Civil War Memory is not limited to “Civil War Confederate Memory”

Posted on November 29, 2008 by


Over the past nine months, I’ve spent some time focusing on problems with “memory” of the Civil War, but have limited it to problems with memory in those who look favorably on all things Confederate. I’ve focused on the new-era Confederate remembrance movement because, having once been a part of it, I am much more familiar with this than say, the memory of those who see the antebellum South as accurately defined by Uncle Tom’s Cabin. That’s not to say, however, that I am unfamilar with the problems presented by other forms of memory of the Civil War, including mythology perpetuated by some who might be considered as having embraced “Won Cause” mythology.

While writing posts, I’ve also been browsing the Web and other blogs. In doing so, I think I’ve realized that several comments that are “anti-Confederate” are made in response to indifferent (this may not be the word I’m looking for, but I think there is still something to it) activities of new era Confederate remembrance. I’ll not repeat the need for new era Confederate remembrance to make a more coordinated effort to distinguish itself from the other layers behind, for example, the Confederate flag. If those within the new era Confederate remembrance movement don’t care, then they deserve what they get. They are, in fact, “drawing the heat.” The sad part of it is that because of that indifference (or whatever you want to call it), others with connections with Confederate ancestry will end up suffering in the ensuing fall-out.

I also realize that the “Yankee-hate” rhetoric coming from some within the new era Confederate remembrance is sometimes made in response to the twisted popular memory that some have in regard to the Confederate South. So, in some ways, it might be said that bad history leads to more bad history.

On top of this, and without overstating the obvious, the “academy” is coming under fire (from a limited number) over the issue of “Civil War memory.” Some within the new era Confederate remembrance are quick to point out that academians are producing “revisionist history.” It’s called revisionist history because it unseats long-standing popular tradition/memory of the Confederate South. That’s not to say, however, that long-standing popular memory was actually accurate “memory” in the first place. Long-standing popular memory also laid the foundation for the perpetuation of inaccurate history in succeeding generations.

In fact, the academy has not limited its focus to all things Confederate, but has actually devoted considerable time to other aspects of American history (and, I’m sure, world history) that simply need “righting.” For example, the Civil War aside for a moment and as I recently pointed out, consider the “memory” of Paul Revere’s “midnight ride.” The myth that it perpetuated was problematic when placed side-by-side with factual history. So, in the case of recent Civil War historical works from the academy placed side-by-side with long-standing popular tradition/memory of the Confederate South, is history from the academy really revisionist or just responsible history? Nonetheless, it appears that because of responsible history, we are getting dosed with reactionary/responsive history that is really bad history generated from within the new era Confederate remembrance.

Of course, the one thing that I find interesting in some new age Confederate remembrance folks and their views of “revisionist history” coming from the academy is that the same people seem to pick and choose what they want from the products of the academy in order to validate their “it’s an attack against Southern heritage” argument. Yeah, right… forget that the academy has also engaged in debunking myths from other areas of history, and especially in anything that might resemble a “love-fest” with the Union of the Civil War (“Won Cause” myth). Before pointing fingers, perhaps some within the new era Confederate remembrance movement need to take a little time to look at other efforts made by historians to “right” delusions created by popular historical memory. It’s not just a “Confederate thing.”

For what its worth, consider this a challenge…

In terms of “Lost Cause” and “Won Cause,” what within these two could be construed as “historical memory” and “mythology.” Draft two different lists, then hit the books and articles. In the works of academic historians, identify where the academians have set-out to debunk myth and challenge popular memory.

Better yet, forget for a while that the focus of academia might be on the Lost Cause. Based on your “historic memory,” how is the “Won Cause” inaccurately held on high? Seek out works by academians (who are actually historians) that challenge different myths. In addition to challenging the list of myths, can an agenda be detected in the historian?

Hmm, I wonder if anybody will actually take the challenge.