Tag Archives: Southern Unionism

Portsmouth, Virginia Embraces Its Southern Unionist Heritage

Last week the Portsmouth Historical Commission passed the following resolution honoring Southern Unionists:

Whereas the history of the Civil War has at times, understandably but mistakenly, been seen as a battle between regions . . .

Whereas in reality the dedication to Union and Emancipation was shared by millions of Americans north and south . . .

Whereas there were many in the states that formed the Confederacy “who in the darkest hour of slavery kept alive in their souls a love of manhood rights, justice, and the unity of the United States of America”

Whereas these men and women who risked everything to preserve the Union are rarely remembered as much as they should . . .

Whereas in Virginia especially, support for Union was so pronounced that the state split itself in two . . .

Whereas many of the people of present day Virginia can also look to the family histories of Unionism of which they can be proud . . .

And whereas the city of Portsmouth was, for much of the war, a haven for Virginia’s Unionists, both black and white . . .

Be it resolved that the City of Portsmouth through its History Commission. . .

Declare May of this year to be Southern Unionist History Month,

Encourage other localities in Virginia and the Commonwealth itself to join in this declaration, and

Provide for various events and information during May to make Virginians more aware of Civil War Unionism in and around Portsmouth, Virginia.

This week the organization asked the city council to adopt the resolution and set aside May as Southern Unionist Heritage Month.  The council was unable to vote on the resolution since it had not been placed on the agenda in time for the meeting.

“A Noble Southern Man”

Charleston, S.C., 1865

Today I came across a news clipping from the Boston Transcript, which covered the fall of Charleston in February 1865.  The paper reprinted a letter written by an officer in a Massachusetts regiment about a Charleston lawyer by the name of Nelson Mitchell.  Turns out that the story is fairly well known.  Luis F. Emilio also mentions Mitchell in his history of the 54th Massachusetts.  I suspect the author of the letter served in the 54th or 55th since it is contained in the Norwood P. Hallowell Papers.  One wonders where, if at all, Mitchell fits in with the Southern Heritage folks.

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A Virginia Fourth Grader’s Civil War

General Winfield Scott

I came across this question not too long ago on my Facebook News Feed.  It was posted by a well-known Civil War historian, who was helping his 4th grader study for the Virginia Standards of Learning Test:

Name the roles of the following
1) White Virginians
2) Freed African Americans
3) American Indians

Choices:
A) Supported the Confederacy
B) Fought for the Confederacy to protect their rights
C) Did not take sides during the Civil War.

Let me know how you did because I still can’t figure out the right answer.  This past week I had the opportunity to work with a group of 4th and 5th grade teachers in Virginia Beach.  It presents a unique challenge since I do not have children of my own and my work as a history teacher is on the high school level.  Even more challenging is the fact that many of these teachers are not trained in history.  That’s not necessarily a problem given the level at which they are working at with the kids and the skills they are working hard to impart.  However, we should expect that every attempt is being made to provide these teachers with curricular materials that reflect the latest scholarship and that allows students to see as much of the richness of their state’s history as possible.

If this question reflects what our kids are being taught at this level than we’ve got a lot to worry about.  In fact, if I have the right answers the question clearly reflects the content of Joy Masoff’s Our Virginia: Past and Present in which she suggests that slaves supported the Confederacy in large numbers.  As bad as that is it could be argued that the assumption that all Virginians supported the Confederacy is also a gross distortion of the past.  At one point during my teaching session we were discussing Robert E. Lee’s difficult decision to resign his commission in the U.S. Army.  I brought up General Winfield Scott’s name as another example of a Virginian, who struggled with the same decision and my audience largely stared back in silence.  Scott was one of the most important Americans by 1860 and he was a Virginian.  Please don’t tell me that 4th graders can’t understand the concept of a Unionist.  I don’t see how you can understand the war in Virginia without it.

On a related note I also learned that public schools in Virginia Beach are not allowed to visit the Museum of the Confederacy.  No one could give me an answer beyond the vague rumblings over their name, which have plagued it over the past few years.  I made it crystal clear that the MOC is truly one of our most important historical institutions and that they should be taking full advantage of what it has to offer.   Here we are at the beginning of the Civil War Sesquicentennial in Virginia and we are still teaching our kids not only an outdated version of the Civil War, but one that somehow manages to fall short of the cognitive capacity of 4th graders.  Of course, I have no doubt that there are teachers, who are doing a first-rate job in their classrooms, but these little signs are not encouraging.

If the above question is what passes for historical knowledge in our public schools than I suggest we just bag the entire project and devote the time to math and science.

Our children deserve better.