Dead Confederates, A Civil War Era Blog

That’s Old School

Posted in Memory by Andy Hall on March 16, 2011

A while back, Levin mentioned the new Civil War Sesquicentennial website sponsored by the state of North Carolina. It got some great initial reviews, there and elsewhere, particularly for its efforts at telling a more comprehensive story of the war, and in its inclusion of other voices not often included, and left completely out of the Civil War Centennial in 1961-65: those of women, Unionists, African Americans, and so on.

The post wasn’t especially notable, but the exchange of comments that followed was spectacular, largely due to one particular person identifying himself as Michael, who flew off into a rage of indignation at what he perceived as the lack of representation on the commission’s committee by the SCV (this was disputed by other commenters), and the inclusion of what he termed “traitors” (e.g., Union sympathizers, freed slaves enlisted in the USCT) in the story of North Carolina during the war. He analogized North Carolina’s Unionists to both Nazis and hidden al Qaeda terror cells. Michael’s overall point seemed be that, because North Carolina cast its lot with the Confederacy, that state’s sesquicentennial commemoration should reflect a pro-Confederate view, to the exclusion of all others. Michael even took the opportunity to chide Levin, “if you are so interested in the truth, then why would you not see what the Abbeville Institute is teaching.”

Fortunately for Levin and the rest of us, some of the folks associated with the Abbeville Institute have stepped bravely into the breach, and established an alternative website for the “North Carolina War Between the States Sesquicentennial.” (The website is managed by the Cape Fear Historical Institute, whose Board of Directors provides three of the four members of the Academic Board, and whose executive director, Bernhard Thuersam, serves as Commission Chariman.) They’re not looking forward; they’re explicitly looking backward, to the way the centennial was celebrated fifty years ago. The face of the project, featured on the introduction page, is Clyde N. Wilson, one of the prime movers at Abbeville. From Professor Wilson’s introduction (spelling and grammar as in the original):

America in 2011 is a very different country than America in 1961. The long march of cultural Marxism  (political correctness) through American institutions, which began in the 1930’s, has achieved most of its objectives.   Schools at every level, media, clergy, government agencies, and politicians are now captive  to a false dogma of history as conflict between an evil past and the forces of revolution struggling  toward a glorious future (This is exactly the way that Karl Marx, who knew nothing about  America, described The War).

In regard to the War Between the States, the PC regime means that the demonisation of the South,  chronic throughout American history, has re-emerged with a vengeance. The War is a morality play of  good versus evil. Sspecifically of the freedom-loving forces of the North heroically and nobly vanquishing  Southern traitors fighting with no other motive than to preserve the evil institution of slavery. . . .

It is now established with Soviet party-line rigour that The War was “caused by” and “about” slavery and nothing but slavery.  This is not because the interpreters of history in 2011 are more knowledgable than  those of 1961. Quite the reverse is true. The new orthodoxy does not result from new knowledge.   It is a consequnece of a change in the national discourse because of the rise of PC and because of the  obsession of many Americans with race and victimology as the centerpiece of American history.  Being on  the self-righteous side is also, of course, a disguise for hatred and a desire to dominate others.

It is near certain that the PC version of The War will dominate the public space in the observance to come.  It is our opinion that history is far too important to be left to official “experts.”   It is OUR history.  History is about who we are. . . .

Our Confederate forefathers were not monsters, they were largely brave, honourable, and admirable people  who endured greater suffering and sacrifice than any other large group of Americans ever have, and in pursuit  of the American principle of self-government.  To share their experience with the people of today, all that is  needed is to present them in their own words, or in the words of scholars before the age of PC.  The purpose  of this Sesquicentennial Website is simply to present them as they were. That is all that is needed to  destroy the PC version of history for any honest student.

I love it when a screed goes on, paragraph after paragraph, about their opponents’ political correctness (Wilson mentions it six times in 752 words), “cultural Marxism,” “Soviet party-line rigour [sic.],” and “hatred and a desire to dominate others,” and in the same breath argue that it’s those same opponents who are the ones feeding off a sense of victimhood.

On the other hand, Michael must be thrilled.

Snark aside, I don’t doubt that lots of folks who buy into this narrative are e-mailing links to this page to their kids’ teachers right now, encouraging them to look to it for the “truth” about the war. But I also doubt many of them will be fooled.

Update: Third paragraph updated March 17 to acknowledge the Cape Fear Historical Institute as sponsors of the website.

____________

Image: Screen capture of the new “North Carolina War Between the States Sesquicentennial website, showing the diversity of voices represented.

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18 Responses

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  1. Marc Ferguson said, on March 16, 2011 at 4:37 pm

    “Our Confederate forefathers were not monsters, they were largely brave, honourable, and admirable people  who endured greater suffering and sacrifice than any other large group of Americans ever have…”

    Wow, this is an amazing statement, among a whole host of amazing statements! Now, I cannot think of an actual historian who portrays white Southerners as monsters, though there may be some. However, the notion that white Southerners, and I assume that’s who he’s referring to, suffered more than those enslaved and their descendants is quite astonishing.

    • Andy Hall said, on March 16, 2011 at 5:25 pm

      I cannot think of an actual historian who portrays white Southerners as monsters, though there may be some. However, the notion that white Southerners, and I assume that’s who he’s referring to, suffered more than those enslaved and their descendants is quite astonishing.

      To acknowledge the slave experience in any substantive, detailed way — and I’m not talking about two-dimensional caricatures about patriotic black Confederates taking up arms to defend hearth and home against the Yankee invader — would bring the whole Lost Cause orthodoxy crashing down around them. They can’t go there.

      What I continue to find fascinating is that, even as they rail against what they claim to be a a simplistic, black-hat-v-white-hat, Lincoln-worshiping interpretation of the conflict supposedly held by “politically-correct” historians, they’re utterly oblivious to the fact that their chosen narrative is every bit as blinkered and simplistic — childish, even — as the one they’re trying to refute.

    • Andy Hall said, on March 17, 2011 at 2:50 pm

      Should’ve added that I do not consider my own Confederate ancestors to have been “monsters,” but neither do I necessarily think of them as “brave, honourable, and admirable” by default. I know very little about most of them, as individuals, which is probably the case for most present-day Americans with Confederate lineage. I don’t understand the need to ascribe such worthy attributes to people, individually or collectively, when one knows next to nothing about them. What you get in that case is really just fantasy. I talked about this a little in my very first post.

  2. Marc Ferguson said, on March 16, 2011 at 4:53 pm

    I went to look at the website. When these people complain about biased and inaccurate history they know what they’re talking about from personal experience. I scanned one page, and came across this example: “Most Southern statesmen and military-trained leaders in the South (and the North) understood proper State and federal relations from prominent constitutional scholars like William Rawle, who also authored West Point’s text on constitutional law (used there from 1825-1840).” This is a standard neoconfederate talking point, and can be found repeated mindlessly on sites around the web. I looked into this claim about Rawle’s text a few years ago, and found that it was used for one year in one course.

    • Andy Hall said, on March 16, 2011 at 5:06 pm

      I dunno if you want to dig much further over there; you’ll give yourself a headache.

  3. TheRaven said, on March 16, 2011 at 8:00 pm

    From the Sesquicentennial website, “Dr. Clyde N. Wilson, Professor Emeritus, University of South Carolina”.

    I’m surprised by a former university professor using thin cover like “PC”. References to “Soviet party-line” are a little more startling. In context of disinformation, I can’t of anything more “Soviet” than the Fox Network. Wilson suffers from a pretty strong case of cultural blindness. “South Carolina” explains a lot.

  4. corkingiron said, on March 16, 2011 at 10:44 pm

    “Standard talking points”. So did Ludendorff. So much of this smells so strongly of the “stab in the back” myth that the NSDAP exploited with such skill after WW1. Marxists, traitors, the insidious “other”…..What has always so infuriated me was that Ludendorff – one of the most vocal about this myth – had actually advised the Kaiser to sign the Armistice. “We have no hope of victory” was his assessment.

    Now you have Lost Causers riding a similar horse. Ignore the documents – ignore the record, ignore the past. Become the the perpetual victim, sullen and unrepentant. This is not History – it is just an ugly mythology perpetuated by people too cowardly to face the truth. I don’t want to get through to them – I just want to see them defeated.

    • Andy Hall said, on March 17, 2011 at 7:54 am

      But it’s always been this way with them. And this sort of thinking really is far more fringe-y today than it ever was in generations past.

    • Richard said, on March 17, 2011 at 8:19 pm

      “I don’t want to get through to them – I just want to see them defeated.”

      And just how far would you go to “defeat them” as you say.

  5. corkingiron said, on March 17, 2011 at 9:27 am

    I’m glad to see this kind of thinking driven to the margins. And I can sorta understand why the ordinary Germans – who suffered so much – might buy into the “stab in the back” myth – as I can sort of understand why ordinary Southerners – driven by cultural resentments and economic hardships – might find some comfort in the lost cause myth.

    My comparison of Prof. Wilson to Ludendorff – and my loathing of their ilk – arises from the fact that they were both professionally trained and indeed, knew that the falsehoods they perpetrated were precisely that – falsehoods. Their agenda is utterly cynical and manipulative.

    The claim of political correctness is particularly disingenuous. Since it’s a catch-all phrase that has no particular meaning, it cannot be refuted. You might, of course, yank their chain by changing your blog to “Metabolically-Challenged Confederates” – but you’re too much of a gentleman for that.

    • Andy Hall said, on March 17, 2011 at 9:31 am

      I prefer to think of them as pining for the fjords.

      Actually, I don’t need to go out of my way to yank their chain. This blog hadn’t been up ten days before it got denounced by one of the folks now serving on this project’s “Academic Board.” That was fun. 😉

      • Margaret D. Blough said, on March 17, 2011 at 12:37 pm

        Andy-Being denounced by this “Academic Board” is like being on Nixon’s “Enemies List”. There were people who were infuriated to learn that they weren’t on that List.

  6. Jonathan Dresner said, on March 17, 2011 at 2:53 pm

    greater suffering and sacrifice than any other large group of Americans ever have…

    Except perhaps African American slaves and their descendants….

    • Andy Hall said, on March 17, 2011 at 6:16 pm

      Jonathan, I just did a Google site search on the project website, ncwbts150.com.

      The phrase “African American” (with or without hyphen) does not appear.

      The word “Negro” appears once, in a title in a suggested reading list.

      The word “black” appears once, in the name of an SCV camp.

      The word “slave” appears once, in a reference to slave-holding border states, and “slaves” appears once also, in a quotation from Salmon Chase. “Slavery” appears once in a period quotation, and four times more in Wilson’s essay, excepted above.

      Slaves made up exactly a third of North Carolina’s population at the time of the 1860 U.S. Census — 33.35% — but they, like women, seem to be as invisible on the website as they are on the header at the top of the page.

  7. Dennis said, on March 17, 2011 at 6:54 pm

    When someone says that white confederates “endured greater suffering and sacrifice than any other large group of Americans ever have” they should get an award for most ridiculous statement made about the civil war. Even a confederate during that time would consider someone saying that about them as totally unhinged.

    As for honorable, and brave, for the most part, this is true for the majority of confederate foot soldiers and I do, in fact, consider many of their senior leaders as monsters (of course, I do not include Picket, or Longstreet). The common soldier was, even by our standards, honorable in warfare and conduct towards any white civilian and even Union soldiers was exemplarily – no argument there.

    • Andy Hall said, on March 17, 2011 at 7:33 pm

      “. . . they should get an award for most ridiculous statement made about the civil war.”

      This shouldn’t surprise; this website comes out of the same Confederate apologist/neo-secessionist movement — small, but loud beyond their numbers — that insists that “Southern Confederate Americans” (as they sometimes style themselves) are, even today, an oppressed minority that warrants protections under the Civil Rights Act.


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