Category Archives: Memory

A Short Comment About Your Comments

Some of you have no doubt read the colorful comment left by a reader who refers to herself as “JosephineSouthern.”  Here is a short excerpt:

Oh how trashy you are. You have no sense of decency or honor. If you did you would know in your heart of hearts that what Grant did to VICKSBURG was atrocious evil. Shame on them and Shame on the USA. War on women and children, Grant and Butler the Beast I would spit on today! It is obvious your people didn’t suffer and die through Lincoln’s War and afterwards. So what do you care. We tried getting along with you people, but you just won’t let us.

You may be surprised to learn that I receive these types of comments quite frequently.  Most of them never see the light of day and end up being deleted.  Still, regardless of the content it’s not easy to hit the delete button.  After all, this is a site where interested readers can explore the way in which the Civil War has been commemorated and remembered as well as its continued hold on our culture.  Many of the comments left on this site reflect this continued interest and influence.  Without getting to meta on you, I would like to think that this site itself has become a window into the rich legacy of Civil War memory.  Perhaps at some point in the future researchers will peruse this site’s archives to analyze how various subjects were analyzed by me as well as the response from a broad audience. 

At times it is necessary to delete comments and even ban readers entirely to maintain a certain level of discourse.  I’ve thought about creating a page where I could isolate comments such as the one above.  It is a comprise, however, as this would preserve the comment but remove it from the life of the blog post.  There is an argument for maintaining uncensored discourse on a site such as this.  Finally, I also make it a point to double-check the links which you provide in the comment form.  I maintain the right to delete links that I believe provide false or misleading information.  Again, the same concerns apply.

I would love to know what you think.  What are the alternatives when trying to achieve the right balance between informed/mature discourse and preserving the kind of site that will reflect our continued interest in the Civil War?

“Kevin the Carpetbagger”

I always get a kick out of the people who find my blogging to be offensive based on the fact that I am not native to the South.  A couple of days ago I noticed a comment on another blog, which referred to me as “Kevin the Carpetbagger”.  Of course, I am not offended by the label because it reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of the history of the region as well as a simple mind.  In his discussion of the economic, social, and cultural differences between the northern and southern sections of the states in the Deep South, Marc Egnal quotes John Calhoun:

Our State was first settled on the coast by emigrants principally from England, but with no inconsiderable intermixture of Huguenots from France.  The portion of the State along the falls of the rivers and back to the mountains had a very different origin and settlement.  Its settlement commenced long after, at a period, but little anterior to the war of the Revolution, and consisted principally of emigrants who followed the course of the mountains, from Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia & North Carolina.  They had very little connection, or intercourse for a long time with the old settlement on the coast.

Such a view stands in sharp contrast with the static and monolithic view of the South that continues to hold sway for so many.  Unfortunately, these are the very same people who claim to defend the heritage of the South against what they perceive to be outside influence.  But what exactly are they defending?  Even Calhoun understood that the boundaries of the Southern states were porous and that diversity ruled when he penned these thoughts in 1846.  How many white Southerners today would have been deemed “carpetbaggers” by earlier generations?  Who, if anyone, has a monopoly on Southern identity?  How does one even go about demarcating such a boundary?  All of us who live in “the South” can trace our family histories back to a carpetbagger.  I am proud to join the long list of carpetbaggers who moved to the South at various points in the past.  We have a rich heritage indeed.

Lee Accepts the Surrender of Grant in His Vicksburg Boots

let_us_have_peace_vhsThis is my favorite painting of the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia at Appomattox in April 1865.  It was painted in the 1920s by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris and clearly reflects the ascendency of Lee in our national memory and imagination.  Ferris titled his painting, “Let Us Have Peace” even though these words were not spoken by Grant for another three years as a campaign slogan at the start of his presidential bid in 1868.  We spent quite a bit of time with this painting in class last week and a number of my students were struck by the placement of both Grant and Lee as well as their hand gestures.  In fact, a few students thought that if a viewer didn’t know any better they would have to conclude that Grant was surrendering to Lee.  Notice Grant’s hand as it embraces a much more forceful and self-confident Lee who appears to be in charge of the situation.  The relaxed pose of Grant’s officers in the background reinforces this contrast.

Much has been made of the attire of the respective commanders, which is also quite telling as a reflection of what we find worth remembering.  Supposedly Lee’s immaculate dress and Grant’s muddy boots point to fundamental differences in character rather than the exigencies of the day.  At times it seems as if the contrast is meant to imply that Grant didn’t really deserve to accept Lee’s surrender.  The emphasis on dress in the McLean Parlor continues to find voice.  Consider this short piece in the Vicksburg Post by Gordon Cotton who speculates on whether those boots were gifts from two Vicksburg sisters, Sallie and Lucy Marshall.  It’s a legitimate question, but would it matter at all if a particular narrative of this moment in time had not been burned into our Civil War memory?

One of the reasons I find the study of historical memory to be so fascinating is that often it is not about history at all, but about what the remember believes he/she needs to make sense of the present.  In some cases the form of remembrance eclipses entirely the historical subject in question and its borders become porous.  Robert Moore’s most recent post is a thoughtful reflection on our remembrance of Lee-Jackson Day:

It is fine to both privately and, to a degree, publicly reflect upon the lives of historical persons. It fulfills various needs of the living. Look at a historical person (or persons) and consider the part of the historical person’s character, actions, etc., and consider how one may take meaning from these reflections. For some, these reflections might even translate into incorporating qualities that some find desirable in the historical person into the way they conduct themselves in their own lives. As long as reflection does not become something greater than a source of inspiration, and I suppose, guidance (as long as it is positive), then it seems innocent enough.

Mr. Cotton includes the following tribute by Ben Hill, which appeared in the Confederate Veteran in 1901 at the end of his article: “He was a foe without hate, a friend without treachery, a soldier without cruelty, and a victim without murmuring. He was a public official without vices, a private citizen without wrong, a neighbor without reproach, a Christian without hypocrisy, and a man without guile.  He was Caesar without ambition, Frederick without tyranny, Napoleon without selfishness, and Washington without his reward.”

Perhaps he was all these things and more.  I couldn’t possibly know one way or the other without having spent significant time with the man.  It may even be the case that Lee’s boots were a gift from two residents of Vicksburg.  Mr. Cotton notes that it is impossible to know for sure.  What I do know is that Robert E. Lee surrendered to Grant in the McLean house on April 9, 1865.

Happy Lee-Jackson Day

intro_leemonlgFrom the Richmond Planet, June 7, 1890:

The negro was in the Northern processions on Decoration Day and in the Southern ones, if only to carry buckets of ice-water.  He put up the Lee monument, and should the time come, will be there to take it down.  He’s black and sometimes greasy, but who could do without the Negro….

You may say what you will the Negro is here to stay.  Nothing goes on without him.  He was in the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, the Mexican War, the War of the Rebellion, and will be in every one that will take place in this country….

An old colored man after seeing the mammoth parade of the ex-Confederates on May 29th and gazing at the rebel flags, exclaimed “The Southern white folks is on top–the Southern white folks is on top!”  After thinking a moment, a smile lit up his countenance as he chuckled with evident satisfaction, “But we’s got the government!  We’s got the government!”  Yes, our party has the cations, the most people will allow them to keep.

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Read Gov. Tim Kaine’s official proclamation acknowledging the day and notice the choice of words.  I have no doubt that Lee and Jackson are rolling over in their graves in anticipation of Tuesday’s inaugural event. :)