Here is some more video from the new documentary, Southern Belle. In this segment historians respond to the attempt on the part of the organizers to remove any discussion of slavery from their program. They address the following question: Why would the “yeoman” farmer go to war with no dog in the Civil War fight? The list of historians interviewed includes, R. Blakeslee Gilpin, Assistant Professor of History, University of South Carolina; Carroll Van West, Director, Tennessee Civil War National Heritage Area; Tara McPherson, Professor of Critical Studies, University of Southern California School of Cinematic Arts and Stan Deaton, Director, Georgia Historical Society. Additional films can be viewed on the documentary’s website.
This looks to be a fairly interesting documentary. Here is a brief description:
The Civil War may be long over, but the spirit of rebellion is hard to extinguish even in something as innocent as a girls’ summer camp. Southern Belle is an insider’s look at the 1861 Athenaeum Girls’ School in Columbia, Tennessee, where the antebellum South rises again. Every summer, young women from around the world eagerly sign up to become that iconic and romantic image of southern identity: the southern belle, replete with hoop skirt, hat and gloves, singing the region’s anthem, “Dixie.” However, the camp can only achieve this version of Southern femininity by whitewashing the past. The teachers, all of whom work for no compensation, hope to instill genteel manners and build pride in southern heritage. To accomplish this, they have carefully selected the time period so they can share the “truth” with the next generation about why the South seceded from the Union. For them, the Civil War had little to do with slavery and everything to do with states’ rights and unfair taxation.
Update: Andy Hall has an interesting post up on the absence of any significant debate on the arming of slaves in Texas. Philip Dillard recently wrote an essay that analyzes the various factors that led to the debate in Virginia and the reasons why Texans failed to consider this crucial step. It can be found in Inside the Confederate Nation: Essays in Honor of Emory M. Thomas, which is edited by Lesley Gordon and John Inscoe.
Resolved, That the State of North Carolina protests against the arming of slaves by the Confederate government, in any emergency that can possibly arise, but gives its consent to their being taken and used as laborers in the public service, upon just compensation being made.
Resolved, That North Carolina denies the constitutional power of the Confederate government to impress slaves for the purpose of arming them, or preparing them to be armed, in any contingency, without the consent of the States being freely given, and then only according to State laws.
Resolved, That his Excellency Governor Z.B. Vance be requested to communicate a copy of these resolutions to each of our Senators and Representatives in Congress.
Ratified 3d day of February, 1865.
I would love to be able to transport a group of modern day black Confederate myth proponents back to 1865 to discuss this issue with the North Carolina legislature. Now that would be a real whoot.
Yesterday I shared a short excerpt from the John H. Claiborne letters, which are located in Special Collections at the University of Virginia. I was looking for one particular letter in which he discussed his camp servants. Unfortunately, no date was included in the description of the collection so I had to make my way through roughly 50 letters. I finally found it at the very end, but it was well worth the time spent. Claiborne briefly references a number of slaves that assisted him as chief surgeon in Petersburg, but not until the letter below did he reflect on their place in the army as well as the future of slavery.
Claiborne references the impressment policies of the Confederate government along with his own responsibilities as a slaveholder. There is a great deal of paternalism that courses throughout and an interesting passage in which he reaffirms the supposed loyalty of his slaves. In reading the letters you get a clear sense that Claiborne and his slaves endured great hardship in Petersburg during the final year of the war, but in the end his slaves never move beyond being acknowledged for their instrumental value.
I am writing from the Special Collections Department at the University of Virginia, where I am going through some files related to body servants and impressed slaves. Here is a little nugget from the John H. Claiborne letters, which I’ve spent quite some time with over the past few years. This collection of letters and other materials really needs to be published. Claiborne was the chief surgeon in Petersburg during the final year of the war. Here is an excerpt from a letter to his wife, dated July 17, 1864:
Oh when will the day of retribution come? Can this conquer the South? Let the spoiled and bleeding and exiled and starving people of Virginia answer. Not a murmur – not a complaint not a craven cry for peace have I heard — but war — blood for blood — let us perish and our little ones — but let the fight go on — better to fill freemen’s graves than to live as yankee serfs. You see their undying spirit in the thin – compressed lip and fierce hungry eye. One of my Surgeons told me the other day that his wife who is in N.Va. wrote him that she was penniless — that she was soon to be confined and that she did not know what she should do. Another — a man for a long time was a captain in a Va. Regiment and a noble brave fellow and a good soldier until his health forced him into the Med. Dept. told me that he had a letter from his wife a day or two ago and that she was working in the cornfield day by day trying to make break for his little ones. These were people of affluence & refinement before the war. Both of the gentlemen were educated in Europe or partially educated there and accustomed to all the elegance & luxuries that wealth could supply. There is suffering but you see it only in the earnest face & compressed lip — and you hear it in the muttered denunciation of wrath against the yankees. No whining for peace or stop the war. It is said we Virginians are too proud of our State. It may be so — but none will deny we have cause to be proud of her. I envy no other & detract from no other but I thank God I am a Virginian. We may be blotted out of the book of nations but the name of Virginia & of her sons & her daughters can never perish.