My good friend Clark B. “Bud” Hall was born and raised in Mississippi. Bud is the great-grandson of a Mississippi Confederate who fought with Barksdale’s Brigade for the Peach Orchard at Gettysburg. He’s also a Marine Corps combat veteran of the Vietnam War. And, lest there be any questions about Bud’s dedication to the Civil War, he is one of the three founders of the Association for the Preservation of Civil War Sites (now known as the Civil War Trust), was the founder of the Brandy Station Foundation, and presently serves as its president. He won’t like this, but nobody has done more to preserve that battlefield than he has. In short, Bud’s a guy who puts his money where his mouth is.
Bud is also deeply bothered by the way that neo-Confederates distort the causes of the Civil War, and he’s taken up his pen to discuss that concern. From today’s issue of the Fauquier Times Democrat newspaper, I give you Bud’s letter to the editor, reprinted here with Bud’s express permission:
Quite often the best way to make a point is to relate a story; and being a Southerner, it’s in the DNA; so, please indulge…
Charles H. Hall, the 21-year old son of a hard scrabble Mississippi farmer, joined an infantry company formed by local gentry in 1861, and was quickly elected as the company’s sergeant. Sgt. Hall’s newly formed regiment was incorporated into Barksdale’s Mississippi Brigade, soon to be a hard-charging unit in General Robert E. Lee’s legendary Army of Northern Virginia.
Sgt. Charlie Hall served faithfully throughout the war and surrendered the company’s flag at Appomattox. He then walked home and started a family. And as I gaze at his image, it is clear how much his steadfastness and courage have inspired me over the years. In my mind’s eye, Charlie Hall is a hero—notwithstanding the fact he served in an unjust cause. And by the way, neither Charlie Hall nor any of his family ever owned a slave.
Sgt. Hall’s great-grandson joined the Marine Corps and was assigned to a fine infantry outfit that was soon sent to South Viet Nam. This writer is that great-grandson, and I served successively as a patrol leader in the deep jungle, and on the commanding general’s staff. I came home after the war, re-entered school, and started a family.
While in Viet Nam—especially while serving on Lt. Gen. Lewis Walt’s staff—I saw and heard things that utterly convinced me the war was an enormous, shameful lie and that young Americans were dying for naught. So feeling both burned and outraged, I helped start a “Viet Nam Veterans Against the War” chapter at my university. Did it help? I don’t know about others, but it certainly helped me.
And although I could not be prouder of the Marine Corps (anyone who knows me realizes that fact), or of the service my mates and I conveyed to our country, it is a fact we served in a bad cause. It took me a long time to finally admit the hard truth that my friends and subordinates who died in Viet Nam perished for nothing. Why? We served in a bad and unjust cause.
Now, where is this going? Thus far, I have made the point that one can serve honorably in a misguided war, and yet be enormously proud of that service. But there is another point.
There are just wars fought to liberate mankind, and other wars waged to perpetuate human bondage. Other wars were prosecuted to fulfill political aims that were deceitfully manufactured before and after the fact. Both of the latter two classes of war are wrong, therefore by definition, unjust.
And indeed, both the Civil War and the Viet Nam War were terribly wrong, and for the South, an unjust calling. We live today with the divisive consequences of both national tragedies.
As to the Civil War, I have studied, written, and lectured about the topic for more than twenty-five years. It has been my pleasure to have co-founded three battlefield preservation groups, and presently I am honored to be the president of one such non-profit group.
And here are the “stern facts,” as the taciturn Winslow Homer would offer:
The central, motivating, pivotal purpose driving the South to secede was slavery. As Confederate General James Longstreet stoutly asserted after the war, “If it (the war) wasn’t about slavery, then I don’t know what else it was about.”
Let’s also hear from someone we know locally—and I am in the first rank of John Mosby’s admirers: “The South was my country, but the South went to war on account of slavery.”
Declining invitations to memorial ceremonies wherein wrong-headed speakers claimed slavery had nothing to do with the conflict, Mosby offered in response he was not ashamed to say he fought for the Confederacy— and did he ever! —but that the South must come to grips with the “true facts of history.”
So, here we are at the end of the story:
If Sgt. Charles H. Hall did not own any slaves, how could he have fought to perpetuate slavery? Simple. His country asked him to, and he served proudly and honorably, for his country.
And if his great-grandson fought in a place he had never heard of until he was ordered there, how do we assess his service? Easy. He served proudly and honorably, for his country.
And as it turned out, Sgt Hall and his progeny were both mere pawns in separate but equal tragedies. Both of us—and others like the “Hall boys”—were victims of morally righteous politicians who blindly put their faith in the myth of war making as the primary mechanism to solve political disputes.
So today when you hear folks contend that slavery was a secondary issue underpinning the Civil War, just think back to the words of a proud, old warrior who cared about nothing but facts.
And John Mosby told nothing but the truth.
Clark B. Hall
Coming from a Southerner who truly is a son of a Confederate veteran, I hope that his words carry some punch. They will undoubtedly upset the apple cart of some of the neo-Confederates out there who are bound and determined to rewrite history to put a human face on slavery and to downplay its role as the central cause of the Civil War. Kudos to Bud for taking a brave stand.Scridb filter