Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Boy, You're Just Whistling Dixie!

So, it’s you who is whistling Dixie now, Jamie?

To the uninitiated, "Whistling Dixie" is a phrase which roughly translates to, “a waste of time.”
Equivalence of experience was stretched to impute an equivalence of legitimacy. The idea that “now, we are all Americans” served to whitewash the actions of the rebels. The most egregious example of this was the naming of United States Army bases after Confederate generals.

Today there are at least 10 of them. Yes — the United States Army maintains bases named after generals who led soldiers who fought and killed United States Army soldiers; indeed, who may have killed such soldiers themselves.
Changing the names of these bases would not mean that we can’t still respect the service of those Confederate leaders; nor would it mean that we are imposing our notions of morality on people of a long-distant era. What it would mean is that we’re upholding our own convictions. It’s time to rename these bases. Surely we can find, in the 150 years since the Civil War, 10 soldiers whose exemplary service not only upheld our most important values, but was actually performed in the defense of the United States.
He has written a lot on the Civil War, with the book And the War Came: The Six Months That Tore America Apart, and a writer in the series on the Civil War, Disunion.

He should know better. Then again ...
A member of the original staff of Spy, where he worked seven years, Jamie has also been an editor at Time, Esquire and Playboy, where he was Managing Editor. Jamie has also written for The New Yorker, Vanity Fair, The Washington Monthly, and The New York Times, ... Jamie lives in Westchester County NY
OK, fine - we have a Yankee partisan with an almost pun-worthy bio bitterly clinging to his view of the war and the evil South.

I find the South hating Yankees almost as tiresome as the anti-Lincoln neo-Confederates.

Well, there are still two sides to this story; here is mine. First of all, Jamie - take a powder son.

Simple; this nation fought a huge internal war. Some call it a Civil War – and it was in some states like Missouri and if you judge by the Union and Confederate units supplied by Maryland, Kentucky and others – then it was ... locally.

On balance though, it really was a War Between the States, with the North invading the South - for the record. The arguments on the causes of the war will always go on, but only the most simple minded, agenda driven, or mal-educated think that it was only about slavery, or that white racism in the modern context was a characteristic of only the South. 

Slavery was the linchpin issue that divided the nation, that is without question, but that did not make war inevitable, and from Chicago to Boston even today - white racism is not confined to any one area; nor is racism coming from any race group. No, to get to war – other issues played in. Brazil got rid of slavery two decades after the USA did without hundreds of thousands dead and maimed. We could have too – but we didn't so ... let’s not argue that. The war happened.

One thing that is generally agreed on, was that both sides fought with honor. Unlike the internal conflicts prior and after in other parts of the world – outside of what was going on in Missouri and Kansas, the generally agreed upon meme is that there were few massacres and atrocities to speak of. Depends upon your history - but it may be counter productive to push back against those like Jamie by simply cataloging War Crimes Against Southern Civilians, we won't go there today.

Let me personalize this a bit before I wander off again.

Sure, my family – like many – still has stories of the economic total war waged by rampaging Union armies – but people were not lined up wholesale against walls and shot. Town people were not loaded in to churches by the hundred and burned to the ground. In general – we fought like brothers do; tough but fair - let's stick with that narrative as opposed to the last link - as it is part of the agreement we nod our head to that follows; it is part of "the deal."

There are many reasons why victory was not followed by revenge. Grant & Lee set the tone at Appomattox. There would be no COA where the South would fight a long, nasty, and bloody campaign from the hills. No, we would simply go home. Not totally in peace, but mostly.

Reconstruction was by any standard after a civil war handled well. True, it took another century until the former slaves in the South could actually be looked at as being on equal footing; but we got there without additional tens to hundreds of thousands more dead. Blood was shed to finish the job; but blood is much better on a small scale than wholesale.

An aspect of this surprisingly respectful reunion of the States was one of exceptional political compromise and respect. The North knew the South was still an honor based society, and as such – respect was part of the healing process. As was a bit of polite forgetfulness on both sides.

The North recognized the fact that the South’s military leadership was as honorable as the North's was. It was. 

Like Lee, those who fought for the South on the most part did because their homes were under threat, as a family obligation, or that their State was invaded. Again, libraries are full of sound scholarship on this topic – this is not something that serious people debate any more than the Earth being flat.

Well … speaking of flat Earth types; there are now and were then people who decide to play the post-Civil War radical-Republican card. They are/were out to smear, attack, slander, and if they could – exhume the bodies of the Confederate leadership and gibbet their bodies out front of the nearest Post Office.

Well, in a mild fashion, here we go again.

Why are some Southerners, like me, still willing to argue mutual-respect? Well, to do otherwise is just ahistorical. I understand why the Union forces did what they did to my part of Mississippi. They did not rape and murder – just burned and stole. They showed mercy to persons and even a little to historic property now and then - or property of friends.

What I won’t do though is let someone paint with a wide brush of 21st Century standards on mid-19th Century people. I don’t know Jamie's family background, but I do know mine.

My family has been in the South since one side of the family got off the boat in Virginia in the early 1600s and the other branch got off the boat in South Carolina in the late 1600s and early 1700s. A century later, they helped found the State of Mississippi. My family owned slaves for over a century and a half; at the end being one of the largest slave owning families in the State.

It was what it was – that was the economic system they knew and were born in to. When I go “home” I can wave by the descendants of the slaves that made that journey as chattel with my ancestors - families that still work for/with mine within my living memory. 

They traveled with my family west through Indian Territory in the first decade of the 1800s to Mississippi. Through servitude and the long century wait from Reconstruction to the Civil Rights Era to now – we have lived side-by-side. Relationships were a little bit more complicated than the Hollywood veneer most know - that too is a different topic for a different day.

As people have moved on and away – as my parents’ generation did – some of our connections to our history has been lost; but it is easy to find.

As is natural for a history buff; I am also an amateur genealogist. Being the last male in two lines of my family – it is kind of a requirement. My line goes extinct with me – so I need to leave the best record as possible for my daughters. I’ve been able to trace back some of my lines to right after the Battle of Hastings … it is interesting thing to do. I have two family Bibles from different lines that date back to the 1830s that makes things a bit easy. I’ve got Mrs. Salamander involved in the topic too, which adds a nice twist as from her side I’m learning the extra challenge getting American-Indian records, but we’ll get there even if we have to travel to Texas to dig around (BTW, is amazing).

Back to Mississippi: “back home” – though many have left, many remain. The families are all there, and the oral history is very strong. In our little world, the Civil War in not an abstract, you can ride the same routes. My mother grew up in a house built in 1840 and missed by Union raiders twice for goodness sakes.

It sticks for a reason; the war hit the South more. As scholarly works have shown, the South suffered a much greater per-capita loss rate. A few facts:
- 7 mil: Number of Americans lost if 2.5% of the population died in war today - that is what a Civil War in like.
- 2.1 mil: Number of Northerners mobilized to fight for the Union army
- 880,000: Number of Southerners mobilized for the Confederacy
- 3:1: Ratio of Confederate deaths to Union deaths

Just review that. The defeat was military, economic, cultural, and eliminated a huge cohort of young men – especially from the educated elite. They did not die in those numbers to keep their fellow man in bondage. War and history is never that simple.

I just want to pick one unit – it was a unit where I count 13 family names in my line – names that are still thick in the local phone book back home. These people, literally, flow in my blood.

I give to you the roster of the Amite County Rifles, Company C, 7th Mississippi Regiment. First mustered 29 April 1861 in Liberty, Mississippi, and after four years of war the remaining main body surrendered in Smithfield, NC 26 April 1865.

This Company was made of family members, neighbors, friends; 126 total mustered that day in 1861. They went to war, together, for four years. By the time they surrendered, with the most accurate information in hand, they suffered a 48.4% casualty rate for those killed, wounded, missing, or POW.

Of the 37 killed, 21 killed in action, 16 by disease. 18 were wounded in action, 2 were missing in action, four POW.

They fought major actions at Shiloh 6-7 April ’62; then Murfreesboro 13 July ’62; Munfordville, 14-17 September 1962; Chickamauga 19-20 September 1863; New Hope Church 25-26 May 1864; Chattahoochee 03 July 1964; Atlanta 22 July 1864; Franklin 30 November 1864; Nashville 15-16 December 1864. They also lost 5 of their KIA in minor actions, and 1 KIA in what looks like a slave uprising of some sort (still trying to get the details on that).

A little time on googleearth - and there is their war as the crow flies.

That one company from a small part of the state had almost half her young men killed, wounded, missing or POW. They came home to an economic wasteland and a culture that was burned to the ground with it.

In the decades that followed the Civil War, the North understood that though defeated, it would take more to get the Union truly together. The South was willing to move on. Indeed, like Fighting Joe Wheeler – former Confederate leaders fought again under the Union Flag in the Spanish-American War.

Southern military history is American military history. In 2013, to go around with buckets of paint and chisels like your own little Red Guard attacking the past through your own myopic prism is mindless.

I’ll tell you what Jamie; if you want to do that, then let’s move back one generation at a time from today changing names on things.

How about FDR? Executive Order 9102 anyone? Jesse Owens?

How about Woodrow Wilson?

By all means, if we are going to start changing names; perhaps we can start in living memory and go back. Hey, I have an idea as you can really rack up some numbers here; former KKK biggie Sen. Robert Byrd (D-WV).

Well, at least people aren't smearing the WWII generation too ... right

This is all mindlessness.

Here is a proposal Jamie - let us respect those who gave us the country we have - in peace and unity - and the things we agreed to leave behind us, and the compromises we made.

After all ... the South is winning in the long run.

A side-bar to this whole discussion. It has faded over time with television and the waves of Yankee economic refugees that have flocked south in the last half century - but there has always been, as outlined in David Hackett Fisher's Albion's Seed, a much greater difference between North and South - some of these 22 maps still show it.

1 comment:

PHC2PAO said...

Access to is free for those that have access to NKO. It's located in the e-library.