“To Be a Southerner & Believe in the Union Does Not Make One a Traitor.”

Here is an interesting little scene from the television series North and South in which Robert E. Lee convenes with Jefferson Davis about a host of military problems early in the war. In discussing the North’s strategy to strangle the Confederacy’s trade with the rest of the world Davis calls General Winfield Scott a traitor. Lee will have none of it: “To be a Southerner and believe in the Union does not make one a traitor, sir.”

The portrayal of Lee here definitely goes beyond the popular view of the reserved and self-controlled gentleman. We get the standard line about believing slavery to be immoral, but we also see Lee urge an aggressive offensive strategy, which falls in line with recent scholarship. I may have to find the time to watch this series in its entirety.

[Uploaded to YouTube on February 2, 2014]

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15 comments… add one

  • Bryan Cheeseboro Feb 13, 2014

    I read all three books of John Jakes’ “North & South” trilogy and saw all three miniseries on TV. I remember this scene with Lee, Davis and Orry Main.

    One thing notice about many TV/movie programs featuring Confederates as main characters: all of them are usually asked by somebody else why they are fighting the war and it is NEVER for the sake of Vice President Alexander Stephens’ “great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery… is his natural and normal condition.” “Something else but slavery” is always the reason for characters we’re supposed to like (remember the Confederate “fightin’ fo’ mah rats” in Gettysburg). Characters we’re supposed to despise, like Justin La Motte or James Huntoon, both from North & South, are bad people but at least they are authentic in their defense of slavery.

    • Kevin Levin Feb 13, 2014

      Right, but in response to Lee’s statement that he does not believe in slavery, Davis asks why he aligned himself with the Confederacy. Perhaps an implicit nod in that direction.

      • Lyle Smith Feb 13, 2014

        North and South (the miniseries) in hindsight is surprisingly progressive about antebellum politics and the Civil War. The writer understands completely that the war was about slavery. Slavery isn’t minimized, but confronted. The Main family after all is a planter family that owns a fair number of slaves. However, to appeal to contemporary sensibilities the Main family is portrayed as a forward thinking and benevolent slave holding family. They’re like Solomon Northrup’s Master Ford.

        It’s not a terribly outdated show in my opinion. I think I read somewhere that a new North and South series is in the works.

  • Bryan Cheeseboro Feb 13, 2014

    “Perhaps an implicit nod in that direction.”

    I don’t know about that. If anything, minimizing slavery among Confederates on the small or big screen may be, I think, a business decision so as not to alienate White Southern viewers or others who defend the Confederacy. It will be interesting to see how this continues to play out as demographics shift and the inclusion of the emancipationist interpretation of the Civil War Era (including 12 Years a Slave) make it harder to continue “The Lost Cause” song and dance.

    I forgot to mention this: I didn’t notice this about this scene before but what I found very interesting is that practically right after Davis gets done ripping apart Virginian Winfield Scott as a traitor, he laments the loss of friendships with Northerners like Orry’s friendship with George Hazard (around 3:15 on the clip).

    • Kevin Levin Feb 13, 2014

      I don’t know about that.

      I was definitely half kidding. :-)

      • Bryan Cheeseboro Feb 13, 2014

        Okay. Well, I’ll go with your half that was serious. :-)

  • Scott A. MacKenzie Feb 13, 2014

    If you look into the mirror around 2:40, you’ll see the microphone.

    This scene fascinates me for it smashes ideas together. Davis’s strategy for the war was to bring all the slaveholding states into the Confederacy – as Joseph L. Harsh argued. So it’s understandable that he’d call Winfield Scott a traitor to Virginia. Lee’s response is in that classic popular view of him as the reluctant Confederate, anti-slavery, blah, blah, blah, that Thomas Connelly refuted in The Marble Man. Someday they’ll get close.

    North and South’s casting choices always amazed me. Lloyd Bridges as Davis? I don’t think he was that animated. Hal Holbrook as Lincoln? He’s a statue come to life. The greatest one of them all: Johnny Cash as John Brown. Yikes, it must be seen to be believed.

  • Rob Baker Feb 13, 2014

    North and South is a such a guilty pleasure for me. I have to watch it every summer regardless of the inaccuracies.

  • Ben Allen Feb 13, 2014

    I have found two errors in this video. First, although Lee didn’t favor the secession of the South, he believed it to be constitutional. Second, one reason why, after his failure in the Shenandoah Valley, he gained command of the Army of Northern Virginia was due to his deference toward President Davis, only occasionally challenging him in the gentlest manner possible. I don’t see him being deferential in this clip.

    Also, I find it funny that Lloyd Bridges plays Jefferson Davis, because whenever I see him I think of his role in “Airplane.” :)

    • Kevin Levin Feb 13, 2014

      Also, I find it funny that Lloyd Bridges plays Jefferson Davis, because whenever I see him I think of his role in “Airplane”.

      Guess I picked a bad day to secede from the Union. :-)

  • Al Mackey Feb 13, 2014

    North and South was surprisingly close to accurate, if we remember and take into account the fact that it’s essentially a Hollywood soap opera. I have the DVDs for all three of the miniseries, and I enjoy watching them every now and then.

  • London John Feb 13, 2014

    It’s years since I watched this (before I even had a VHS recorder): is this the one that starts at West Point before the Mexican war, where the dialogue is something like “Hi, I’m George” “So am I” “So am I”, and the linking character in the CW seems to be Winslow Homer? If so as I remember it ends with a grotesque episode where for some reason the Northern family and the Southern family are having a picnic together when they’re attacked by Union troops and join together to defend the picnic. Or something like that.

  • msb Feb 13, 2014

    I certainly watched the first two series with bated breath, even while strongly objecting to the exoneration of the “nice” members of the Main family from any of the taint of slavery, and the very sexist portrayal of the female characters, which stems from Jakes’ books. There’s a small hint at the cruelty of slavery in the opening episode (IIRC), when a young man is branded on the face for being drunk at a white people’s party, but the blame for that goes straight to the overseer, who, interestingly enough later joins forces with his victim and other self-liberated Main slaves to form a criminal gang that ultimately burns down Orry’s house, causing the death of his sweet old mother. This is a view of race relations straight out of “Gone with the Wind”, with an even less effective Ellen O’Hara.

    The portrayal of women is just as dated. All the “good” women characters are sweet and submissive to men; those who pursue their own goals – George’s brother’s wife, Ashton Main and especially Virgilia Hazard, the main anti-slavery voice for most of the series – are evil and, unlike the male villains of the story, driven primarily by a desire for sex, as well as power. Jakes’ first book more than hints that Virgilia is an abolitionist mainly because she’s bored and oversexed and wants to sleep with black men. Contrast the treatment of John Brown with that of Virgilia and you’ll see what I mean.

    This kvetching is partly disappointment, however. I had hoped to see something of Susan B. Anthony or Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s work – even Mother Bickerdyke (sp?) – with the Sanitary Commission, but, apart from some Union nurses, nearly all the Northern women in the story stay firmly at home, worrying, praying and having babies called Hope to symbolize reconciliation. It was fun to see the women actors coping with those vast dresses of the period, however, and fun to see how they looked on actual people.

  • Bryan Cheeseboro Feb 14, 2014

    “There’s a small hint at the cruelty of slavery in the opening episode (IIRC), when a young man is branded on the face for being drunk at a white people’s party, but the blame for that goes straight to the overseer, who, interestingly enough later joins forces with his victim and other self-liberated Main slaves to form a criminal gang that ultimately burns down Orry’s house, causing the death of his sweet old mother.”

    Actually, I’d call that branding a BIG hint at the cruelty of slavery. Anyway, you’re mistaken on the characters. Priam was the slave who was branded on the cheek. Soon after this, he ran away, participated in John Brown’s raid in 1859 and was killed by the Virginia militia in that failed slave uprising. Cuffey was the slave who Salem Jones- thje overseer- later allied with to burn down the Main’s “big house.”

    As far the miniseries being sexist, I’m not sure I agree with you on that. The ladies and love interests of the two main characters- Constance Hazard and Madeline Fabray-La Motte-Main-Hazard (she was married three times) are presented as women well aware of the socio-political issues of the times. Constance was involved in the Underground Railroad; Madeline aided runaway refugee slaves in Richmond during the war. And Virgilia Hazard-Grady was a very amazing character. Kirstie Alley was truly fantastic in the role. I don’t believe the book- or the miniseries communicated that Virgilia was “bored and oversexed and wants to sleep with black men.” As I recall, the book said she was not that attractive. I think it was great that the story made you wonder if her attraction to Black men- including marrying one- was really love or an abolitionist statement. As for the other two female characters- Ashton Main-Huntoon was the vixen who used sex for power; her sister Brett was much more innocent, wholesome and demure.

    For me, the most sexist thing about “North & South” on TV was all the cleavage. Perhaps it would have been better to call it “North TO South,” LOL.

  • Forester Feb 21, 2014

    If you watch it Kevin, ignore the miniseries called “Heaven and Hell.” It’s bad … it’s THAT bad and if you watch it, you will seriously regret it. See, the second miniseries changed too much of the second novel’s ending — characters who died in the novel lived, and vice-versa. “Love and War” was re-written for TV with the assumption that no more miniseries would be made. But the almighty dollar prevailed, and almost 10 years later they decided to roll out another one. This was 1994, the same time when a crappy miniseries “Scarlett” was trying to mine Gone with the Wind on network television.

    The way they wrote Patrick Swayze out is laughable, and the acting is terrible. The storyline is reduced to a bad serial killer thriller alongside a cheesy Western with a lame moral about Buffalo Soldiers (‘racism is bad’, YAWN). It’s an all around travesty.

    My brother (who was 10 years old at the time) explained the title perfectly: “It’s called ‘Heaven and Hell’ because it’s hell when you watch it and heaven when it’s over.”

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