I Can’t Win

I have a fairly large file of emails that I’ve accumulated over the years from folks who interpret my writings as anti-South/Confederate or some other variation.  It’s a narrative that I’ve grown accustomed to and represents a clear misunderstanding of what I do.  More importantly, it reflects an oversimplified reading of the past, particularly when it comes to what I’ve written about Confederate camp servants and black Confederates.

So, you can imagine my surprise when I read the following comment from Mr. Ross Williams of Grand Rapids, Minnesota that was recently posted to a column I published on the relationship between John Christopher Winsmith and his camp servant, Spencer.  I did my best to interpret the available evidence, which comes down to Winsmith’s own letters as well as my understanding of the relevant secondary literature. As is the case with many of these stories I am left with more questions than answers.

After being accused for so long of being a “South hater” it is strange to suddenly be accused of being a slavery apologist.  Which reminds me, I haven’t heard a peep from my Southern heritage friends about this essay.

I really would like to know what they think of it.

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8 comments… add one

  • CMcWhirter Nov 13, 2012

    Mr. Williams had a similar take on my Disunion article about “Dixie”; taking one turn of phrase out of context to suggest that I was ignoring African Americans in my analysis and similarly characterizing me as some sort of Neo=Confederate. He seems to represent a strange sort of mirror image of the more hyperbolic Confederate-apologists by considering any discusson of white southerners that doesn’t relentlessly condemn their actions as somehow biased against the Union.

    • Kevin Levin Nov 13, 2012

      He also did a poor job of interpreting a recent essay by Ken Noe. Well, at least I can rest assured that it’s not personal.

  • Bummer Nov 13, 2012

    Bummer read your column and felt that Mr. William’s comment showed a lack of knowledge, regarding your scholarship and literary technique. Who knows how others percieve the story you’re sharing and more importantly who cares. As long as the majority get it, you’re a winner. Levin will always be Levin!

    Bummer

    • Kevin Levin Nov 13, 2012

      Levin very much appreciates the show of support.

  • Scott Manning Nov 13, 2012

    Kevin, you will never win based on those rules. Some have come to grips with the fact that history is not 100% good or bad, but still that is how many learn it and remember it. You should wear it as a badge of honor that people have labeled you a “Southern hater” and a “slavery apologist.”

    • Kevin Levin Nov 13, 2012

      Thanks. I won’t lose any sleep over it. I find it funny.

  • Keith Muchowski Nov 13, 2012

    You were never fooling anybody, Kevin. Your stripes have finally been revealed. :)

  • Michael Lynch Nov 13, 2012

    One of the frustrating things about doing history is the fact that it deals in the subject of human behavior, so people tend to worry about the moral implications of historians’ arguments and conclusions in a way they wouldn’t when it comes to the work of people studying other subjects. (Imagine somebody criticizing a wildlife biologist for being pro-lion instead of pro-gazelle.)

    On the one hand, we expect scholars to separate themselves from these other dimensions of their subject matter; on the other hand, one has to wonder whether amoral history is possible, or even desirable.

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