Friday, October 31, 2014

How the War Is Remembered....

Over on Kevin Levin's Civil War Memory flog, the discussion has been about some historians at Liberty University, and how they downplay slavery, etc.

In a slight departure from the other commenters, a new person to the blog said she grew up in the Midwest where the Civil War was like the Spanish American war and others --  they just studied it and that was the end of it. When she moved to North Carolina, she was surprised by how differently people remembered the civil war and slavery and all that. It wasn't something they just studied and dismissed. (This is a very short recap of a rather long comment, and thus not comprehensive and complete.)

Levin thank her for posting and said things were "changing" in the South, slavery is slowing being acknowledged, etc.

I thought I had knowledge, info and a perspective that might be helpful to the new commenter, so I left a comment of my own. I seriously doubt it will be cleared, but you never know; Simpson let three of my comments through at XRoads recently. 

Here are my thoughts left at Kevin's flog:
Ms. K---, I would suggest that it isn't just the war that Southerners perceive/experience/remember differently, but what happened after it -- in fact, especially what happened after it -- until well into the 20th century, and that certainly influences how they remember the war.
Today, the focus is almost exclusively on blacks and their terrible experience after the war, while whites who also had terrible experiences get little ink and little thought, though it is crucial to how the war is remembered.

For example, "sharecropper" is synonymous with "African American" for many people, but there were more white sharecroppers than black ones. James Webb's Born Fighting notes that of the South's 1.8 million sharecroppers, 1.2 million were white. And though their experience is downplayed, ignored, dismissed (and sometimes "justified"), that experience plays an inescapable part in shaping civil war memory in the South.

Effects similar to those of sharecropping accompanied the exploitation of workers in industry (coal mining, timber, textiles) that occurred with the creation of the "company town" (company housing, company store, company money, i.e., scrip) which kept workers in a form of economic near-slavery.

The extreme poverty so prevalent in the South created widespread nutritional deficiency diseases such as pellagra and hookworm, in the decades of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the effects of which contributed to the false stereotypes of Southerners as dimwitted and lazy, which persist to this day.

Keeping the South and its people poor occurred by other methods -- for example, discriminatory freight rates that prevented industry from developing and kept wages low (see: This was a policy of private industry (the railroads) but permitted by the federal government, and it took federal authority to end it.

Then there was the debt run up by carpetbagger legislatures that taxpayers were saddled with for generations. (I may be mistaken about this -- I'm going from memory of something I read years ago -- but South Carolina's carpetbagger debt was not paid off until the 1960s.) So there was very little money for infrastructure, public education, etc. -- and then Southerners were ridiculed not only for being "lazy" but for being poor and uneducated.

Every economic tumble the USA experienced fell especially hard on the already poverty-stricken South. All of this, and more, had a direct bearing on how the war was -- and still is -- remembered in the South.
This wasn't the case for a few years, or even a few decades, after the war -- but for about four or five generations. For example, the Interstate Commerce Commission did not end the discriminatory freight rates until 1953, when I was four years old, (though of course I didn't know this at the time). The point is simply to show how long such circumstances lasted, and how much time they had to exert influence on remembering the war.

If you are going to go with current scholarship, which focuses almost exclusively on slavery before the war, and blacks afterward, understanding how the war is remembered by others in the South will will likely elude you.


  1. sadly, the woman you wrote about is exactly the type targeted by the propaganda of the Levin's and his like.

  2. Corey instilling bitterness, resentment and disdain in his students for the South and Southerners is doing them no service. Especially since they'll most likely have to move to Texas to get jobs. I've met plenty of Illinoisans with a negative attitude that didn't help matters, much. The older one's, to be honest, weren't that way. It seem like a concerted effort is underway to stir up the old resentments among the younger generations in the North. Most people I know here in Texas are completely oblivious to it. They're shocked at the things Northerners regularly say about them
    And I'm not talking 1861
    It's what they say in the context of 2024. And people like the floggers are in no small measure responsible for it. As an aside, Texas managed to defeat all the half hearted "Union" invasions of its soil. But what is remembered and resented is the North's interference with the Texas Rangers and their attempts to secure the Mexican border and fight the Comanche. Northern political activity was, and is, resented far more than is the war.Especially the cruelty and iindifference of the Northern controlled government's policies.

    1. Did you mean "2014"? You wrote "2024".

    2. I meant 2014. By 24' I hope SN is a major political force by then.

  3. When people put down the South, saying we're stupid and poor, this is the kind of thing I bring up. The South used to be one of the richest places on Earth, until Sherman's march to the sea. It's not until the mid to late 20th century that we're finally getting an economic foothold, and picking ourselves up from the Yankees' invasion and destruction of our land. They're arrogant, and demeaning, but yet they wonder why we still hold a grudge and want them gone from our States. I don't dislike Yankees because of what their ancestors did to mine (though that is a part), it's because of what they still do to us to this very day. "The war's over, guys" is a common retort to our honouring of our heritage. Well, if "the war's over", then why do they still treat us as if we're still fighting? It's because we're a conquered people, and this is how they treat their vassal.

    If they just left us be, then we could finally put the war behind us, and continue on our way. Unfortunately, they won't let it down. They are poor "winners", if they even "won" anything through the outcome of that horrible war.

    1. Judging by some of their comments. They fear our vengeance and revenge. I think with floggers, they're angry because the North lost and is losing. Invading us had as much effect as whipping up on a fence post with a baseball bat. They just keep swingin' and nothing much happens. If they're winning, like they claim, they wouldn't be going at it like they do.

  4. I would say these Yankees are also mad because historical fact is not on their side. The war was not about slavery, Lincoln invaded the South, yes the atrocities are real, yes it was a war, no Anderson and his men were not starving, yes the Jim Crow laws started in the North, the yankees are prejudiced also and they owned the slave ships.

    Easily proved facts.


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