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Old Times There Are Misremembered …

Kevin Levin’s Civil War Memory offers some rather pointed comments about Virginia governor Robert F. McDonnell’s proclamation declaring April Confederate History Month.  I think he was being kind.

Apparently the governor thinks all Virginians during 1861-1865 were Confederates.  That would reveal a surprising ignorance on his part.  Among other things, not all Virginians were white.  Not all remained Virginians (ever hear of West Virginia, governor?).  And not all white Virginians were Confederates (ever hear of George H. Thomas?).

Yes, Governor, I agree that “it is important for all Virginians to reflect upon our Commonwealth’s shared history.”  That would include the history of the enslaved; it would include the history of the state’s Unionists; it would include the history of the Quakers who tried to stay out of the war; it would include men such as Thomas.  Why, governor, did you overlook all this?  Why are you proud of some Virginians … those who shot at soldiers in United States service … and not about other Virginians? Why do you find that the only Virginians worthy of being honored and remembered are the Confederates?

And, governor, when you declare that “all Virginians can appreciate the fact that when ultimately overwhelmed by the insurmountable numbers and resources of the Union Army,” etc., why don’t you admit that you are simply paraphrasing (without attribution) General Orders No. 9?  And, when you say that Virginia’s Confederates followed  “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,'”  I must ask if you ever read anything about Reconstruction in Virginia (which was mild concerning the sensibilities of Virginia’s Confederates compared to what happened elsewhere) or about Lee’s behavior between 1865 and 1870, especially his comments about politics in 1868?

Finally, governor, you conclude 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.”  Here we agree.  But all Virginians should learn the history of all Virginians who were part of Civil War Virginia.  That would include you.

Come on, governor.  Get your history right.

That said, April is also the month where Richmond and Petersburg fell to United States forces (with African American troops entering Richmond on April 3); April is also the month of the famous shad bake that helped make that all possible; April is also the month when Lincoln entered Richmond and visited the Confederate White House (thus encouraging visitation and tourism, no doubt); and, of course, April is also the month when Robert E. Lee surrendered the army of Northern Virginia to Ulysses S. Grant, general-in-chief of the Armies of the United States.  Somehow the governor overlooked that.  I won’t when I touch down on the soil of the commonwealth where I went to college this week … and I’m thinking of visiting the Smithsonian this Friday to see the very table when Grant penned those magnificent terms of Lee’s surrender.  Perhaps the governor will meet me there.

Somehow, I doubt it.  There are none so ignorant as those who refuse to learn.

PS:  Governor, take my advice.  Don’t anger the Thomas fan boys.

Comments (31) to “Old Times There Are Misremembered …”

  1. In the context of Virginia, this isn’t surprising. They obsess over Jackson and Lee, even having a holiday for them, and have a monumental statue to Jefferson Davis in downtown Richmond.

  2. Amen.

  3. Well thought out and written Brooks.

  4. Wow it is just an announcement for Confederate History Month. It is not meant be a History Paper on the CW in VA. Kevin got a bee in his bonnet over nothing this time. Since he is serving on the 150 VA/CW committee I am sure the VA celebration will be fully PC and Multicultural to please everybody but the Lost Causers.

  5. I’m glad it isn’t a history paper, because the governor would fail. The governor’s wording suggests that he would like Virginians to remember a past that didn’t quite happen that way, and I think many of us would see that as something the governor shouldn’t do.

    What would you mean by “Lost Causers”? What sort of commemoration would please them?

    Mind you, I don’t have a problem with the governor wanting to observe the month. That’s his choice.

  6. Hi Brooks,

    Thanks for following up my post with this more thorough analysis. I also don’t have a problem with this observance. Very few people here in Virginia do much of anything to acknowledge it.

  7. Commerations like they were at the 100 year celebration in the early 1960’s.

  8. Would that be a commemoration or a commiseration?

  9. However, I am always amused as those who denounce historical accuracy as political correctness or see pointing such stuff out as “activism.” If it is “activism” to make sure people gain a proper and complete understanding of the past, then why would anyone be against it? What do they have to hide?

    Hey, you want to honor your Confederate ancestors, go right ahead. That’s your business. It’s a free country. Just don’t mandate that everyone should embrace a warped understanding of history as reflected in a flawed proclamation.

    The very folks who are whining now don’t want government to tell us what to think … unless they agree with it. So much for their conservative or libertarian credentials.

  10. Sorry my typing skills are somewhat lacking. It should have been commemoration. I am all for telling the whole story but the Governor was just making an announcement of CHM. The Historians who observe it are responsible for exposing the public to all sides of the issue not the Governor’s announcement.

  11. I simply think the proclamation is flawed. If the governor is not to be held accountable for what he says, then he shouldn’t say it. Pointing out that there’s also a proclamation for Black History Month really doesn’t change that, because what’s at fault is the governor’s view of the Civil War and his assumptions about Virginians.

    Perhaps someone should introduce the governor to the history of his state sometime.

  12. Where did I mention BHM???? It is a sad day when a simple Hey ya’ll April is Confederate History Month gets turned into a discussion about how he should have done it.
    Seems to me alot of my favorite CW Bloggers need to leave teaching school and run for office.

  13. Brooks,

    I think any time a response is framed around “PC”, “activist”, etc., that individual has basically announced that he has nothing of interest to say. Thanks again for a thoughtful post.

  14. B.Simpson
    “I am always amused as those who denounce historical accuracy as political correctness or see pointing such stuff out as “activism.” ”

    It was Levin who referred his research on Civil War memory as a “form of activism.”

    He’s sure ’nuff right on that one.

  15. Kevin’s very open about his “activism.” Other people are not. I find that amusing.

    Some people feel that they have to lump all the people with whom they disagree into one group and attribute to them the same views and motivation. That’s too bad.

  16. “Hey ya’ll April is Confederate History Month.”

    That should have been all the governor should have said.

  17. “Where did I mention BHM????”

    I did not say you did, Mr. Simons. Someone else, a person who proclaimed that he was no longer going to conduct warfare between blogs, did, however, as a way to … you guessed it … attack other bloggers.

    I believe you read the blog in question.

  18. Brooks,

    Isn’t it funny that the very same people who conclude that I don’t matter are the very same people who can’t wait to voice their vitriol. I think we can put that one safely to rest.

  19. By the way I am sorry you have to deal with this nonsense on your site now that these folks have been banned from my site. I simply refuse to deal with it.

  20. >>“Hey ya’ll April is Confederate History Month.”

    >That should have been all the governor should have said.

    Your complaint is that he was too verbose?

  21. “Your complaint is that he was too verbose?”

    My complaint was (as anyone who actually reads before responding would see, Brad) is that his history’s inaccurate. Care to defend his history? Be my guest.

    I note no one defends the governor’s history. They make excuses for him. Does that include you?

  22. I don’t mind the replies. They prove useful in their own way.

    It’s not as if anyone’s actually defending the governor’s version of history. They’re just making excuses for it.

  23. “It is interesting to watch the authors of the posts apparently try to back pedal and defend their original posts simultaneously.”

    Uh-huh. Sure. Lots of backpedaling …. NOT.

    Given that this is from a blogger who resolved not to go to war with other bloggers again, I find the quote amusing. Talk about backpedaling. :)

    Note: no one has actually defended the governor’s version of history. I guess some folks find the best defense to be distraction and personal attacks. Again.


  24. Well, at least McDonnell didn’t reaffirm his state’s right to secede from the Union all over again, as did the esteemed governor of my current state of residence (deep in the heart of Texas). What a bunch of knuckleheads.

  25. Ok Brooks, I’ll take the bait and provide a defense of the governor’s history. There are those, mostly in the academic field like yourself, who believe that accuracy, fact, honesty and logic are essential to the understanding and presentation of history. But for others, one of the primary uses of history is to craft a narrative that serves a modern political, cultural, or ideological purpose. Through proclamations, monuments, holidays, etc. those in power can make the crafted narrative official, thereby influencing the perspective of the populace. As you stated “The governor’s wording suggests that he would like Virginians to remember a past that didn’t quite happen that way”. That is exactly on the mark. The Governor made this proclamation at the request of the Sons of Confederate Veterans and it is designed to put an intentional spin on the past. I think it achieved it goal quote well.

  26. I think it goes without saying the governor did not put as much thought into this as you have. And I agree with your criticism of the proclamation’s exclusionary character.

    The vehemence of the arguments for and against leaves me concerned that sesquicentennial plans may languish in similar debates over whether history and all interested parties are appropriateley represented. Let’s hope not. Then again, if all we are going to get is a paen to the brave Confederate dead or a mournful littany of the sins of slavery and the failure of reconstruction, maybe it should die in debate. How do we incorporate the legitimate aspects of both in a fair and meaningful way?

    We might not be having this discussion had the governor been smart enough to declare April “Civil War Remembrance Month” and couched his call to honor scarifice and heroism in more generic language. Why didn’t he think of that?


  27. For unreconstructed rebels, April is indeed the cruelest month!


  28. “The Governor made this proclamation at the request of the Sons of Confederate Veterans.”

    I bet it was also written by the SCV. So would that make our view of the Governor better or worse? :)

  29. ” Among other things, not all Virginians were white. Not all remained Virginians (ever hear of West Virginia, governor?). And not all white Virginians were Confederates (ever hear of George H. Thomas?).”

    Not all people are black, but yet we have a Black History Month !

  30. “Not all people are black, but yet we have a Black History Month !”

    So the equivalent of Black History Month is Confederate History Month?

  31. Mr. Richardson … I don’t understand your point. Even the governor now admits he mangled American history.

    Now, are you willing to defend the governor’s original version of history? Were all Virginians united behind the Confederacy?

    If the governor wants to celebrate the Confederacy, well, that’s his business, and we’ve seen where that has gone. But the governor’s rendering of Civil War history is simply wrong.

    However, Mr. Simons, you asked who would bring up Black History Month. Seems Mr. Richardson’s done so. You’re free to tell him why you think he’s off base.