Dead Confederates, A Civil War Era Blog

North Carolina SCV Has Its Story; Is Sticking to It

Posted in Leadership, Memory, Technology by Andy Hall on March 27, 2011

A couple of folks have pointed me toward a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, about efforts in Virginia and North Carolina, tied to the Civil War Sesquicentennial, to compile a more accurate count of each of those states’ war-related deaths. So far, researchers in North Carolina are estimating that state’s count as being roughly 20% less than the usually-accepted estimate of 40,000, while the total number of deaths now documented for Virginia troops is more than double an early count of around 15,000. (Be sure also to check out the additional features.)

It’s not surprising at all to me that modern researchers are coming up with different numbers than various compilers did 100+ years ago. What does surprise me is the disinterest in, or outright hostility to, the idea of doing such work in the first place:

With the 150th anniversary of the Civil War beginning in mid-April, that small number could spark a big controversy between two states with rivalries that date back to the great conflict. Some Civil War buffs in North Carolina have already accused Mr. Howard of attempting to diminish the state’s heroism and the hardship it suffered. “Records were a whole lot fresher 150 years ago,” says Thomas Smith Jr., commander of the North Carolina Sons of Confederate Veterans, who is suspicious of Mr. Howard’s new count.

“I don’t care if Virginia has two people more who died, or a hundred more,” says Michael Chapman, a 55-year-old videographer from Polkton, N.C., who used to head up the local Sons of Confederate Veterans camp. He calls the recounts “irrelevant.”

I don’t buy the “fresher” argument at all. A written record is a written record, and remains as accurate or reliable (or not) over the passage of time. They don’t go stale; that’s why we archive them.

Certainly it’s possible that some records available a century and more ago have since been lost or destroyed, but against that we now have easy access to electronic records, digital copies, online newspapers, easy cross-referencing, and indexed census rolls, which earlier generations never had access to. In my view, the benefits of the latter far outweigh the limitations of the former. No count will be absolutely accurate, of course, but there’s no question that researchers now have far better capability to do the work than did their predecessors in the 1860s. Unless there’s something very fundamentally flawed with the modern researchers’ methodology — which is not alleged — their work should be able to get us closer to the real answer, to the extent that it’s knowable at all.

Michael Chapman has weighed in on his state’s sesquicentennial program before, and shown himself to be somewhat less than even-tempered on the subject. (You really have to read through the whole comments thread to get the full effect.) But still, progress is progress, and this time he didn’t refer to those who have differing views as Nazis, or compare North Carolina Unionists to al Qaeda sleeper cells. Baby steps, Michael, baby steps.

What I don’t quite get is that these two men, one a current state commander in the SCV, and the other former local camp commander, are both dismissive (if not openly hostile) to this effort to get a more accurate count of their state’s war dead. To me, that’s a no-brainer. And while they may or may not be speaking officially for the North Carolina SCV, they do seem to offer their roles in that group as their authority on the subject. Their objections seem not to be methodological, but to the idea of doing the work at all.

Why would that be, exactly? And would they be opposed to this work if it were showing more North Carolina casualties, rather than fewer?

Update: The lead researcher on the North Carolina project, Josh Howard, notes in the comments below that the Leonidas L. Polk SCV Camp of Garner, North Carolina, and one of its members, Charles Purser, have actually provided substantial assistance in the effort to obtain an accurate count of North Carolina’s war dead. Credit where it’s due.

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Image: Captain Jesse Sharpe Barnes, Co. F, 4th North Carolina Infantry, killed on May 31, 1862, at Seven Pines, Virginia. Library of Congress.

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.

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