Dead Confederates, A Civil War Era Blog

In the Field with the Golden Horde

Posted in Uncategorized by Andy Hall on August 16, 2010

As some of you know, I spent last week blogging about the Civil War over at Ta-Nehisi Coates’ place at The Atlantic. It was a huge honor to be asked, and it’s gratifying that my efforts have been generally well received. That’s a vocal, well-read and scary-smart crowd over there, and they don’t suffer fools. You can read some of my longer posts here:

Yep, there’s a theme there. Didn’t plan it that way. When TNC invited me to blog, I started thinking about Civil War topics that had been discussed on the blog before, that I thought hadn’t been fully explored, or that I thought I could address in a meaningful way. I also wanted to push back explicitly against some of what I believe are some of the more pernicious misunderstandings and myths about the war, just as I have tried to do here at Dead Confederates. Many of these revolve around the institution of slavery, and its complete infusion into all aspects of the South in the antebellum period, including the Confederate military and its leaders. My intent was to use the opportunity of guest-blogging at The Atlantic to say some things that, in my view, needed to be said. And I’m very grateful for the having been given the opportunity to do so.

Image: “The pursuit of Gen. Lee’s rebel army. The heavy guns – 30 pounders – going to the front during a rain storm.” Library of Congress. I like this drawing for several reasons. First, it’s a relatively unusual depiction of soldiers on the march; most contemporary drawing either show soldiers in battle or in camp. Second, it shows soldiers in miserable weather, a driving rainstorm — note the reflections in the wet, muddy ground and the wind-whipped trees. (The soldiers look pretty damn miserable to me.) Third, it shows heavy artillery configured for transport, including having the gun tube shifted back on the carriage to provide a more stable center-of-gravity. All in all, it’s highly unusual image that depicts an all-too-common scene familiar to soldiers in both gray and blue.

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  1. Dick Stanley said, on August 20, 2010 at 4:57 am

    I enjoyed your Atlantic essay on slave ownership and I think there’s a lot of truth to it. I know, for instance, that my Confederate great grandfather’s family owned slaves, though he did not. I have seen the sunken depressions of their unmarked graves in the back of the family cemetery.

    But I think your essay is a bit of a phony because you start with one assertion by the Texas Lege, turn it into another, different one, and proceed to slay your straw man.

    That is, you say the Lege sez (and I’ll take your word for it) that: “Ninety-eight percent of Texas Confederate soldiers never owned a slave.”

    You turn that around (as you wrote it in your post above) to this: “that very few Confederate soldiers had any connection to the institution of slavery.”

    The first, you agree, is true. Because most soldiers were privates and, as you say, were young and without enough money to buy— let alone clothe, feed and periodically have doctored—a slave.

    But your turn-around assertion, i.e. “the myth that very few Confederate soldiers had any connection to the institution of slavery” which you go on to disprove, is ridiculous on the face of it.

    No Mississippi soldier, for instance, could have anything BUT a connection to slavery, as more than half the state’s population were slaves.

    I do agree with you that the Lost Causers (perhaps some of the Lege among them) use the assertion about few, if any, slave owners in the ranks to try and pretend that slavery was not a cause of secession. It obviously was, though there certainly were other reasons, as well, which you ignore in your essay. I guess the Atlantic wasn’t interested in those. Too complicated.

    But whatever the Lost Causers do shouldn’t be an indictment against the average Confederate private who, like most of us today (certainly me, if not you) had scant influence over the politics of his times. For you to leap ahead and deny (quite sarcastically) that they were fighting for home and hearth, doesn’t stand up very well.

    So they were fighting for their fathers’ right to own slaves? Or the chance to own a slave themselves someday, as Brit historian John Keegan asserts?

    I’d bet that seeing their friends blown apart around them at Malvern Hill, to name just one terrible battle, would have cured them of that ambition in a hurry.

    I’m new to the ACW blogs like this one. I only started reading them while trying to market a battle novel I wrote and another site, an attempt at a Rebel regimental which I’m grateful that you have linked. I don’t mind the revisionism I keep encountering, here and elsewhere. It’s instructive when it seems genuine. But on this occasion I think you went too far.

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