Causes and consequences of the Civil War from - NSW Department of

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Causes and consequences of the Civil War from - NSW Department of Powered By Docstoc
					Premier’s Westfield Modern History Scholarship

Causes and consequences of the Civil War from a Southern viewpoint
Rod Ritchie Wagga Wagga Christian College

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My purpose in travelling to the United States was to investigate the causes and consequences of the Civil War from a Southern viewpoint. A chance conversation with a former University lecturer of mine who had travelled in the South revealed that he had encountered people who believed the Civil War was not over. Being both interested in US history and having majored in sociology this fascinated me and I felt that this was something worth investigating. Having a basic knowledge of the people and the period, I felt that there were two main questions that begged an answer. Firstly, how could the South justify their position in the Civil War? Something that must be done if there are to be issues today. Secondly, what kind of society or people to cling to a war that ended almost 140 years ago? Are they Klansmen and rednecks, looking for a way to justify their racism? Either way, it seemed they should just get over it. However a small niggle developed at the back of my mind. In Australia ANZAC Day is becoming more and more important. Are we like the Southerners in not getting over it?

Charles Lunsford, Atlanta, Georgia
The first stop on my Civil War odyssey was in Atlanta. Like many, my Civil War interest was piqued by the tome that begins ‘Scarlett O’Hara was not beautiful…’ and the majority of my arranged interviews were in the region. My first meeting in Atlanta was with the President of the Heritage Preservation Association (HPA) Mr Charles Lunsford. The HPA is an organisation dedicated to preserving the symbols and sites of the Confederacy. It was formed in 1993 as an offshoot of the Sons of Confederate Veterans due to the perception that the memory of the Confederacy was being tarnished and that people were trying to eliminate the memory of a time and nation that many feel is important and needs preserving. The focal point for much of this activity is the Confederate Battle flag, most familiar to Australians as the design on the roof of the Dukes of Hazzard’s car, or the logo seen on the jacket of many choosing a Harley Davidson as their mode of transportation. The issue of the flag, I was to find, is probably the best microcosm for anyone wishing to understand the war and the place it holds in the minds of the South. However I was to learn much more about this later. Mr Lunsford is like no one else I have ever met. A self-described Elizabethan, he was obviously very at home in the 21st century. This aside, he is an excellent starting point for anyone wishing to enhance their knowledge of the Civil War and on the view of the South in particular. I was to learn later that Mr Lunsford is seen as one of the most significant people in promoting and defending the Southern viewpoint and Confederate heritage. According to Mr Lunsford, the greatest myth regarding the Civil War relates to slavery. There is no evidence that the maintenance or abolition of slavery was central to either side entering this conflict. That the North fought the war to abolish slavery is simply false. This point is particularly galling to Mr Lunsford and those whose viewpoint he represents, as he is able to furnish abundant evidence pointing to the fact that not only during the war, but to the present day, Northerners as a people were just as racist, if not more so, than the stereotypical racist Southerner. He doesn’t deny the evil of slavery—’the worst thing to ever happen in this country’—but is annoyed that there is a stereotype perpetuated of a racist South, by what he sees as a racist North. Additionally, Lunsford makes some convincing claims regarding slavery and its abolition. I had never realised just how expensive slaves were. Apparently, for someone to buy 2000 acres and 2 slaves to work it, the cost for the slaves would double that of the land. This brings up three points: 1. Obviously only the wealthy few could afford slaves. The average citizen could not afford such a luxury.



2. Who in their right mind would mistreat such valuable property? (No one, so some Southerners must have been out of their heads given the photographic evidence of the whipping of slaves). 3. Who is going to give up such a valuable resource without either compensation or a fight? Lunsford makes the relevant point that if the North were serious about abolishing slavery, why not buy them as was done by the British government from time to time. While expensive, it certainly would be a lot cheaper than fighting a war. Lunsford gave me much to think of and one of his comments particularly surprised me. He said that up to 90,000 blacks served in the Confederate armed forces. This theme was to be taken up by one of my next appointments, but it certainly serves to make one question the racial basis for the war. As to why the war is still being fought in the hearts of many Southerners, Lunsford’s explanation was simple. What caused the war was a desire to be left alone and allowed to go their own way, and that is still the case today. The North, or those who are not sympathetic to a traditional Southern view, is still interfering in the South and the lives of Southerners. My final question to Mr Lunsford was ‘What would it take to render the HPA redundant?’ His answer was immediate and simple, ‘To be left alone’. The meeting with Charles Lunsford showed me that a revisionist (or Southern) approach to the War is not simply the province of the uneducated and disaffected. Charles has an astonishing knowledge of his subject and has quite an amazing confidence in the rightness of his point of view. The organisation that most opposes the perpetuation of symbols of the old South (Confederacy) is the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Charles has debated many of the issues with representatives from this organisation many times and has a standing offer to debate several of their number at the time and place of their choosing. Furthermore he has argued the case for the preservation of what he sees as the South’s heritage with politicians and academics alike. What greatly surprised me was that he said that the only negative about debating academics was that it was too easy. In Lunsford’s opinion academics were so used to being taken at their word, that when someone was able to contradict or debate them, they didn’t know what to do. This certainly contradicts the idea of the point of view of the Confederacy being held only by those unable or unwilling to grasp the subtleties of modern scholarship. All this may have seemed so much braggadocio if Lunsford had not strongly advised me to look at the issue from all viewpoints. Far from trying to shelter me from opposing viewpoints, Lunsford was actively encouraging me to seek them out and compare. Only someone confident in his own viewpoint would do such a thing.

Keith Patterson, Atlanta, Georgia
Another of my Atlanta appointments was with Keith Patterson, a teacher at Stone Mountain, east of the main city. Keith and his wife re-enact Civil War battles and I wondered what kind of a man would spend his time pretending he was a soldier from a war that ended 140 years ago? As it turned out, a moderate, thoughtful, conservative, deeply committed Christian man who amply demonstrated the gracious hospitality for which the South is justly renowned. Keith, his wife Babs and son Aaron participate in re-enactments during their summer holidays from their teaching jobs. Stone Mountain is a justifiable summer drawcard for Georgians and Keith sees his role as one of education as well as entertainment. In all my travels it was Keith who offered the most balanced view of the war. He stated that the soldiers from both sides should be honoured. The North fought for the preservation and unity of their nation, an honourable and noble cause, while the South fought for independence and the freedom to be what they wanted to be, an equally reasonable and noble cause. To me one of the most telling comments came from his wife Babs, who is Maine-born and bred. Able to offer a viewpoint from both sides, she strongly believes 69


that the teaching in schools regarding the Civil War is biased against the South and went so far as to say the true story is rarely told. For a person who comes from the North to state that much of the so-called anti-South information is lies, speaks volumes. During my visit I asked Keith about his opinions about the debate over the Battle Flag. It was obvious I struck a chord and he told me of an incident that took place in the local Confederate cemetery, located on a service station intersection in Stone Mountain village. During a Confederate Memorial Day ceremony, a group placed small battle flags beside the graves of the soldiers. Soon after Keith was travelling past and saw a black man removing all the flags. Keith remonstrated with the man, who argued along the lines that Jews would not want swastikas displayed in their country. Keith argued that the parallel was not relevant and that this wasn’t his property to interfere with. The man refused to stop and Keith referred the matter to the police. In telling this anecdote, Keith’s frustration was clear. Like many others, he is annoyed that racial hate groups have misappropriated the Battle Flag, turning it into a loaded, racial symbol rather than a symbol of a nation, or at least an attempted nation, which was no more racist than the nation that destroyed it. Keith happily lived in an integrated neighbourhood and spoke fondly of the ‘fine families’ and students he taught, many of whom were black. I could not imagine Keith ever wanting to cause offence to his neighbours and those he worked and taught with. I was beginning to see that while whites were willing to use racial stereotypes, it was not only black people who suffered by these. It would be hard to imagine a man less likely to incite racial hatred, in fact every day Keith effectively works against this, yet to many, he is seen as guilty by association. It’s a weird racism in reverse.

Kelly Barrow, Sons of Confederate Veterans, Zebulon
My next appointment was in Zebulon, about two hours away. Kelly Barrow, the national historian of the Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV), had invited me to stay with him, and his hospitality and generosity could not be surpassed. Like Keith, and myself, Kelly is a history teacher. Kelly, like Charles Lunsford, is passionately committed to the maintenance of Confederate heritage, and, again like Lunsford, is exceptionally well versed in his understanding of the conflict, its origins and aftermath. By now any notions that those who wished to preserve the old South, or its symbols, bore any resemblance to the stereotypes seen in the media were long gone. Kelly is deeply interested in his heritage, not just the Confederate part (he had numerous ancestors who fought for the South) but back well beyond this. His antecedents came from Scotland, a fact Kelly celebrates with considerable pride. This connection with and pride in ancestors is a facet of Southern culture that was largely unfamiliar to me, perhaps because I come from a country where the original European inhabitants were involuntary and criminals. Kelly is possibly the most fascinating of all my interviewees as, far from the anti-black redneck stereotype, he has co-written and edited two books on the role black Confederates played in the war. He evidently recognises the need to address some of the stereotypes and misinformation regarding the Confederacy. Like many I was unaware of the role these people played, but it appears that it was absolutely vital to the Southern war effort. Kelly endorsed Lunsford’s estimates of the number of blacks involved in the Confederate military and when the overall size of the Confederate States Army is considered, the contribution was immense. Additionally, the Confederacy gave many of its black workers equal pay, and black volunteers, while rarely in actual combat positions, were integrated into white units, unlike the supposedly progressive North which segregated its army and paid unequal wages. Again, I found myself confronted with ironies that seemingly fill this bizarre conflict. For example, the majority of Confederate hospital attendants (nurses) were black while blacks were not authorised to do this in the North until 1864. Kelly took me to various sites such as Andersonville, Crawfordsville and Washington; all extremely interesting Confederate sites. I 70


could write my entire report on the ironies and facts regarding Andersonville alone. (See appendix) He also gave me insight into various other sites in the state. One of these was the ‘Cannonball House’ in Macon, so called because of its brush with destruction during Sherman’s invasion in 1864. Our guide here, Cathy Smith, gave us further insight into the war. She believed that the South had a legitimate claim to secession and would never have entered a Union they believed they couldn’t leave, but this aside, both sections must take their share of the blame for the conflict, in her words ‘There is enough blame to go round.’ Until this time I had heard much regarding the ‘liberal, politically correct’ media, politicians and academics who were seen as the enemy, but at an SCV meeting my understanding was enhanced somewhat. The people were consistently warm, friendly and hospitable, and the formalities disappointingly short. However the Camp Commander, Greg Jackson, quoted a Virginia University professor (I didn’t catch the individual’s name) from a media release he had seen. The professor had been quoted as saying that following the Civil War all Confederate veterans should have been rounded up and shot as traitors. To me, someone with minimal attachment to this region and who is significantly more left-leaning than the majority of Southerners, this seemed a ridiculous and bizarre statement to make. To those in the meeting it was obviously deeply offensive. It made me realise that the claims that they are misunderstood and misrepresented are not just paranoia.

Dr Glenn Eskew and Dr Clifford Kuhn, Georgia State University
Similarly, I found that much of the story of the South today is not studied by academics, or is seen as simply a fringe movement. At Georgia State University in Atlanta I interviewed Dr Glenn Eskew and Dr Clifford Kuhn. Eskew stated that in his opinion the South existed as a separate entity for 100 years, between the 1830s and 1930s. Since then it has largely followed the trends and cultures of the rest of the nation. To him the growth of the HPA or SCV is evidence that people need an ‘anchor’ in a consumer-driven, materialistic society. His colleague Clifford Kuhn largely agreed, although my visit to the Ruffin Flag Company raised an eyebrow with him. He regarded it as a shrine or monument to the old Confederacy. The Ruffin Flag Company is then one of the most bizarre ‘shrines’ on Earth. It is, as the name suggests, a business that sells largely flags and other memorabilia, of which almost all has a Confederate theme. However this business is not located in Atlanta, but in a tiny village called Crawfordsville, in rural Georgia. The headquarters is a four-room cottage, which is only distinguished by a series of flags flying from the verandah. Yet this literal cottage industry in the back blocks of Georgia sells up to $20,000 worth of stock per day. It seems to me that these men may underestimate the size of the attachment to the Confederacy. That the Ruffin Flag Company exists, let alone flourishes, indicates a lot of people feel some attachment. Plus, the sociologist in me wondered about people needing an anchor in a society such as ours. The same explanation would explain Australia’s deepening attachment to ANZAC Day. In the end I was thankful for the time given me by these two gentlemen, but I couldn’t help wondering if they had recently driven around Georgia beyond the environs of Atlanta.

Gettysburg and Frederick

As my journey progressed North, the heroes changed. Washington celebrates Lincoln and Grant, two men who had been given little attention in Georgia. Travelling from Washington DC to the battlefield town of Gettysburg my understanding of the war and the hold it had on the South was enhanced by a visit to the town of Frederick, which just happens to house the Museum dedicated to Civil War medicine. A bizarre title, but a genuinely fascinating exhibit. From this I learnt that 1/3 of all soldiers from the state of Mississippi were killed or wounded and in 1866 20 per cent



of that state’s revenue was spent on artificial limbs. These were staggering statistics, with implications that boggled the mind. Additionally, the museum revealed that the death rate of Union soldiers was 12.4 per cent while for the Confederacy it was 19.6 per cent, again a statistic that took a while to digest. When combined with my observations that the war was almost completely fought on Southern soil, the Southern obsession with the war began to make more sense (see appendix). I recalled our outrage when the French Government considered putting an airport over some diggers' graves. How much more would we have felt an attachment to these men if they had died in our states, defending their homelands? Originally, trips to actual battlefields played only a small role in my trip, but upon viewing Gettysburg I realised so much could be gained by going to these incredibly well preserved areas. A couple of experiences are worthy of mention.

Chancellorsville, Shiloh and Fort Pillow
Between Richmond and Washington DC is a large sign pointing to the ‘Stonewall Jackson Shrine’. What this could have been, I couldn’t guess, so I drove in to find out. It turned out to be the small church in which Stonewall died after being shot by his own men at Chancellorsville. That it would be called a shrine in this most Christian of nations speaks volumes for the depth of feeling generated by this most interesting and eccentric of Civil War figures. Visits to Shiloh and particularly Fort Pillow in southern Tennessee were enlightening. At Fort Pillow the issue of race is as sharply defined as anywhere on the Civil War map, with the possible exception of the 54th Massachusetts charge on Battery Wagner in Charleston (see appendix). It was here that former slave trader and future Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard, Nathan Bedford Forrest, commanded an attack on the Fort that resulted in a massacre of its defenders, many of whom were black. About an hour's drive away in the middle of Memphis is a large monument to Forrest, which covers his gravesite, and is dedicated to his ‘military genius’. At the Fort, the presentations strongly imply that Forrest’s main role was in stopping the massacre, not starting it. A biography on Forrest was not so complimentary. Like so many things in this most studied of conflicts, no one knows for sure what really took place that day and what role Forrest played. Forrest, I found, was still a catalyst of feeling regarding the war. No less an authority than Shelby Foote called him one of only two ‘authentic geniuses’ of the Civil War. My own reading would bear this out. Yet for all his military genius, he was a slave trader, the first leader of the Klan and the commander at the Fort Pillow massacre. Therefore his veneration in Memphis irritates many in the black community. Others rejoin that Forrest disbanded the Klan when it became too violent, stopped the killing at Fort Pillow and became a racial moderate by the end of his life. This final point is evidenced by the fact that approximately half the mourners at his funeral were black, and that he had publicly claimed that blacks should be allowed to take their places as lawyers or judges, if they had the talent, something even Lincoln never claimed. Nevertheless, none of this impacts on the fact he was the war’s foremost military genius, and should be honoured as such. This argument forms a microcosm for my own study summarising the conflicting and confused history. Perhaps most telling was a black man who was idly looking at the Forrest memorial while I was there. Obviously a local, he was waiting for someone in the park that houses the grave, and it was obvious that he didn’t really know and really didn’t care about the identity of the man buried beneath the statue.

Jacqui Prince, Memphis Tennessee
In Memphis I met perhaps my most fascinating interviewee, Jacqui Prince. A black woman who studied law and sang divinely, she was able to express the issues that face the South regarding the war in an incredibly eloquent way. I asked her to express her view on the debate regarding the



battle flag. Her reply on this issue captured much of the difficulty surrounding the entire Civil War issue. Her view consisted of three parts. Firstly, she was an American and as such she supported free speech and the rights of her countrymen to have and display whatever flag they so wished to display. Secondly, she was a Southerner and very proud to be so. She believed her region needed to be proud of itself and its history and so anything that did this was a positive, including displaying the flag. But, thirdly, she was a black woman and very well aware that many who displayed this flag did not welcome her or others of her colour and so she had reservations. To her, context was the key. In museums and historical displays, she supported the display of the flag, but she also was aware that it took on a different meaning when displayed in some other contexts.

So, when all is said and done, does the viewpoint of the South have merit? Simply put the answer is ‘yes’. According to the nature of the US Constitution and the original agreement between the states (for example, the wording of the 10th Amendment that reveals the priority in Federal– States relations), the issue of states’ rights was not an excuse for secession, but a very real reason explaining it. What has clouded the issue is the institution of slavery and the fact the war brought about its demise, along with the subsequent racism expressed in the South. But this should not interfere with an assessment of the issues in 1861. As far as the South was concerned they were simply peacefully leaving an agreement of which they no longer wished to be a part. They had joined as they believed the benefits would outweigh the costs, and now when it appeared to them these ratios were reversed they simply wished to leave. That the North regarded this as rebellion was incorrect, the South in no way threatened US political institutions or citizens and so their actions could hardly have required a military response. That a group would fight a war to force people to remain part of a country seems totally illogical and highlights the validity of the South’s claims. As stated by Kelly Barrow, it is akin to a husband bashing his wife to force her to love him. Why do people still fight the war? Because the experience of losing and the price they paid had an immeasurable impact on these people. Will they ever ‘get over it’? I hope not. The South is the most fascinating of places. Just as our country is enhanced because we have the freedom to protest and disagree and celebrate who we are, so the US is a better place for having the South. It gives me heart to think that while many worry about US capitalism and consumerism turning the world into a giant corporate theme park, in the middle of the land itself is a section that is still determined to be different. And that is a good thing. How has this trip improved my teaching? In more ways than I could possibly elaborate. Most tellingly it allows me to fill in so many gaps and teach from the perspective of one who has been there, not one who has read the books. It enables me to teach with empathy and knowledge, as opposed to simply reading about it. I can give examples, show resources, and personalise this most fascinating of conflicts. Also I have a greater understanding of what we don’t know about both the great individuals and the not so great who make up the fabric of history. I believe the honour of being selected for such a generous and prestigious award (the looks on the faces of many of my American friends when I explained the grant told a story) has given me far more confidence in my teaching and has pushed me to a higher level. Additionally, I want to pass this on to my students. It is my hope to produce a resource book, based on the NSW syllabus, using information from my travels to assist other teachers in the teaching of ‘Yankees and Confederates’.



Little remains of the original construction of the prisoner-of-war camp at Andersonville. However the area is largely as it was in 1864 and it is easy to imagine the conditions as they must have been at that time. Andersonville has become quite a Civil War icon, as more Union soldiers died here than at Gettysburg, Chickamauga, Antietam and Shiloh combined. Additionally the camp commandant, Henry Wirz was the only man from either side convicted of war crimes, for which he was hanged. The conditions in Andersonville were horrific. At the site today there are the inevitable tourist information areas, but to my surprise the displays and exhibits focused not on Andersonville itself, but on PoWs from a variety of wars, in particular Vietnam and WWII. Apparently this was done to ease the offence to the local populace. Still it seemed quite a curious, and somehow out-of-place decision. The adjoining village, from which the camp was named, was captivating. The village was very small, but seemed to have a chip on its shoulder regarding its place in the Civil War scheme of things. Of all the areas I visited, it would be the one that gave me the impression of being Confederate to its bootstraps and be damned if anyone doesn’t like it. The café where we ate a late lunch contained bumper stickers with slogans such as Osama, your heart may belong to Allah, but your ass is mine and Just because you can’t raise your kids, don’t take away my rights. The town contains a monument to the aforementioned Henry Wirz that effectively blames Lincoln and Grant for his crimes and gives the impression that the damned Yankees are no more welcome here than they were in 1864. Being within walking distance of the site of the greatest loss of Union life in the war, it is an unusual and bemusing place to go. I am very glad Kelly took me there.

One of the more surprising things was Charleston. Far from being a hotbed of neoConfederatism, Charleston seemed sleepily ambivalent to its place in Civil War lore. More surprising was the fact that while Fort Sumter is, justifiably, a centrepiece of Charleston tourism, the only marginally less famous 54th Massachusetts charge on Battery Wagner, celebrated in the movie Glory, is in no way acknowledged. A visit to the beach where the charge took place reveals only lonely windswept beach, not a marker or stone or statue. Given that this is an area of the country where markers are placed to celebrate events that happen 10 miles away (Savannah and the Cotton gin), the absence of any marker seems quite bizarre. Why the NAACP doesn’t push for this as a bona fide memorial to those who fought for their freedom is curious.

War in the South
Perhaps the most forthright and pithy explanation as to why the Civil War holds such a place in the minds of the South came from Riley Gunther, a member of the SCV who works near the Shiloh Battlefield. When I asked his opinion he stated: ‘We got ours asses whipped and you always remember getting your ass whipped more than the victories.’



First and foremost, to Bob Carr whose vision and policy gave me what is undoubtedly the experience of my career to date. To Charles Lunsford, Jacqui Prince, Cathy Smith, Gordon Cotton, Ranger Poole and all others who gave up their valuable time to help me in my work. To Wayne MacMaster for his kindness and invitation to attend a meeting of the Vicksburg SCV, of which I am proudly an honorary member. To Keith, Babs and Aaron Patterson for showing me what true Southern hospitality is And to my new mates Kelly and Cassie Barrow, this report and my experience would be infinitely poorer but for them.


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