04 July 2016

Pickett's Charge in Context: Courage & Carnage

Vs. the context of moral preening and virtue signalling . . . 
Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Unfinished Confederate graves near the center of the battlefield (Library of Congress)
I read an interesting post at Emerging Civil War recently. The writer of the post was Navy veteran and Civil War historian, Dwight Hughes. This passage caught my attention:
Those who condemn Confederates as evil, and then dismiss them as unworthy of consideration, are either pushing a selfish agenda, given to moral preening, or awash in their own ignorance. To them, the people of the past are wrong because they are not us—a prime example of presentism. We are not making their mistakes, and therefore we are morally and intellectually superior.
I recommend readers take the time to read the whole post here. It is rather refreshing. The passage quoted above points out the rather tired perspective you'll receive on the "moral preening" Civil War blogs about Pickett's Charge. It is shallow and immature. Serious students of history will quickly recognize it for what it is: virtue signalling from the "moral reformers posing as historians" crowd. For some context minus the self-righteous moral preening, I would recommend this excerpt from Ken Burns' Civil War. It is a brief, but good synopsis of the courage and carnage that took place at Pickett's Charge.

And, as a final remembrance and more context, we offer Faulkner's haunting passage from Intruder in the Dust:
For every Southern boy fourteen years old, not once but whenever he wants it, there is the instant when it’s still not yet two o’clock on that July afternoon in 1863, the brigades are in position behind the rail fence, the guns are laid and ready in the woods and the furled flags are already loosened to break out and Pickett himself with his long oiled ringlets and his hat in one hand probably and his sword in the other looking up the hill waiting for Longstreet to give the word and it’s all in the balance, it hasn’t happened yet, it hasn’t even begun yet, it not only hasn’t begun yet but there is still time for it not to begin against that position and those circumstances which made more men than Garnett and Kemper and Armistead and Wilcox look grave yet it’s going to begin, we all know that, we have come too far with too much at stake and that moment doesn’t need even a fourteen-year-old boy to think This time. Maybe this time with all this much to lose and all this much to gain: Pennsylvania, Maryland, the world, the golden dome of Washington itself to crown with desperate and unbelievable victory the desperate gamble, the cast made two years ago . . .

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