A Confederate Invasion?

I‘m behind in my APUS History classes which has forced me to move quickly through the Civil War.  You can imagine how frustrating that is given my interests.  Regardless, I am very particular about the language I use to describe the past and I expect my students to be attentive to such matters as well.  It matters how we refer or describe individuals and events, especially when discussing our Civil War.  I’ve already mentioned my preference for consistently referring to the United States rather than the Union or the North.

In my discussions today I noticed a couple of students looking at me funny whenever I referred to a Confederate invasion of the United States.  Of course, I was referring specifically to the Maryland Campaign of 1862 and Gettysburg Campaign the following summer.  [We could also throw in Jubal Early’s little foray in 1864 in as well.]  I inquired into their strange stares and one of the students admitted that he was not used to thinking of the Confederate army as an invading army.  Not surprisingly, this same student had no difficulty coming to terms with an invasion of the South or Confederacy.  A few students embraced Lincoln’s fairly consistent belief that the southern states were in rebellion and therefore still a part of the nation, but they had no qualms with the idea of an invasion.

I guess this has everything to do with the assumption that the Confederacy was simply fighting a defensive war.  But it also goes to some of our more cherished beliefs that draw a sharp distinction between Confederate and United States armies.  For the latter, we immediately think of Grant and Sherman, who did, in fact, engage in aggressive offensives throughout the war.  On the other hand, we do have difficulty acknowledging the same aggressive tendencies in Confederate commanders.  We would rather remember them as leading a gallant defensive effort against overwhelming resources rather than as engaged in a war that would hopefully lead to independence for all slave holding states.  Invasions are carried out by generals like Grant and Sherman, not by Lee and Jackson.  I suspect that my students are dealing with this baggage.  If I had more time or if that comment had come in my elective course on the Civil War I could have utilized any number of primary and secondary sources that shed light on this subject.

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7 comments… add one
  • carin Jan 7, 2010 @ 15:04

    I am new to teaching APUSH, and am intrigued by your comments here. I have been reading many of your posts with interest because of my relative weakness with regard to this subject overall; would you be willing to perhaps provide a bit more information and point me in the direction of the primary sources you refered to in your post so that I might be able to explore this with my students?
    Even if you don't have time for my request, thanks for all your interesting and educational remarks here.

  • Shane Christen Jan 6, 2010 @ 23:22

    I'm curious what your students think of “Neutral” states during the war? Kentucky, in particular, was less than enthusiastic about the Confederate Invasion into their territory which in fact ended that states attitude of neutrality. The CS was quite aggressive in their actions from the very start. Invasions of several states, seizure of all sorts of facilities and personnel, often prior to Secession. Purely defensive indeed…

    FWIW I fully agree with refusing to use inaccurate titles such as North & South. Confederacy and United States should do.

  • James Bartek Jan 6, 2010 @ 23:21

    And, let's not forget the attempted Confederate “liberation” of both Kentucky and New Mexico in 1862!

  • Hiram Hover Jan 6, 2010 @ 21:50

    If your students aren't comfortable with the notion of a Confederate invasion of the US, perhaps they'd prefer “insurrection takes a road trip.”

  • Brooks D. Simpson Jan 6, 2010 @ 19:27

    As Lincoln would have said, can't you get it into your head that the whole country is our soil? 🙂

    I use “Union” and “United States” almost interchangeably, although when I say “United States,” I think students understand it's a choice of words with an educating purpose. I don't say “South” when I mean “Confederacy,” and on that I feel very strongly. In your case, I might say “Confederate invasion of the North,” but to say it's an invasion of the United States grants a certain legitimacy to a boundary line that even some white Virginians (say, John Minor Botts) would have wondered about.

    • Kevin Levin Jan 6, 2010 @ 20:27

      Good point Brooks, but I don't think we will be able to utilize a language that satisfies everyone. 😀

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