I read that and thought to my self, "ok, just another day at Casa de Pants. Tell me something new." lisa b. lost her crack phone in the park. Yeah, I'd be pissed, too. Doggo and I went to look for it this morning. We found Mr. Pants, but no phone. She found it in another part of the park where I hadn't looked.
For a brief moment the face of Civil War scholarship is not an
overweight reenactor or someone who can tell us where Grant sneezed on
the battlefield or someone trying to hold tight to some strand of the
Now that right there is pretty damn funny. But he said it because Drew Gilpin Faust has been named president of Harvard. Awesome. I've read most of what she has written and it all has been very influential in my thinking. Especially her work on James Henry Hammond, Confederate nationalism, and my favorite, the article "Christian Soldiers: The Meaning of Revivalism in the Confederate Army" from 1987.
Kevin Levin of Civil War Memory has responded to Brooks Simpson’s proposition on Civil Warriors of a moral challenge regarding comparative facts about Confederate soldiers and Nazi German soldiers. Go read them: Simpson, Levin. Bringing Nazis and Confederates together isn’t the point here… what they’re both getting at is the hazard of being a historian and being accused of casting moral judgments against Confederates during the Civil War. Namely, that they fought for slavery.
(An aside: Yeah, in reenacting, I do Confederate exclusively. I’m comfortable with that because I’m comfortable with my own views on slavery and racism—agin’em. But I am aware that some spectators don’t understand that comfort level and what they’re imagining does disturb me. Anyhow, I look at the people who love to reenact Germans and I say to myself… “I could never do that”.)
“One of the more troubling aspects of Civil War history lies in going beyond the tales of battles and leaders and tightly-focused military studies to ask broader and more probing questions about issues of causes and motivations. Such queries are sensitive in part because some people see a characterization of motivation or cause as passing judgment on one’s own ancestors and perhaps on oneself. There’s something deeply personal about these queries, and simply to explore the topic is a risky proposition.”
A summary for the uninitiated: The Lost Cause rules around here. The orthodoxy holds that ancestors did not fight for slavery, that the Confederate war effort was noble, and its leaders are saintly. You see how moral judgments are built in? It is a narrow belief system and any derivation is challenged as heresy. Any questions about, or investigations of, women, blacks, dissenters, or anything other than maudlin glory and you are branded a revisionist! And that is bad.
Simpson rightly notes that folks who respond to questions about Confederate motivation with a charge of revisionist! use that tactic as an intellectually weak way to stifle inquiry. Well, now, here’s an example. Levin puts it succinctly, “…the statements are typically used to stop discussion or exploration rather than to encourage it. Those who push the envelope are under immediate suspicion.”
It’s true: I’ve seen it with my very own eyes too many times to count.
There is a great deal of history and historiography in this argument, but somehow, the defenders of the Neo-Confederate orthodoxy seem to have been successful in creating the parameters of the debate: it was about slavery or it wasn’t. And it wasn’t. I just don’t understand why historians (and by that I mean the lilly-livered pointy-headed revisionist! professionals, myself included) fall for this and respond with a general knee-jerk reaction of oh, yes, it was about slavery. Is it the intellectual satisfaction that comes from debunkery?
A reasonable response from historians would involve long-winded discussions of economic and political cycles and trends, cultural analysis, and contingencies, and that isn’t a very good weapon in the finger-pointing contest.
I happen to think it was about slavery. But I would never put it that way. When I studied North Carolina’s secession crisis, I found a thread of secessionist (and anti-secessionist) thought and rhetoric that managed to bind up issues of defense of slavery and constitutional crisis in one single package that caused white North Carolinians to act in 1860 and 1861, slaveholder or not. And in that bundle of fear and reaction you can identify motivations for the mass of common people to support the Confederate war effort so deeply. You can't explain the constitutional crisis without slavery (or more specifically, white supremacy) and you can't explain the secession moment without understanding the constitutional crisis.
This little theory may be wrong (ask me a year from now how it worked out), but it makes me think that we (revisionists!, that is) should be getting past the either/or debate, no matter what people call us.