references. I am always willing to learn more.

      Neither Grant nor Lee owned slaves. Under the laws of that time, slaves were personal property. A man had no legal claim to his wife’s personal property. Both Mrs Grant and Mrs Lee inherited slaves from their parents. The legal rights of a woman (such as they were) were respected during those days. For a man to claim ownership of his wife’s personal property would be frowned upon. I do not mean to imply that men did not make free use of their wife’s personal property, or think and treat it as though it were theirs, but society and the laws would take a very dim view of a man trying to sell his wife’s personal property and pocketing the money.

      • Kevin Levin Dec 11, 2011

        From the National Park Service at Arlington’s website:

        When Custis died in 1857, Robert E. Lee—the executor of the estate—determined that the slave labor was necessary to improve Arlington’s financial status. The Arlington slaves found Lee to be a more stringent taskmaster than his predacessor. Eleven slaves were “hired out” while others were sent to the Pamunkey River estates. In accordance with Custis’s instructions, Lee officially freed the slaves on December 29, 1862.

        For more information on Lee views on slavery I recommend Elizabeth Brown Pryor’s Reading the Man.

      • Brooks D. Simpson Dec 11, 2011

        There’s no evidence that Julia Dent Grant inherited title to any slaves from her (very much alive) slaveholding father.

        The Dent slaves had freed themselves by the time Missouri ended slavery early in 1865, before the ratification of the 13th Amendment.

        My question is that given these facts why some people continue to misrepresent the past. Surely they aren’t interested in historical accuracy.

        • Kevin Levin Dec 11, 2011

          Thanks, Brooks. One can only hope that the individual who raised this will take note of the facts.

        • Arleigh Birchler Dec 11, 2011

          Brooks, I am trying to recall if I read anything about this in “Triumph Over Adversity”. Perhaps you mentioned it (I am not questioning you about that) but I would have thought I would have noticed that fact. I have understood that Julia Dent had at least one personal servent given to her by her father. Perhaps it is just a myth.

          • Kevin Levin Dec 11, 2011

            Yes, it is covered.

          • Brooks D. Simpson Dec 11, 2011

            Arleigh … you complain that there isn’t much literature about the experience of African Americans during the Civil War and Reconstruction. There is: it appears to me that you haven’t made yourself acquainted with that literature. Normally, that would lead me to suggest titles. However, as I’ve written about Grant and slavery more than once (in both Let Us Have Peace and Triumph over Adversity, as well as other places) and you express the notion that you couldn’t find any discussion of it in ToA, I’m not sure that pointing you to literature really addresses the issue of what you take in. So I can’t testify as to what you read: I can only testify as to what I wrote.

            • Arleigh Birchler Dec 11, 2011

              Brooks, I guess you are correct in characterizing what I said as “complaining”. I probably would have said “lamenting”, but they are probably just about the same thing. I have no doubt that you know what you wrote. I was not trying to say that you did not, simply being surprised that I did not remember it. I remember other parts of “triumph over adversity” very well. I think it was an excellent book. At my age I doubt that I will read a lot more about the War Between the States (do not read too much into my calling it that). Perhaps I would have been more clear if I had expressed regret that I have not read a lot about specific lives of slaves. That was what drew me to this discussion – the fact that I mis-read the title as dealing with the merging of Black History with Southern History. I would have been very happy if more of the various textbooks and articles and videos that I have seen in my life had more on the Black Experience.

              • Kevin Levin Dec 11, 2011

                Perhaps I would have been more clear if I had expressed regret that I have not read a lot about specific lives of slaves.

                With all due respect, why not just not comment if you don’t have anything constructive to say. Just a thought.

    • Ray O'Hara Dec 11, 2011

      Grant owned one slave, a William Jones, Grant freed him on gaining possession.
      His Father-in-Law sent Grant’s wife Julia a few slaves. Grant didn’t own then so he couldn’t free them.

      these are easily found facts but not if you only take your info from SCV sites.

    • Brooks D. Simpson Dec 11, 2011

      Dean, I’m afraid your information is in error. Missouri abolished slavery before the end of the Civil War; Grant did not inherit slaves from his father-in-law. BTW, one does not “free one’s slaves” if the institution’s abolished: that act frees those slaves.

      As for Lee, you’ve already been corrected. I assume you know that December 1862 is not one year away from January 1, 1863. Nor did he write such a letter to President Franklin Pierce.

      It appears the only source that you’ve been willing to cite is a blog. Is this how you go about proving what you believe … by seeking a blog that corresponds to your views? Even then, it appears you did not read the comments section or mention the information presented there. Why?

      • Kevin Levin Dec 11, 2011

        It’s a wonderful example of the dangers of using the Internet without any ability to evaluate individual sites.

  • Dean Dec 11, 2011

    To be completely honest we can go on like this for months, we can both find literature and web sites and so called experts to support both of us. This just shows that because there are so many conflicting “facts” that the history is opinion based by the writers then the actual historical facts. The true facts are used to prove one opinion or the other by quoting some and leaving others out. Do you actually think that in 150 years they will know why we went Iraq? Hell we don’t know now. Everyone just falls into which ever rhetoric they choose to believe

    • Kevin Levin Dec 11, 2011

      Sorry, but I am not a relativist when it comes to historical sources. I provided you with two specific sources while you have failed to provide a single sources in the comments you have left on this site. If you have a problem with the sources provided you should provide a reason based on the content and/or methodology.

      Let’s try it in reference to your claim about Grant’s slaveholding. Where are you getting your information?

      • Bob Pollock Dec 11, 2011

        Here we go with the “Grant owned slaves” story again.

        http://www.yandtblog.com/?p=288

        http://www.yandtblog.com/?p=298

        • Kevin Levin Dec 11, 2011

          Thanks, Bob. It tell us quite a bit about how people approach sources.

          • Bob Pollock Dec 11, 2011

            I think the most important thing to remember is Brooks’ point that neither Grant nor Lee’s views on slavery had anything to do with the causes of the war because they were not involved in the political process that led to secession.

            I tell visitors to White Haven frequently that Grant, in the years before the war, was not the kind of person who was going to go out and agitate for social and political change; he was not going to be Abraham Lincoln standing on a stump giving a speech. Furthermore, Grant was a big believer in law and order. At one point during his presidency Grant said he thought the thought the best way to get a bad law changed was to enforce it to the letter and people would realize it was wrong and change it (slightly paraphrased). Grant always seemed to try to find the middle course between his humanitarian impulses and his desire for law order. At any rate, when he found himself in a position of authority, first as a general and then as president, and he had opportunities to fight for freedon and equality, he did so. On the other hand, could we imagine Lee pushing through the Fifteenth Amendment or signing the 1875 Civil Rights Act?

            • Arleigh Birchler Dec 11, 2011

              The ideas behind Grant’s view about bad laws is covered well in Plato’s Apologia.

      • Roger E Watson Dec 11, 2011

        It’s sad, since we have all seen from Dean’s other posts, he has never been interested in facts.

      • Arleigh Birchler Dec 11, 2011

        Kevin, I make no claim to being an historian, or to knowing anything about the process of historical research. I would yield to you on either of those subjects, and I am certain Brooks know far more than both of us put together about historical methods. Perhaps my view is “relativist”, but it seems clear to me from what I know about people, including many scientists and academicians, that one’s core beliefs strongly influence how one examines and interprets any area of sense interpretation and data evaluation. Even in carefully controlled double blind experiments experimenter error is a big factor that must be taken into account.

        • Kevin Levin Dec 11, 2011

          Yes, Brooks surely knows much more about the Civil War than the two of us. I have no idea what your point is, but I was using the word “relativist” in the context of the veracity of historical sources. Why you are quoting it is beyond me, but please don’t feel a need to explain.

    • Brooks Simpson Dec 11, 2011

      In short, Dean, your new argument is that it’s all opinion. That said, why would your opinion be worth more than anyone else’s opinion? And when you answer, regardless of what you say, I can dismiss whatever you say using your own rationale, because that’s just your opinion. And that means you confess you don’t know the truth, if we are to heed your own logic, so your protests ring hollow.

  • Bryan Cheeseboro Dec 11, 2011

    I think Tighlman’s program will be very interesting but what bothers me is that Black History Month and ONLY Black History Month comes under assault as the ehthnic commemoration people want to get rid of. How many people are aware that March of Greek-American Heritage Month and Irish-American Heritage Month, both in March, or Jewish-American Heritage Month, in May? So if we do away with Black History Month, shouldn’t we do away with those months, too, as well as Confederate History Month?

    Personally, I don’t need a designated time to remember African-American history. I think about it every day because I think about American history every day. Nor do I need Memorial Day and Veteran’s Day to remember our troops or Flag Day and the Fourth of July to be proud I’m an American. But I think Black History Month should exist like every other commemoration and holiday exists.

    And certainly, there are people who need Black History Month more than they think they do. I will never forget sitting in my college classroom amazed to hear a student ask who Frederick Douglass was. I had learned about Frederick Douglass in the first grade. And watching the program “African-American Lives,” where Chris Rock learned about his ancestor, Julis Caesar Tingman, who lived 21 years in slavery, served in the USCT and then went on to become a politician. Rock said if he had known about Tingman’s accomplishments, he might have aspired to something other than a comedy career. Of course, Chris Rock has done very well for himself, but imagine all of the others out there with a history they know nothing about-

    African-American history is enriching. It’s vindicating. It adds to the story, rather than take away from it. Granted, some will never want to hear it (except for believing 90,000 Blacks fought for the Confederacy as soldiers) but that’s their problem.

    • Kevin Levin Dec 11, 2011

      It will be interesting to see the documentary in its entirety given the fact that Virginia Governor Robert McDonnell rejected the SCV’s request setting aside April as Confederate History Month. I hope he includes the very bitter public debate that ensued as well as the governor’s decision to declare April as Civil War History in Virginia Month.

    • Michael Dec 11, 2011

      I hear you, Bryan. I once compiled a list of “ethnic-American” history and heritage months, celebrations and organizations (many of them far pre-dating Black History Month) to point out to someone that Black History Month was not some heinous scheme aimed at racial division. I know why it’s singled out as being the turd in the punchbowl, but that’s a discussion inappropriate to the current context.

      • Bryan Cheeseboro Dec 12, 2011

        Michael,
        I also know why BHM is singled out and is, as you put it, “the turd in the punchbowl,” but I’m not sure why you deem the discussion on the existence of BHM “inappropriate to the current context.” I’m not sure what you’re referring to in this phrase. Keep in mind, the documentary produced by Shukree Tighlman is about whether or not BHM should even exist.

        • Arleigh Birchler Dec 12, 2011

          Bryan,

          I was finding myself being very defensive everytime I got a message from this discussion. I took the time to do a quick analysis of it so that I could refer to everything any person had said, and find all of the places a particular word was used. I must say that I am very impressed with the things you have had to say, and agree with them completely. I re-watched the video. It was quiet as good the second (or is it the third?) time. I had thought that the question being raised was “Should there be a Confederate History Month” and that a Black History Month was a given. I admit, however, that I do not know if either exist in Virginia, or New Hampshire, or whatever region is under consideration.

        • Michael Dec 12, 2011

          My apologies. A poor choice of words on my part. I just didn’t want the discussion to be derailed by my opinions on what I consider America’s endemic, anti-black racism.

          • Arleigh Birchler Dec 12, 2011

            Very good point, Michael. I get enough of 2011 politics from other sources, but I think a whole lot of what is going on in this nation today has a lot ot do with: “endemic anti-black racism”. (My use of quotes is not meant to imply anything.)

          • Bryan Cheeseboro Dec 12, 2011

            Thank you, Michael for the comments on my posts. And I do agree with you that “endemic.” I understand if there is a desire here not to get bogged down in race issues. Maybe it’s because I’m African-American myself but it just really upets me when people try to glorify the Confederacy and talk about how they wanted their freedom and independence and all, all based on the enslavement of Black people. So to answer the original question that titled this blog, I would say you can’t have Confederate history without Black History; though you can have Black history without Confederate history.

            • Arleigh Birchler Dec 12, 2011

              One could certainly study the history of African-Americans in the United States and ignore the South, the War, and the Confederacy, just as one could study the History of the Confederate States of America, and ignore African-Americans. I think that the point (at least for me) is that either approach would leave out a tremendous amount of important information.

            • Michael Dec 12, 2011

              Bryan, I quite understand your feelings re the Confederacy. They likely mirror my own in many respects. The people, policies and culture that created, maintained and, to this day, celebrate the Confederacy were the same that drove my free ancestors from places where they had lived since the Colonial era. Ancestors who had fought in the war that created this country. They were the same who enslaved other of my ancestors in at least five states. And they were the same who, in 1889, assassinated another (a rising Republican politician in Arkansas. . . http://encyclopediaofarkansas.net/encyclopedia/entry-detail.aspx?search=1&entryID=6495 if you’re interested in reading about it).

              I’m old enough to remember my great-grandparents stories of their grandparents and great-grandparents who had lived as slaves, I have no love nor sentiment for the Confederacy OR its memory, frankly. Still less for its apologists. And I’m sure the feeling’s mutual. ;-)

              • Arleigh Birchler Dec 13, 2011

                Thanks for posting the article, Michael. I found it very interesting. Arkansas was pretty evenly split between Unionists and Secessionists before the War, and remained so during and after the War. I have read a bit about the Fusion Movement before, and find it quite interesting. On a personal note, the individuals for whom I have my Sons of Union Veterans and Sons of Confederate Veterans memberships both fought in Arkansas, on opposite sides. They were from Illinois and Missouri, respectively. There were a lot of assassinations and group violence in both Arkansas and Louisiana after the War. It was a terrible time in a terrible place (then, not necessarily now). (By the way, Dean did come in with guns blazing, but I tend to nearly totally ignore those sorts of comments and had to go back and re-read everything.)

                • Michael Douglas Dec 13, 2011

                  Arleigh, I was not familiar with the Fusion movement or the Agricultural Wheel until doing research on Americus. He was my great-grandfather’s brother. I’ve subsequently learned that Arkansas was indeed a hotbed of violence in that period. An article in the Chicago Tribune about my uncle’s killing was titled, “Another Arkansas Election Outrage,” and proceeded to castigate the state for thes types of occurrences.

  • Arleigh Birchler Dec 12, 2011

    Sorry for the stream of consciousness. Trying to re-read some of the discussion between Dean and Brooks brought to mind Walt Witman’s famous lines about the War never getting in the books, which made me remember the opening stanza of: “Oh Be Joyful” from “The Civil War”.

    “When this war is over
    And we all have passed away
    There’ll be some damn fool in some damn school
    Who’ll write about today
    He’ll tell them how we all survived
    This bullcrap every day
    And never said that thing it was
    That helped along the way”

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