Greetings and Salutations;
FB is a grand source of interesting interactions that are worth considering, even if I disagree with the person making the points. Today’s topic is the Civil War, and how its echoes and emotions influence, and reflect, today’s world. I have excerpted the most relevant interactions here, but the entire discussion is located here. I also want to point out that I am a native Tennessean, born and reared in Knoxville, so I have far too much experience with the topics I discuss in this essay.
The Original Post that fueled this discussion was this comment:
DM: Some Southerners bemoan the removal of prominently displayed statues of their ‘heroes.’ How would they feel if those statues were Lincoln, Grant and Sherman, the victors of the Civil War? Every day they would walk by those who defeated them and, during Reconstruction, made their lives miserable. Descendants of former slaves had to face that indignity on a daily basis if they lived in towns were Confederate statues occupied public spaces. Put these statues in museums or destroy them altogether.
Although located here, my comment was made after quite a few posts were added, many of which were focused on defending the statues in question, and saying that it was “destroying history” to remove them.
let me remind everyone here that these statues were not erected until decades after the Civil War. They were created and placed during the Jim Crow era in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. They were not created as art or to commemorate a hero, so much as to tower over the public square, and remind the people of color who walked by them every day that not only were their en-slavers still around, but, many of them held significant positions of power. They were a tool of intimidation to keep these people of color from getting “Uppity”.
Their removal is not canceling history, or destroying items of artistic worth. It is a concrete way of society saying “we will not tolerate oppression of other citizens”.
I see that the government is trying to find people to take these statues. I would love to have one, so I could paint the face with clown makeup, drape the horse with amusing cloth, and attach flags that say “Losers” and “Traitors” to the figure.
Dave Mundt: Thank you, Dave, for giving perspective to this issue…
DM:– As a matter of fact there is a gigantic equestrian statue of a Civil War Criminal and architect Native American Genocide in NYC that Southerners and First Peoples have to walk past daily if they live in that part of BYC. How about we take Sherman’s statue down too? Sauce fir the goose is sauce for the gander. As for the memorial statues erected to the Confederate who were never returned home to their loved ones for burial, I am fine with these being placed in cemeteries where the lucky identified Confederate dead are buried. No other explanation needed.
HBW: Generally, I would be fine with that… Put up put up generic soldier statues at cemeteries and statues to the peacemakers. Fine with me. Except maybe WWII heroes … all very deserving. Truth is, as we know (even though I am not a veteran), war is an ugly affair…tragic at every level but especially for the lower ranks and the civilians who suffer. We should avoid it and avoid aggrandizing it.
HBW: The major difference is that Sherman, in his military actions, was fighting to preserve the Union. He was not trying to destroy it. Were his methods questionable? perhaps. However, Southerners SHOULD be reminded of the treason and insurrection they engaged in during the civil war.
As for his treatment of First Peoples…yea…that was wrong, and driven by both his own prejudices, and the pressure from the railroads to provide safety for their construction over the land.
It is possible for a person to do both good and evil in their day. Their reputation is based on which one took up the majority of their energies.
As for memorials to the confederate fallen. I am of two minds about that. I think that an appropriately worded plaque would be Ok…as long as nothing on it honors their deeds in any way.
Dave Mundt: — The ends do not justify the means. A war crime is a war crime. Rape and murder of non-combatants was definitely beyond the pale during the Civil War as were kidnapping and forced labor of women and children. As for genocide of the First Peoples, well nothing justifies genocide. Many of those who rebelled against what they believed was the tyranny of the Northern states had given decades of civil and military duty to the US prior to the Civil War, and then took oaths of allegiance after the war and continued to serve their communities and the nation. You cannot excuse the Union war criminals while at the same time continuing to demand that Southerners be perpetually blamed and shunned for what you see as treason. That attitude is precisely why the Unionists are seen as such hypocrites by many people.
HBW: Well, I likely fall into that category of not having family here until after WWI. Nonetheless, since I live here and worked here, it would be impossible for me not to be aware of the war’s impact, especially since it is still so alive in the minds and hearts of so many Southerners. Under those circumstances, I feel entitled to have opinions re such issues…especially since when I first got here I was called a carpetbagger, interloper, Yankee and damned Yankee. We have two children born in Nashville and now two grandsons also born here. I can’t remember her exact age but I’ll never forget my young daughter asking me “Daddy, what’s a Yankee?” I also will never forget my son one day, as we were working outside, asking, almost in a whisper, “Dad, do you know about the Holocaust?” War, everywhere and always, is an unimaginable horror… in fact, there likely are not words strong enough or descriptive enough to give wars its due. The existence of any one of us is a longshot miracle. I exist because of war being that my grandmother, as a young teenage girl, fled Turkish soldiers during the Armenian Genocide of 1915. I was taught about the 1915 Genocide at a very young age by my grandfather who was a tough-as-nails “never forget” kind of man. Between my grandparents AND a surviving great-grandmother, I could actually hear and touch that history. Yet, in college, I befriended a Turkish exchange student at Michigan State, once spent an afternoon with a group of Turkish students at Syracuse, was tour guide to a couple of Turkish business people visiting Nashville and even dated a second generation Turkish woman in Albany. True, my grandparents might have risen from their graves to strangle me had they known but my dad was wise. On the subject of Turks he said to me “How far to you want to go back? All the way to Adam and Eve?” So, you move on as Armenians, as Americans, as humans.
DM: — I would be just fine with the generic soldier statues — Union as well as Confederate being placed in appropriate cemeteries instead of remaining on courthouse squares or along public medians. BTW — Did you know that most of the Union statues are placed facing South while the Southern ones are mostly placed facing North? Looks to me like neither side has forgotten or forgiven judged on these placements. As for statues of prominent men, that is a thornier issue. There are people who want Andrew Jackson’s statue taken down in NOLA even though he saved the city from British Invasion in 1815. But he was also another slave owner and “Indian Hater.” And what about all those slave- owning “Founding Fathers” who fought for and helped establish this country? Are we going to dump them in the dustbin of history over one issue— which was legal at the time? And when you get to the Civil War figures, what about the Union generals who continued to own slaves until the War ended, like Grant? And then you have war criminal Sherman. Just who should go, and who should stay — and who should decide?
DM: — I am only 3 generations removed from my family members who suffered through the Civil War. My family lost not one but several homes burned to the ground by invading soldiers. My ancestor of that generation was a POW died as a result. He is the only one of his generation not buried with the family and whose gravesite is unknown still. My great grandmother was made a homeless orphan as a result of that war. Her aunt was raped by Yankee soldiers and drowned herself rather than live with the shame. As a result of that war, many family members lost their land, their homes and their property. And remember, wonen at that time had no place in the public sphere abd could not vote or own property independently if married, except under a few special circumstances. I am very aware of how messy and awful war is, and of how mutable history can be for the survivors and their descendants. But despite the atrocities committed against my ancestors, both my grandfather and father volunteered to fight in WWI and WWII. They are not the exception. The Southern states still continue to have a higher percentage of the population enlist in the military than states in other sections of the country. I really believe that the nation would have healed more quickly had Lincoln not been assassinated.
HBW: I am so very sorry that your family experienced all those terrible events. books, movies, even documentaries cannot portray such horrors realistically enough so that others have to carry it with them for their lives and, also, pass that pain —and the ramifications of lost property—along to future generations. It certainly brings truth to William Faulkner’s line, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” Again, sorry for the woes that befell your family.
DM: – Thank you for recognizing our loss. But just think, my family’s experience was multiplied by the thousands throughout the South. Things were even worse in Georgia with Sherman’s scorched earth policy. And all of this was taking place when attacks on civilians by US troops were supposed to be totally forbidden. In fact most European countries frowned on attacks against civilians even back then. One thing that really disgusts me are self-righteous people whose ancestors were not even here for the civil war who think they have the right to pass judgment about an event their family wasn’t affected by at all. Also, most European countries did participate either directly or indirectly in human trafficking during the time slave trading was legal by their countries.
HBW: Like I said. War is ugly and maybe we should only ever honor the peacemakers. History is messy messy…just like people.
DM:– I am sorry for what your family endured in 1915. I was reared by my grandparents, so my experience of family attitudes about the Civil War is one generation closer to that conflict than even many Southerners. And while the majority of my ancestors on my father’s side fought fir the Confederacy, I actually have a great grandfather on my mother’s side who was from Ohio, and who remained in NOLA after the war and married into my mother’s family. Some of her family were more recent immigrants to the US having arrived here in the 1840s. My grandfather whose mother was orphaned by the war related stories of that time that she personally saw and events she lived. I can understand how you may feel entitaled to have an opinion since you feel impacted by the attitudes of those around you regarding perceived “outsiders.” I am sure that was very unpleasant for you. I have friends who were born in the North. For the most part we do not speak about what is known in the south as “the War.” And I readily admit that I avoid those people who want me to feel ashamed of my ancestors who fought for the Confederacy or who owned slaves regardless of where they were born. There are always at least two sides to every conflict. One side’s freedom fighter is the other side’s rebel.
HBW: Let me clarify…your post(s) makes me believe that you are an apologist for the Confederate cause. The placement of these heroic statues has nothing to do with the unreturned, Confederate, dead. It has everything to do with oppression.
Here, in Knoxville, for example, we have what I consider to be an appropriate marker for this purpose. It is a simple, fairly short obelisk, that has a comment on the order of “in this cemetery lie the remains of unknown Confederate soldiers, killed in the civil war”. That is all the memorial needed.
Dave Mundt: Thanks for the article Dave.
Not exactly true of all of these statues Dave Mundt:. Many were erected within 5- 15 years after 1865. The reason it took so long for the South to erect them is because it was left impoverished by 5 years of war on its territory and 12 years of exploitive “Reconstruction” enforced by an army of occupation. These kinds of memorial statues were erected more quickly in the North because those communities were not impoverished by the Civil War. BTW most of these statues were created in Northern foundries and quarries. The figures were virtually the same, only the accessories they carried and the initials on the belt buckles were different — US for the Yankee statues and CS for the Confederate statues.
HBW: Madam; I believe your view of history is lacking. However, I grant that I spoke poorly, and was unclear in my implication that EVERY statue was a product of Jim Crow.
Dave Mundt:— I can assure you that my view of history is not lacking. I am not looking at it through lenses provided by partisan Union apologists. My view is informed by reading first hand accounts in periodicals of the day and paying attention to accounts written by or oral history recordings made by people who were actually INVOLVED and living in the time following the Civil War. So many of the Confederate dead were never returned to their families for burial. Prevented from being able to express personal loss and grief at gravesites, many southerners, particularly the widows, turned to creating public memorials to their lost but much- mourned dead. It took decades of teas and bake sales to raise the money needed to buy those memorial statues from the Northern companies that marketed them to the South as well as the north.
HISTORIC ART vs PROPAGANDA Yes, remove from public spaces. Yes, put in a museum…maybe. But I also have no problem with destroying some of them. I hate to sound like a book-burner or the Taliban exploding statues of gods other than their own. However, I view these statues less as art and more as propaganda and as such I don’t think they need to be or should necessarily be preserved for their artistic value or even as for historical or cultural significance. I could almost accept statues to unnamed Confederate soldiers at a cemetery…again with some markers placing everything in context. But I see little reason to save, house or maintain statues (especially those of the big bulky hulking sort) of Confederate generals and politicians — so handsome, brave and proud of their treachery and defense of slavery.
GS: Yes and there might be several solutions that work. I can accept that they go at a moderate pace to deal with these.
DM: You have a point. My first thought was to leave them and add large teaching markers, but that does not solve the issue of the pain a black person feels just seeing them in public. Whatever the answer we need to deliberate carefully so we arrive at the right solution.
when i can put a statue of someone’s daughter’s rapist in their front yard then i will be OK with murderers like nathan bedford forrest having a place in our capital. he shot Americans in the back. he murdered soldiers who surrendered. we know that history. we will never cancel that. but i’m not for celebrating it.
and i doubt that if i put a rapists’ statue in your daughters’ front yard that she will be ok with “that’s history!”
Northerners did this all the time — put statues of those who raped and killed Southern women — black as well as white— or who sanctioned such war crimes by advocating total war against non-combatants in the Civil War in public places and even in the nation’s capital. I suggest you familiarize yourself with Sherman’s tactics approved by Lincoln, and with Sherman’s letters to his wife advocating the extermination of a “ certain class of Southner” with which she agreed.
I am in Tennessee and have seen a lot of this state and a number of other Southern states. I have seen many memorials in cemeteries with generic (I hate that term, maybe “unnamed” or “unknown”) soldiers which, sort of, I can accept. However, I have yet to come across a town square with a statue of Grant or Sherman or even Lincoln posing as mighty war heroes. Every Southerner (White Southerner) to take this as an affront. However, Blacks living in large and small towns all over the South are frequently confronted with statues Confederate soldiers, generals and politicians in public squares, public parks and at battle markers etc. This is also an affront to them (and others).
HBW: You certainly know your history…I am not sure what name to use for you…can/should I call you Hamilton? My paternal Armenian and maternal Sicilian grandparents did not arrive in America till right after WWI … so, technically, I don’t have a dog in this fight. I was raised in suburban Detroit, lived in Albany NY for 10 years and also, for less time, in Kansas, California, Ohio and briefly in Chicago. I will tell you this as a fact, beyond the Mason-Dixon line, there are many people …smart, schooled people, who don’t know and don’t care who won the Civil War. (At least, maybe, up until recent times). I moved to Nashville in 1984 and married a young lady from Knoxville in 1987. So not only am I am Yankee, I’m a damn Yankee. I enjoy history and have similar discussions as this with several of my in-laws. Nashville was cosmopolitan then and is much much more so now. Reconstruction was a terrible time…Lincoln, as you know, wanted to be much more magnanimous to the defeated South (“…malice toward none…”). Might have been nice for Booth not to have assassinated him. In any case, slavery was a repulsive institution used to create wealth on the backs of free workers, who were breed and sold for profit. Men like Jefferson Davis and Lee and the rest went to war to defend that institution. As such, they sure do not deserve statues in prominent public spaces. I suppose you are free to erect a statue to such a person on your front lawn like that jibone did on I-65. But if that is who you wish to honor, you shouldn’t be surprised at what conclusions, justified or not, people draw about you.
DM: For what it is worth, I was in my teens before I realized “DamnYankee” was two words.
DM: – You have to go up north to find statues of Lincoln, Grant or Sherman because those are not heroes to the average native white southerner. But if you look at maps, you will find lots of towns, counties and parishes in southern states named for northern figures during Reconstruction. In Louisiana there’s really Cameron, Lincoln and Grant parishes — all named during Reconstruction. If having to walk by a statue is an affront, imagine having to live your life in a place that was renamed for your victorious opponents? And before you protest, what’s the difference? Are only black peoples entitled to feel affronted? And again, the CSA lasted only 5 years. Many Southerners had been very loyal o the USA. Generations of their families had fought and died to establish and maintain the US. Many like Lee were very conflicted, but as was common in the 19th century felt a greater loyalty to their state, which they believed to be just as sovereign as the US. Davis had actually served in the US government. Lee and dozens of CSA officers had graduated from West Point and had fought in the US Army. Many of them, in fact most took the loyalty oath and had tgeir citizenship and right to vote restored. Many including Lee, Forrest, Beauregard and others openly advocated for civil rights and voting rights fir former slaves. Many like Beauregard worked on civil projects as well to improve access to education for all. Beauregard worked improve the NOLA sewerage system to make NOLA a more healthy place for everyone to live. He also helped create the street car public transportation system that made travel around the city available to everyone, although blacks and whites sat in separate sections of each car. It is very unfair to try to judge 19th century people by 20th or 21st century standards.
I did not address her point about judging people by 21st century standards, but, it lacks merit, as there was a percentage of Southerners that knew that Slavery was an Evil that should not happen, and were abolitionists
Dave Mundt:- Your little laughing emoticon is inappropriate, sexist, rude, crude, tasteless and just deplorable. Rape is never funny. Being burned out of your home is not funny. Being murdered is not funny.
HBW: I apologize for being offensive, but look at it from my point. You are pushing a viewpoint that is trying to make a band of traitors into heroes. Mourn your lost ancestors of the day, but it would be wise to adjust your reason for mourning from “They were great heroes foully murdered by the Killers from the North”, to “They were terribly misguided in their support for a truly awful form of oppression, and fought and died to defend the indefensible. Their deaths were useless and a waste of life”. Also, the Civil War was 150+ years ago. Is it not time to do as Don suggests, and let go of the hate, and move on. Clinging to hate like that is like drinking poison and expecting one’s enemy to die. It taints every interaction, and can destroy the chances of reconciliation, and working together to build a better world.
The attitudes expressed by Ms. HBW are far too prevalent still, and are that stumbling block that keeps us from truly healing the wounds left by the Civil War. Today, all across the Nation, the Republicants are pushing legislation that would, in essence, cancel history. They are using the straw man of Critical Race Theory, to ban any attempts to teach the history of the people of color in America. They are banning books which honestly tell the story of people of color and their experience with the systemic racism that permeates American society and law. There are many folks that simply deny any of this happened, and refuse to hear any other truth. One of the reasons I quoted the lengthy conversation with HBW was that her posts are a classic example of this narrow thinking. Focusing on the mythic “Gentile Southern Society” and ignoring the foundation it is built on is unwise. It is like looking at the beauty of a diamond in one’s hand, and ignoring the fact it is a Blood Diamond. The product of death and oppression.
Now…how can we push America to become a better, more tolerant, caring society? I suggest that the Americans with clear vision that are left MUST work together to stand against the racist and foolish laws being passed. We must work to ensure that the WHOLE history of the country is taught, not just the part that makes white people look like the knight in shining armor, rescuing the country from the evil savage. I fear that, in most cases, the adults of today are a lost cause. As Ms. HBW demonstrates with her strong devotion to the Confederacy, fueled by the anger over what happened that she clings to as if it were yesterday, most of the adults are so tied up with their own prejudices and fears that they are not going to change. Perhaps, some will…but that will be the exception, not the rule. I rather think that folks like Ms. HBW will argue the point until the end of time, as she has done here, and will not budge an inch from her misguided and very narrowly focused beliefs.
However, we can educate the children to be better and wiser citizens, by ensuring they see not only the successes but the failures of American society. There is always room for improvement, but, until we see there is a problem we cannot even contemplate the idea of improving. I have to say that I am a perfect example of this. When I was growing up, here in East Tennessee, I was taught the nonsense about the Civil War that most Southerners are taught. I knew no different, so, to me, it was the truth. I thought it was OK to use “the N word”, to look down on people of color, and to make jokes and such that explicitly painted people of color as being less intelligent, with classic food choices and the like.
However, because my Parents were very educated, and tolerant people, they made a major difference, calling me out when I would make an inappropriate remark, and forcing me to confront what was the basis I was using to justify it. That, along with some excellent teachers, both in public school and church, brought me to understand that I was totally wrong in the way I viewed others. In time, I grew and matured, to the point where, I believe, I am accepting of all, and respectful of all, without considering their skin tone. Now, their mind and beliefs are another matter…but that has nothing to do with appearance!
One of the pivotal moments for me came in the early 1970s. I was listening to an interview, I believe on NPR, with the assistant director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. Turns out that he was a reformed Skin-Head. What had moved him to become a leader in the major organization fighting antisemitism? He told the story about several years before, when he was at a Skin-Head rally, and taking full part in it. He was there with several friends, and at a break, had a thought that puzzled him. He asked his friends “Let us say we get rid of all the mud people and jews..what will we do THEN?” Their reply “Don’t worry…we will find SOMEONE to hate!”. This rattled him enough that he realized the dark path he was on, and changed his life. The realization that it was not an aspect of another that made them the enemy, but, simply the hate in his own heart and the hearts of his compatriots rubbed his nose in the foolishness and wrongness of it. He, luckily, changed… The realization he had, while not new to me, was certainly a tool that re-enforced my increasingly tolerant, and accepting view of reality.
God Help Us All
Be Safe! Wear Your Mask; Social distance; get vaccinated…Delta is coming!
Bee Man Dave