Col. Ty Seidule’s Follow-Up Assault on the Lost Cause

Yesterday Prager University re-posted a video on its YouTube page on the Civil War and slavery featuring West Point historian Colonel Ty Seidule. Many of you will remember that this short video quickly went viral following its original posting back in August 2015.

Here it is for those of you who missed it.

With a few minor quibbles I still think the video holds up pretty well.

Searching for Black Confederates: The Civil War’s Most Persistent Myth

“Levin’s study is the first of its kind to blueprint and then debunk the mythology of enslaved African Americans who allegedly served voluntarily in behalf of the Confederacy.”–Journal of Southern History

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15 comments… add one
  • Forester Dec 24, 2016 @ 23:30

    Quoting the Cornerstone speech gets on my nerves, for two reasons. One is that no one ever acknowledges that Stephens spoke extemporaneously and that the speech was transcribed in haste; it may not exactly reflect what he really said. I’m not defending him, per se …. I do think it’s probably an accurate reflection of his views on slavery. But people should still mention that the text as we know it isn’t 100% accurate.

    My other problem is that people don’t read the whole speech. They just skip to the juicy parts that back up what they already believe. But Stephens speech did NOT say that slavery was the sole reason for forming a new government. He spoke about 990 words about other causes before addressing the biggest single cause, “last [but] not least.” Whenever people use the Cornerstone address as a source text, they discount and ignore about 20% of the speech.

    Another thing that bothered me was when he said, “The secession documents of every Southern state make clear — crystal clear — that they were leaving the union to protect their peculiar institution of slavery.”

    This is …. sort of true, but also misleading. Virginia’s official reason for seceding was because the North was abusing its power and oppressing the southern slave-holding states. This could be taken as a tacit endorsement of slavery, but that’s a matter of personal interpretation. The text could just as easily refer to Lincoln’s order for 75,000 troops to suppress the rebellion, which caused VA to vote for secession their second convention. My city, Norfolk, did a complete 180 after Lincoln’s proclamation on April 15, 1861. McDowell County in West Virginia switched its vote to secession despite being a coal-mining town with no slaves at all, because of Lincoln’s proclamation. Also, the secession declaration for North Carolina doesn’t mention slavery at all, nor does Florida if memory serves. It’s factually untrue to say that EVERY document mentions slavery …. the video basically lied.

    Anyway, these are probably minor gripes. I DO agree that slavery was the biggest single cause …. I’m not endorsing the Lost Cause by any means. But to say the cause was “slavery and ONLY slavery” is just hogwash.

    “Mostly slavery” would be more accurate.

    • Kevin Levin Dec 25, 2016 @ 2:26

      We should probably move away from thinking in terms of an “official reason” for secession. I have already addressed this distinction between the Deep South and Upper South. I highly recommend William Freehling’s *Road to Disunion* on this specific issue. What you overlook, however, is the fact that regardless of when they seceded the issue of slavery was the most obvious concern leading up to and through the election of 1860. As Freehling points out, the issue for many of the Southern states was whether Lincoln and the Republicans constituted an immediate threat to the institution. Freehling has published much of the convention debates in Virginia so you can see it for yourself.

      Remember, it’s a 5-minute educational video and not a dissertation.

      But Stephens speech did NOT say that slavery was the sole reason for forming a new government.

      So, how do you interpret what Stephens reportedly said about slavery being the “cornerstone” of the new Confederacy within the context of the entire speech? I have read the entire speech.

  • Msb Dec 24, 2016 @ 15:23

    Very glad to see this again.

  • Mark Snell Dec 22, 2016 @ 1:50

    I talked to Ty last year at a USMA History Dept. reunion. He told me he received a lot of threats because of that video. Amazing, since the colonel has been defending his country for more than 30 years. I didn’t ask, but I imagine most of the threats were anonymous.

    • Kevin Levin Dec 22, 2016 @ 2:26

      Hi Mark,

      I am very sorry to hear this.

      • Mark Snell Dec 22, 2016 @ 10:24

        I wouldn’t worry about it, Kevin. Ty can take care of himself. Besides, if the threats are serious enough, and because he is high-ranking officer of the federal government, the FBI gets involved.

        • Kevin Levin Dec 22, 2016 @ 10:49

          Oh, I have no doubt that he can take care of himself if necessary. 🙂

  • bob ruth Dec 21, 2016 @ 10:19

    This video should be shown in every high school and junior high school in the South. Each member of the Texas Board of Education, dominated by history-denying Lost Causers, should also be required to view it.

  • bob carey Dec 19, 2016 @ 11:08

    I wouldn’t want to debate the Colonel, regardless of subject matter. Great post.

  • Joyce Harrison Dec 19, 2016 @ 6:51

    “There has to be another reason!”
    “Well, there isn’t.”

    Love this! Well done, Col. Seidule!

  • Lisa Kapp Dec 18, 2016 @ 10:11

    Thank you for posting, Kevin! Perfect for a HS history classroom! Permit me a few questions with an eye to making it an even better teaching tool.
    1. How would you help students appreciate there remains, even in 2016, “a persistent belief that slavery was incidental”? THAT, in fact, is the harder argument for my Brooklyn students to grasp. And related to this would be explaining to students (or helping them discover) why there has been so much debate about the causes of the war – what’s at stake in the arguments?
    2. Edward Ayers reminds us that the question “What caused the war?” is perhaps the wrong one — too simplistic and reductive. What would you say is a better question to get at contingency – not just that slavery caused the war but why the war happened when it did?
    Any further thoughts on how you’d use this video in the classroom?

    • Kevin Levin Dec 18, 2016 @ 11:10

      Hi Lisa,

      These are great questions and I welcome other to chime in as well. Here are a few suggestions off the top of my head. Check out these recent polls on what Americans believe about the cause of the war. The first is from 2015 and this one from 2011. It might help to generate some questions.

      One of my minor quibble with Seidule’s focus on slavery is that he doesn’t distinguish between the Deep and Upper South. Certainly, the Deep Southern states from South Carolina to Texas all issued statements citing slavery as the primary cause, but Upper South states like Virginia waited to see what Lincoln would do. After Sumter most of those states left apart from the Border States. Why? How did slavery figure into the other factors that kept in the Union longer?

      Given the proximity of your school to New York City you may want to focus on how the city responded to secession. As you know, NYC had very strong economic ties to the slave states. What did slavery mean to its economic future? Was everyone pro-war?

      I’ll keep thinking about this.

  • Kristoffer Dec 17, 2016 @ 8:36

    Good to see this great video getting returned to public attention.

  • R E Watson Dec 17, 2016 @ 8:01

    Damn ! Found myself humming the Battle Hymn of the Republic !! Great speaker and an excellent video, Thanks for reposting.

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