The final battle at Gettysburg happened 157 years ago today. I’ve been a Civil War buff my entire life. I’ve read about it up, down, and sideways. So, this current debate about tearing down Confederate statues actually falls within my wheelhouse. I’ll share my thoughts. (Sorry, it’s long. I’ve always preferred 100 words when 10 would do the trick.) Here is my post from July 3rd:
The Confederacy was a loser. It was a failed entity, run by losers. The Civil War doesn’t just represent a military defeat–although it was certainly that. No, that conflict was a referendum on the entire Southern way of life. Literally, everything they believed was put to the test: The rights of slaves, the rights of states, the role of government, even the way their society was structured. All of it. And guess what? They lost, across the board. And, actually, the word “defeat” doesn’t cover the totality of it, but I’ll get to that in a minute.
You see, the Confederate legacy benefitted enormously from a wrongheaded piece of revisionist history, known as the Lost Cause. Basically, a bunch of misguided generals and politicians decided that the South was meant to win the Civil War. But, because of a few ineffectual souls within the Confederate government, they were stuck snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.
History is a living creature, and it is shaped by whoever serves as its caretaker. In the hands of the Lost Cause supporters–people like Jefferson Davis and Jubal Early–the Confederacy was remade as a heroic and virtuous underdog, overwhelmed by the resources of a vile and bloodless Union. Slaves were happier, and less prone to lawlessness, when they were institutionalized back on the plantations. It was–and is–the ultimate in “woulda, coulda, shoulda,” and a pathetic attempt by a conquered people to lessen the enormity of their humiliation.
How bad was their loss? If the Civil War was a football game, the final score would’ve been somewhere in the range of 85-10. Yeah, the South had good generals who commanded the right troops in the right battles at the right time. For a while, anyway. Generals Lee, Jackson, and Longstreet bought them about two good years. Once the North found the commanders to match–namely Grant, Sherman, and Sheridan–the Confederacy was as good as cooked.
Look up pictures of the South at the end of the war. Richmond, Atlanta, Columbia, Charlotte-they were all smoldering piles of rubble. Millions of acres of crops were torched. Barefoot, homeless, and riddled with disease, the Southern people were left to live on donkey meat to survive. By the time the Union was done, the Old South looked like something out of the Old Testament. And that’s the true legacy of their rebellion. That’s where their supposedly glorious leaders left them–utter and total ruin.
So, yeah, “defeat” doesn’t cover it. The Confederacy was scooped off the planet and cast into oblivion. It was selected for extinction. I look at the Stars and Bars and see the Dodo Bird, or the Passenger Pigeon. I look at Confederate statues and see misguided fools who did nothing–and I mean nothing–other than renounce the Constitution of the United States and waste the lives of hundreds of thousands of American citizens, all in the name of abject cruelty and oppression. I see the glorification of losers. For me, it’s not that people are tearing down the statues. It’s that somebody put the god damn things up in the first place.