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   I’m not sure that this is an acceptable blog but it’s something that has been on my mind for the past couple of weeks.  During class introductions I stated that I am steeply indoctrinated into the Lost Cause vision of the Civil War and Reconstruction.  Later I was deeply offended by Tony Horwitz’s Confederates in the Attic because he seemed to find nutcases and fanatics in the South and seemed to portray them as representative of most southerners.  But I have to admit he forced me to consider the impact of the Lost Cause upon my own attitudes and opinions and how they have effected my life.  In working on defining/identifying the Lost Cause for our final, I have struggled to define this in myself.  What do I consider to be the Lost Cause?  How did I become indoctrinated?  How has it impacted me?

The Lost Cause, as we have learned, has meant different things to different times and places and even to individuals.  I have never held to the Lost Cause belief that slavery was a positive situation for southern society.  The idea that slavery was moral and appropriate seems outrageous and ignorant (yes, I used that word).  Slavery is an embarrassment to me and my ancestors.  (I do know that in the 1790s my forefather included his slaves in his will.)  Nothing can justify slavery.  It is something that one must acknowledge,accept, and deal with as an ancestor of a slave holder.  Nor do I adhere to the racism that accompanies the Lost Cause.  Unfortunately, I was raised in an environment or racism, something I have worked hard to overcome.  I still must guard my thoughts and attitudes at times because those early learning experiences become deeply rooted in our pysche.  My parents and many adults (and a few peers) exhibited racist attitudes and expressions as I grew up and through High School.  However through education and experience, that racism does not live on through me and my sons faced little exposure to those attitudes.

The aspects that I carry with me of the Lost Cause consist of the admiration for the courage and determination of the Confederate soldiers and the military leadership of the South.  My middle name is Lee which is very common among southerners. (This was left out of how we remember)  However I never viewed Lee or Jackson as some kind of superhero or idol.  My admiration for Lee resulted from his successes on the battlefield.  I agree with Gallagher that the military superiority of Lee was not a myth.*  He really was a remarkable military commander that achieved some pretty impressive victories over superior numbers.  That admiration toward Confederate courage and intelligence provides a sense of pride in my southern identification.

A second influence of Lost Cause indoctrination has resulted in my prejudice toward “Yankees.”  I still catch myself being critical of people from ‘the North.”  I’m not even sure what I exactly mean by “the North.”  The concept of the aggressive, intrusive, “nosey” Yankee comes from the Lost Cause influence that presents the North as a society of hypocrites that wanted to remove the “splinter from the eye of the South, but could not see the plank in their own eye.”  This comes from southern responses to the Civil War, Reconstruction, and the enforcement of desegregation (something I strongly support).

I’m not sure how I was indoctrinated.  I think it was more informal rather than being miss-taught  at school.  I heard of the heroics of Lee, Jackson, and Stuart through my parents.  The brief mention of them peaked my curiosity and I became an avid reader of Civil War material.  I did have a Civil War  professor from Mississippi that definitely taught the Lost Cause filled with great admiration of the Confederate cause.  But that really reinforced what I had already accepted.

I guess by accepting some of the Lost Cause I still adhere to it as a historian and teacher.  Through this class I have recognized my bias and the need to be careful how that impacts my memory of the past and how I present that view.  But I am not convinced that admiring the valor and the superior military leadership of the South somehow is demeaning.  I still identify myself as a southerner and that heritage is something of which I am proud.  I resent being looked down upon by some because I speak with a twang or am not quite sophisticated as others.  I enjoy a simpler, less complicated life.  I would rather attend a BBQ than a ballet production. (Sorry, Dr. Epps).

The only other thing that I can think of that may be a result of the Lost Cause doctrine is my conservative political views.  But those came as I got older and being opposed to a larger more powerful federal government doesn’t seem to be a uniquely southern view.

* Gary Gallagher, “Sharing Public Memory of the Civil War,” in The Memory of the Civil War in American Culture, ed. Alice Fahs and Joan Waugh (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2004), 58.

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One of the questions asked in class this past week was . . . “Are there any memorials to Civil War African Americans?”  The only one we could come up with was the Robert Shaw Memorial in Boston.  After searching the internet, I have discovered a number of monuments dedicated to the African American (referred to in the past as “Colored”) veterans of the Civil War.  In fact there is not only a monument in Washington, D.C. but a museum dedicated to the service of African Americans during the Civil War.  The “Spirit of Freedom” and the African Civil War Memorial and Museum can be seen at:    African American Civil War Memorial and Museum.  The museum opened in 1999 and relocated to its present location in the “U” Street District in 2011.

The following list is found on the website “ Monuments to the United States Colored Troops (USCT): The List  http://jubiloemancipationcentury.wordpress.com/2011/05/30/monuments-to-the-united-states-colored-troops-usct-the-list/

List of USCT Monuments:
1. The Connecticut Twenty-Ninth Colored Regiment, C. V. Infantry; New Haven, Connecticut.
2. The African-American Civil War Memorial – The Spirit Of Freedom; Washington, District of Columbia
3. 2nd Regiment Infantry, U.S. Colored Troops; Fort Myers, Florida
4. Colored Soldiers Monument (AKA Kentucky African American Civil War Veterans Monument); Frankfort, Kentucky
5. In Memory of More Than 400 Prominent United States Colored Troops from Kent County; Chestertown, Maryland
6. Memorial to Robert Gould Shaw and the Massachusetts 54th Regiment; Boston, Massachusetts
7. African American Monument; Vicksburg, Mississippi
8. 1st Kansas Colored Infantry Civil War Monument – “Battle of Island Mound”; Butler, Missouri
9. 56th United States Colored Troops Monument; St. Louis, Missouri
10. Soldiers’ Memorial at Lincoln University, Missouri; Jefferson City, Missouri
11. In Memory of the Colored Union Soldiers: Hertford, North Carolina
12. United States Colored Troops National Monument; Nashville, Tennessee
13. West Point Monument (AKA Norfolk African-American Civil War Memorial); Norfolk, Virginia

It seems noteworthy that most of these memorials dedicated to African American soldiers are located in previously Confederate states or in what were border slave states.  There are memorial statues or monuments in Norfolk, VA, Hertford, NC, Nashville, TN, and Vicksburg, MS.  One must admit that the impressive statue in Vicksburg is surprising.

Most of these monuments have been placed in recent times (after the 1990s).  However it does depict a willingness to acknowledge the role and impact of African Americans during the American Civil War.  It seems impossible to place these monuments in southern locations and previous slave states without recognizing the issue of slavery and its role upon the division of our nation and the agency of African American men in playing a decisive role in achieving northern victory.  Granted, there are only a few of these monuments in contrast to the hundreds depicting the courageous Confederate soldiers; but a few may signal something significant in how this nation’s memory of the Civil War may be changing.  Do a few memorials to African American veterans of the Civil War mark a new view of the Civil War or are they simply a way to appear more diverse and appease the African American populations of the South?  Could they be an attempt to include the “Colored Troops” in the reuniting effort of all the soldiers uniting in valor and courage?

What Civil War Sesquicentennial Celebration?

 

I’m definitely not in the South anymore.  I wasn’t even aware of the Civil War Sesquicentennial celebration that began on April 12, 2011 by presidential decree.  I don’t know if I have ever seen or heard of “sesquicentennial” and I’m positive that I have no idea of how to pronounce it.  Evidently it means the 150th year.  I think I would have gone with that.  I tried to find Colorado Civil War Sesquicentennial events and, amazingly, the site said they had no listings.  I found an article by Harold Holzer (one of the leading Abraham Lincoln historians) regarding this observance. http://www.historynet.com/civil-war-memory.htm In this article, originally published by America’s Civil War magazine on July 7, 2010, Holzer is frustrated by Congress’ unwillingness to establish a National sesquicentennial commission to support this “once-in-a-generation anniversary opportunity.”[1]  (Maybe our members of Congress don’t know what a “sesquicentennial” is either.)  Holzer argues that this would be a great opportunity to “stimulate debate, encourage creativity and, most of all involve people of every background and heritage who were either affected by our history or can learn from it.” [2]  President Obama did issue a presidential proclamation establishing the sesquicentennial events.  I found his proclamation insightful as well.  (http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2011/04/12/presidential-proclamation-civil-war-sesquicentennial)  The president did present the Lost Cause view of the bravery and sacrifice of the soldiers of the Civil War and did not place any blame upon the South.  But he also recognized the impact of the war upon African Americans, their contributions, and the end of slavery.   As a politician, President Obama did not address the causes of the war.  But he did include the struggle for equal rights.  The president also called “upon all Americans to observe this Sesquicentennial with appropriate programs, ceremonies, and activities that honor the legacy of freedom and unity that the Civil War bestowed upon our Nation.” [3] The question before us is. . . How do we observe such an anniversary without creating division and opening up old wounds?

As I searched the internet for Sesquicentennial events I did notice a wide variety of events that would appeal to a diverse population.  Almost every battlefield is hosting a special day upon the anniversary of that battle.  Key political acts such as the declaration and, later, the implementation of the Emancipation Proclamation are also being commemorated.  There seems to be a great effort being made to overcome the Lost Cause mentality and view the Civil War in a more diverse way.   However, this anniversary seems to one that many desire to ignore or minimize.  Is the Civil War still so divisive that Congress is afraid to promote its memory?  Does it still stir up such hard feelings that we can’t observe its historic significance?  The Civil War (Sorry southerners, “The War Between the States”) may well be the most impacting event in American history.  How can we simply ignore and dismiss it?

 

 

[1] Harold Holzer, “Civil War Memory,” Historynet.com. http://www.historynet.com/civil-war-memory.htm (accessed June 21, 2012).

[2] Holzer.

[3] The White House, Office of the Press Secretary, “Presidential Proclamation–Civil War Sesquicentennial,” http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2011/04/12/presidential-proclamation-civil-war-sesquicentennial.  (accessed June 21, 2012).

Growing up in the South, Gone With the Wind, was required viewing.  I first saw this film in 1967 at the age of eight.  As a teenager, I again watched this classic.  GWTW  was even shown in school classrooms to depict the historic era of the “War Between the States” and Reconstruction.  As described by Bruce Chadwick in The Reel Civil War, most southerners viewed this movie more as a documentary than a fictional romantic movie.  Chadwick goes on to address the “four-pronged presentation of the Plantation Myth . . . 1) All white Southerners owned plantations 2) White Southerners and slaves took care of each other 3) The North was responsible for the war and 4) the South was and is devastated by the war.” *  In addition GWTW presented the “Lost Cause” in a “matter-of-fact” methodology that seemed to acceptable to the majority of Americans; not just Southerners.  (Minority acceptance is another issue.)  The problems, viewed with a modern perspective, are glaring.  The humiliating depiction of African Americans is outrageous by today’s standards.  The villainization of the North and the depiction of the “carpetbaggers” and “scalawags” are over-the-top and insulting.  Even Southerners are viewed as naive, backward, and victims.  In Chadwick addresses many of these issues and how they were more acceptable in the 1930s and 40s.  However, several of his explanations fall short of convincing.  The author stated that the producer of GWTW , David O. Selznick, desired to keep the KKK out of the movie.  However, even as a teen, I understood that Ashley Wilkes and Frank Kennedy were riding with the Klan on the raid on the Shantytown.  Chadwick also downplayed the harsh treatment of “carpetbaggers,”  “scalawags,” and blacks.  The film certainly presented these groups negatively.  (Perhaps not as harshly as the novel.)  Even the street scene that Chadwick described blacks as nonthreatening is inaccurate.  The fact that blacks were taking up space on the sidewalk would have been considered threatening by southerners and others during the first showing of the film and, for many, in the 1960s redistribution.  The author’s description of the admirable Mammy as the one who ran Tara falls shallow when one considers that Mammy wasn’t allowed to dine with her white “family” or attend parties.  Mammy “knew her place.”

It is difficult to overstate the impact of Gone With the Wind upon the popular view and understanding of the Civil War and Reconstruction.  As a southerner, growing up with the perspective of “The Lost Cause,” it is difficult for me to analyze this impact.  Did this film influence the nation and their view of these eras or did popular views of the time shape the presentation and depiction of the movie?