The war from within… contemporary Southerners reflecting on the Civil War… sans Lost Cause

Posted on April 26, 2012 by


I don’t delve into these things like I used to do, usually because I find the time spent equates to wasted time, and really, I have little patience (and thus, I will officially issue a word of warning when it comes to commenting on this post) for dealing with the responses typical of many modern Confederate advocates (which, sadly, often equates to those who look at Southern history with blinders fastened firmly around the eyes and heart).

Still, there seems to be a buzz among these same folks that the “Southern heritage war” (if you will… albeit a very poorly selected and misleading phrase when it usually really means “Confederate heritage war”) is no longer simply a matter of the “traditional” Southerners contesting Northerners in an effort to prove the Confederate cause was right. The “crisis” has expanded to include a defense against other Southerners (amusingly resulting in a resurgence of the use of the word “scalawag”) who see the flaws in the Confederate cause, and, in some cases, realize that not all Civil War era Southerners embraced the Confederate cause.

No doubt, the latter is a punch where it seems to hurt most, but, history is what it is. Realizing one’s Southern ancestors (or just simply that other Southern folks, and not necessarily one’s own Southern ancestors, didn’t always side with secession and the Confederacy) embraced Unionism can send some into a tizzy. Yet, to others who become aware of this, it can be almost epiphany-like, resulting in the mind beginning to open… and beginning to see/realize the many different layers of the people of the Civil War South, who have been otherwise concealed by the monolith of the Lost Cause, constructed in the postwar years.

That doesn’t necessarily mean that one suddenly abandons one’s Confederate ancestors (though, I suspect some may have done that very thing, fueled also by other reasons). In fact, in my experience, an awareness of Southern Unionism has only helped me to see just how complicated/complex things really are in defining a Confederate soldier… even more… the Civil War era Southerner. I think I have a fairly good handle now on who, in my family tree during the Civil War years,  appears to have embraced (willfully or with some trepidation) the cause, remained stand-off’ish to the cause, left the cause to which they had originally committed, or avoided secession and the Confederacy like a plague. Every one of my Civil War era ancestors were Southerners, but that by no means, means that they all jumped whole-hog behind secession and the Confederacy. As far as judging any of them… I simply can’t do that. I won’t do that. Each had their own reasons for doing what they did, and, I can only guess (emphasis on guess) what some of those reasons may have been… mostly because there is little to nothing left that states, without any doubt, why they did what they did. We’re left to “reconstruct” their stories, but care and caution need to be our guides, especially if we care more about the history than about ourselves.

As for the former… Southerners who have simply realized the faults in the Lost Cause legacy, and have not necessarily become aware of Southern Unionism… well, people are who they are. They have minds of their own, and have formulated opinions based on a range of reasons. It is, after all, a reflection of the freedom to think for oneself, as opposed to going barreling off a cliff with the herd. Of course, this can also irk the modern Confederate advocates, and, in my experience, they usually like to play-up the “these people have been brain-washed by the liberal academics” argument. If that’s the best they can do, that’s a lame argument, and frankly, I find that the true enemy to the contemporary Confederate advocates… are themselves. Until they are able to admit this to themselves, things won’t get any better for an honorable reflection on the Conferate soldier among larger audiences. Just as a couple of examples… fighting battles over Confederate flag prom dresses, flying huge battle flags near interstates, and putting up Confederate flags where the Confederate veterans themselves didn’t even do so… that’s just silliness, plain and simple, and, honestly, to a number of Southerners… is a mockery of what is respectable and honor-worthy in our remembrance of our people who were Confederate soldiers.

But… you remember as you see fit… and I’ll do the same. Of course, I have to wonder… just when, exactly, your method of remembrance might go so far as to impair not only your ability, but also my ability to do so.