Tag Archives: confederate

Still Confused About Confederate Monuments?

This weekend’s events in Charlottesville, Virginia should clear things up for you. Have a look at these Nazis and neo-Confederates  marching in opposition to the proposed removal of a Robert E. Lee statue…shouting racist and anti-Semitic epithets. Anybody with any sense at all should get over the old “heritage not hate” nonsense. Like, right now.

Let’s call this what it is: a bunch of domestic terrorists lamenting a challenge to their beloved white supremacy. Many who gathered to oppose home-grown Nazism and the  KKK  were badly hurt today, and at least one person was killed – all in the name of Robert E. Lee and white power.

I have always stated without equivocation that these statues were monuments to oppression. My mistake was to advocate for preservation with context, as a means to educate posterity on the legacy of racial slavery and a 400-year history of injustice. Yeah. I’m over it. We’re in no danger of losing any “history” by destroying these things…they’ve all been well documented.

The faces of white supremacy

Now – for all of you who think we need to “unify” and put the past in the past…no thanks. I have no desire to unify with any Nazi or neo-Confederate. They can take their marble men and shove them up their asses.

K

Music in the Classroom

When I was an undergrad at UCLA my Civil War professor, Joan Waugh, would open each class with martial music of the day…blaring from every speaker as the students filed into the room and took their seats.  I thought it was a great way to introduce the history – it got us in the mood, so to speak.

screen-shot-2016-10-01-at-8-06-12-amAnyway…I have continued that legacy with my own students, and it has become one of the staple features of my Civil War history course. I have had students send me music that they have found on their own and some have brought in different versions of the music they heard in class – we once had an impromptu sing-a-long break out to close the week.

So far – the class favorite has been Eating Goober Peas, a folk song probably originating the southern states  that was popular with Confederate soldiers…I would imagine that some Yankees joined in the chorus from time to time – or at least sampled the southern delicacy.

So – let’s all join in with this remarkable version – a duet featuring Burl Ives and Johnny Cash.

With compliments,

Keith

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Union Veterans Reflect on Robert E. Lee

Screen Shot 2016-01-31 at 4.43.30 PMAfter the Civil War, the renown of Robert E. Lee spread far beyond the borders of the former Confederacy. He was respected and praised in the North for his virtues, his fighting prowess, and his conciliation in defeat. Historians such as Alan T. Nolan have noted that the North, whose people “had to acknowledge the honor of the South,” fully embraced the Lee tradition. “Revisionism,” especially in terms of Lost Cause interpretations of the war where Lee figured centrally, argues Nolan, “could not become part of the Civil War legend without northern acceptance, and the North did accept the South’s rewriting of the record.”

While some in the North may have been retrospectively kind to the former Rebel general, Nolan has made far too great a generalization. Union veterans, for example, were hardly generous in their assessment of Lee. To them, Lee was a traitor. In 1891, the Grand Army Record passionately objected to the “saintly slopping over Robert E. Lee,” and others agreed. In fact, GAR protests against Lee helped create a lasting thread in northern commemorative literature. In 1910, one Union veteran wrote, essentially expressing in the same breath how some might find Lee both virtuous and reprehensible: “Though in his Confederate uniform [Lee] may possess all the culture and personal worthiness he had before he thus clothed himself, this badge of disloyalty – of rebellion – so characterizes him that by it he must be judged.” As late as 1922, a variety of groups continued to honor the veterans’ legacy by protesting in “unmeasured terms” the organizations that celebrated the Rebel chief, arguing that treason should never be forgotten, much less rewarded. “No Grand Army man,” offered one Union veteran, “can honorably lend his name to any movement which shall dignify to posterity the name of the traitor Robert E. Lee, or shall make him the equal of the loyal, victorious Grant.”

Union veterans remained determined to praise only the Union heroes who saved the country, rather than a Rebel who had tried to destroy it. The praise allotted to the rebel chieftain wore Grand Army veterans particularly thin. One Collier’s Weekly article citing Lee as America’s most “noble citizen” especially drew fire from the GAR’s patriotic instructor, Robert Kissick of Iowa. “If Lee was all you claim, then the men I represent were wrong in fighting to preserve the nation he fought to destroy.” Further arguing that “Lee did not follow his state out of the Union,” but rather, “his state followed him,” Kissick lambasted the Confederate hero and heaped much of the blame for upper South secession on Lee’s shoulders. As decades passed, few Union veterans could stomach the praise of Robert E. Lee. In 1922, when the American Legion attempted to honor Lee’s birthday, veterans of the Pennsylvania GAR shuddered at the idea that anyone would “place a premium on Disloyalty to the Flag and our Country.”

Although adulation of the Rebel general found a place among northern civilians who perhaps sentimentalized or romanticized the genteel south and all that the Lee family embodied, Lee’s standing among Union veterans never reached the heights the general obtained in the South.

With compliments,

Keith

Edmund Ruffin – A Man Without a Country

Screen Shot 2015-12-29 at 11.40.04 AMWell, he had one for a while anyway. But things didn’t quite turn out the way he had hoped.

Ruffin was what we could call a fire-eater in every respect of the word. He hated Yankees, supported state rights, and was vehemently pro-slavery.

Before things started heating up that would eventually lead to war, Ruffin made his mark as an agriculturalist – a pretty prominent one, at that. He came from a noted land-owning family, and his talents in the agricultural realm served him well in his pre-war career. In 1833 he founded a journal: The Farmer’s Register, which brought agricultural innovations to a wide range of farmers. He also worked diligently to counter soil exhaustion with great success.

But during these years Ruffin became more and more radicalized. By the 1850s, intent on protecting the right to slave property in the South, he became convinced that the slave-holding states would eventually have to secede to protect their property. John Brown’s raid on Harper’s Ferry just added fuel to Ruffin’s fire. When Brown was hanged, Ruffin made his way to Charles Town, Virginia to witness the execution (he posed as a VMI cadet at the age of 65 – civilians were not permitted to watch the execution). From here he acquired several of Brown’s pikes meant to be used in a slave revolt and sent them to southern governors as a reminder of northern aggression.

But the fun really began for Ruffin in 1861. He somehow found himself in Charleston, South Carolina on April 12 and joined in with the troops as they initiated the firing on Fort Sumter. He claimed to have fired the first shot himself. Well, we can’t really be sure of that, but we do know that he was there when the firing began, so I guess that is close enough.

The collapse of the Confederacy naturally affected Ruffin in profound ways. A man without a country, he committed suicide on June 17, 1865. These days you can hear all kinds of stories about Ruffin – that he stated “I will never live under Yankee rule,” or that he wrapped himself in the Confederate flag before doing the deed. Whether true or not, stories seem to romanticize this wiry gray headed secessionist in ways that turn him into a hero of sorts…at least for neo-Confederates.

We do not hear much else about Ruffin, except that he fired the first and quite possibly the last – self inflicted – shot of the war. He even gets a little placard by his grave. The marker highlights Ruffin’s agricultural work and the first shot story, but curiously omits his suicide. Would such an admission of defeat be too much for the modern tourist to handle? I often wonder why they left that little factoid out. It just seems kind of important to me.

With compliments,

Keith

PS – I am kind of featuring his vibe…I aspire to look this cool when I’m in my 60s

Hands Off!

Screen Shot 2015-07-06 at 8.02.18 PMThese days all things Confederate are under fire. This last week at Gettysburg illustrated to me that would-be Rebels are making yet another stand – this time to preserve what they insist is nothing more than their heritage. Though the controversy has captured America’s attention for the time being (the Kardashians are having a slow week) I would like to point out that attacks on Confederate symbolism are nothing new.

At the base of the Virginia State Memorial on Seminary Ridge is a weather-beaten plaque admonishing potential vandals who might try and stick a proverbial bayonet in the still-defiant Confederacy. Though there are other southern monuments on the field (few in comparison to Union monuments and with only a couple of exceptions, all state memorials) this is the only warning sign. And judging by its aged appearance, it looks to have been there a while.

Defiant to the end.
Defiant to the end.

This suggests to me that both in a modern context and for quite a while, Virginia – and by extension, Robert E. Lee, whose likeness (and Traveller’s) sit atop the monument, specifically represent the Confederate nation and its ideological underpinnings. Why else would this particular monument – as opposed to North Carolina’s or Alabama’s – be singled out for potential vandalism? The Virginian Lee is Confederate ideology and nationalism personified. This was true in the 1860s  and has been true ever since. Those who choose to attack physically Confederate ideology (particularly racial oppression in the form of  chattel slavery) would naturally set their sights on the nation’s most salient symbols: Lee and the Old Dominion – and thus the Virginia memorial seems in especial danger…and has been for some time.

With compliments,

Keith