Those familiar with my writings here and on other blogs knows that I hold no truck with the neo-Confederate revisionist history of the Civil War. Notions that the war had to do with “tariffs” or that Lincoln was a great tyrant and thus the CSA was in fact fighting for a just cause are completely wrongheaded. But I’m not here to re-fight those blog battles.
Though I am a Yankee by birth, and though I maintain that Lincoln and the Union were in the right, I cannot abide the opposite extreme. I am talking about those who deem the Confederates to be little better than Nazis, and who think that the Confederate battle flag is something akin to a swastika. This post over at Southern Appeal by Tom Van Dyke (no longer a contributor to saud blog, naturally) is but one example of the phenomenon I am talking about. But I’ve seen similar arguments in other places, and I need not focus my attention on Mr. Van Dyke.
Lamentably, I used to be one of those who arrogantly and dismissively compared the Confederates to Nazis. I personally used the term “Confederate swastika” in reference to the battle flag, most notably while a young pup attending a southern university.
But a funny thing happened. I grew up. Though my views on the war and the causes of the war did not change, my attitude towards the Confederacy changed. Well, not so much the CSA, but my attitude towards the confederate soldier, and to great generals and gentlemen like Robert E. Lee. As I read more and more (and more and more and more) about the Civil War I came to respect the figures that graced the pages of these histories. Their cause was unjust, but they displayed great valor and bravery even in the face of superior numerical forces. There are still figures that I care for not a wit – Jefferson Davis and the political leaders I still view as traitors to this great Nation. I suppose the same could technically be said of Lee and the soldiers under him, but I cannot hold them to the same level of personal guilt as the men who led the south into rebellion.
Perhaps it is a contradiction to hold the Confederate warrior in esteem even while acknowledging the unjustness of their cause. But while their leaders may have fought for secession in order to hang on to their dreams of an empire for slavery, I truly believe that the southern warrior was simply fighting for his home. I won’t call them pawns – that somehow seems disrespectful to them. But their motivations were different. Like every young man sent off to fight a great war, the southern soldier wasn’t too much concerned about the politics that got him into the mess. He was merely fighting for his country, and in 1861 his country was his state. He was fighting for home and for family.
The Civil War was a terrible conflict in which more men were killed than in all other American wars combined. We shouldn’t whitewash what the war was about, but nor should we dishonor the brave men who died, giving every last measure of devotion to their home and to their state. Let us not sully their memory by horrendous analogies to truly despicable regimes such as the Nazis. As a Yankee, smug Yankee superiority is quite simply a turn off.