Friday, January 19, 2007

Remembrance

Jan. 19 -- Texas Confederate Heroes Day
Why We Remember

EDIT: Since the writing of this post, I have since come to hold a different opinion than the one expressed in this post. While it is still true that the Civil War was about many different issues, none of these issues would have been issues sufficient to start a war in the first place had chattel slavery not been in place.

Yes, it concerned the right to secede. Yes, it concerned the issue of states' sovereignty vs. federal centralization. But, in 1860, what it meant to be concerned about those issues was that you desired to secede and exercise states' rights in order to keep other human beings in bondage. Thus, while the issues of states' rights and secession continue to be viable political issues in some (small) corners of the country today, one should not and must not cite the CSA as some sort of heroic precedent regarding these issues; such a citation would and does only lead to an implicit, if not explicit, excusing of chattel slavery, which is now exclusively a moral issue in today's society, not a primarily economic one, as it was in that of the 1860s. Such a position is inexcusable in today's world.

Nevertheless, I am keeping the words up for posterity; I do hope that those who find resonance with what I wrote below would stop, reflect, and reconsider what waving the Stars and Bars, however culturally one might feel about it, says today.

I continue to recognize that those who fought for the South (my paternal great-great-grandfathers included) did so mostly in a short-sighted attempt to defend their parcel of land and their immediate families, which they were told were being threatened by "Damn Yankees." Hence, the desire to honor their service to protect those dear to them first and foremost.

Though many of them did not own slaves (mine did at some point, I believe), and many willingly manumitted they once they saw that they could fight like the men that they were and are, such is nevertheless a context wholly different from our own. Let us draw from it those lessons we can and should, without the unfortunate wholesale adoption of its truly lost cause, as many misguidedly do today. May God truly bless and save the South, and the North, and all mankind. ~ Fr. David Wooten, Sept. 7, 2012.

10 comments:

Barnabas Powell said...

What a beautiful picture!

And whar beautiful stories explaining why we remember.

Thank you.

Barnabas

John said...

David Bryan,

I know I’m wading into a minefield, here (having read your "What's With the Middle Flag" post)—but here goes, anyway. I do have impeccable Southern credentials, being directly descended from 8 Confederate veterans (7 g-g-grandfathers and 1 g-g-g-grandfather). I also have a M.A. in History, teach history from time to time at our local university, and have been a lifelong student of the war. I am all for remembering our Confederate soldiers and honoring what whas good and noble about their effort—no problem there.

That being said…my heart doesn’t go pitty-pat over the Confederacy. I have little patience with the professional Southern crowd and many Rebel apologists who romanticize the conflict. The war was an absolute disaster—for the South. It took us generations to recover, and some of the scars have never healed. As was famously said, “the war was got up drunk,” by hot-headed politicians—on both sides, to be sure, but primarily precipitated by the Southern ones. The SVC and others have never owned up to the South's culpability in causing the war--the conflict being recast in the postwar years as a simple struggle over Constitutional rights. Many apologists would have you believe that the war was about everything BUT slavery. But all “causes”—even the hallowed “right of secession”--inevitably lead back to slavery. And most Southerners, in their heart or hearts, know this.

And we obsess so over the war years! My wife’s people landed at Jamestown in 1609. 398 years is a good bit of history in one region. Yet, for many amateur Southern historians, all that matters is the 4-year period between 1861 and 1865. Everything Southern--before or since--is filtered through this prism.

Finally, the re-enactor crowd really gets under my skin. A local re-enactment group did a mock court-martial, trial and execution of a make-believe deserter—as depicted in a full color spread in the paper. It turned my stomach. Why? Despite all my Confederate ancestors, a significant strain of Unionism ran through my paternal family—mainly uncles and distant cousins. Some were hanged or ran out of town by their noble Rebel neighbors. One g-g-granddad was drafted in the Confederate army against his will (his brother and brother-in-law had already slipped into the Indian Territory and joined up with the Union Army). On Christmas leave, he deserted, loaded up his family, crossed over into the Indian Territory and found his way to the anonymity of Texas. This was never hidden, or seen as scandalous in my family. And it is these relatives with whom I most identify—the ones with the gumption to stand up against the insanity all around them.

So, I don't completely disagree with the article "This is Why We Remember," (though for every quote, 10 could be supplied showing otherwise). I especially concur with the closing, by Jefferson Davis:

"the past is dead: let it bury it's dead, its hopes and its aspirations; before you lies the future - a future full of golden promise."

My view is that the Civil War was an unholy mess—largely of our own making. Let’s move on.

(And now, I'd better go into hiding. Ha!)

John

David Bryan said...

Barnabas,

Glad you enjoyed my little memorial.

John,

No need to go into hiding! I won't send a brigade out East just yet! ;-)

You bring a lot of good thoughts to this; while I was certain that someone would post a comment that called some of the post and linked page into question, I'm glad that said comment was made thoughtfully and in a balanced manner.

"I am all for remembering our Confederate soldiers and honoring what whas good and noble about their effort—no problem there."

Great. That was the main point of the post.

"The war was an absolute disaster—for the South. It took us generations to recover, and some of the scars have never healed. As was famously said, “the war was got up drunk,” by hot-headed politicians—on both sides, to be sure, but primarily precipitated by the Southern ones."

Well, I'd agree that the war was an absolute disaster, and politicians are known for forgetting the public good for the sake of private interests, but to say that southern, agrarian-funded politicians were any more insistent on getting their way than were northern, industry-fed ones seems a bit much to me. The war was over the almighty dollar, when it comes down to it.

"The SVC..."

Did you mean SCV? Somehow the Society of Vacuum Coaters (not made up; I just googled SVC and got it) doesn't seem to fit well... ;-P

"Many apologists would have you believe that the war was about everything BUT slavery.”

And just as many would say that it was about nothing but slavery. Balance is required from both sides.

“But all ‘causes’—even the hallowed ‘right of secession’--inevitably lead back to slavery. And most Southerners, in their heart or hearts, know this."

Well, you’ll get no hiding from the sin of slavery from me, but I would say that, imo, slavery was an issue in the minds of 1860s southerners because it was inextricably bound up with the issue of “who gets to tell who what to do with their money and property.” Today we carry the emotional baggage of hindsight (and that’s a good thing) which reminds us that we used to look upon our fellow human beings as “property,” yet we still need to remember to look at the issue not only through our modern lens, but through that of those who lived through the conflict. If we can allow a central power to hold a Union together through force--a Union which would be otherwise free to split--what does that say about us, really? Isn’t that the reason we rebelled against England? When do the ends justify the means? Whether we like it or not (and I certainly don’t), the Constitution’s fourth article originally made a provision for slavery; there was, imo, a way to fix this which would have followed the Constitution (and been more difficult), and a way to fix this which, imo, went against both the letter and the Spirit of the Constitution and the Founding Fathers, and this latter path was the one pursued by the North. There is no easy answer to which side we ought to fall in favor of today, for both can set dangerous precedents if taken to too far an extreme; we either wind up with a cruel, pragmatic legalistic system which prizes fidelity to the system of US govt. over the well-being of those suffering unjustly w/in said government, or we wind up with a dangerous precedent of overruling constitutionally-protected rights if emotions run high enough (sort of like the politics of fear I see the Bush administration promoting at present). Again, no easy answer is available any more today than it was then, but we should at least be honest enough with ourselves as Americans--northern and southern together--to allow for both sides of the issue to be expressed. We ignore the state’s rights view to our peril.

“And we obsess so over the war years! My wife’s people landed at Jamestown in 1609. 398 years is a good bit of history in one region. Yet, for many amateur Southern historians, all that matters is the 4-year period between 1861 and 1865. Everything Southern--before or since--is filtered through this prism.”

You’re right about that; the Wootens landed in Alabama around the time y’all came to Jamestown and moved across the Gulf Coast to Texas. My family credentials are nowhere near as “pure” southern as yours, but I agree there’s more to the South than just those four years. Sometimes memory is bound up in emotion, however, and dictates what comes to the forefront most easily.

“Finally, the re-enactor crowd really gets under my skin.”

With your family history, I can see why. Sad that the same sort of “hang the traitors” mentality was going on against Copperheads in the North. Ç’est la guerre. Lord, have mercy. I, however, enjoy the other re-enactor activities that I’ve seen--battles recreated, old songs played on period instruments, etc. I think they’re a vital part of preserving history.

"’the past is dead: let it bury it's dead, its hopes and its aspirations; before you lies the future - a future full of golden promise.’ My view is that the Civil War was an unholy mess—largely of our own making. Let’s move on.”

The South will not--nor should it--rise again. But given the tension the name of our country still provides us to this day--are we more the UnitedStates of America or the United States of America?--we can’t afford to forget what happens when those two opposing views come to blows.

John said...

David Bryan,

“No need to go into hiding! I won't send a brigade out East just yet! ;-)”

I must say that you are more generous than some of my friends!

“…but to say that southern, agrarian-funded politicians were any more insistent on getting their way than were northern, industry-fed ones seems a bit much to me.”

I agree that both sides were insistent—but, in the end, it was the Southern side--worked into a lather over Lincoln’s election--that precipitated the war.

" Did you mean SCV? Somehow the Society of Vacuum Coaters (not made up; I just googled SVC and got it) doesn't seem to fit well... ;-P"

Surely you’ve read the position papers of the Society of Vacuum Coaters regarding the war???? You got me there—of course I meant SCV!

“And just as many would say that it was about nothing but slavery. Balance is required from both sides.”

True. My point is that the SCV et al ignore the elephant in the room—slavery. There is an old saying that the victors get to write the history books. Oddly enough, this does not apply to the Civil War. The post-war Southern historians and writers, patriotic societies and veteran groups took over, in a very real sense, the national conversation on this topic (the rest of the country was too busy with building a nation). And in doing so, they recast the South’s motivation; from protecting slavery to the nobler view of upholding the intent of the Constitution. This is one school of thought, and it is the one that I hold. Obviously, some will strongly disagree, and they will marshall their historians to show otherwise. And that is as it should be. If history were all settled, it would be boring as hell.

The bottom line is that the nation went to war because we were—or were becoming—two different peoples. Why, exactly? All sorts of contrasts can be drawn to explain this trend: free vs. slave, industrial vs. agrarian, cold vs. temperate, Anglo vs. Celtic, Federal vs. States Rights, etc. All have some validity. But none really approach explaining the conflict if seen outside the context of the slavery issue. Take slavery out of the equation, and all these differences would be resolved short of war.

“If we can allow a central power to hold a Union together through force--a Union which would be otherwise free to split--what does that say about us, really? Isn’t that the reason we rebelled against England?”

Well, no…not really. The Revolution was a different animal all together.

“When do the ends justify the means?”

Never.

“We ignore the state’s rights view to our peril.”

Well, maybe.

“But given the tension the name of our country still provides us to this day--are we more the UnitedStates of America or the United States of America?--we can’t afford to forget what happens when those two opposing views come to blows. “

I understand and sympathize with your concerns. They are substantive. And thanks for a civilized dialogue on a subject that can quickly become contentious in these parts!

David Bryan said...

"I agree that both sides were insistent—but, in the end, it was the Southern side--worked into a lather over Lincoln’s election--that precipitated the war."

Hmm. How would you say they precipitated it? To me, Lincoln's election was just the proverbial straw on top of a stack of--ahem--Northern aggression that had been building for a while.

"[The Southern historians et al] recast the South’s motivation; from protecting slavery to the nobler view of upholding the intent of the Constitution."

Why does one have to preclude and exclusively dominate the other? For every Nathan Bedford Forrest there's a Robert E. Lee; they fought for incredibly different reasons and equally loved the Confederacy. The former sought to preserve the Old Ways and was violently racist, while the latter--who saw that slavery did no good for the South and needed to be abolished--sought to bring Dixie into the new, changing world, but to do so in a South that was free to affect said changes.

"The bottom line is that the nation went to war because we were—or were becoming—two different peoples."

Absolutely.

"But none really approach explaining the conflict if seen outside the context of the slavery issue. Take slavery out of the equation, and all these differences would be resolved short of war."

Well, yes, because the South wouldn't have been able, economically speaking, to afford a secession in the first place had they not had their agricultural base under girded with the slave system. I think it's important to remember, though, that neither the North nor the South had as its first priority the termination or the continuing of slavery; Lincoln, Grant and Sherman have famously stated that they went to war to preserve the Union at any cost, and emancipating the slaves did not necessarily have to be a part of that objective. Likewise, the South was mainly concerned with being able to make their own calls and govern their own affairs in matters that didn’t (to their way of thinking) involve the Feds, but as you said, in the context of the 1860s, what that meant was that slavery would inevitably be included in that. In the minds of southerners, then, northern threats to the institution of slavery were not just threats to end a certain institution, but also were indicative of the North’s troubling assertion that it had the right to end it in the first place, thereby meddling in the affairs of other states.

“The Revolution was a different animal all together.”

True, but it is telling that a union of states which was, in the beginning, barely accomplished in the first place for fear of too strong a central, federal power was, four score and seven years later, forcibly preserved by that same federal power against the will of states free to secede--states held in the union (supposedly) only by their own will to remain in such a union. I don’t see how the founding Fathers would approve of such a move.

“And thanks for a civilized dialogue on a subject that can quickly become contentious in these parts!”

Back atcha; I’m just thrilled not to have been called a redneck/racist/ignoramus in a talk like this!

John said...

“Hmm. How would you say they precipitated it?”

Two things that immediately come to mind would be the secession of 11 states….and of course, the firing on Ft. Sumter.

“To me, Lincoln's election was just the proverbial straw on top of a stack of--ahem--Northern aggression that had been building for a while.”

Well, I don’t see the legitimate, uncontested election of Lincoln as aggression. Sure there were Northern radicals. But by and large, the decade preceding 1860 was spent trying to placate the firebrands in the South.

“Why does one have to preclude and exclusively dominate the other?”

I am not saying that there was one absolute, uniform motivation for secession. Clearly there were degrees and variations of sentiment. I am saying that postwar Southerners emphasized the one, and ignored the other. And I am also saying that without the institution of slavery, even the Southerner’s elaborate justification of states rights—and the consequent right of secession—would have been just an intellectual argument among academics.

“Well, yes, because the South wouldn't have been able, economically speaking, to afford a secession in the first place had they not had their agricultural base under girded with the slave system.”

That is an interesting idea. But again, without slavery, I don’t think there would have been any great interest in secession, regardless of the economy. And then again, without slavery, who knows what path the South would have taken economically. The slave economy somewhat locked in the agricultural emphasis. Without it—who knows?

“I think it's important to remember, though, that neither the North nor the South had as its first priority the termination or the continuing of slavery;”

The North, yes. The South…I think, no.

“True, but it is telling that a union of states which was, in the beginning, barely accomplished in the first place for fear of too strong a central, federal power was, four score and seven years later, forcibly preserved by that same federal power against the will of states free to secede….”

Yes, but what was the alternative--let the South go, just because they were in a huff over Lincoln? Built on such a shaky premise—the right to secede--the Confederacy would have never held, and soon spun off into who knows how many statelets. I know Texas would not have hung around long.

I guess my main thing is that I don't view this period with any sentimentality. More than anything, it makes me angry--the unnecessary waste, and generations of poverty, backwardness and racism.

Thanks again, for the discussion. The points you raise are thoughtful, well-reasoned and consistent.

Tracey said...

How come we weren't out of school for this day???? It should be on our calendar so we can observe this day... as well as adding PRESIDENT'S DAY!!! Do I sound like our students yet?

I guess I am looking for excuses to have a long weekend, aren't I??

David Bryan said...

Tracey...

No clue why we weren't off. It should at least be an optional "Excused" day...and, yes, I think President's Day needs to be mandatory in terms of being off. PC-ness is sickening...

John,

First off--I assume the comments by "John" that are found here are yours? Lots of Texas-based facts in there; I just thought it sounded like you...

"Two things that immediately come to mind would be the secession of 11 states…"

Why would secession demand war? Where is the prohibition of secession within the Consitution/Bill of Rights?

"and of course, the firing on Ft. Sumter."

Mmm...while Southerners may have fired the first shots, it was Northern occupation of Southern territory that prompted the attack on Fort Sumter, which ceased to be the unquestioned property of the Union government the instant South Carolina seceded...a secession which, obviously, was unrecognized by the North, but here we get into the subjective politics of perspective...imo, the first shots were fired even before the Star of the West violated the maritime rights of South Carolina, who had told Washington that their ships could not enter SC's waters, yet they ignored this warning and sent a ship into Charlestown Harbor.

Lincoln was pleased with this anticipated result, as he wrote the following to Gustavus Fox on 1 May, 1861: "You and I both anticipated that the cause of the country would be advanced by making the attempt to provision Ft Sumter, even if it should fail; and it is no small consolation now to feel that our anticipation is justified by the result."

"But by and large, the decade preceding 1860 was spent trying to placate the firebrands in the South."

Calhoun et al, right. Yet apparently the efforts weren't as bent-over-backwards as were, say, the three successive sets of complete capitulations that repeatedly appeased NY into staying in the Union.

"And I am also saying that without the institution of slavery, even the Southerner’s elaborate justification of states rights—and the consequent right of secession—would have been just an intellectual argument among academics."

Well, here we disagree, as I see slavery as the side issue that provided the tangible example for Southerners--even those too poor to own slaves--that the North's use of the Morrill Tarriff, which Lincoln promised to increase if elected, was indeed going to continue to encroach upon their ability to provide for themselves economically and politically.

"The slave economy somewhat locked in the agricultural emphasis. Without it—who knows?"

Indeed, but the situation was such that it was present, and as such provided for the lion's share (and more) of the Union's economy. Slavery fed the South; the South fed the North.

"The North, yes. The South…I think, no."

Clarify this, please; are you saying that yes, the North DID have as it's first priority the termination of slavery, or yes, it is a correct assertion that the North did NOT have such as its primary motive? I obviously agree with the latter; if the former is what you'd posit, I can't see how you could justify it...too many quotes from Lincoln and his generals explicitly denying it.

"Yes, but what was the alternative--let the South go, just because they were in a huff over Lincoln?"

Obviously, not according to Lincoln; after all, as he said, ""I can't let them go. Who would pay for the government?" As for the idea of "just because," well, I would say that overstepping the fourth article of the Constitution in spite of the tenth amendment's provision for the states is a rather poor justification for preserving a Union that didn't want to be preserved. I would posit, again, that a Union that could only be preserved by force of a central power that sides with a particular region is not in the spirit of the Founding Fathers.

"Built on such a shaky premise—the right to secede--the Confederacy would have never held, and soon spun off into who knows how many statelets."

We seemed to hold together just fine before that.

"I know Texas would not have hung around long."

Due to its radical views of race relations and the sacredness of slavery? They no doubt would have had some of the loudest voices when the time came for the CSA to deal with the voices from the nations of England and France who, had they acknowledged the CSA after all, would have no doubt made some sort of provision for the manumition of all slaves upon said recognition, as they were in no way in the business of, well, doing business with slaveholding nations. But economic coercion by other sovreign nations is one thing--they can do what they want with their own money and investments--and uneven taxation and policy making on the part of a region of your own nation that is indifferent at best and downright hostile at worst is quite another...I would say that the former is a much more effective and much more legitimate incentive to do away with "The Institution" (and would have eventually done just so, I'm convinced, had the South won its independence).

"I guess my main thing is that I don't view this period with any sentimentality."

I don't blame you, though naïvete and sentimentality ran quite rampant then (and still do in some parts). I've seen folks try to link the War with preserving our drawls, grits, and the Bible, and it makes me sick. To me, those four years were the coming to a head of two radically different visions of what kind of government the United States of America was originally meant to embody: was it a centralized government that held sway over individual states, or did the rights of that federal government have limits, with all other responsibilities going to the States? I happen to agree with the latter; my support for the South comes from her attempt to support this vision of limited centralized government and localized control (even down to the county level) rather than some romanticized ideal of antebellum privilege where everyone sits on front porches sippin' mint juleps. I'm proud of my culture--flawed and fallen though it may be--but that ain't the main motivation for why I think what I think.

"Thanks again, for the discussion. The points you raise are thoughtful, well-reasoned and consistent."

Well, thank you. Likewise, sir.

John said...

David Bryan,

Nope. I am not the "John" who reviewed the book you linked. I am familiar with the book, BTW.

I think we are to the point where we had better just agree to disagree, as we have parsed things down to our basic presuppositions--which differ markedly. As you say, "we get into the subjective politics of perspective."

You have clearly thought these matters through, and your conclusions are consistent with your underlying premises. But as my fundamental presuppositions are different, our roads soon diverge and I arrive at a different zip code altogether!

In my first post, I referenced our "obsession" over the Civil War (And now that all my cards on on the table, I can call it what it is, and no longer humor you with that "War Between the States" business! Ha!). Anyway, perhaps in reaction to this, I haven't willingly read a Civil War book in at least 15 years, except for manuscripts dealing with the Gainesville Massacres. But in my early infatuation with history, I read everything I could get my hands on pertaining to the war.

Anyway, fight on, soldier!

And on a completely different subject----be sure and ask Zach about his new black leather jacket!

David Bryan said...

New jacket, huh? Will do...