It’s Heritage, Not History: Part (I Lost Count)

The interview is less than four minutes, but you will be amazed by how many factual and interpretive mistakes are made by Philip Way, who is the commander of a Sons of Confederate Veterans camp in Harrisonburg, Virginia. How many can you find?

14 responses... add one

At about 2:18 he calls the Shenandoah Valley the “Breadbasket of the Confederacy.” I’ve certainly heard this reference before and perhaps it was used during the war. But in the primary source accounts I’ve read, the real “Breadbasket,” without question, was the Union Army for pretty much everything you can think of- food, clothes, weapons, horses and mules; and even slave labor.

I can believe the harvests of the Shenandoah Valley were a tremendous source for the South. but I think that “Breadbasket of the Confederacy” label ignores another side of the story.

My particular favorite is the claim that there was “no United States per se, there were states.” Ah…the legacy of Shelby Foote.

The MOOC presented by university of virginia. History of the modern world. Presents this picture. Really was a lose collection of republics. The United States emerged from the civil war as a nation state. Big deal..

>>>Here are the United States of America in 1861.
Early on, I explained that one way the Americans had been able to hold together this precarious union of a number of different republics is they created a kind of compound republic,

A republic of republics,

with a pretty intricate balance between what the rights were of the federal government and the rights were of all the component states inside the Union.

Indeed, in all the encyclopedias you’ll find before 1860, the term United States of America is a plural noun.

I highly recommend Paul Quigley’s book, Shifting Ground: Nationalism & the American South, 1848-1865, which offers a thorough analysis of how southerners conceptualized the nation at this time. The notion that they didn’t acknowledge the United States or have a strong sense of nationalism is ridiculous. I can only imagine Washington’s and Jefferson’s response to Mr. Way’s comment.

Breadbasket..
Some truth to that. I’ve encountered the concept in many sources..

>>>Known as the breadbasket of the Confederacy, the farmlands of the Shenandoah Valley provided a substantial amount of food to Southern soldiers and civilians. Many Valley residents were pacifist Quakers or Dunkers who did not join the fight. This meant that the Shenandoah Valley continued at a higher level of agricultural production until fall 1864, unlike other regions that lost greater amounts of labor to the war effort.

If there was no United States, no central government, and they were all just a collection of states, well, then, what’s all this fuss about secession: nothing to secede from!

He can’t be serious about what he said.

Two examples come to my mind when I think of southern state loyalty. First, Lee being offered command of the Union armies and choosing to go to Virginia. Second, Georgia believed in state’s rights so strongly that even during the Civil War, it refused to share uniforms it had with other Confederate states.

These are things that are in my head with no documentation. So if these are false, please let me know, but if not, they seem to agree with the idea that the United States were not as united as we think.

The uniform thing was North Carolina, but still.

No, once you go all-in for states’ rights and nullification, you effectively hobble the ability for the central, national government to act quickly and decisively, even in the face of an existential threat. “Died of a theory,” etc.

Lee is a perfect example of just this point. We all know he struggled with his decision regarding his loyalty to Virginia and the oath he took as a military officer. Lee spent many years serving his country and the weight of that was clearly present in his deliberation. What about Winfield Scott, George Henry Thomas…?

“Georgia believed in state‚Äôs rights so strongly that even during the Civil War, it refused to share uniforms it had with other Confederate states.”
My impression (which experts may care to correct) is that it was rather the other way round: the governors of Georgia and North Carolina invented the theory that States’ Rights was an essential part of the Confederate cause when they wanted to defy the Confederate government.
It always seemed to me that the Fugitive Slave Act showed just how much the slave states cared for states’ rights before the war.

What I find both amusing and disturbing is that the reporter (Bob Corso) does not challenge Mr. Way. This tiptoe-through-the-issues approach is lazy and is a disservice to us all. Mr. Way cherry picks from the typical list of Confederate Heritage points and Mr. Corso simply provides the forum. Maybe I expect too much, but I would like to hear Mr. Way elaborate – and be challenged – on issues like states rights. It’s complicated, but maybe some of us have the brain power to follow along.

Wrong forum. The interviewer likely does not know enough to begin to challenge Way’s understanding of the war.

Join the Conversation