Bud Robertson and the Legacy of Union

I am having a great time here in Hagerstown at the Civil War Preservation Trust’s annual Teachers Conference.  Today was the first day.  I had a chance to chat with Bud Robertson at lunch and I thoroughly enjoyed his presentation.  It’s a talk that I’ve heard before, but it is always nice to listen to a man who has dedicated his life to scholarship and education.  The organization was sad to learn that this will be his final appearance.  It looks like Professor Robertson is going to retire this year.

Robertson spoke on the many legacies of the Civil War, but he was the most eloquent when it came to the importance of Union.  According to Robertson, this nation did not have a history until the Civil War.  Robertson quoted Lincoln and rammed home his belief that the Civil War was nothing less than a test of whether the work of the Founding Fathers could be preserved.  There is nothing surprising about such a view, but I bet some people are taken back by the fact that it is Robertson’s view.  After all, Robertson is best known for biographies of Confederate leaders and he is to a certain extent the academic darling of organizations such as the Sons of Confederate Veterans.

Unfortunately, there was no time for questions.  I really wanted to ask him how he views the uptick in rhetoric of secession that is coming from both the grass roots level as well as our elected leaders.  To what extent should we view this as a legacy of the Civil War?  I wanted to know, given his comments about the value of Union, whether we should encourage this rhetoric and whether he believes it ought to be viewed as patriotic.  Tonight we will get together for dinner and a talk by Peter Carmichael and tomorrow we are off to Gettysburg.

[photo of t-shirt at Gettysburg Visitor Center]

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3 comments… add one
  • Al Mackey Jul 17, 2010 @ 11:17


    As I’m sure you know very well, no one who has been in Prof. Robertson’s class would be surprised. : )

    It will be a sad day when he retires. He’s been a real treasure.

  • Marianne Davis Jul 17, 2010 @ 4:50

    I have long wondered at what happened to the Unionist message and memory, I wish I had heard that address. You say Prof. Robinson has given it more than once, do you know if it was published or if there is a transcript?
    As for the secessionist voices rising now, there may be a simpler explanation than a persistent Civil War mentality. I am speaking as an amateur, certainly not a historian. It seems to me, though, that the discontent, for both good and ill, have always looked to the past for inspiration and justification. Think of all those letters from young Southerners evoking the spirit of Ivanhoe, or Wagner and his Norse gods, or Rousseau’s natural man, or even American politicians calling for a return to a 50s American Eden that never existed.
    These half-informed people grumbling about the 10th Amendment may have only two things in common with the secessionists of 150 years ago They lost an election, and are being led by elite demagogues to act against their own interests.

  • James F. Epperson Jul 16, 2010 @ 13:14

    When I still lived in Madison, AL, Bud came to speak on behalf of the VPI Alumni Association—It was one of the best talks I ever attended. The man flat out knows his stuff, and has a good delivery born of years in the classroom.

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