16 March 2011 by Published in: Neo-Confederate hooey 5 comments

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:

Editor:

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
Middleburg, VA

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

Comments

  1. Wed 16th Mar 2011 at 4:01 pm

    Hello Eric,

    Thanks for posting this letter. Like Mr. Hall, I am both a born and bred Southerner and a veteran of the Vietnam War. Also like Mr. Hall, I was a member of Vietnam Veteran’s Against the War (I actually took part in the same parade that Senator John Kerry got into trouble for being part of), and I have long questioned the wisdom of the South’s secession.

    As a re-enactor I have made the decision to portray a Confederate infantryman and a Confederate artilleryman because the majority of my ancestors fought for the South — although I do have some ancestors who wore the blue. That does not mean, at least to me, that I agree with everything that the Confederacy stood for (for I believe the South was wrong) — only that I am honoring what my ancestors did.

    I am sure that down the road — if the world hangs around for a couple more generations — there will be people who re-enact the Vietnam War — maybe my grandchildren. I hope that they will honor my service even though, hopefully, they will understand that the war was wrong.

    Lew Taylor
    SGT
    Co F, 52nd Inf, LRRP
    1st Infantry Division, Vietnam

    and

    CPL
    Co F, 12th GA Inf
    Army of Northern Virginia

  2. Darrin
    Wed 16th Mar 2011 at 5:35 pm

    Eric,

    I’m someone who – I’m sorry to say – flirted with neo-Confederacy for a short time. I read the works of the Kennedy brothers and the like. Then my path took a sharp turn when I did something I think most neo-Confederates don’t, I actually went and read tons of period letters, documents, newspaper articles, articles of secession, speeches and post-war writings of the veterans. And I came to the conclusion that slavery was at the center of this conflict.

    Now, I do differ a slight bit from most who feel this way in that I believe the war was caused by secession and secession was caused by slavery. Most people feel this is a difference without distinction, but I feel differently. I believe states have the right to secede from a voluntary union, but also believe that the South was wrong to go to that extreme in 1860-61.

    I also have the ability to distinguish between the honorable service of a soldier and the dishonorable cause of his country. And I honor and celebrate the service of soldiers on both sides of the conflict while damning the hot-headed people on both sides who pushed us into that war. (I don’t believe the Soouth should have seceded, but I also don’t believe Lincoln did all he could to deal with the situation before resorting to war.) I believe the vast majority of Southern soldiers were not fighting FOR slavery, but for their homes, their country, and their honor. And I imagine they cared less about fighting to maintain slavery than they did about being damned if someone from the North was going to come in and tell them how to run their society.

    Sadly, today we have many people in this nation who are still fiercly political about this conflict. People are still fighting both sides of the debate instead of accepting the past for what it is and moving on. And that fighting just prolongs the divide. Neo-Confederates are fierce in protecting the Lost Cause and the reputation of the South, but it’s in part because anti-Confederates are often so fierce in labeling anything Southern or anything Confederate as pure evil and vile.

    While I know some are truly lost causes (pun intended) and will never change, I hope and pray many neo-Confederates will finally see the light and transform their passion for all things Southern into a passion to study and understand our history and learn from it. The past is important, but it’s over. Likewise, I hope and pray many anti-Confederates will do that same and quit egging on this conflict as well.

    Besides, I find the people of the past and their real life stories to be much more interesting than their stupid politics.

  3. Thu 17th Mar 2011 at 11:41 am

    I don’t know too much about “neo confederacy,” but to me it is suspect as an intellectual construct in which those who today have been brought up to know that slavery was evil and cannot be viewed as otherwise by any thinking person in our times, seek justification for an unjust and rightfully defeated cause by amplifying and manipulating facts to fit a premise.

    Our ancestors on both sides sacrificed their time, energy, and in many cases their lives for what they believed, but their times were vastly different from our own, so in my opinion we should be extremely careful not to project our own wishful thinking onto their motives. We should also be well aware that the motives of those who gave their lives may have been vastly different from the motives of those who created the circumstances which required them to give their lives.

    I have heard the argument that the issue of the constitutionality of secession was what was being fought about, and I know that there are many who feel that the issue was never resolved and believe that their states have the right to secede today. However, to me that argument sounds like exhuming millions of dead to prove that doctors, not shooters, are always at fault for not saving patients whose heads have been blown off.

    Yes, many could have done things differently – but they did not – and the end result was the abolishment of slavery, the reaffirmation of an enlarged and more centralized Union, and growth toward a national greatness and prosperity which with some steps backward but more forward, began slowly healing the site of the ugly infection of the misuse of human beings and could never have been achieved had the country split into slave states and non-slave states. So I am going to agree with those who say that the central issue of the war was slavery, and that other issues were present but not the central cause.

  4. Sun 20th Mar 2011 at 8:28 am

    Eloquent and succinct.

    Thanks to Bud for your service to both our country and for your hard work and leadership in preserving our Civil War sites.

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