Will the real South rise … ? More on Confederate History Month

Just when you thought it was safe to go on to other topics, word arrives that a Virginia SCV camp, Col. D.H. Lee Martz Camp No. 10, based in Harrisonburg, Rockingham County, Virginia, has issued its own proclamation about Virginia’s Confederate History Month.  Kevin Levin responded to the proclamation on Civil War Memory; Robert Moore offered a more detailed analysis of the history of the area (which contrasts markedly with the account of history offered in the SCV proclamation) on Cenantua’s Blog.  This new episode occurred even as SCV members were reacting to the attacks directed against the original proclamation by Virginia’s governor, Bob McDonnell: you can sample those reactions here.

I side with Robert Moore’s reaction to this most recent proclamation, which echoes my response to both the initial proclamation by the governor and the Virginia SCV’s response to the governor’s decision to modify his original proclamation.  There’s simply too much bad history included in these proclamations.  The very people who complain that history is being distorted to satisfy some imagined criteria of “political correctness” are in fact not exempt from the charge themselves, as they have warped the historical record to satisfy their prejudices, preferences, and agendas.  I have yet to hear a reasoned defense of these proclamations based on their historical content.  I have read attacks upon the critics of these documents.  At the same time, I’m a bit curious about how much of the mainstream attack on the original proclamation was basically limited to the governor’s failure to mention slavery.  Those attacks in turn have pounded away at that omission and offered statements which seem to be to be more in the line of stereotypical responses by outsiders to the SCV, and that in turn has aroused spirited  responses by members and defenders of that organization, and a debate on whether there should be a Confederate History Month at all.

I don’t happen to think that every mention of the Confederacy has to be accompanied by a denunciation of slavery.  That gets tiresome to hear.  On the other hand, it’s a bad business to try to whitewash slavery from the story of the Confederacy.  What some people refuse to understand in their desire to simplify and polarize this debate beyond reason is that for some people, including me, don’t particularly care about the observance of Confederate History Month.  I do care about the widespread distortion of history in these proclamations.  I don’t see how this helps the SCV, whose membership is not always quite as extreme as its leadership may appear to be.  Indeed, it’s the SCV which is getting hammered here, as well as white southerners in general, because these proclamations reinforce prevailing stereotypes that are cherished by some folks.

I am not a southerner by birth.  I am married to a southerner.  Members of my immediate family count among their direct ancestors several Confederates, including an officer in the 28th North Carolina who was wounded on July 3, 1863.  Members of my immediate family also count among their direct ancestors a soldier in the 146th New York (who watched the July 3 charge from Little Round Top) and a member of the 23rd Pennsylvania who was on Culp’s Hill that very day.  Thus Gettysburg was a family get-together, so to speak.  I attended college at the University of Virginia; I worked for three years at the University of Tennessee; I taught for three years at Wofford College, South Carolina.  I don’t take kindly to misrepresentations of white southerners by people who do not know them, any more than I take kindly to misrepresentations of white northerners by white southerners.  Indeed, I do not take kindly to malicious and misinformed misrepresentations, period.

I can understand that many white southerners feel that they are being put down by white northerners, and that this has grown old.  Fair enough.  Those who point fingers need to look in the mirror more often.  However, I think it is time for white southerners to speak up and protest the distortions of history inherent in these proclamations.  They need to echo Robert Moore.  Otherwise, they believe in neither heritage nor history.  If other white southerners are not willing to join Moore and take the lead in challenging these warped presentations of their own history, they really can’t blame anyone else who reacts in the usual way of lumping all white southerners together and hitting them with the mallet of moral indignation, for they will be complicit in the process.

Comments (18) to “Will the real South rise … ? More on Confederate History Month”

  1. from the Robert Moore blog:

    “Forget the Unionists, forget the leave-aloners, forget the slaves and free blacks who had no interest in the Confederacy, forget those who became fed-up with the Confederacy, even after they had initially been among those enthusiastic to enlist. It’s Confederate History Month, so forget everything else.”

    ABSOLUTELY!

    Forget everything else.

    Don’t you have any sense? You self-appointed History Police.

    Why would you remember Unionists in Confederate History Month?

    If you want a d—– Unionist History Month…
    …then start one!

  2. Ah, I see, and you have done an adequate job of policing the truth about Confederate history? Sure…

    So, if I drop that last paragraph that you quote, you agree with everything else I said. Great! I was going to drop that paragraph but someone commented first and I had to leave it in place, but I really didn’t need it to make my point. Thanks so much for your support!

  3. Confirming once again that the SCV can’t be counted on to provide accurate history. Too much? Not if we sample their websites.

  4. Why would we raise Brooks??? It seems that any mention of the Confederacy and the CW brings out charges of bigot and racist if you are from the South. IMO lots of folks on both sides need to lose the Holier than thou attitude. All I want to do during Confederate History Month is to go clean and decorate the graves, post the colors for a day and go out to eat after we finish the day. We go to the schools and talk about the hard life a CW soldier had, the odds they faced and the character, valor and bravery they showed.

  5. I think white southerners who are really interested in history should get upset at how a few people have claimed that they represent all southerners and offer misinformation that allow people with anti-southern stereotypes to claim that all white southerners are that way. It’s not fair to white southerners, but heck if anyone going to listen to a Yankee’s advice. :)

  6. Since you married a Southern Girl you claim Copperhead status.
    What I am seeing in CW History I have seen in Theology over the years. 10 people read the same book and you get 8 differing but still somewhat similar interptations and 2 that are not even in the Ball Park.
    This is what I feel is going one today.
    But I am a Seminary Train Theologian so who wants to listen to the History Buff Preacher.

  7. Lincoln and Grant also married southern girls. So did Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis. :)

  8. 2 of my four daughters married yankees. I’ve forgiven them. Actually, they’re both very fine young men and excellent fathers. I recall, many, many years ago (1978), dating a young lady from New York city. She had never ridden in a pickup truck before. We went to the local drive-in and she refused to get out of my truck and sit on the grass to watch the movie because she was afraid a snake would bite her. That was our only date.

    My father’s father came from fine New England stock. He married a fine Southern girl. My father married a fine Southern girl. I married a fine Southern girl of Scots-Irish/Monacan Indian heritage. Hard to do better than a Southern girl, huh Professor? ;o)

    RGW

  9. As a sidebar, the woman I married owned a pickup truck when I met her. And she ain’t afraid of snakes.

  10. Sorry I cannot give a pass to Abe. I can give Grant a pass he was like the men of
    men of Issachar since he understood what needed to be done and was willing to do it.
    Sounds like Richard married up she had a Truck and was not scared of snakes.
    I dated 1 Yankee Rose but her Family didn’t want her to marry no Southern Boy.

  11. “Married up” – that’s a good way to put it. I’m sure the Mrs. would agree.

  12. My wife owned her own truck, too, when we met. :)

  13. Good for her!

  14. Brooks,

    Thank you for this post. You have said what must be said. At this point, blogs have become a form of public dissemination of history, and responsibility comes with that development. Over the past two years as a reader of Civil War blogs, I have come to trust your opinion, even when I don’t agree with you, because, quite simply, you are a professional and your professionalism is quite apparent.

    It is time to stop the “blame game” about the history–and tragedy–of slavery and the slave trade. The entire nation was involved. Europe was involved. And African nations themselves were involved. (I am sending a link to an op-ed piece in the NYT April 22, 2010 by Henry Louis Gates with that very title–”Ending the Slavery Blame Game”. In sending this link, I strongly suggest to any reader who may attempt to pick this piece up and place it in a context that absolves the ancestors of either white southerners or white northerners of involvement in, and responsibility for, the slave trade and slavery, that you do not trivialize our history by doing so, or show yourselves to be fabricators of distorted history, since the “truth” is but a click of a mouse away. Also, before one more word is written about the “nobility” of the Old South before, during, and after the Civil War, as the “New South” was born, please educate yourself (selves) about the actual history of chattel slavery, and read, absorb, understand, and grieve for–grieve for–the men and women who were brutalized as slaves, and whose descendants were lynched “on the courthouse lawn” as one writer put it, with an enthusiastic crowd cheering and gathering souvenirs, including body parts of victims, for nearly one hundred years in the south and elsewhere after the Civil War, and carefully reconsider. Then, if you are a white northerner, please do not repeat the same tired old mantra of how white northerners emancipated their slaves, brought an end to slavery in the North, and were all abolitionists and Quakers. This is as tiresome, misinformed, and non productive as the Lost Cause perspective. A little time spent studying “Black History” will dispel cherished myths of both white northerners and white southerners. Then, if you are white and from the Midwest or white and from the west, well, please go visit a reservation, and think hard about your good feelings about the part your ancestors played in American history. I am sending two links that address the lingering reality and legacy of the reservation system (aptly called POW camps by some Native men and women ) and of residential schools.)

    In sum, to address the subject matter of this post, as a white southerner, I stand with Robert Moore. In fact, I find Robert Moore to be, at times, somewhat like his ancestor “the noble Shuler” might have been. Robert is willing to stand up to–and against, if need be–his own people, if the truth is served, and he neither ridicules nor demeans anyone else in the process. Professor Henry Louis Gates has done the same. You, Brooks, in your gruff, and direct way, have also done the same. Vikki Bynum has done the same. Kevin Levin at CWM has done the same, in his way, since even though Kevin’s focus is the south, he never denies the culpability of the north. Now, who will be next? Who is next? Who will take a stand against your own people if that is what it takes to achieve justice? Please, no more of this childish, adolescent approach to history that has replaced the “Great Man” approach in the tone of some interpretations.

    Brooks, I went to UVA, too. I lived on Brandon Ave. It was close to Wilson Hall, where the English Department used to be. I might have passed you on the grounds. I didn’t own a truck, but I was not (and still am not) afraid of snakes.

    Thank you for this forum and for the neutral ground that you provided for this subject.

    The links:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/23/opinion/23gates.html

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JZSPEynvdh8&feature=related

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v+nCC0bTvOZKc&feature=related

  15. Thanks for pointing out that the Emperor (SCV) has no clothes. Excellent, clear, enlightening article.

  16. “Lincoln and Grant also married southern girls. So did Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis.”

    So did Pemberton…and see where it got him!?!?! :-)

  17. On behalf of Julia Grant, let me submit the following from her own Memoirs in which she recalled a conversation with some southern ladies in Holly Springs, MS, in 1862:

    We were soon chatting pleasantly, when one said: “You are Southern, are you not?” “No,” I replied, “I am from the West. Missouri is my home state.” “Yes, we know, but Missouri is a Southern state. Surely, you are Southern in feeling and principle.” “No, indeed,” I declared. “I am the most loyal of the loyal.”

  18. Colonel Dent saw himself as a southerner. :)