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Linkmeister

That's an interesting analysis. "How they got where they are now." I wonder if Harry Turtledove's alternate histories of America sell especially well in the South.

"Gettysburg," of course, was nearly a word-for-word adaptation of Michael Shaara's The Killer Angels, the best Civil War book I've ever read. It also had one of the most haunting scores every written.

Mark

I grew up in the South and remember well the Civil War centennial. In my childhood it made sense to me to have some pride in the South, but no more. I feel nothing but contempt for the politicians who started that war and brought all its death and destruction and who almost certainly did not fight in it. It makes me feel all the more contempt for those southern politicians of today who spew the same kind of hateful crap to try to undermine the US.

Jason Lefkowitz
The bad guys won. The good guys lost despite possessing superior virtues and fighting spirit, despite being on the side of the angels. How did that happen?

How do you work that into your sense of who you are? How do you believe simultaneously in your own inherited superiority and in your place in history as the vanquished?

I cannot recommend Tony Horwitz's book Confederates in the Attic: Dispatches from the Unfinished Civil War, which explores the answer to this exact question, highly enough. And it's funny to boot!

Jason Lefkowitz

Oh, and I liked Gettysburg (the movie) too, but take it from me: avoid the made-many-years-later sorta-sequel, Gods and Generals, as if your life depended on it. Despite having been made by the same director and featuring many of the same actors, it is bottomlessly, unfathomably awful. If you are tempted to view it because of your memory of enjoying Gettysburg, you will end up paying dearly for having succumbed.

Dutch

Unfortunately, 99.9 percent of the American public were taught in public school that the Civil War was fought to "free the slaves." Most believe this.

Any real scholar of the Civil War knows this is absurd.

The "free the slaves" part was a strategy adjustment midway into the war when the North was losing and Lincoln needed to motivate Union troops to fight on "foreign" soil for a cause.

The Civil War was a fight over culture. Pure and simple. The Southern states backlashed against the encroaching federalism. They backlashed against having values of elitists from places they cared not a whit about shoved down their throats.

Another telling movie line is from Ang Lee's brilliant "Ride with the Devil."

Early on in the movie a young Kansas man asks his wiser counterpart if he thinks war is truly imminent.

"Yup."

"Why?"

"Because we don't give a good God damn about how the Yankees school their young, but they damn sure aren't going to rest until they tell us how to school our'n."

Are we really headed toward another Civil War?

"Because we don't give a good God damn about how the Yankees school their young, but they damn sure aren't going to rest until they tell us how to school our'n."

Nothing wrong with holding disparate values. But when you start shoving your values down the throats of people you don't know and have never met...

"Because we don't give a good God damn about how the Yankees school their young, but they damn sure aren't going to rest until they tell us how to school our'n."

It's almost like... like... like the Founders knew what they were doing when they set up a system of government where states could have their own "personality" and one could still be an American and migrate to the sub-government that best suited their values.

Dr X

"Any real scholar of the Civil War knows this is absurd."

And no true Scotsman would believe it either.

Dr X

Perhaps the real scholars of the Civil War could travel by time machine to correct Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens (Savannah: March 21, 1861):

The new constitution has put at rest, forever, all the agitating questions relating to our peculiar institution — African slavery as it exists amongst us — the proper status of the negro in our form of civilization. This was the immediate cause of the late rupture and present revolution. Jefferson in his forecast, had anticipated this, as the "rock upon which the old Union would split." He was right. What was conjecture with him, is now a realized fact. But whether he fully comprehended the great truth upon which that rock stood and stands, may be doubted...

(Jefferson's) ideas, however, were fundamentally wrong. They rested upon the assumption of the equality of races. This was an error. ... Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its corner–stone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery — subordination to the superior race — is his natural and normal condition.


Janelle Dvorak

Apparently no one's "shoved how they school theirs" down the throats of any Southern children, since my niece, born and raised in Virginia, was taught to refer to the American Civil War as "the War of Northern Aggression".

I too recommend "Confederates in the Attic".

Rana

It may not have been fought specifically "to free the slaves" as Dutch claims, but neither was it a war in which the question of slavery wasn't central.

The underlying reason that sectional disputes were so fierce, and the question of states versus federal was so contentious, was that slavery was ALWAYS at the core. The South was a slave society, from head to toe, and the North was pretty damn complicit in it as well, because of the way that slavery fueled one of America's most important economic engines: cotton production and processing. But increasingly the North was diversifying, and competing in world markets as a producer, rather than as a source of raw materials, and the writing was on the wall nationally that the nation's future would be handicapped if it was linked solely to cotton. So there was little incentive, outside of the South itself, to undertake policies that would preserve that "peculiar institution" or to ensure that it would be acceptable outside of that region (particularly in the West).

Southern leaders weren't stupid, and they saw that a world in which they were out-numbered by non-slaveholding states (hell, they were only a force in the federal government as a result of the 3/5ths compromise, which allowed them to count their enslaved populations when it came time to allot out Representatives) would be one in which their comfortable existence, resting firmly on the backs of slaves, would be in a constant state of threat.

The South didn't fight because the North were cultural imperialists wanting to "shov[e] their values down the throats of people [they] don't know and have never met." They fought because they were defending slavery and feared losing political power in the federal government. Yes, there was a cultural element to it too - but the "way of life" that they were holding aloft to inspire the ordinary folks was one that could not have existed without the economic contributions of slave labor - and the values you present as being unacceptable included the belief that the forced enslavement of human beings is wrong.

To claim that the South was only worried about losing its "way of life" and that slavery had nothing to do with the Civil War is mendacious in the extreme.

Ralph H.

Nothing was "shoved down" southern throats. They were losing ground economically, culturally, and morally, and they lashed out in the vain hope that a bit of violence would persuade Lincoln to tolerate secession. Some still call it "northern aggression," half in jest -- and argue that the war was fought because of "states' rights," but the fact is that the only states' right over which the South was willing to fight was the right to enslave human beings.

And yes, Ang Lee's "Ride With the Devil" is probably the best Civil War movie out there. That quote about Yankees telling people in rural Missouri how to school their young authentically reflected the misconceptions that pushed the South into arms.

Falstaff

I've always loved reading about the Civil War, both in the sense of serious history, because the dichotomy Lance writes about here is really fascinating to me, and then there's the magpie part of me that loves the colorful uniforms and battle-flags.

This whole thing provoked two thoughts in me: first of all, something I recall reading -- I can't recall quite where, but I think in Confederates In The Attic, actually. The Great Lost War was very much a war that had been lost, put away and half-forgotten in the Southern attic... right up until the rise of the Civil Rights movement. And yes, insert all the caveats in the "for the most part" and "for a lot of people" senses. I recall Horwitz quoting a poem written by... either a veteran of the Civil War or the son thereof, talking about how the Confederate flag, now that the war was over, should be furled and put away and allowed to finally rest. It was a very sad poem, and one that knew the war had been lost and was over forever, which puts it, awkwardly enough, at odds with Faulkner.

Second, I love Gettysburg. Not just because my father's family is from Adams County, Pennsylvania, where that movie was filmed, and the whole thing's a bit of a valentine to the region, visually; I love it because of the epic scale, and because it shows one of the rare historical moments where the decisions of one person (in this case, Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain) really did determine the outcome of a battle. Maybe a whole war, if you look at it the right way.

When I was a baby, my parents took me back to Adams County, PA, to meet my father's beloved and aged grandmother. I apparently had horrifying colic, and my dad spent a lot of time walking the silent grounds of the preserved Gettysburg battlefield in the middle of the night, waiting for me to cry myself out. Maybe that's what got me started being so fascinated by the battle and the place, who knows?

Falstaff

NB. It occurs to me that when I say being walked around the battlefield led to me getting interested in the Battle of Gettysburg and the region, I'm talking about the many, many times I was told about this as a child and a young man. Obviously I don't actually remember it, and it may be that this incident's taken on more significance for me as I wait for my own first offspring to be born, because it's a story about my dad taking care of me when I was very small.

Lance

Hey, folks, thanks for all the interesting comments. I'll be back in the morning. Just popping in to let you know that Gettysburg is our feature for family movie night tonight. I'll let you know if this time the Pickett's division makes it over the top of Cemetery Ridge.

Linkmeister

Let us know if they get AK-47s to help them over that Ridge.

brian stouder

My question (which I suspect I know the answer to) is - was this post motivated by November 19 being the 146th anniversary of President Lincoln's brief remarks at the dedication of the National Cememtery there?

Just a note about "States' Rights"; I challenge anyone to name a "States' Right" that was being trampled by the Union, before the war.

The Southern States were utilizing every lever of constitutional power they had to impose slavery in the territories, and the Dred Scott decision threatened to take away Free State's rights to keep slavery OUT!

If any damned thing, the only way to view the run-up to war is as a trampling on "States' Rights" by the South!! (and in any case, the Confederacy (so-called) started the shooting war, when they interfered with the re-provisioning of a United States military installation (Fort Sumter)

And regarding all this latter-day veneration for Our Founding Fathers" by know-nothing pundits like Sean Hannity (et al) and their bobble-heads, it is worth noting that when Lincoln refers to "a new birth of freedom", that pretty strongly implies the death of the old one.

Whatever America is - for better and for worse - dates from that horrendous war

Belvoir

True, Lance- growing up in NY, the Civil War was a vastly important one to learn about in history class, but yes, it was one of many wars.

When you visit the South, you learn that to them it is THE war. And they still have a very real grudge, it is a presence, a topic, a pantheons of ghosts and glory for their lost cause.

Contra Dutch above, slavery might not have been the entire reason for the War- Gore Vidal has written that Lincoln had an "almost mystical" feeling that his mission was to preserve the Union at all and any costs. But the issue of slavery was indeed a ferocious, raging moral battle and controversy then, internationally. - it's not either/or. The trading of human beings as slaves and chattel was rightly seen as a horror that the ascendant nation could not stomach anymore, and Southern defiance of , and exulting in this cruel practice was indeed a spur. Brutally enslaving other people and taking their children isn't any "states' rights" neutral choice, Dutch- it was a true abomination. And a hideous discredit to emerging "America". Deal with that.

If anything, I find modern documentaries far too soft on the facts of this, for fear of offending modern Southern audiences. Similarly today, Southern narratives seem to fit right-wing storylines we're fed every day in the news. But don't offend them in any way! No matter how stupid and hateful they sound. Not all of them, there are many good decent Southerners of course- even liberal ones. But the overwhelming legacy of Southern obstreperousness and arrogance and delusion continues to this day. Tea-parties, disaffected voters, murderers of abortion doctors, appearing on TV as fat, mean and stupid. Despite my best attempts to be open-minded about the South, its rich literature from people who did their damnedest to escape it at first opportunity, I am fed up with gun toting racist welfare states, in their ugly little worlds, constantly blaming "liberal elite Democrat gay feminazis" for ALL their problems. The South can't be bothered to fucking lift a finger to raise their own communities out of Third World conditions.

I'm sick of being told in the media that these are somehow "REAL Americans". As opposed to us fake Americans up North with our book-readin' elitism. Fuck the South. Go vote for liars who've already screwed you to death, and then go blame the gays. Go get your fat asses of the couch, put on your replica uniform with foodstains, do us all a favor and secede. Go vote against federal money, or just don't accept it! Go scream about whatever, you nasty bunch of sore losers, you crybabies, you treasonous jerks wrapping yourselves in the flag of the United States. Go breathe the fumes of Sarah Palin's tour bus.

Sorry, you don't get to say who's a real American.

sluggo

Confederates in the Attic is teh awesome. Having grown up in Missouri, and then moved away at 14 in 1970, I am always struck hearing show-me accents at how southern they sound - didn't strike my ear that way when I lived there. Has Mizzou only become crackered since I left? I always thought of myself as mid-western, but sadly now realize I was in the midst of a nascent neo-confederacy, still segregated more by intent than inertia.

Mike Schilling

The war was about many things, but the secessions were about defending slavery from two dangers, one real and one imaginary.

1. Lincoln's intent to confine it to the states where it already existed rather than letting it spread to the territories. The Southern moneyed class considered this a direct attack, as it gave Northern capital, which could thrive without slaves, a decisive advantage, and would accelerate the North's economic superiority.

2. The paranoid fantasy that Lincoln was an abolitionist.

Don't take my word for it. Read the secession documents and see how long it takes for slavery to be mentioned.

KLG

If the song were called "Marching Through Pennsylvania" denizens of the North would remember the War differently. But there never would have been reason for such a song, even if Jackson had not died in May of 1863 and had been with Lee two months later in Pennsylvania. Contra Sherman and Sheridan, there would have been no total-war, scorched-earth March led by Lee through the Pennsylvania countryside on the way to Philadelphia and then Washington, leaving a devastated and desolate landscape inhabited by near-starving noncombatants in his wake. As much as anything this is what Southerners "remember." And it's not unlike the historical memory of other nations that have lost a bitter war fought primarily on their land.

And Belvoir, calm down. Projecting much?

Dutch

Yes, the issue of slavery was so abhorrent to Lincoln and his administration that the vaulted Emancipation Proclamation (both versions) declared an end to slavery!

...only in those Southern states that weren't already part of the union. Missouri, Kentucky, Maryland and Delaware... HEY! No prob, Bob. Keep your slaves my Northern Brothahs!

The fact that there were folks in the Lincoln administration and elsewhere who found slavery repugnant before the Civil War does not equate to that being the sum total reason for the war. It was certainly A reason. Not THE reason.

If you don't know the NON SLAVERY state's rights issues surrounding the agricultural regulations coming out of the Capital prior to Fort Sumptner (i.e. nullification), I cannot help you. Or perhaps I choose to let you wallow in ignorance.

That's why God made Google, kiddies.

Minds smarter than mine have estimated that Slavery would have been abolished before 1880 just as a practical reality. The South could not compete with itself over a single dominant crop (cotton) for much longer. Other farm machinery (beyond the cotton gin) would have diversified the economy and made slave ownership more liability than profit shortly thereafter.

And...

Copernicuses...

The North did not attack the South. It was the other way around.

You can't put yourself in their shoes and ask WHY? Right or wrong, that was a big step. WHY would they do that?

Hate and distrust. Pure and simple.

WHY would they hate people they don't know, had never met, and had no ambition to meet?

Because they didn't give a damn about how Yankees school their children, but the Yankees damn sure weren't going to rest until the Yankees told them how to raise their kids.

Your refusal to learn the lessons of history are both amusing and frightening. It's never your fault, is it?

Dutch

You know, if I could delete that last post, I would.

I was a being a douche. I apologize.

The thesis of Lance's question was, "Could another Civil War happen?"

The thesis of my answer was (supposed to be) "The last Civil War was the product of suspicion and distrust among disperate cultures (and not the referendum on slavery we've been taught). We're certainly in familiar territory."

The difference of perspectives on slavery was A reason for the suspicion and distrust. Whether or not it was the primary reason is more debatable than many of you wish to concede.

Who knows? 100 years from now historians may look back at perspectives on the morality of abortion as A reason for the start of some-as-yet-unfought Second Civil War. Children will be taught that the Second Civil War was fought over the moral rights of unborn children.

Of course we know that there is so much more to the value divisions between us, but it's the nature of history to tamper the subtleties.

Again, I apologize for being a douche.

I would appreciate it if you'd debate what I actually say and not what you wish I had said.

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