Kevin Levin authored an interesting post recently at Civil War Memory. He notes the following quote from Civil War Talks: Further Reminiscences of George S. Bernard and His Fellow Veterans (A Nation Divided: Studies in the Civil War Era):
The results have been many and far reaching, but none more striking than the growing conviction among thoughtful minds of the world, those of the North included, that the people of the South, however unwise or inexpedient may have been their act of secession, were, under the circumstances that surrounded them, justified in resorting to arms to maintain the right of their States to withdraw from the Union, if they saw fit, as they did to exercise this right. But it is proper to add here that the same omnipotent power, in His infinite wisdom has allowed future events so to shape themselves that all now regard the question of secession as finally settled against the right as claimed by the seceding states and no people of our re-united country are more loyal to it or would go further to defend it than the people of the South and especially the Confederate veterans.
Kevin, along with some of his readers, seem to have the misconception that this attitude among Confederate Veterans, as well as their descendants, is "overlooked." In Kevin's circle of associates, I would tend to agree that this sentiment and tradition is "overlooked." That's not necessarily a criticism - just an observation. But among those of us who are actually descended from Confederate Veterans, and who have grown up in the South and been immersed in her culture, this is hardly anything new or unknown. I've written about it before. Others have as well. In Long Gray Lines: The Southern Military School Tradition, 1839-1915 author Roy Andrew, Jr. writes of the Southern military ethos and notes that . . .
". . . the military tradition in the South is not dead. The Citadel, VMI, and other military colleges and preparatory schools continue to flourish. The corps of cadets continue as distinctive and colorful aspects of several southern land-grant colleges. Southerners have not abandoned the idea that military service instills in youth the values necessary for the moral health and vigor of a democracy. These features of the modern South should serve as a reminder that the exaltation of military virtues is not confined to Prussian autocracy or European fascism. Militarism has shaped the American national experience. It may have helped lead the way into wars and imperialism, but it has also informed republican notions of citizenship, patriotism, and moral virtue. In turn it has adjusted and evolved in American history to accommodate the demands of liberty and equality. (Source here.)
|Scots-Irish Migration Across the South|
Another important element of this ethos is the influence of the Scots-Irish in the South. This cannot be overstated. No one better understands this than Virginia Senator James Webb. Though the influence of the Scots-Irish is not confined to the states which comprise the old Confederacy, it is here where it has always been most prevalent:
Their unique soldierly traditions formed the backbone of the country's military, particularly in the Army and Marine Corps. In the Civil War, they formed the bulk of the Confederate Army and a good part of the Union Army as well, and in later wars they provided many of our greatest generals and soldiers. Stonewall Jackson comes to mind, as do Grant, George S. Patton, and a slew of Army chiefs of staff and Marine Corps commandants. Not to mention Sgt. Alvin York, the hero of World War I; Audie Murphy, the most decorated soldier of World War II; and David Hackworth, one of America's most decorated veterans of Korea and Vietnam. The intense competitiveness that makes them good soldiers also has produced a legion of memorable athletes, business leaders and even such completely American pastimes as NASCAR racing, which evolved. from the exploits of the daring moonshine runners of the Appalachian Mountains during Prohibition.
Webb also understands the contrasts and contradictions which seem to perplex Kevin and others who share his perspective:
The traditional Scots-Irish culture, like America itself, is a study in wild contrasts. These are an intensely religious people - indeed, they comprise the very heart of the Christian evangelical movement - and yet they are also unapologetically and even devilishly hedonistic.
They are probably the most anti-authoritarian culture in America, conditioned from birth to resist. (It is interesting that Rosa Parks, whose refusal to move to the back of the bus sparked the modern Civil Rights movement, speaks of her Scots-Irish great-grandfather.) And yet they are known as the most intensely patriotic segment of the country as well.
They are naturally rebellious, often impossible to control, and yet their strong military tradition produces generation after generation of perhaps the finest soldiers the world has ever seen.
They are filled with wanderlust, but no matter how far they roam, their passion for family travels with them. Underlying these seeming contradictions is a strong unwritten code of personal honor and individual accountability. (Source here.)
These contradictions explain, in part, what at first glance appears to be irreconcilable ideals: the South's fierce opposition to Federal dominance and over-reaching authority, as well as it's undying patriotism - both of which continue to this day. Part of this is evidenced in the chart below:
"New recruits are also disproportionately likely to come from the South, which is in line with the history of Southern military tradition . . . The South accounts for more than 40 percent of new enlistees—a proportional overrepresentationhere.
The disproportionate number of commissioned officers hailing from the South would lead one to reasonably conclude that the leadership of the U.S. military will be, for the foreseeable future, from Southern states. And, as I've mentioned before, the South, though fiercely patriotic and supportive of the United States military, continues to manifest it's "anti-authoritarian culture." This trait is a particular annoyance to a number of academic historians:
". . . the Confederacy is to this day the greatest conservative resistance to federal authority in American history . . ." ~ David Blight
They simply do not get it. I'm of the persuasion that many can't get it. I've seen this seeming contradiction in my own family. My two grandfathers were only two generations removed from their own Confederate ancestors, yet both served proudly in the United States military - one in WWI and the other in WWII. Both saw combat, the former receiving a personal letter of commendation from President Woodrow Wilson. The one who served in WWII proudly displayed a Confederate battle flag in his home until the day he died. My father in law had a similar experience - the grandson of a Confederate soldier, he lied about his age when he was sixteen so he could join the army to fight in WWII. He fought in the Battle of the Bulge where he was wounded and received a Purple Heart.
Many Confederate Veterans (as well as their descendants) did indeed become loyal to the United States after Appomattox and served the country with distinction. Consider the following:
- Four former Confederate generals served as generals in the U.S. Army during the Spanish-American War: General Fitzhugh Lee, General Joseph Wheeler, General Thomas Rosser, and General Matthew C. Butler.
- After Appomattox, 15 former Confederate officers served as U.S. ambassadors or ministers to foreign countries.
- After Appomattox, seven former Confederate officers served as the adjutant general of their states.
- Former Confederate General E. Porter Alexander was appointed by President Grover Cleveland to arbitrate and supervise the surveying of the boundary of the Panama Canal.
- Three former Confederate officers: Colonel Lucius Q. C. Lamar, Sergeant Major Horace H. Lurton, and Lieutenant Edward D. White, were all appointed justices of the United States Supreme Court.
- Three former Confederate generals served as U.S. Commissioners of Railroads, one of the most important posts in the United States government in the post-war period: General Joseph Johnston, General James Longstreet, and General Wade Hampton.
- Stonewall Jackson's doctor, Hunter Holmes McGuire, returned to Richmond where he became chair of surgery at the Medical College of Virginia. He served as president of the American Medical Association and numerous other organizations. He also founded St. Luke’s Hospital and Training School for Nurses, helped found the Medical Society of Virginia, and started the College of Physicians and Surgeons, later University College of Medicine.
- One of Nathan Bedford Forrest's great-grandsons, Nathan Bedford Forrest III (April 7, 1905 – June 13, 1943) was a Brigadier General of the United States Army Air Forces.
- One of the most colorful (and successful) WWII Generals, George S. Patton, was the grandson of Confederate Colonel George Smith Patton, who died in the Battle of Opequon in 1864.
- There are eight major United States military posts named for Confederate officers, including one for General Robert E. Lee.
- Descendants of Confederate Veterans (specifically, the SCV) donated what would become the Manassas National Battlefield Park to the National Park Service.
And that is just a tiny sampling.
Allow me to share a story told to me by my friend and fellow SCV member, Gary Casteel which not only illustrates much of my point, but also illustrates some of the frustrations and justified anger that many of us who embrace our Confederate heritage have experienced. The quotes aren't exact but, I believe, reflect the overall accuracy of the incident.
As many readers here may already know, Gary is a world-renowned artist and sculptor whose work graces many of our nation's most historic parks and grounds - including Gettysburg. A few years ago, he caught quite a bit of flack and criticism for sculpting a *statue of Jefferson Davis and a slave boy by the name of Jim Limber whom the Confederate President had taken into his home. As John Coski explains:
The Davises clearly assumed responsibility for him and there was obviously affection between him and his sponsors. It is less likely that he was “adopted” in any meaningful sense. The evidence suggests that he was a member of the Davis family in the same way that slaves, servants, and other dependents were members of white families—with real mutual responsibility and affection.
Gary was commissioned by the Sons of Confederate Veterans to sculpt a statue depicting Davis, young Jim Limber, and Davis's son, Joseph. The statue brought the usual carping from the usual sources. Gary's own character and credibility was unfairly impugned. At the time this work was being completed, Gary lived in Lexington, Virginia. He related to me how that one day he received a phone call from one of the city "leaders" (name not important) criticizing him for the Davis statue - even subtly insinuating the controversy tarnished Gary's "patriotism." Gary responded by reminding his accuser with words akin to the following:
While you were sitting on your ass in a college classroom thanks to a student deferment, I was having mine shot at in Vietnam - don't lecture me about patriotism.
If I recall correctly, those words ended the conversation.
Those of us who hail from the South and who are descended from Confederate soldiers have no reason to hang our heads or explain anything. Quite the contrary. Our ancestors, and many of the sons and grandsons who followed in their footsteps, have built and defended this great nation for generations and we will continue to do so.
* Gary also recently sculpted another statue. See details here.