“I don’t think there were really that many”

Posted on July 13, 2012 by

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Not so much a matter of content delivery this morning, and more about a thought that’s been lingering with me for a bit…

About a month ago, a friend of mine attended a reenactment, here in the Valley (the Cross Keys/Port Republic event held on… the Cedar Creek battlefield). When he had an opportunity to talk with one of the Confederate reenactors - who was at the time actively engaged in some living history - he asked him what he thought about Southern Unionists. The gray-clad fellow responded, “I don’t think there were really that many.”

Of course, when my friend told me this, I cringed. My reaction wasn’t over the failure to acknowledge “numbers”, but a reaction over the quick brush of the topic under the rug. Then too, there’s that matter of the absolute ignorance of the significance of Southern Unionists… after all, their story contributes much to identifying a much more complex (darn that word!) picture of Civil War era Southerners. They simply weren’t as monolithic (yet another one of those annoying words that keep popping up) as some seem to want to make them out to be. How incredible it is to so easily dismiss the subject. It’s too bad that my friend didn’t follow-up with a question asking, “What do you think about “leave-aloners?” I wonder if it might have blown the reenactors circuitry.  

I suppose that’s the way Southern history has treated its own, thanks to the legacy of the Lost Cause

It’s a funny thing, actually… considering how determined some have been in the last decade to prove the significance of Black Confederates… and yet can be so dismissive and denying (deliberately?) when it comes to those Southerners who can be so much more easily documented. Personally, I believe there’s more behind the motivations of finding and putting numbers on Black Confederates than there is in doing the same for Southern Unionists, but I’m not getting into that just now.

Still, if we really want to put numbers on Southern Unionists, what would that number be? In his book, Lincoln’s Loyalists, Richard Nelson Current has an excellent appendix on the effort that has been made over the last 100+ years, in that regard. I’ll come out and say, however, that I don’t really agree with his conclusion… and, no, it’s really not about the bottom-line number. But, since there’s much more to say about this, I’ll have to write more about that on another day.

Getting back to that remark, “I don’t think there were really that many”…

I’m also struck by the “power” of the “authority.” People go to reenactments and living history programs either to be entertained or educated… and sometimes a little of both. It’s that “education” thing that bothers me most, especially when the so-called “living historian” make comments such as this. I wonder how many in search of education consume such information as if “living historians” are authorities*, and how many know just how much salt to take with what some “living historians” have to say.  I suppose it depends on the “educator” and the consumer. Let me be clear, however, that I do acknowledge the fact that there are some living historians/reenactors who do a service to history, but there are also others who drag down the credibility of the same group, as a whole.

Perhaps I shouldn’t bring up the Stonewall Jackson impressionist who appeared in this same area not long ago, and said that the Civil War really wasn’t about slavery…

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