Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Confederate Heroes Day

. . . I feel no hostility to you, Senators from the North. I am sure there is not one of you, whatever sharp discussion there may have been between us, to whom I cannot now say, in the presence of my God, I wish you well: and such, I am sure, is the feeling of the people whom I represent towards those whom you represent. I therefore feel that I but express their desire when I say I hope, and they hope, for peaceful relations with you, though we must part...The reverse may bring disaster on every portion of the country; and if you will have it thus, we will invoke the God of our fathers, who delivered them from the power of the lion, to protect us from the ravages of the bear; and thus, putting our trust in God and in our own firm hearts and strong arms, we will vindicate the right as best we may.

Jefferson Davis, Farewell Address to the U.S. Senate, 21 January 1861. (From The Papers of Jefferson Davis, Vol. 7: 1861, pp. 18-22, LSU Press, 1992).
With all my devotion to the Union, and the feeling of loyalty and duty of an American citizen, I have not been able to make up my mind to raise my hand against my relatives, my children, my home. I have, therefore, resigned my commission in the Army, and save in defense of my native State. . .I hope I may never be called upon to draw my sword. I know you will blame me, but you must think as kindly as you can, and believe that I have endeavored to do what I thought right. . .May God guard and protect your and yours and shower upon you everlasting blessings . . .
Robert E. Lee, to his Unionist sister, Anne Marshall, 20 April 1861. (From The Wartime Papers of Robert E. Lee, pp 9-10, Clifford Dowdey, Ed., Da Capo, 1987).
2011 is the 150th anniversary of the beginning of the American Civil War. There are alternate names, possibly more accurate, but the fact that the generally accepted term for that conflict is "the Civil War" tells us all we need to know about how the South's experiment in secession and self-government worked out.
Today is the 204th anniversary of the birth of Robert E. Lee, General-in-Chief of the Armies of the Confederate States, and the 19th day of January is still recognized here in Texas as “Confederate Heroes Day,” a State holiday. Things being what they are, it is unlikely that the Texas statute book will honor Confederate heroes for very much longer, and like “un-persons” whom the Soviet Communist Party wished to banish from public view, Lee, Jefferson Davis and everything else to do with the Confederate States of America will soon vanish down the memory-hole. Our children, if they are wise, will learn to in public at least, mouth the proper politically correct platitudes and to recite on command the carefully packaged, all-inclusive happy pabulum that passes now for history in our schools.
We are told this is all for the best, but it doesn’t mean some of us have to like it. The names of Lee, Davis and legions of others who gave all they had for Southern independence, whose names would be household words, the Washingtons, Hamiltons and Decaturs of a new country -- had they but won -- are becoming obscure to non-historians, except inasmuch as they serve the purposes of modern politicians and shills for various causes who promote their agendas by damning the memory of the dead. Such excisions from the historial record do nobody any good; as Mark Steyn has truly written: "[w]hen a society loses its memory, it descends inevitably into dementia."
Yes, the war was partly about slavery, and the end of that beastly institution was an unmitigated blessing. Yes, scum have stolen the Southerners' flag for their own purposes and cloaked their racist fantasies in its folds. But that’s not the whole truth about the War for Southern Independence (proper name of the Civil War), any more than the War for American Independence (proper name of the American Revolution) was all about a tax on tea.
The 258,000 southerners who died for the independence of the Confederate States, and their comrades who survived the war to rebuild their broken civilization, are, of course, long beyond caring. Their souls, and those of the people who loved them and daily prayed for their safety and success now rest with God; and our approval or disapproval of the choices life gave them, is ultimately meaningless. As so many said at the time, they believed they were taking up arms for the most worthy cause imaginable -- protection of their homes and firesides, and those of their neighbors, from hostile invasion, and to vindicate the same principle Americans died for in 1776: the idea that government should rest on the consent of the governed.
Americans not connected with the military in some way have largely experienced war a tragedy that happens in other places. Not so the Civil War, which was fought mostly in – and devastated – the American south. Despite the efforts and sacrifices of so many, Confederate soldiers were unable to successfully defend their country. American cities and fields became battlegrounds, and armies moved and camped in what are sometimes literally our backyards. American cities -- mostly in the South -- were sacked and burned, and homes were plundered by soldiers speaking the same language, and often the same dialect, and American women, children and elderly people driven from their homes and turned into penniless refugees by truly unnatural disaster.
When all was over, the dust settled, and the pain and shouting but a memory; America was the better for the end of slavery, but when the Federal Government forced its yoke at gunpoint on those who did not want it, America lost something precious also. Thankfully those days are past, but they are not totally forgotten. We of course remember the victors: Mr. Lincoln has a memorial in Washington, but his real monument is the country and world we now inhabit. But some of us remember others too…Lee, Davis, Micah Jenkins, Johnston Pettigrew, Cleburne, Jackson, the Semmes brothers, Maxcy Gregg, Thomas R.R. Cobb, thousands of others long dead. To borrow Mr. Khrushchev’s memorable phrase, these will not be forgotten, by some of us, until shrimp learn to sing.


LFC said...

I think Lee and Davis, whom you link together here, are remembered somewhat differently, at least outside the South: Lee is thought of as someone who fought honorably and often skillfully, albeit in a bad and/or misguided cause, whereas the image of Jefferson Davis is, I think, less favorable (whether fairly so or not). Generalizations are hazardous, of course, but this is my impression. I don't think either name is in danger of "becoming obscure to all but non-historians" and "shills"; more books on the Civil War have been written and bought and read by 'general readers' (i.e. non-specialists), I would guess, than on most if not all other periods/episodes of U.S. history.
As to the "carefully packaged, happy pabulum that passes now for history in our schools," I don't really know how U.S. history is taught in the public schools today, but I suspect it varies quite a bit, since there is, of course, no single national curriculum (despite some very tentative moves in this direction in recent years) and since states and localities retain a lot of control over curriculum and other aspects of public education. I suspect a more rigorous and challenging approach to history is probably called for, but that doesn't necessarily mean that "pabulum" is what is on the menu now. Perhaps there is a tendency in some schools to take the "arc of history bends toward justice" approach, but this does not equal "pabulum" just b/c you don't like it. A sophisticated version of what used to be (and sometimes still is) called Whig history is not completely indefensible.

hank_F_M said...

El Jefe

A good post.

I was reading of someone’s visit to the Chickamauga Battle field. He found some old rifle pits and was trying to figure out if they were made by Union or Confederate soldiers - then it dawned on him they were dug by American soldiers.

Grant them eternal rest, oh Lord, and let your perpetual light shine upon them.

El Jefe Maximo said...

Chickamauga is very high on my list of places to go back to. I was in Chattanooga for about 48 hours in 04, and time did not permit a visit, which I have always regretted.

I didn't get to visit Chickamauga. . .and it still is a source of wonderment to me that Braxton Bragg and company didn't manage to visit Chattanooga following their famous visit to Chickamauga.

LFC, these past few years I have had the opportunity to view my some of my son's school history texts. With some exceptions, I have been less than impressed (not just with their coverage of the Civil War). Parts of them appear to me to be little more than happy talk.