I’ve suggested before that how Americans remember their Civil War can no longer be so easily drawn along strict regional boundaries. Consider the video below. On May 15th, 2011, members of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, Archibald Gracie Camp and the United Daughters of the Confederacy, as well as other members of New York City’s Southern Community gathered at The French Church in Manhattan for a Memorial Service honoring the Confederate Dead, 150 years after the Civil War. Dr. Michael S. Kogan delivered this sermon on the causes of the War and the legacy of the Southern Soldier.
The PBS show, History Detectives, has completed filming an episode on Silas Chandler in West Point, Mississippi. A few weeks ago I mentioned that I would be taking part in this show, but I recently learned that producers decided to take the story in a different direction and would not need my assistance. I was a bit disappointed, but ultimately I just hope they get the story right. Well, I have it on good authority that not only did they correct the mistakes made on the Antiques Road Show episode, but that investigators uncovered additional material that puts the nail in the coffin of the story that the Sons of Confederate Veterans and others have spread on their websites and other materials for years. The show is scheduled to air in July or August.
Matt Isham has published a thoughtful post in which he assesses the black Confederate controversy over at A People’s Contest. While I appreciate Matt’s positive assessment of the attention that I’ve given the subject over the past few years, his critique misses the mark. Consider the following:
Of course, the person who has done yeoman work on this issue is Kevin Levin at Civil War Memory. He has challenged black Confederate mythmakers with vigor and gusto for several years now and shows no signs of slowing down, as he will be publishing a book on this subject soon (find his latest post on the topic here). Levin consistently has pointed out the basic historical illiteracy of the mythmakers, particularly their inability to understand how 19th century Americans conceived of citizens, slaves, and the citizen-soldier.
This, of course, is all well and good, especially the heavy lifting Mr. Levin has done on this issue. After all, it is one of the most important aspects of our mission as educators to expose the public to the fraudulent nature of such myths as the black Confederate story. I wonder, however, if historians are not in danger of sinking down into the mire of this debate by continuing to pay attention to every continued claim from the mythmakers and supporters and every rebuttal in the blogs and the news media. To be honest, I’m not sure where I stand on this, but I feel as though this debate is beginning to yield diminishing returns. Surely, the public has been educated about the debate and the shortcomings of the black Confederate thesis. Carrying on the debate with members of the Sons of Confederate Veterans and other true believers yields nothing, for they are resolved to support their position regardless of whatever evidence and logical analysis is marshaled to expose the fallacy of their belief.
Click here for more on this Confederate flag burning.
Dr. Michael Kogan, a member of Archibald Gracie Camp #985, the New York City Camp of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, gives a few brief remarks at the annual Grant’s Tomb Commemoration, hosted by New York’s Sons of Union Veterans on Palm Sunday, April 17th, 2011. The speech is a wonderful example of the continued hold of sectional reconciliation on our popular memory of the war. The only problem is that it is unlikely that General Grant would have approved of such language. Toward the end of his remarks Kogan applauds Grant for his terms of surrender at Appomattox, but the SCV would do well to remind itself of what he thought of the Confederate cause. Grant offers a very succinct reflection on it in his memoir:
I felt like anything rather than rejoicing at the downfall of a foe who had fought so long and valiantly, and had suffered so much for a cause, though that cause was, I believe, one of the worst for which a people ever fought, and one for which there was the least excuse.”
For Grant the war was not simply a battle between brave soldiers and shared values. I have little doubt that if given the opportunity to do so Grant would remind Kogan and the New York chapter of the SCV that there was a right side and a wrong side in the Civil War.