Category Archives: Civil War Historians

Appealing to Slavery and Race When It is Convenient

In the wake of Governor McDonnell’s amendment to his Confederate History Month Proclamation, representatives of the Sons of Confederate Veterans did their best to convince America that slavery and race have little or nothing to do with understanding the war.  Actually, the SCV has no problem discussing these issues – in fact, they are obsessed with the subject – as long as they control the terms of the debate.  As a result we are introduced to thousands of loyal black Confederate slaves and other distortions designed to redirect the conversation away from the central role that slavery played in the Confederate experience.  A few days ago I suggested that the SCV’s preferred view of the past has been on the defensive for the past few years and is on a fast track to becoming completely irrelevant. The responses from SCV members that I received served to confirm this prediction.

Reading accounts of yesterday’s dedication ceremony of the Davis-Limber statue at Beauvoir points to the extent to which the SCV’s agenda has been minimized and forced to remain on ground that they maintain. The statue is a case study in SCV propaganda and outright bad history.  The SCV has never been interested in Limber’s story; rather, he functions (as do “black Confederates”) to steer any discussion of the war and the Confederacy away from race and slavery.  Here are a few choice quotes from the ceremony that make my point:

In the name of the Sons of Confederate Veterans of all the people of the south of all the people of good conscience and righteousness throughout the world, we dedicate this statue of Jefferson Davis.  That it may stand as eternal testament to a duty well done.  Well, in the south, we know it takes a family to raise a child, and that’s what Jefferson Davis was willing to do.  — Chuck McMichael

This really humanizes Jefferson Davis, tells a story which isn’t really told very often,” said Bowling. There are two young children standing next to Davis with arms linked. One of the children was rescued by Davis’ wife during the war.  Jim Limber, the black child being beaten up and pushed around by an older man, and she hopped out of the carriage and pushed him away and grabbed Jim Limber and took him home where he became a functional member of the Davis household. — Brag Bowling

As you can clearly see, this story has nothing at all to do with little Jim Limber.  It’s about an act that was performed, not by Jefferson Davis, but by his wife, Varina.  Why isn’t she featured in this statue?  What is truly disturbing, however, is how little we know about Limber as well as the very brief period of time he spent with the Davis family.  In William J. Cooper’s massive biography of Jefferson Davis we find not one reference to this boy, though the author spends a great deal of time discussing the Davis family.  Joan Cashin’s recent biography of Varina Davis does include a few brief references to Limber, but it raises more questions than answers.  She notes the incident in Richmond that led to Limber joining the household, but as to his place in the family Cashin suggests that he functioned as a “playmate” to the other children.  In fact, it looks like it was Davis’s biological children who took a liking to the boy and pressed the issue of whether he could stay.

If the SCV wishes to be taken seriously than they should have no problem pointing us to the primary sources that support the claims that were made yesterday and at countless other times.  [Oh...just in case you need to be reminded, Rickey Pittman's book does not count as scholarship.]

I won’t hold my breadth because as I said this isn’t really about Jim Limber and, ultimately, it may not even be about the Davis family.  Tell em’ Mr. Bowling:

“It wasn’t about slavery. It was about freedom, and the Jefferson Davis statue symbolizes freedom”

I Just Love the Title

This forthcoming book about Robert E. Lee by John Perry is apparently part of a new series of books on American military leaders published by Thomas Nelson.  The volume on Patton is subtitled: “Tenacity in Action.”  From the book description:

It’s no surprise that Robert E. Lee graduated second in his class from West Point. His four years there were marked by exemplary conduct and nary a demerit. He went on to become one of the most successful generals of the Confederate army during the American Civil War, inspiring his troops with his unselfish character and devotion to duty. Lee’s string of victories earned him praise on both sides of the Mason-Dixon line. He was admired for his tactical success in battle, and even after surrendering to Ulysses S. Grant at the Appomatox court house, his example of conduct for thousands of ex-Confederates made him a legend. After the war, he assumed the presidency of Washington College and devoted the remainder of his life to setting an example of conduct. He remains one of the most distinguished military heroes of all time.

I can definitely feel the “goodness”.

Sons of Confederate Veterans Respond to Governor McDonnell

Brooks Simpson came across the Virginia SCV’s response to Gov. McDonnell’s Confederate History Month proclamation today while teaching his course on research methods.  I recommend that you read the entire post, but here is the SCV’s proclamation for your consideration.  Brooks has already pointed out the false claim that Ulysses S. Grant and his wife owned slaves until the adoption of the 13th amendment.  Have fun with locating the other mistakes and the distortions.  What I find truly bizarre is why the SCV feels a need to reference Lincoln on race as well as the Emancipation Proclamation.  They have nothing to do with the governor’s proclamation or amendment to it.  The governor’s amendment pointed out that slavery was a cause of the war and that it cannot be ignored in trying to understand the scope of the conflict.  I think this reflects just how defensive the SCV has become, but it also reflects an intellectual bankruptcy that should be apparent to anyone who has reads serious Civil War history.  More importantly, it suggests to me that the SCV is not going to be a significant player in influencing Virginia’s remembrance through the sesquicentennial.  Nice try guys, but the sooner you come to term with the fact that we no longer live in 1961 the better off you will be.

The Virginia Division, Sons of Confederate Veterans statement regarding the Confederate History Month Proclamation as issued by Virginia Governor Robert F. McDonnell, TO WIT:

WHEREAS, Governor McDonnell declared the Month of April to be Confederate History Month in the Commonwealth of Virginia at the request of the Sons of Confederate Veterans; and

WHEREAS, governors of Virginia have issued proclamations for diverse groups and individuals; and

WHEREAS, Members of the Democratic Party and its leadership, including former Governor Douglas Wilder, have repeatedly made statements in regards to the proclamation that the only reason that Confederate soldiers took to the field of battle was to defend the institution of slavery; and

WHEREAS, President Abraham Lincoln stated “I am not, nor ever have been in favor of bringing about in anyway the social and political equality of the white and black races” and further stated at the outset of the crisis that “I have no purpose directly or indirectly to interfere with the institution of slavery in the States where it exists,” and “my paramount objective in this struggle is to save the Union;” and

WHEREAS, The Commonwealth of Virginia seceded from the Union not in the defense of slavery, but only after President Lincoln called for troops to make war against the lower Southern States; and

WHEREAS, The Emancipation Proclamation did not free a single slave in any slave state that had remained loyal to the Union during the War Between the States, nor did it free any slave in the District of Columbia or any part of the Confederacy which was occupied and controlled by the U.S. military; and

WHEREAS, The Commonwealth of Virginia was cleaved in two by an executive order of President Lincoln, creating the State of West Virginia which was admitted to the Union as a slave state in 1863; and

WHEREAS, General Ulysses S. Grant and his wife held slaves until forced to release them with the adoption of the 13th Amendment after the war and when questioned as to why he had done so, Grant replied because “good help is hard to find;” and

WHEREAS, Governor McDonnell altered the original Confederate History Month Proclamation to include a clause which states that the Civil War was fought solely over the existence of slavery despite numerous contrary arguments and a host of other social, moral, political, and economic factors.

THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED THAT:

THE VIRGINIA DIVISION, SONS OF CONFEDERATE VETERANS, does hereby commend Governor Robert F. McDonnell for the issuance of the Confederate History Month proclamation; and

THE VIRGINIA DIVISION, does hereby absolutely refute the claim that Confederate soldiers went to the field of battle for the sole purpose of preserving slavery as an intellectually dishonest argument; and

THE VIRGINIA DIVISION does not endorse any statement that the Confederacy existed entirely for the defense of slavery and considers such statements to be a detriment to the memory of the many Virginians who gave their lives to defend against the illegal federal invasion of the Commonwealth of Virginia in a long and bloody war.

ADOPTED this 9th day of April, 2010.  Attest: John Sawyer, Division Commander

9th day of April, 2010.  Attest: John Sawyer, Division Commander

A Few Minutes With David Blight

Many of you know that I am a huge fan of David Blight’s scholarship.  Race and Reunion was the book that set me off on my own research projects as well as in shaping the overall theme of this site.  Since reading it I’ve come to question parts of Blight’s thesis as a result of studying the work of others and as a result of my own research on the memory of the battle of the Crater.  This recent interview touches on a number of issues related to Civil War memory that are relevant to the ongoing debate about Confederate History Month as well as broader questions of remembrance.  After yesterday’s post I thought it might be nice to introduce a little thoughtfulness to the discussion.

[Click here for Part 2]