Update: I think it is important to point out that the governor’s proclamation is easily eclipsed by the work of the Virginia Sesquicentennial Committee, which has aggressively pushed for an inclusive and education-driven approach to commemorating the Civil War. I am proud to serve as an advisor to this state-sponsored committee. Click here for more on this issue.
How do I know this? Just read Virginia Governor McDonnell’s proclamation:
Virginia has long recognized her Confederate history, the numerous civil war battlefields that mark every region of the state, the leaders and individuals in the Army, Navy and at home who fought for their homes and communities and Commonwealth in a time very different than ours today[.]
Why does the general public need to be reminded that a war which took place 150 years ago was fought “in a time very different than ours today”? What exactly is the point in making this explicit?
it is important for all Virginians to reflect upon our Commonwealth’s shared history, to understand the sacrifices of the Confederate leaders, soldiers and citizens during the period of the Civil War, and to recognize how our history has led to our present[.]
Yes, many Virginians sacrificed during the war. It would be a mistake, however, to assume that all citizens were loyal to the Confederate government. But if we are simply referring to those people who resided within the borders of Virginia between 1861-1865 shouldn’t the proclamation reference Virginia’s slave population. After all, didn’t they also make sacrifices during the war?
all Virginians can appreciate the fact that when ultimately overwhelmed by the insurmountable numbers and resources of the Union Army, the surviving, imprisoned and injured Confederate soldiers gave their word and allegiance to the United States of America, and returned to their homes and families to rebuild their communities in peace, following the instruction of General Robert E. Lee of Virginia, who wrote that, “…all should unite in honest efforts to obliterate the effects of war and to restore the blessings of peace.”[.]
Really? Can all Virginians, regardless of race, remember a postwar period where peace ruled their communities? Were the “blessings of peace” extended to “all Virginians?
this defining chapter in Virginia’s history should not be forgotten, but instead should be studied, understood and remembered by all Virginians, both in the context of the time in which it took place, but also in the context of the time in which we live, and this study and remembrance takes on particular importance as the Commonwealth prepares to welcome the nation and the world to visit Virginia for the Sesquicentennial Anniversary of the Civil War, a four-year period in which the exploration of our history can benefit all[.]
Well, who would disagree? As a history teacher I strongly encourage those interested to study the rich history of Virginia and the Civil War. What the governor doesn’t seem to appreciate, however, is that the more history one studies the less likely he will identify with the overly simplistic and narrow vision of the war presented here.
Note: Brooks Simpson has also had a go of it over at Civil Warriors. I also recommend reading Robert Moore’s thoughts at Cenantua as well as Richard Williams.
Virginia was a Confederate State. The majority of white young (and later older) men served in the Confederate Army in defence of their State. Therefore a Confederate Heritage Month seems legitimate in every way.
Sure, but those same facts may lead others to voice their protest over a governor’s insistence that “all Virginians” should identify with this particular narrative.
True. However, this is the ‘main narrative’ other narratives exist but are secondary. In this case we must go with what the majority perceived and still perceive as being the central fact of 1861-1865: Virginia gave her all for the defence of hearth and home. Their sacrifice must be recognised.
It has functioned as the standard narrative in large part because of those who maintained control of local and state government throughout much of the twentieth century. One can easily imagine a very different historical landscape had black Americans been given the civil rights that would have allowed them to take part in these public debates.
Black and white Virginians gave their “all” in many different ways, most of which is not acknowledged in this proclamation.
I thought you would like to see that the local Richmond fishwrapper agrees with your point of view in the matter.
I also share your opinion.
See the editorial in this morning’s Washington Post: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/04/06/AR2010040602953.html?wpisrc=nl_cuzhead
Reading through the proclamation again, there’s something that keeps coming to mind that I’ve been meaning to post about. I think that some contemporary people look back and see that affiliation with the Confederacy, in any form, no matter whether one wanted to be or not (hush my mouth!)… including affiliation by default (living in a state/commonwealth that seceded) has, for some of these above named contemporary people, become historical law… whereby all these people should be praised as “good Confederates”. That’s part of the myth that this annual proclamation continues to perpetuate.
I think that only part of the boat got off the pier with your letter. You have stated you disagree with Virginia celebrating Confederate History Month. Okay that is your opinion. But you did not touch on why we would want to have this commemoration. CWPT came out with a study called The Blue Grey and Green. It was a study on how communities with a Civil War Battlefield have used this resource to develop business in tourism centered on the Civil War. Gettysburg in 2007 brought in millions of dollars because they embrace this in their culture, commerce, and more. There are approximately 2,000 jobs that center on this theme. Other communities that did not harness this opportunity did not enjoy the boon, as did Gettysburg. McDonald is seeking to develop tourism. This is part of the parcel. In 2007 and 2008 we had a lot of home foreclose in Virginia. Here in Manassas we had over 14,000 home foreclosures. We need another facet to generate revenue and jobs. This model described by CWPT works; this is proven in Gettysburg. They are targeting in bringing in over $400,000,000 during 2013/1863. They have not peaked in the growth in revenue for tourism. We should do this too. Business development in tourism is a good thing. It is green and we have the resource. Yes we can include everyone in this goal. Yes the truth of what happened should be told. However we need a platform, a vehicle to develop tourism and educate and Civil War Tourism will do just that.
I tried to explain why I believe the governor’s proclamation is not good for the state. Of course, you can disagree with the content of that explanation. I have written numerous posts on the importance of the commemoration and I recommend that you spend some time in the archives if interested. Finally, I do not have a problem with wanting to use the sesquicentennial to attract tourist dollars, but Gettysburg is not the ideal case study to work with here. Thanks for the comment.
I find your comments to be just a tad condescending to assume that the general public is not aware of the issues you are bringing up. So you don’t support Confederate History Month… why didn’t you just say so? On the bright side you should be happy that the Virginia Civil War Trails has recently begun to highlight some of the history you are so certain is being overlooked:
Sorry to hear that you find my comments to be “just a tad condescending.”
You said: “So you don’t support Confederate History Month… why didn’t you just say so?”
This is a blog about how Americans remember the Civil War. The governor issues a statement about that memory. What don’t you understand?
Lost Cause apologists like to honor the cause that as one previous comment so aptly said was “treason in defense of slavery.” However, they are always seriously schizophrenic. Schizophrenic in that half their brain wants to defend “treason in defense of slavery,” while the other half is ashamed of slavery and therefore is in denial. That denial is expressed in generating fabrications like the pope sending Jefferson Davis a crown of thorns in prison implying papal support for the Confederacy; today the euphemisms, coded language, and general defense is becoming more crypto-racist, but the true Lost Cause believers are impervious to actual evidence.
Sorry, but I think you’re wrong. As current chairman of Loudoun County’s CW Sesquicentennial Committee, I see nothing in Governor McDonnell’s proclamation that should be objectionable to anyone or that implies a lack of inclusiveness. It may be a tad boilerplate but aren’t all such proclamations?
As to it being “eclipsed” by the work of the committee, you need to remember that Confederate History Month is just one small part of a multi-year commemoration. The proclamation itself could not exactly fit a full-fledged history lesson into a few paragraphs. What the committee (I should say committees, as each county has one) is doing certainly reflects the spirit of the governor’s proclamation or perhaps the proclamation reflects the spirit of the committee. Either way, the committee’s work doesn’t so much eclipse the proclamation as build on it. Isn’t that what should be happening?
Yes, there were Unionists in Virginia. I just helped get a CW Trails sign installed in Lovettsville dedicated to the Independent Loudoun Rangers, the Unionist Virginia cavalry battalion. I also recently did a program for the Loudoun County Historical Society, and later repeated it for the Loudoun County Civil War Roundtable, on Unionist sentiment in the county during the war.
Yes, there were slaves. We’re working on a couple of signs dedicated to the entire black experience, free and slave. And there are various other programs in the works on that topic in addition to the sign project. How exactly do the governor’s words run counter to such activities?
I must also ask you how Confederate History Month could NOT be “shared history?” That there are differing interpretations of those times, what they meant then, and what they mean now ought to reinforce our understanding that it IS shared history. That’s why we’re commemorating the era, is it not?
Frankly, Kevin, I don’t see that the governor and the Committee are “far apart” on this. We’re on the same side here. But I think you have badly misread both the proclamation and the governor’s intentions in issuing it. If you want the sesquicentennial commemoration to be inclusive, then it seems to me it should include Confederate History Month.
Thanks for taking the time to respond. Perhaps you can clarify, but as far as I am concerned that the Gov’s proclamation and the work of the Sesquicentennial Committee have absolutely nothing to do with one another. My point was simply to note that the proclamation takes a rather narrow view of Virginia’s Civil War and the committee has worked to employ the best scholarship, which reveals a much more interesting and complex history. As far as I am concerned the only way the governor can make his case re: Confederate history month is if he minimizes and/or ignores critical aspects of the history. Sorry, but that concerns me as a committee member, as a resident of Virginia, and as a teacher. Thanks again for the comment.
I didn’t mean to imply that the proclamation and the committee are directly related, merely that they both are part of something larger; in this case, the idea of commemorating the 150th anniversary of the war. Confederate History Month could, should, and I think will draw a great deal of attention to the commemoration; and that should be positive attention.
You say the proclamation takes a narrow view but I see it merely as focussing on things Confederate as a proclamation of Confederate History Month should and as other parts of the larger commemoration focus on other specific aspects of the period. Together they make up the interesting and complex history of which you speak.
In any case, the final “whereas” in the proclamation points out that ” this defining chapter in Virginia’s history should not be forgotten, but instead should be studied, understood and remembered by all Virginians, both in the context of the time in which it took place, but also in the context of the time in which we live.” That seems to me to cover a great deal of ground. I’d think that including the “Confederate” parts of the war, in this case via a proclamation of and events during Confederate History Month, would make the larger sesquicentennial commemoration a better, more complete commemoration.
Thanks for the opportunity to comment.
You are very welcome, Jim. We simply disagree. As I see it the state and local sesquicentennial committees are taking care of issues relating to tourism. Regardless of what the governor says it has nothing to do with that. This is simply McDonnell pandering to the Sons of Confederate Veterans. The proclamation reflects the worst aspects of the Lost Cause view of the war. Again, I encourage the serious study of Virginia’s Civil War, but doing so renders much of this proclamation problematic. That’s my view and I am sticking to it. Thanks again for the comment.
Some years ago, as president of our local Board of Realtors, I was tasked with drafting a resolution to be “issued” by the governor as his, extolling the benefits of buying a house. This sounds like a similar resolution, drafted, I suppose, by the SCV or some similar body. Of course, by putting his name on it, the governor makes it his own.
“The proclamation itself could not exactly fit a full-fledged history lesson into a few paragraphs.”
Then why did the governor try … and do so badly? I gather no one’s defending the governor’s version of the Civil War in Virginia.
The governor could have issued a proclamation declaring Confederate History Month without going where he did in trying to offer a misguided history lesson. You basically admit the lack of wisdom in attempting to do what he did.
…Yes, there were slaves. We’re working on a couple of signs dedicated to the entire black experience, free and slave….
Well gee whiz, I can hardly wait for a couple of signs to highlight the experiences of 1/2 million blacks (1/3 of the population) who were enslaved to the white minority in Virginia in 1860. As their descendants, we will be so very grateful to be included.
First, I don’t think it right to minimize and ridicule what one local sesquicentennial committee has taken on as a project. It’s a worthy goal and one that I wholeheartedly support.
Kevin you are entitled to your perspective and I to mine. Mr Morgan’s determination that a partial project of a “couple of signs” will do justice to what for all intents was total exploitation of a people as property. My traceable history in our commonwealth goes back to the 1600s. No where do I see consideration (including from our pandering Governor) that the wealth of this state rests on the backs of those it so cruelly treated, literally continuing up and through the 1960s.
You didn’t offer a perspective; rather, you simply insulted a fellow reader. Jim was not suggesting that his project was meant to address the long-standing difficulty that this nation has had in properly remembering our slave past. He was simply sharing what his local sesquicentennial committee is presently engaged in. I understand your frustration, but it doesn’t help anyone if you choose to attack and belittle others.
Thanks again for taking the time to comment.
It would be interesting to see if the name could be changed. Instead of Confederate History Month, which is probably intended as a Lost Cause-apalooza, maybe something like Civil War History Month and make it a genuine “exploration of our history.” That might open a door to all Virginians.
The Confederate rebellion was also, you know, massive armed treason against the United States of America. Including by many military officers who had sworn allegiance to their country, the United States. And as Confederates, they were very proud and conscious of defending “our sacred institutions of slavery and white supremacy”, as the popular phrase went. If we’re going to honor them for their abstract qualities of courage and devotion to homeland and so forth, it seems more than appropriate to recongize what they themselves were proudly fighting for: treason in defense of slavery. But that doesn’t sound nearly so pretty as “the leaders and individuals in the Army, Navy and at home who fought for their homes and communities.” How do we “honor” the memory of men , especially the leaders in the civilian government and the Confederate military, by making up a pretty lie that obscures what they consciously and “honorably” stood for?
Another reason why the governor’s hope that “all Virginians” will celebrate this history is truly absurd because it fails to acknowledge the complexity of the history.
Bruce Miller wrote:
“The Confederate rebellion was also, you know, massive armed treason against the United States of America.”
I take issue with this. Don’t get me wrong, I’m certainly glad the Union won the Civil War. In addition to the fact that slavery was a horrendous injustice, I also think a Confederate victory would have resulted in a much weaker United States, and that both the U.S. and the CSA may well have each split even further later on. But having said all that, I don’t think the Confederates were traitors to the U.S. in any greater sense than the Founding Fathers were traitors to Great Britain. In no country or empire has it ever been legal to rise up against the authority of the government. But a nation is more than its government. Betraying the government doesn’t necessarily equal betraying the nation itself.
I think there are basically two types of treason, one subjective and the other objective. If someone tries to overthrow their government (meaning either totally or, as the Confederates did, eliminate governmental authority in a certain part of the nation) out of a genuine belief that they are doing what is right for their country, then whether or not they are a traitor is subjective. It depends on whether one sympathizes with the rebels or the government. Did Fidel Castro commit treason against Cuba by overthrowing Batista in 1959? It depends on your perspective. From the point of view of Batista and his supporters, he clearly did. But from the perspective of Castro and his supporters, he not only didn’t betray Cuba, he was a Cuban patriot by overthrowing an unjust government.
On the other hand, there are situations where someone can objectively be called a traitor. What if an American during World War II who worked in the government was approached by Nazis, and was offered money in exchange for information about future operations in Europe being planned by the U.S. military? If this person agreed to provide the information, they would be a traitor to the U.S. in a clear, objective sense. They would be doing something that would jeopardize and harm Americans (and not simply the U.S. government, but American soldiers and people) purely for personal gain, not because they had any illusions about a Nazi victory in the war somehow being better for America. They would realize what they were doing was bad for America, but they wouldn’t care. It would therefore be a factual statement to call this person a traitor, not simply a matter of perspective and point of view.
You wrote: “I don’t think the Confederates were traitors to the U.S. in any greater sense than the Founding Fathers were traitors to Great Britain.” In this I think you are correct; the Founding Fathers were traitors to Great Britain. They all knew it. They staked their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor on it. If their revolution had failed they would have been hung.
U.S. Grant wrote in his Memoirs: “Secession was illogical as well as impracticable; it was revolution. Now, the right of revolution is an inherent one. When people are oppressed by their government, it is a natural right to relieve themselves of the oppression, if they are strong enough, either by withdrawal from it, or by overthrowing it and substituting a government more acceptable.”
The Declaration of Independence claimed the right of revolution “when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security.”
The question then becomes: Was the Confederate cause just? Were they so oppressed that they could no longer live under the government established by their forefathers? Absolute despotism? Obviously most Northerners and many Southerners didn’t think so. Keep in mind that Southerners had dominated the federal government (in large part because of the 3/5ths clause) through the country’s short history and that the Southern states started seceding before Lincoln even took office.
My dictionary defines treason thus: “The betrayal of one’s country, esp. by aiding an enemy.”
Frankly, I don’t think it matters if you think you are right; if you attempt armed rebellion you are committing treason and you’d better be prepared for the consequences.
Grant went on to say: “But any people or part of a people who resort to this remedy [revolution], stake their lives, their property, and every claim to citizenship – on the issue. Victory, or the conditions imposed by the conqueror – must be the result.”
The rebels got off easy.
You said “The question then becomes: Was the Confederate cause just? Were they so oppressed that they could no longer live under the government established by their forefathers? Absolute despotism? Obviously most Northerners and many Southerners didn’t think so.”
If by “the Confederate cause” you mean the reason why the Confederate states seceded–slavery–then the answer is obviously no, it wasn’t just. Slavery was a horrible thing. But as awful as it was, I must say I’m not as hard on the Confederates as most historians today seem to be. If I was a white person living in the South at that time, I would be very frightened by the idea of emancipation (at least emancipation in the sense that most abolitionists wanted it, with all the slaves being instantly freed), even if I was totally opposed to slavery in principle. I would be so scared precisely because slavery in the South was based on color, and I would know that the slaves would have much to avenge (many of them having had their families torn apart, etc.). Anyone whose skin was white could easily be a target for such vengeance, particularly in places where slaves were the vast majority of people.
As for the question about whether the Confederates had suffered from intolerable oppression and “Absolute despotism,” the answer is no. But I think that the motive for secession wasn’t so much what they had experienced up to that point; it was fear of what might happen in the future (if slavery were abolished). Furthermore, to use the colonial comparison again, it’s very hard to objectively argue that the American patriots had been the victim of “absolute despotism” by the British. Certainly it wasn’t necessary for the American patriots to win the Revolutionary War in the sense that, for example, the Soviets had to defeat the Nazis in World War II. Hitler planned mass enslavement/gradual extermination of the entire Soviet people (except for ethnic Germans). The British never even imagined doing anything like that to Americans.
As I said, I’m glad the Union won the war. But I’m not sure that in general, a people have to be the victim of “absolute despotism” to be justified in taking up arms.
I don’t think we are really that far apart in opinion here. You could probably make a case that the colonists weren’t really suffering from “absolute despotism.” My point was that, regardless of their motives, they recognized that they were committing treason.
I’m not sure what you mean by historians being hard on the Confederates. I don’t think telling the truth in all its complexity is being hard on the Confederates. The issues you raise regarding white Southerners’ motives for secession have been thoroughly explored. Certainly fear was one factor, but they were often quite schizophrenic in their defense of slavery. They often claimed the slaves were happy, childlike, and well taken care of – certainly they were better off than the poor immigrant factory workers in the North, so what was there to be afraid of? At any rate, whatever fears they might have had were proved unfounded when emancipation finally came and there was no vengeful retribution on the part of the former slaves. Furthermore, although there was a growing antebellum abolitionist movement, few abolitionists were “immediatists.” Most people believed the Federal Government could not touch slavery where it already existed.
You said: “I’m not sure that in general, a people have to be the victim of “absolute despotism” to be justified in taking up arms.” I must say I find this rather frightening. More than 620,000 Americans lost their lives because some Southerners thought they had a divine right to own slaves. If we are not going to use “absolute despotism” as the criterion for taking up arms, then what standard do we use?
Interesting discussion. You said in your last post that “I’m not sure what you mean by historians being hard on the Confederates. I don’t think telling the truth in all its complexity is being hard on the Confederates…The issues you raise regarding white Southerners’ motives for secession have been thoroughly explored. Certainly fear was one factor, but they were often quite schizophrenic in their defense of slavery…At any rate, whatever fears they might have had were proved unfounded when emancipation finally came and there was no vengeful retribution on the part of the former slaves. ”
Regarding the historians, perhaps I’m reading too much into what some of them say. But I often get the feeling that many of them are at least implying: “The Unionists were good guys, the Confederates bad guys, end of story. Those who have ancestors who fought for the Confederacy have absolutely no right to feel any pride whatsoever, since their ancestors were fighting for the wrong side.” I can see how people with connections (whether familial or purely emotional) to the Confederacy would balk at this attitude. I don’t think it’s an attitude that’s particularly fair or conducive to mutual understanding today. Yesterday on the Washington Post message board, someone said that the Confederates fought for “pure, unadulterated evil.” If they simply mean that slavery itself was evil, then they’ll get no argument from me. But people don’t voluntarily put their lives on the line in anything like the numbers Confederates did because they wake up one morning and think, “Hey, let’s do something evil.” Furthermore, many of those who show an interest in commemorating the Confederacy are really mainly talking about honoring Confederate soldiers, not the Confederacy as a whole (I’m not talking about the Virginia governor’s proclamation here). While slavery was clearly the reason the Confederates states seceded, it’s very possible that many, even most, Confederates soldiers personally fought not mainly to preserve slavery but because they viewed what they considered their country as having been invaded.
I thought it was ridiculous when a group of prominent historians sent a petition to President Obama urging him not to lay a wreath at the Confederate memorial on Memorial Day last year. He would have had to have been an idiot to follow that advice–he would have opened up a huge can of worms completely unnecessarily. It should be noted that on Memorial Day, the U.S. honors even the soldiers who died in causes generally considered wrong (or at least very questionable) today–the Mexican War is one example. I thought it was brilliant of Obama to have a wreath placed at the African-American Civil War Memorial at the same time as the Confederate Memorial.
You’re absolutely right that there were many inconsistencies and irrationalities in the defenses of slavery Southerners espoused. This is usually the case when one first decides to accept an idea and only afterwards constructs reasoning to support that idea. It’s true that there was no significant amount of “payback” violence on the part of slaves after the war. But we only know there wasn’t going to be from hindsight. It’s also true that the Cold War “domino” theory proved to be incorrect after the defeat of South Vietnam. That doesn’t mean it wasn’t a real fear of American leaders during the Vietnam War period and earlier.
Of course, the Sons of Confederate Veterans and other pro-Confederate organizations have a proclivity for shooting themselves in the foot. Firstly, they usually show total indifference to the fact that Confederate symbols–particularly the Confederate flag–have drastically different meanings for most African-Americans (and others) than for them. In addition to its association with slavery, the flag was used for decades by the KKK and others to symbolize Jim Crow and anti-black violence. In addition, they do themselves no favors by making claims that anyone with knowledge of the historical record can see are false–particularly that slavery had nothing to do with secession, when in reality it was the core reason for secession. As someone once said on another blog, if they would just say that regardless of the merits of their cause, Confederate soldiers showed real courage in standing up for what they believed in, and for that deserve at least some respect, then it would be much harder to knock their position down. One could still philosophically disagree with this, but at least they wouldn’t be making claims that historical evidence shows to be factually false.
Very thoughtful response. I must admit that as far as I know, I have no ancestors who fought for the Confederacy. I do have ancestors who fought for the Union, including one who died at Andersonville. I have a ggg-grandfather who was a founder of the Republican Party in Michigan and was governor of that state from 1887-1891. As a historian, I understand the need for objectivity, and for a full appreciation for telling the whole story, in all its shades of gray, but given my heritage, I will admit that it is probably easier for me to accept what some call the “won cause” or “holy cause” narrative rather than the Lost Cause narrative. Having said that, however, in all my studies I believe the historic evidence overwhelmingly favors the Union cause.
You said: “People don’t voluntarily put their lives on the line in anything like the numbers Confederates did because they wake up one morning and think, “Hey, let’s do something evil.” I’m quite sure this is true, but, of course, just because they didn’t think what they were fighting for was evil doesn’t mean it wasn’t. And there is a huge difference in trying to discern what individual soldiers were fighting for and the reasons the Confederacy was actually established.
You said: “Furthermore, many of those who show an interest in commemorating the Confederacy are really mainly talking about honoring Confederate soldiers, not the Confederacy as a whole.” I would like to believe this is true, but as you acknowledge in your last paragraph, quite often it is not. “Honoring” Confederate soldiers usually becomes a defense of the Confederacy and a distortion of the historical record. Furthermore, throughout the decades, it has often become an attack on the federal government and on progressive social and political policies, and in today’s political climate I believe it can be quite dangerous. If armed rebellion was ok in 1861, why not now?
You said: “It’s very possible that many, even most, Confederates soldiers personally fought not mainly to preserve slavery but because they viewed what they considered their country as having been invaded.” This is a favorite excuse for those who wish to celebrate Confederates. Is it possible for some, yes. But there are several studies that would indicate otherwise. And whenever I hear this rationale, I always wonder what documentation there is to support it. Does the person making this claim about their ancestor actually have a diary or letters to show this is true, or is it just something they have picked up on from others making the claim? And even if it is a reason their ancestor fought, that doesn’t automatically preclude other reasons their ancestor fought. In other words, most soldiers probably fought for more than one reason.
You said: “If they would just say that regardless of the merits of their cause, Confederate soldiers showed real courage in standing up for what they believed in, and for that deserve at least some respect, then it would be much harder to knock their position down.” I agree, there is no question they fought with great courage. As Grant wrote about Appomattox: “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 for which there was the least excuse.” Unfortunately, excuses are still being made.
Thank you for the discussion, Lee, and thank you, Kevin, for providing the forum.
In your reply to my latest post you said:
“”You said: “It’s very possible that many, even most, Confederates soldiers personally fought not mainly to preserve slavery but because they viewed what they considered their country as having been invaded.” This is a favorite excuse for those who wish to celebrate Confederates. Is it possible for some, yes. But there are several studies that would indicate otherwise. And whenever I hear this rationale, I always wonder what documentation there is to support it.”
There are two issues your comments here raise. The first is: Why do many people say most Confederate soldiers didn’t fight for slavery? And the second is: What does the actual historical evidence indicate on this question?
Obviously, those who are pro-Confederate to begin with (like the SCV) have a huge motivation to believe that most of the soldiers fought simply to defend their homes and what they believed was their country. Unlike slavery, these aren’t inherently bad reasons to fight (even if they’re reasons that would only exist in the first place because of secession motivated by a desire to preserve slavery). But I think even many people who don’t have a pro-Confederate bias believe this because they don’t think slavery would be a compelling reason for most Confederates–the majority of whom didn’t own slaves and don’t seem to have been affected directly by the institution–to fight. There are certainly counterarguments someone knowledgeable about the antebellum South could make. There is the fear issue I mentioned earlier–would there be violence and chaos if the slaves were emancipated? There’s the centrality of slavery to the antebellum Southern economy, and the fact that although only a minority of whites actually owned slaves, the gentry who formed the leadership of Southern society were also the largest slaveholders. Therefore, it was believed that if emancipation came, this leadership could be economically ruined and the social structure of the South destroyed. There is also the fact that given the pervasive racism of the time, slavery could be seen as a necessary means of controlling a group of people (African-Americans) viewed as being dangerous and childlike. But notwithstanding all of this, I think even many people who aren’t pro-Confederate have (rightly or wrongly) a hard time believing that slavery would motivate hundreds of thousands of men to put their lives on the line.
As Kevin has said before, there have been a number of books that have looked at why Confederate (and Union) soldiers fought. Regarding the importance of slavery to Confederate soldiers, I believe the evidence is somewhat mixed, and actually indicates something of a split among these men. An example of this can be found in James McPherson’s book “What They Fought For, 1861-1865,” an analysis of the private letters and diaries of common soldiers from both sides. Of the Confederate soldiers who discussed their reasons for fighting, some did indeed give slavery as a strong reason. A Mississippi lieutenant, for example, said that “Without slave labor this country would be completely worthless…We can only live and exist by that species of labor, hence I am determined to fight to the last.” The majority of the soldiers, however, didn’t explicitly mention slavery as a motive. Of course, it’s difficult to know what this means–the fact that most of the soldiers didn’t mention it doesn’t necessarily mean it didn’t matter to them, although it may mean that (or at least that it wasn’t the most important thing for them).
Perhaps the most interesting part of McPherson’s analysis is when he discusses a letters of a dozen soldiers who expressed their opinion on the bill, narrowly passed by the Confederate Congress in March 1865, which authorized a large number of slaves to serve as soldiers. Now, a dozen is hardly a large enough sample to reliably draw conclusions from. Nevertheless, from the letter excerpts McPherson printed, I noticed two quite distinct attitudes. One group of soldiers did indeed view slavery as a central reason for fighting. For example, a Missouri captain said that his men thought the bill was “contrary to what they have fought for the last four years.” Others, however, didn’t seem to view slavery as central. One man said that “slavery is lost or will be” and “I think we should give up slavery and gain our independence.” For these men, even if slavery ceased to exist there would still be a reason to go on fighting–the central issue for them was Confederate independence. One thing that is clear from reading these letters is that one cannot generalize about soldiers in any war and assume they are all fighting for the same reasons.
Regarding your two questions, I would agree that just about any reason for fighting a war is better than fighting a war to defend the institution of slavery. Hence the concerted effort by Confederates in the post war years to shift the focus to defense of home or economics (tarriffs) or states’ rights or northern aggression. And, given the desire of many white Americans to forgive and forget, to heal and move the country forward, many people North and South were willing to accept these as the actual reasons the Confederates fought.
Now, I would agree that there were probably as many reasons why soldiers fought as there were soldiers, but the argument that just because many didn’t own slaves proves they weren’t fighting for slavery doesn’t hold up. Wiley Britton wrote a book in 1899 titled “The Civil War on the Border.” He said that in Missouri before the war “it frequently happened that those who showed the greatest anxiety for the security of slave property were men who had never owned a slave and who probably never would have owned one.” As Prof. James Horton has stated: “African American slaves were the only things that stood between the poorest whites and the bottom of southern society. And if they fell to the bottom of southern society, they would share that space with black people.” An antebellum Kentucky newspaper editorial claimed that the abolition of slavery would elevate African Americans “to the level of the white race and the poorest whites would be closest to the former slaves in both social and physical distance.” The ultimate end of abolition would be to “amalgamate together the two races in violation of God’s will.” The newspaper rhetorically asked if the non-slaveholders of the South would allow this to happen. The conclusion was inevitable accordng to the newspaper.
From James Epperson’s “Causes of the Civil War website: “Almost one-third of all Southern families owned slaves. In Mississippi and South Carolina it approached one half. The total number of slave owners was 385,000 (including, in Louisiana, some free Negroes). As for the number of slaves owned by each master, 88% held fewer than twenty, and nearly 50% held fewer than five.” So, even if Confederate soldiers didn’t personally own slaves they often came from families who did, or were associated with the institution in some way.
One challenge is to determine exactly what Confederates meant when they said things like “We’re fighting for our rights.” (For Southern rights, Hurrah!). Or, claimed that duty required them to defend their “honor” or the honor of the South, or Southern institutions. Well, what rights? And, what is honor? Usually these statements were directly related to the institution of slavery.
It is nearly impossible to overstate the importance of slavery to the antebellum South. Nevertheless, after four years of carnage, it would not be surprising to find soldiers who would question the importance of slavery to the cause of Confederate independence, but I don’t believe many expressed that opinion at the start.
I have read McPherson’s book. I would also recommend Linderman’s “Embattled Courage,” Manning’s “What this Cruel War was Over,” Glathaar’s excellent “General Lee’s Army,” Piston and Hatcher’s “The Battle of Wilson’s Creek,” and Epperson’s website.
These do have differing interpretations of Confederate soldier’s motivations, however, regardless of why invidual soldiers fought, the Confederate armies as a whole, fought to defend the Confederate government which was founded on the idea that slavery was a divine institution that no man (or woman) should question.
I just want to second your reference of Joe Glathaar’s “General Lee’s Army”. He includes an entire chapter on the importance of slavery to the army throughout the war. Glathaar demonstrates that soldiers did not necessarily have to own slaves to see as something worth fighting for. His sample includes soldiers who rented slaves at various points or in many cases lived in households that included slaves. Ownership is just one among a wide spectrum of connections between whites and slaves that were worth maintaining.
You said “Now, I would agree that there were probably as many reasons why soldiers fought as there were soldiers, but the argument that just because many didn’t own slaves proves they weren’t fighting for slavery doesn’t hold up. ”
I agree that it doesn’t prove that–I hope it didn’t seem like I was suggesting otherwise. I was just saying that many people, both those who have a pro-Confederate axe to grind and those who don’t, believe this is the case.
I forgot something. You said “The rebels got off easy.” I think if they hadn’t, we might have a chronic political and military conflict today over the South similar to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict or “The Troubles” in Northern Ireland.
You may be correct here, but we’ll never know what might have happened if a few leading secessionists had been hung and there had been some serious land re-distribution. Unfortunately, we do know what happened to the freedmen of the South when all attempts to radically change Southern society and politics was thwarted by 1877.
“You may be correct here, but we’ll never know what might have happened if a few leading secessionists had been hung and there had been some serious land re-distribution. Unfortunately, we do know what happened to the freedmen of the South when all attempts to radically change Southern society and politics was thwarted by 1877.”
Bob, I agree with this statement at face value. However, I believe that this sentiment illustrates why historians cannot assign to themselves the role of moral arbiter, and why most do not.
Serious land redistribution DID take place in the West after the Civil War, as descendants of members of the Plains Nations can attest, and that redistribution did not involve a moral cause. As long as we are contemplating the potential benefits that could have been reaped had certain men and women been hung in our nation’s history, I would have to advocate the retrospective hanging of Chivington, the abolitionist who ordered the Sand Creek massacre.
The demise of the Lost Cause myth is a much needed and long awaited event for many citizens, both white and black. Along with the demise of the Lost Cause myth, there must also be the simultaneous demise of the myth of a virtuous North. I believe that historians who care about the impact of historical interpretation on race relations in the present understand this. The myth of a virtuous North carries with it consequences as grave as the myth of the Lost Cause. I have read quite a bit of commentary in the Civil War blogosphere about the capture and murder of the Lumbee by Southern whites. That is–finally–a part of our history that is being told. I do not see the same in depth analysis of the history of westward expansion during, and after the Civil War, as connected to the Civil War, as it most assuredly was, except in essays and books that do explore that aspect of our nation’s history. This leaves the topic outside of discussion of the Civil War in easily accessible venues for the general public like blogs, to my knowledge, (except for NPR) and allows someone like Pat Buchanan, for example, to control the debate.
Sherman cannot be portrayed as a general who had the best interests of the Plains Nations in mind. Also, the list of former officers of the Union who were involved in the taking of the land of Indigenous nations in the West is long–Miles, Howard, Custer, Sherman. President Grant was indeed ahead of his time, and he was a general and a president for whom I have respect, and admiration. However, his Peace Policy was a disaster for Indigenous Nations, because his Peace Policy required that Indigenous men and women become white men and women or die–literally–which was a philosophy that provided the foundation of the interaction between white and Native America from the beginning of our nation’s history.
You said that you cannot think of a war fought for a more unjust cause than slavery. I agree. I can think of a war–and a war that lasted for centuries–that was fought for a cause that is as unjust as the fight to preserve the institution of slavery, however, and that is a war of genocide against the Indigenous nations of this land, from the beginning of the nation’s history until 1890. I have seen a T shirt that captures that sentiment beautifully. On the T shirt are pictures of Indigenous war chiefs. The caption beneath the picture reads: “Fighting terrorism since 1492“. Boiled down to a hard truth, that caption defines the relationship of white America to Native America, so before we get rid of our hyphenated histories, we need to make certain that we are not just creating another white narrative. If terms like “treason” are acceptable to be used in discussion; then terms like “holocaust” and “genocide” are also acceptable. If the secessionists should have been hung, which I would tend to agree with in principle looking back with the 20/20 vision of hindsight; then so should have Andrew Jackson and Tecumseh Sherman–Sherman, not for (perhaps/perhaps not) devastation of the South, but for devastation of the Plains Nations.
We cannot have it both ways. If a moral stand is to be taken, then it must be consistent. In the continual presentation of evidence to counter the Lost Cause myth, there is a glaring omission of evidence that counters the myth of a virtuous North ( in the blogosphere) This impacts the study of the history of Indigenous Nations in the West, since the tendency is to fight the Lost Cause myth at all costs, which–inadvertently–includes the omission of disturbing aspects of the history of the Union Army, and perpetuates racism against Indigenous Nations, and against African American men and women in the North.
There is a blog that deals with the slave trade in the North that I think is necessary reading as we approach the Sesquicentennial. The blog is titled “Living With the Consequences of Slavery”, and is moderated by James DeWolf Perry. Perry is a Harvard graduate student who is documenting the slave trading past of his family, which included the forced capture and importation of an estimated ten thousand Africans. These ten thousand African slaves are the ancestors of an estimated quarter million African American men and women. The DeWolf family also ran sugar plantations in Cuba. The blog is brilliant and courageous and painful to read at times, and it shatters many cherished myths of the North, and of America in general. In addition, the Virginia Sesquicentennial commission is doing an excellent job, in my opinion. One event in September will feature not only lectures by Professors David Blight and Bruce Levine; it will also be chaired by Professor James Horton, quoted above, who also wrote, among many other works, Slavery and the Making of America; Black Bostonians, Family Life and Community Struggle in the Antebellum North; and In Hope of Liberty: Free Black Culture and Community in the North, 1700-1865. We know that our nation has a long history of racism, and that that racism is experienced by men and women of different races both within the South, and outside of it. Why?
The link to James Perry’s blog is the following:
Thanks, Bob, and thank you, Kevin.
Good to see you back here.
First, I was responding to Lee’s comment re: my comment that the rebels got off easy. Please understand I didn’t mean to imply that I think there should have been hangings, only that there could have been. Also, I don’t think pointing out all the moral failings of the North in any way justifies the Confederacy. I don’t know that I agree with this: “anyone is since the tendency is to fight the Lost Cause myth at all costs, which–inadvertently–includes the omission of disturbing aspects of the history of the Union Army.” We have had our discussions on Native American history and while I appreciate your passion for this topic, you know I have a bit of a different perspective.
Again, glad to see you commenting again.
Nice to speak to you again as well.
Two points of clarification: I don’t think that pointing out all of the moral failings of the North in any way justifies the Confederacy, either. That answer pushes the argument back into comfortable Lost Cause parameters. We are getting ready to commemorate the Sesquicentennial. I am not sure how we can talk about the Civil War “in context”, if we do not also talk about the slave trade in both the North and the South.
Two: my interest in Indigenous history is more than just a passion.
I do appreciate your answer, though. Sherree
In your response to Lee above you said you agreed with his statement that “I don’t think the Confederates were traitors to the U.S. in any greater sense than the Founding Fathers were traitors to Great Britain.” Then you wrote, “In this I think you are correct; the Founding Fathers were traitors to Great Britain. They all knew it. ”
I have to disagree here because I think the word “treason” gets tossed around too easily with regard to the Civil War. The key is that the legality and constitutionality of secession had never been settled as a matter of law. There were those who thought secession was nothing more or less revolution and those who thought it a perfectly reasonable option. There were arguments on both sides and it was not even a sectional dispute throughout much of our history as there were northerners who supported the idea and southerners who didn’t. But, in 1861, they remained only arguments and opinions. It was not settled law.
IF secession were illegal, then those who seceded were traitors. IF, on the other hand, it were legal, then those who seceded had a constitutional right to do what they did. The “ifs” are what matter in determining treason. As the question had never been decided, I think we need to tread lightly before tossing the word “treason” around.
Personally, I’m on the side that says that secession violated the spirit, if not the letter, of the Constitution. I believe that, had the Founders intended secession to be an option, they’d have written procedures into the Constitution for the removal of a state just as they did for the addition of a state. But, again, that’s my opinion. It was not settled law in 1861.
I also think that one might make the treason argument against those men who fought for the Confederacy but were from states that had not seceded. Even if secession were legal and constitutional, Maryland, for example, didn’t do it so that opens up a whole different can of worms.
As treason is a legal concept, it ought to have some relation to existing law. With regard to secession, it didn’t because secession was nothing more than a concept in 1861, however loudly people might have argued for or against it. The question was ultimately decided on the field of battle, as perhaps it had to be, so now we would no doubt all agree that secession is illegal and unconstitutional.
This situation didn’t apply to the men of 1776. Clearly, they engaged in rebellion against the legitimate government and could have been labelled traitors had they lost the war. And, as you said, they knew it. But it was different in 1861.
Your point is well taken, though I don’t entirely agree. It may be true that the legality of secession was not “settled law” in 1861. However, as you acknowledge, there was no mechanism for a state’s withdrawal, and when you look at how the individual Southern states went about seceding it becomes highly questionable whether or not their secession ordinances were legal even if secession itself was legal; whether they were an accurate reflection of the will of the people in those states. Obviously, Lincoln never recognized the legitimacy of the Confederacy, and neither did any foreign government. Here in Missouri, the Governor, after being driven from the capitol by Union forces, held a rump legislature which passed a secession ordinance that was recognized by the Confederacy. Ultimately, Missouri stayed under Union control because there was more Union sympathy among Missourians than secession sympathy. In many states rebels were arming themselves, siezing federal property, and intimidating anyone who harbored Unionist sentiments before any secession ordinance of any kind was even passed. There may have been some who hoped war could be avoided, but I think most knew war would be the inevitable result of secession.
You said: “Now we would no doubt all agree that secession is illegal and unconstitutional.” While you and I might agree on this, there are plenty of people out there who argue secession is still legal. Where is the Constitutional amendment that clarifies this point? I’m aware of the Supreme Court case Texas v. White, but I’ve read articles claiming even that case didn’t completely shut the door on secession. Professor of Law Daniel Farber wrote in his book “Lincoln’s Constitution” (a book I recommend): “Putting aside the Reconstruction Amendments, which are generally viewed as relating only to civil rights and civil liberties, we have essentially the same text and historical records that were available to debaters before the Civil War.”
Personally, I agree with Grant’s assertion that secession was revolution and I think most secessionists knew it was, even while they did their best to justify their actions, both at the time and after their revolution failed. Would you argue that revolution might not be treason?
I don’t believe that the question of secession’s legality or constitutionality depends so much on how the various ordinances were worded or adopted. First, the pro-secesh argument, founded on the 10th amendment, simply asserts that the whole question is constitutionally left up to the states. If that is correct, there wouldn’t need to be a specific procedure acceptable to anyone but each state. Second, “will of the people” was defined differently in different states.
Certainly, Lincoln never recognized the Confederacy as a legitimate entity. He didn’t have to because his opinion that secession was unconstitutional was every bit as emotionally and psychologically valid as the pro-secesh opinion that it was constitutional. But how LEGALLY valid was either one? That’s really my point about it not being settled law.
And everything else flows from that point. Because it wasn’t settled law, once secession was attempted it had to be either accepted by the US government or forcibly stopped. Neither choice was based on law, though obviously each side claimed that law supported it’s own view.
Had the question previously been settled AGAINST secession, then any attempt to secede clearly would have been treason and insurrection and the US government would have had a duty and a right to stop it if it could. But had it been settled FOR secession, there would have been no war and not even the remotest question of treason.
Re our attitudes now, I’m no jurist but I can’t see any judge or jury ruling that an issue that clearly had been settled in blood could now be considered constitutional. But courts have flip-flopped before so who knows?
Like I said, I think secession was a really stupid idea and I’d lean toward your and Grant’s view. But that’s still just an opinion and, in 1861, nobody’s opinion had any more legal weight than anybody else’s.
I think secessionists tried to justify their act for many reasons, one of which no doubt was that some of them believed themselves to be revolutionaries as Washington did. Others no doubt felt, with Jefferson, that an explanation, a proper declaration of independence, simply was in order. Perhaps others simply wanted to state their pro-secession case in legal terms one last time. I don’t know. But whatever reasons they had, once again, those reasons could only give voice to their opinions.
What is settled law and what is not matters, or should. That’s why I cringe every time I hear someone assert with great assurance that secession was treason, as if 1865 had been 1861. The Constitution defines treason as making war against the United States or giving aid and comfort to its enemies. But that means that it is treason for American citizens to do those things. If secession were legal, the people who seceded were no longer American citizens. That was precisely what they believed and who, in 1861, could definitively say they were wrong? They certainly would be enemies but they could not, by definition, be traitors.
Oops. Is there an edit feature on here?
I’d intended to put some of Bob’s words into those brackets so that I could respond directly to them. This should go in the first set:
“However, as you acknowledge, there was no mechanism for a state’s withdrawal, and when you look at how the individual Southern states went about seceding it becomes highly questionable whether or not their secession ordinances were legal even if secession itself was legal; whether they were an accurate reflection of the will of the people in those states.
This in the second:
“Personally, I agree with Grant’s assertion that secession was revolution and I think most secessionists knew it was, even while they did their best to justify their actions, both at the time and after their revolution failed. Would you argue that revolution might not be treason?”
I don’t see the point in splitting hairs about whether the Confederate rebellion was treason. It clearly was. And anyone actively participating in it could have been prosecuted for treason to the United States. Jefferson Davis was indicted for treason but wasn’t tried. There’s a good argument to be made that post-Civil War history would have run a more democratic course if the federal government had indicted and prosecuted a number of the key leaders on treason charges.
Everyone North and South clearly understood the Confederates were committing treason against the United States of America and doing so in defense of their “sacred institution” of slavery. It doesn’t help understand either the Civil War or its lasting implications to try to put some nice spin on that ugly reality.
I don’t agree that the American Revolutionary cause and the Confederate cause were somehow substantially parallel. The 13 colonies were, well, *colonies* that time and shared experience had turned into a nation. The colonies were never a full part of the English nation. They fought for national independence and democratic freedom, not to destroy the government in London of England itself. Yes, they were betraying the British King. And it’s doubtful in the extreme if the British would have been so lenient on those traitors as the Andrew Johnson administrator was to those of the Confederacy, who killed far more American soldiers that the rebelling colonists killed redcoats.
The Confederate slaveowners justified their revolt to preserve slavery by invoking the precedent of the Revolutionary War. But it was a false use of history. The Confederate states was not colonies of the United States, they were an integral part of the United States and fully represented in the national government like all the other states. Actually, that understates their influence: the 3/5 rule in the Constitution gave the white voters of the future Confederate states a slave premium in their representation in the House, even though neither slaves nor free blacks could actually vote in those states. And the Confederates were fighting to restrict freedom – including freedom for white citizens – not to expand it, as the American Revolutionaries did.
But they did use the American Revolution as propaganda justification. It was part of their own national heritage – as part of the United States.
“I don’t see the point in splitting hairs about whether the Confederate rebellion was treason. It clearly was.”
Nothing “clear” about it. The hardening of opinion on both sides today does not indicate clarity about the issue 150 years ago. And citing the unsettled constitutional status of secession in 1861 is hardly “splitting hairs.” Understanding that status is central to what “treason” could possibly have meant under those circumstances.
” And anyone actively participating in it could have been prosecuted for treason to the United States.”
Just so. That’s what happens when you lose a war. By then, the issue had been settled on the battlefield and the losing side had to suffer the consequences. But that has nothing to do with 1861.
“There’s a good argument to be made that post-Civil War history would have run a more democratic course if the federal government had indicted and prosecuted a number of the key leaders on treason charges.”
Quite possibly but, again, that has nothing to do with the question of whether or not secession constituted treason in 1861.
“Everyone North and South clearly understood the Confederates were committing treason against the United States of America and doing so in defense of their “sacred institution” of slavery. It doesn’t help understand either the Civil War or its lasting implications to try to put some nice spin on that ugly reality.”
Bruce, the whole point is that, in 1861, everyone did NOT understand that at all. And what spin do you mean? I’ve said several times that I’m AGAINST secession and lean toward the view that it probably was unconstitutional. But my opinion does not retroactively turn secession into treason.
“I don’t agree that the American Revolutionary cause and the Confederate cause were somehow substantially parallel. ”
I don’t believe I said they were. In 1776, colonies of Great Britain engaged in a clearly illegal act of rebellion. In 1861, states (not “sovereign” states as only Texas and Hawaii have ever truly been “sovereign”) within a Union sought to break up that Union by withdrawing from it but there simply was no legal consensus at the time about whether their actions were constitutional. The argument had been going on for decades. That is historical fact. I don’t see how it constitutes “spin.”
As to the first instance, I might well have been a Loyalist had I been around in 1776 but of course that’s for a different thread possibly on a different site.
The rebels, our Governor says, were “ultimately overwhelmed by the insurmountable numbers and resources of the Union Army.” Not Union leaders and their war strategies, or internal southern dissent, or Confederate desertions, or…..
Many Virginians viewed Union victory as liberation.
“But instead should be studied, understood and remembered by all Virginians, both in the context of the time in which it took place.” Of course context is important, but whenever this kind of talk comes up regarding “Confederate Heritage,” it usually implies something like “yea they were slaveholders, but that was okay then. You can’t put modern values into the 19th century!” To which I always reply: people in the nineteenth century thought slavery was wrong too.
The intentional ignoring of slavery is itself proof that what the governor outlined is in no way “shared history”. At the same time let’s remember that very few people here in Virginia actively celebrate or acknowledge Confederate History Month.
When we point out the need to remember that historical figures did not live in our time to avoid an unpleasant fact it renders any moral judgment problematic.
Whoops, Margaret already got to that. Sorry!
I’d be curious as to where the western portion of Virginia fits into this “shared history.”
In a week or two, the “West Virginia Sesquicentennial of the American Civil War Commission” website will be up and running. We have a bit of a different take on the Civil War here. Nonetheless, I don’t blame the Virginia governor for his sloppy interpretation of history–that’s the fault of his speech writers.
It would seem to me, Kevin, that as you have some role to play in how Virginia celebrates/commemorates the upcoming CW150, you have standing to address the governor directly on this issue.
It is interesting to consider just how far apart the the governor and Sesquicentennial Committee are from one another in terms of their approach to history and heritage. I know for a fact that a number of high-ranking public officials read my blog on a regular basis. That’s good enough for me.
A few low ranking unofficials read it too!
Well put. Nothing, of course, about the Virginians who stayed loyal to the Union like George Thomas, Laura Ann Jackson Arnold (Stonewall’s sister), and Elizabeth (“Crazy Bet”) Van Lew, or Powhatan Beaty of the 5th USCT who received the Medal of Honor. In addition, no pesky reminders that their neighbor West Virginia used to be part of the state until those counties refused to join in the rebellion. (and, of course, classic Lost Cause explanation for Union victory.)
You are absolutely right, Margaret. I guess some Virginians matter more to this governor than others. How sad. 🙁
Well, on the West Virginia issue…
To be fair, the Governor is addressing “all Virginians” today — so in other words, West Virginia is not part of his audience, so that particular criticism seems a bit unfair to me.
Also, note that while indeed West Virginia left the Union by 1863, they weren’t exactly against secession in 1861. In fact, if you look at the representatives from counties that would later become West Virginia at the 1861 convention, it’s very closely split, and if I remember right, it actually favored secession (though don’t quote me on that! ha). But I remember reading something like this in the essay, “The Virginia State Convention of 1861” written by James I. Robertson, Jr., in the book, VIRGINIA AT WAR, 1861 … my point is that it seems a bit more complex to me 🙂
I don’t remember the numbers off hand so I will leave that till later. The problem is that the governor’s proclamation asks “all Virginians” today to acknowledge and celebrate a history that assumes a level of unity that never existed. That is the point of West Virginia. The fact that the state did split suggests that perhaps the gov’s preferred memory is more fantasy than history.
Well, about the governor…
I understand your point, but I guess I’m wondering if we can assume that when he addresses “all Virginians” today, he necessarily means that the “Commonwealth’s shared history” is defined by the Commonwealth’s boundaries in 1861. Because if he is addressing “all Virginians” today, and he is referring to the close of the war in 1865 (when West Virginia was already split from Virginia), then we can just as easily infer that he is indeed referring to the current boundaries, which did not include West Virginia in 1865 and do not today.
But about the complexity issue…
Those numbers I brought up from the Convention of 1861 do matter quite a bit, because the actual evidence of voting at the 1861 secession reveals that an assertion such as “those counties refused to join in the rebellion” (above, Margaret D. Blough) is not quite accurate and seems to overlook the complexity of the evidence.
Therefore, “the point about West Virginia” (Kevin Levin, above) is indeed weakened: first, because you are assuming the Governor is referring to the 1861 boundary of Virginia rather than the 1865 boundary, and second, because the voting record suggests a different story than what we neatly construct it to be here.
I don’t know which year the governor is referring to in the proclamation. I just assumed he was referring to the war as a whole. Understand that I am not denying the importance of the numbers, but the fact that the counties in western Virginia did become a separate state challenges the popular view of the state as united.
This comment is in reply to your comment below, but somehow I cannot reply to that particular comment as I do not see the “Reply” button on that one comment by you.
But your assumption about which year the Governor refers to is part of my point: we can just as easily assume 1865, rather than 1861, since even your excerpt from his speech says: “all Virginians can appreciate the fact that when ultimately overwhelmed by the insurmountable numbers and resources of the Union Army, the surviving, imprisoned and injured Confederate soldiers gave their word and allegiance to the United States of America”… this is clearly referring to 1865.
Moreover, as to your second point in your response, that “the fact that the counties in western Virginia did become a separate state challenges the popular view of the state as united”… But the topic we are discussing here is not the “popular view” of the state in the war, but rather specifically the Governor’s expressed view. So your response there shifts the subject away from our topic of discussion so far.
I see your point. You are of course right that the passage does indeed refer to 1865, but that is one sentence in this document. I would say that the governor’s view is the popular view so I don’t see how that shifts the subject at all. Thanks again.
The proclamation begins with 1861 and secession. I don’t see what all this quibbling’s about, unless we are simply to admit the governor’s ignorance of his state’s history during the War of the Rebellion.
ok weird, somehow my comment above posted below your comment, so ignore my first sentence above. haha
Sorry about that. I just changed the length of the thread.
That’s ok! Thanks for the chat! Good luck during the 150th!
Disturbing but not surprising for McDonnell. Somebody ought to read him some David Blight.