Marking Confederate History Month
I read “The Proclamation and the Peculiar Institution” in the August 2010 issue with interest. The editorial decision to have scholarly contributors react to Virginia Governor Robert McDonnell’s Proclamation was well taken and interesting. While I agree implicitly with Michael Fellman’s sentiment, I take umbrage with his statement “the Lost Cause remains alive for those who hark back to a mythic Golden Age of Tea Parties and Confederate Martial Glory.” The implication is all too obvious: The governor was pandering to Virginia’s Right.
I don’t know if the governor was pandering, but I do know that Harry Smeltzer nailed it with his own statement: that the “Tea Party movement is primarily a gathering of neo-Confederate racists” is a “gross distortion of the truth.”
Susannah Ural relates that her “students are moving past the sound bites and embracing the complexity of it all.” Let’s do the same.
I wholeheartedly support Virginia Governor Robert McDonnell’s proclamation, and not the “amended” one. Why try to pin the blame for slavery on the four-year period of the Confederacy? Why not go to the source, the African tribal leaders who for generations sold captured Negroes to European traders, who then shipped them into Yankee ports to the Northern businessmen who sold them to the South. No slave has ever been documented to have entered a Southern port or transported on a ship of Confederate registry.
If the South was not right, then why did it take four years for approximately 3 million aggressors to defeat 800,000 defenders?
I am very disappointed in the many one-sided attacks you printed against Governor McDonnell’s proclamation. There is no evidence that he intentionally meant to hurt anyone’s feelings or exclude any aspect of that history. He offered a quick addendum to try to create goodwill.
Rhetoric from the South always suggests that many Northerners fought for the Confederate cause. It is nice to know that all Virginians were not blind. They knew—just as many of us today know—that their war was all about slavery, even though some people deny it to this day. Many, many Southerners fought for the Union, but this story usually is buried along with many other truths. That’s what I love about this magazine. You all are not afraid to tell the truth.
I would hope, in the future, someone else besides Ted Turner would do a Civil War movie. I hate to say it, but Confederate soldiers were domestic terrorists, any way you slice it. Their independence was not at risk. The slave trade was keeping their way of life, and many people were making lots and lots of money. Virginia’s governor has a lot of nerve to recognize the Confederate army but not slaves.
I fully support Governor McDonnell’s proclamation. The fact that he modified it with the addendum calling attention to the evils of slavery shows that he is human. In my opinion, Robert F. McDonnell is still the first governor in nearly 10 years to have the backbone to step forward and do what was right: To honor Virginia’s Confederate soldiers, the majority of whom, as everyone knows, did not own slaves.
Two articles about Governor McDonnell’s proclamation were in the August 2010 issue, one by Gary Gallagher and the other by a panel of “experts,” both proclaiming the war was all about slavery. Either Lincoln didn’t get the memo, or the “experts” have never read Lincoln’s first Inaugural Address or his early letter to Horace Greeley on the subject. In both of these Lincoln stated that as far as he was concerned, the war was fought to preserve the Union and collect the tariffs, but not to free the slaves.
Carl D. Ford
Editor’s note: CWT recieved numerous letters about the Virginia History Month article, most supporting Governor McDonnell’s proclamation. Some of the historical points raised in the preceding letters are debatable, and it is also important to keep in mind that the issue of the proclamation had nothing to do with whether the South was “right.” It had to do with recognizing that thousands of Virginians—Rebel soldiers, Unionists and black slaves alike—were affected by the conflict. As far as the “one-sided” nature of the piece, CWT is also disappointed that the Sons of Confederate Veterans officials we contacted did not return our requests for their views, as was mentioned in the original article.
Lee’s Unwritten Memoirs
I read with interest Noah Andre Trudeau’s article in the August issue, “Unwritten History.” Those of your readers who are intrigued by Robert E. Lee’s attempts to write a memoir may be interested to know that many notes for his reminiscences have recently been found. They clearly show both the direction Lee was going to take in the book as well as his thinking on a variety of subjects, including the outcome of the war, postwar politics and his growing pacifism. The notes can be found in the Mary Custis Lee Papers at the Virginia Historical Society. Other important postwar papers illuminating Lee’s work on the memoir and postwar political thinking can be found in the collections at Stratford Plantation.
The discovery of thousands of unused Lee documents in numerous collections over the last few years makes this an unusually rich time to research his life. We no longer need to see him as Stephen Vincent Benét’s “riddle unread.” Lee himself tells us about his sentiments and motives in remarkable detail.
Elizabeth Brown Pryor
Editor’s note: Elizabeth Brown Pryor is the author of Reading the Man: A Portrait of Robert E. Lee Through His Private Letters.
Banner Preserved in Pennsylvania
In the August 2010 issue, the sidebar to the article on the POW escape from Libby Prison contains a slight error. The flag of the 77th Pennsylvania Volunteers is not in the custody of the Pennsylvania State Archives as stated. Pennsylvania’s Civil War battle flags are maintained by the Capitol Preservation Committee.
Jonathan R. Stayer
Why No Love for Gary Gallagher?
I just opened my August 2010 issue and was surprised to see no letters about Gary Gallagher’s June “Blue & Gray” column examining the reason most Northerners fought during the Civil War. I wonder whether it is because his column points out an unsettling truth or if it was just considered an academic exercise.
Of course his research found that most Northerners fought to preserve (or restore) the Union, not to end slavery. His article insightfully pointed out that the currently popular theme of slavery being the reason for the war and the reason why so much death and destruction was warranted has no real historical basis. I was taught in junior high and high school that slavery was the spark that ignited the war, but the preservation of the Union was the driving motivation for most Northerners. My children, however, were taught the more popular version, which I had to explain to them was not correct. Thanks, Gary!
Gary W. Gallagher’s “The Chorus of the Union” was right on the money. One of our family’s treasured artifacts is the April 30, 1863, letter of my great-grandfather, James A. Jackson, 140th Pennsylvania Volunteers, written while he was recuperating in the Lincoln General Hospital in Washington, D.C. He wrote, “In their endeavors to restore our government and thrust out this hell born rebellion, I have endeavored to do my duty.” It seems pretty clear what he was fighting for.
Reed Jackson Dunn Jr.
Give “Old Baldy” a Break!
Chris Mackowski and Kristopher White’s “Second-Guessing Dick Ewell” in the August issue was quite solid in its research and insight. A valuable contribution to the primary sources about General Ewell’s Cemetery Hill dilemma was compiled and edited by Herb Crumb from the Colgate University collection, titled The Eleventh Corps Artillery at Gettysburg: The Papers of Major Thomas Ward Osborn, Chief of Artillery, published in a 1991 edition by Edmonston Publishing, from Hamilton, N.Y. Osborn’s contemporaneous writings make it clear his artillery batteries were advantageously posted to cover the intended paths of Early’s divisional assault.
“Second-Guessing Dick Ewell” debunks yet again the illusory Stonewall Jackson–Cemetery Hill hypothetical. I would add only one point. For all of his operational brilliance, Jackson was a demonstrably mediocre tactician who repeatedly failed to assert a numerical advantage in timely fashion. Even his legendary Flank March at Chancellorsville suffered from flaws in its execution.
I must confess a degree of disappointment in the article “Second-Guessing Dick Ewell.” While the contentions put forth by the authors contain enough viability to warrant reading them, they bring nothing new to light.
But what troubles me more than repetitive research is careless research. The authors mention Captain James Power Smith, Ewell’s AOC at Gettysburg. In fact, Smith was a lieutenant at the time, with his rank dating to June 8, 1863. He was not promoted to captain until December of that year.
Editor’s note: Turn to P. 50 to read about yet another reason Ewell did not take Cemetery Hill.
California Round Table Clarification
The mention in June 2010’s “Civil War Today” about an October 2009 conference in Clovis, Calif., doesn’t explain that the 25th annual West Coast Conference was hosted by the San Joaquin Valley Civil War Round Table and the Central California Chapter of the Association of the United States Army at the Clovis Veterans Memorial Building, which did not charge us for use of the facilities.
The members of the San Joaquin Valley Civil War Round Table voted to contribute the proceeds to preservation efforts at Raymond, Miss., in honor of Robert Quist, a founding member, who died in September 2009 after a battle with cancer.
David P. Davenport
From Our Facebook Page
Forget about all this book stuff! What did you have as a “bite to eat?” Seriously, great discussion with Peter Cozzens about his favorite Civil War book!
Judy Rees McMillen
Editor’s note: McMillen is referring to Dana Shoaf’s videoblog at civilwar times.com.
Originally published in the October 2010 issue of Civil War Times. To subscribe, click here.