This is an interesting little report on the commemorative events surrounding the sesquicentennial of Fort Sumter. A number of people are interviewed, but what I find so interesting is the difference in tone between NPS interpreter, Michael Allen and the Kennedy brothers (aka the Civil War’s Statler and Waldorf), who identify themselves as “Southern Historians.” I just love that reference. It has nothing to do with regional identification because if it did they would have to include hundreds of historians who were all born and raised in the South. I live in the South. Am I a Southern Historian in their eyes? You get my point. No, that identification marks a certain way of looking at the history of the South and its tone is overly defensive and presentist – a perspective that I suspect does not reflect the views of most white and black southerners. The language used reflects very little interest in the nineteenth century itself. Just listen to these two describe the federal government as tariff and money obsessed and intent on going around the world to oppress innocent people at the point of a bloody bayonet.
You certainly leave with a sense of their emotional connection to the issue, but it’s not much of an explanation.
The bigger problem here is that the media’s insistence on interviewing people like the Kennedy brothers reinforces the assumption that this is the Southern view of the war. They may be entertaining and they may refer to themselves as Southern historians, but they do not speak for the South.
One of the points that I tried to make in my radio interview yesterday morning was that while there is a vibrant and often heated discussion about the existence and loyalty of black Confederates this is simply not true within the scholarly community. Academic historians have studied this issue closely and have done extensive work on how the Confederate government and military attempted to utilize its slave population. There is a rich literature on various aspects of this subject that can be accessed by those, who are sincerely interested in learning more.
We have a choice. We can remain preoccupied with questions of numbers and emotional pleas that slaves wished to remain enslaved or we can set aside these simplistic assumptions that tell us more about our own values and look for more interesting questions and analysis.
By The President of The United States of America:
The years 1961-1965 will mark the one hundredth anniversary of the American Civil War.
The war was America’s most tragic experience. But like all truly great tragedies, it carries with it an enduring lesson and a profound inspiration. It was a demonstration of heroism and sacrifice by men and women of both sides, who valued principles above life itself and whose devotion to duty is a proud part of our national inheritance.
Both sections of our magnificently reunited country sent into their armies men who become soldiers as good as any who ever fought under any flag. Military history records nothing finer than the courage and spirit displayed at such battles as Chickamauga, Antietam, Kennesaw Mountain and Gettysburg. That America could produce men so valiant and so enduring is a matter for deep and abiding pride.
The same spirit on the part of the people back home supported those soldiers through four years of great trial. That a Nation which contained hardly more than 30 million people, North and South together, could sustain 600,000 deaths without faltering is a lasting testimonial to something unconquerable in the American spirit. And that a transcending sense of unity and larger common purpose could, in the end, cause the men and women who had suffered so greatly to close ranks once the contest ended and to go on together to build a greater, freer and happier America must be a source of inspiration as long as our country may last.
One of my readers was kind enough to pass on the following video, which was originally used as part of a training course for National Park Service interpreters. The video includes interviews with various interpreters on the necessity and challenges associated with introducing the cause of the war on Civil War battlefields. There are a number of perspectives presented, but all convey the importance of doing so.
This morning I was interviewed on The Takeaway Radio Show by John Hockenberry and Celesete Headlee on the subject of black Confederates. It was a productive interview and I am pleased that the producers decided to follow up yesterday’s show by addressing some of the more problematic claims made as well as broader misconceptions.