Sadly, too many Americans are probably unaware that the anniversary surrender of the Confederate rebels at Appomattox happened a few days ago. I’ve found three posts I highly recommend. First, Tony Wikrent:
One thing I really would like you to take away from this diary is a basic sense of how the United States, as a self-governing democratic republic, cannot long tolerate oligarchic and aristocratic ideas in its body politic. This is becoming an increasingly urgent issue for us today, because the American conservative movement today is basically a replica of the slavery-defending, anti-free labor, government-hating, insurrection minded, treason-breathing, violently inclined Confederacy. And, I want you to be able to instantly recognize and rebut the false histories that neo-Confederates have created.
Wikrent details (it’s a long post, but well-written and worth the read) how the majority of southern whites did not want to secede from the Union–or die for wealthy slave-owning plantation masters–and were dragged into war, often through legislative chicanery.
The robbers of the post-war period were not heroes in any sense of the word. Jesse James was, in modern parlance, a war criminal. He rode with Bloody Bill Anderson, who specialized in terroizing Kansas farmers. The guerilla war in the Mississippi River area was about as violent as the partisan struggle in Yugoslavia. You had groups of people killing their neighbors.
What is the image we get of this war? Take the Outlaw Josey Wales. A great movie, but historically, quite wrong. Wales would have been a confederate guerrilla who probably murdered hundreds of people, farmers, women and `children, destroyed towns. In short, a 19th Century Arkan. He would have been quite unsympathetic to people living at the time.
Then, you have Ride with the Devil, which had a black slave fighting with Quantrill’s guerillas. Which is about the same asx a Jew fighting with the 2nd Das Reich division with a yarmulke on. Impossible isn’t the word. These folks killed black slaves when they could. They hated blacks for racial and economic reasons.
What Hollywood has done is moderate the viciousness of the south and the war they fought. The noble struggle crap was revisionism promoted to hide the same of their racial war of conquest.
Gilliard also quotes from this now extinct post:
It was an armed revolution led by a planter class that could not tolerate restrictions on the “right” to transfer its human property into the territories.
It was a “Cause” centered in the states most dependent on slavery, made possible by a secession bitterly opposed by poor white farmers in much of the region, and imposed on them by the narrowest of margins.
It was a rebellion whose success entirely relied on the calculation that the people of the North would not sacrifice for abstractions like the Union and Freedom.
Its inevitable defeat plunged the South and all of its people into a century of grinding poverty, isolation, and oligarchical government. Its heritage has been used again and again to justify racism and every other sort of reactionary policy.
I look at Appomattox and see the end of a disastrous folly that killed over 600,000 Americans, maimed far more, and made life miserable for those of my ancestors who survived the Planters’ Revolt. No romance. No victory-in-defeat. Just carnage and destruction in a bad cause made no better by the good men whose lives and futures it claimed.
It is far past time for southern pride–which I share to an almost painful extent–to attach itself to everything, anything, other than those four disastrous years that ended at Appomattox Court House.
Read them all, and remember. Because the past isn’t dead. The past isn’t even past. Or so said some writer dude.
*Gilliard was one of the best writers on the internet, period. Tragically, he was killed by a hospital-acquired infection after needed surgery.