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Virginia’s SCV weighs in on Confederate History Month

Arizona State University’s history major features a course in research methods for entering majors.  I teach this course, and I choose to explore these issues of methodology through exploring how Americans view the Civil War.  Today’s class was on the Civil War and the internet.  There I was, poking my way through a number of sites, from the SCV’s homepage to the UDC homepage, then turning to the League of the South’s homepage and the 37th Texas homepage, clicking here and there to see what we could find. 

The students and I then engaged in a discussion of how to verify information one might find on the internet.  One student ventured that one might want to look for multiple sources for the same quote.  I replied that one of the characteristics of the internet was that bad information had as much chance to multiply as good information, and to demonstrate this I decided to make use of a particularly distasteful inaccuracy shared on many websites.  According to these websites, Ulysses S. Grant retained ownership of his slaves until after the Civil War was over and he had to give them up as a result of the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment.  When asked why he had kept his slaves, Grant reportedly replied that he did so because “Good help is hard to find.”

I’ve never been given a real source for the comment, and, besides, the claim is so wrong on so many levels (and yes, I’m sure someone will post here asking for the evidence, but let’s see that happen) that it’s incredible that it persists in some quarters. 

Nevertheless, in order to demonstrate to the student that the attributed quote is all over the internet, we searched by the quote and Grant’s name, getting over seventy hits.  One of them drew my particular attention … a link to a piece on Governor Douglas Wilder’s proclamation concerning the Civil War in Virginia, a proclamation that has new life in light of the current discussion about Governor Bob McDonell’s recent proclamation declaring April Confederate History Month in Virginia.

I clicked on the link, and in the comments I found the reaction of Virginia’s SCV chapter to the governor’s decision to apologize for his initial proclamation and his promise to modify that proclamation to include slavery.  Imagine what I found?

… WHEREAS, General Ulysses S. Grant and his wife held slaves until forced to release them with the adoption of the 13th Amendment after the war and when questioned as to why he had done so, Grant replied because “good help is hard to find;” and …

So much for Virginia’s SCV’s embrace of historical accuracy.  I guess if you tell the same lie so many times, at least you begin to believe it’s true.  It will be interesting to see whether members of the SCV protest this distortion of history with the same intensity as they declare “heritage violations.”  We will see.

Enjoy the entire proclamation:

The Virginia Division, Sons of Confederate Veterans statement regarding the Confederate History Month Proclamation as issued by Virginia Governor Robert F. McDonnell, TO WIT:

WHEREAS, Governor McDonnell declared the Month of April to be Confederate History Month in the Commonwealth of Virginia at the request of the Sons of Confederate Veterans; and

WHEREAS, governors of Virginia have issued proclamations for diverse groups and individuals; and

WHEREAS, Members of the Democratic Party and its leadership, including former Governor Douglas Wilder, have repeatedly made statements in regards to the proclamation that the only reason that Confederate soldiers took to the field of battle was to defend the institution of slavery; and

WHEREAS, President Abraham Lincoln stated “I am not, nor ever have been in favor of bringing about in anyway the social and political equality of the white and black races” and further stated at the outset of the crisis that “I have no purpose directly or indirectly to interfere with the institution of slavery in the States where it exists,” and “my paramount objective in this struggle is to save the Union;” and

WHEREAS, The Commonwealth of Virginia seceded from the Union not in the defense of slavery, but only after President Lincoln called for troops to make war against the lower Southern States; and

WHEREAS, The Emancipation Proclamation did not free a single slave in any slave state that had remained loyal to the Union during the War Between the States, nor did it free any slave in the District of Columbia or any part of the Confederacy which was occupied and controlled by the U.S. military; and

WHEREAS, The Commonwealth of Virginia was cleaved in two by an executive order of President Lincoln, creating the State of West Virginia which was admitted to the Union as a slave state in 1863; and

WHEREAS, General Ulysses S. Grant and his wife held slaves until forced to release them with the adoption of the 13th Amendment after the war and when questioned as to why he had done so, Grant replied because “good help is hard to find;” and

WHEREAS, Governor McDonnell altered the original Confederate History Month Proclamation to include a clause which states that the Civil War was fought solely over the existence of slavery despite numerous contrary arguments and a host of other social, moral, political, and economic factors.


THE VIRGINIA DIVISION, SONS OF CONFEDERATE VETERANS, does hereby commend Governor Robert F. McDonnell for the issuance of the Confederate History Month proclamation; and

THE VIRGINIA DIVISION, does hereby absolutely refute the claim that Confederate soldiers went to the field of battle for the sole purpose of preserving slavery as an intellectually dishonest argument; and

THE VIRGINIA DIVISION does not endorse any statement that the Confederacy existed entirely for the defense of slavery and considers such statements to be a detriment to the memory of the many Virginians who gave their lives to defend against the illegal federal invasion of the Commonwealth of Virginia in a long and bloody war.

ADOPTED this 9th day of April, 2010.  Attest: John Sawyer, Division Commander

The war continues.


Comments (9) to “Virginia’s SCV weighs in on Confederate History Month”

  1. I think this calls for a revision of dictionaries and encyclopedias everywhere. Under “revisionist history” this will do quite well as an example.

  2. I posted it on my site, but I have no idea where to start in terms of identifying the mistakes and distortions. I’m actually embarrassed for these people. Pathetic.

  3. This is the other supposed “Grant” quote that shows up a lot: “If I thought this war was to abolish slavery, I would resign my commission and offer my sword to the other side”

  4. I have gotten to the point unless I am given a page number and I can read it in more than one source I don’t qoute it anymore. I have been burnned to much by information on the Net.

    Problem is that I have read all these statements posted more than once in books.

    Sad to think you can not trust what you get out of your local library.

  5. I think it is very unfair to attribute stupidity or malice in the use of a “bad” quotation, unless it was done with deliberation. I have followed unverified information from books written in 1865 to their postings on Wikipedia pages, over 140 years of repeated quotations with no oversight to say “this is not correct.” One of my favorite sayings is “The fart of an historian will smell for 100 years.” We all need to be more vigilant in our use of historic material.

  6. I strongly disagree, since this particular quote has been long discredited. You can explain to me how continuing to recite as gospel truth some piece of tripe that has long been discredited is an example of the SCV’s commitment to heritage and history.

  7. Ah, but note the carefully injected qualifiers to avoid total detachment from reality.

    “absolutely refute the claim that Confederate soldiers went to the field of battle for the sole purpose of preserving slavery.” Here they implicitly acknowledge it WAS a purpose for Confederate soldiers, just not the only reason. See how it works? To wit: I absolutely refute the claim that rapists leave their house for the sole purpose of committing rape. Doesn’t that make everything all better?

    “does not endorse any statement that the Confederacy existed entirely for the defense of slavery.” Again, so they acknowledge that it is fair to say the defense of slavery was an explanation for the Confederacy–just that it is not the complete one.

  8. The proclamation erects a straw man in terms of what most people believe.

  9. What is so sad about this is that I read both Grant qoutes way back in college before the internet.