23 December 2014 by Published in: Neo-Confederate hooey 7 comments

Attention all neo-Confederates and Lost Causers:

Read it. Learn it. Live it. Love it.

From yesterday’s edition of the New Orleans Times-Picayune:

y James Varney, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune
Email the author | Follow on Twitter
on December 22, 2014 at 12:18 PM, updated December 22, 2014 at 12:36 PM

It’s amazing how many Americans still don’t know what the Civil War was all about. Here’s a hint: it starts with an ‘s’ and it has the same syllables but fewer letters than “secession.”

This ignorance has cluttered my e-mail box since last week. While noting a legal battle over the image of the Confederate flag on Texas license plates, I had the temerity to state the only place I want to see the Stars & Bars is in a Civil War museum.

KevinLaserWriter, for example, wrote that his descendants fought as Confederates and that he is not a racist. I’ll grant him both points.

When he says the Confederate battle flag is “not a symbol of hate,” however, and when he refers to it as “my flag” I’m puzzled. Should I speak of the topic again, he admonishes, “please be educated first on what it represents.”

He’s right. People should know what it represents. Here is how Alexander Stephens, the vice president of the Confederate States of America, compared his nation with the United States:

“Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite ideas,” he said in 1861. “Its foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery, subordination to the superior race, is his natural and normal condition.”

Another e-mailer, a Starbuck apparently not connected with the Nantucket whaling Starbucks, said my writing “shows serious laps in your education.” Her ancestors, she wrote, “fought to keep his states right to succeed from the union of states.”

Fortunately, her ancestors were unsuccessful, but it is true they fought as enemies of the United States.

“That flag serves to educate yourself and others of the hidden truths, the ones that the northern parts wanted to hide,” Starbuck added. I should not address a topic I “know nothing about” until “you get an education.”

It’s true my Civil War teachers underplay the role, say, federal authority over intercoastal waterways played in causing Bleeding Kansas, or how John Brown’s Harpers Ferry raid was prompted by a tax dispute.

Still, the idea those irked by the Confederate flag and its symbolism need an education cropped up repeatedly. It’s amazing how wrong I learned it.

One man, for instance, urged me to “try reading history and no the PC bull*&t they indoctrinate people with in liberal colleges.” If I did, he said, I’d realize the Confederate “soldiers who fought included blacks, Indians and Hispanics” because “the south was a more diverse place than the north.”

Others bolstered that point. “The battle flag represented the soldiers whom the majority were of middle or lower class and came from all walks of life,” rwwiv wrote. “They were Mexicans, native americans, blacks, Irish, French and Jews. Yes, the majority were Caucasian Americans but the confederate army was actually foreward thinking in civil rights and equality.”

This is all very different from what I was taught in the North. It may not be atypical, however. For a story in The Times-Picayune I once interviewed the historian James McPherson and he told me the notion slavery was not at the core of the Civil War is one he sometimes encountered in Princeton students from the South. Some of them saw slavery as an ancillary cause, McPherson said, and thus failed to see how Lincoln’s election and his perceived opposition to the Peculiar Institution triggered secession.

From Metairie, a woman wrote that she sees the Confederate flag as a “symbol of valor and bravery and Southern heritage.” It may be those things, but it will remain something I pointedly disparage when talking about “Southern Heritage” with my kids, two of whom were born in New Orleans.

“I see a symbol that represents people who were willing to fight for what they believed in – states’ rights and a very limited federal government,” she added. “Jefferson Davis said shortly after the war that ‘the Cause for which we fought is bound to reassert itself in the future, in some form or another.’ And, of course, it has…because the ’cause’ for which they fought wasn’t slavery and everyone at the time knew it.”

That’s incorrect. ‘The Cause’ on which the Confederacy and the war rested, chiefly, was slavery. Consequently, many contemporaries saw it as a racist abomination. Speaking of the surrender at Appomattox, Ulysses S. Grant wrote:

“I felt like anything rather than rejoicing at the downfall of a foe who had fought so long and valiantly, and had suffered so much for a cause, though that cause was, I believe, one of the worst for which a people ever fought, and one for which there was the least excuse.”

I don’t think all the people e-mailing me are racists or bad people. I don’t know them. But the historical record is clear – it does not support the ideas peddled by Confederate apologists. The Confederate flag, therefore, isn’t something anyone should fly with pride.

Slavery was NOT some benign institution. Slaves did not eagerly fight for the Confederacy. And the Confederate battle flag REALLY is offensive to a large portion of American citizens. It’s not some attack on your “heritage”. It’s about understanding why others would be offended by it and trying to have some empathy for them. Stop trying to put a happy face on the abomination of slavery. You might actually have some credibility if you did.

Scridb filter


  1. Josh Liller
    Thu 25th Dec 2014 at 12:18 pm

    That someone considers any CSA flag “my flag” in 2014 is ludicrous. Regardless of what someone thinks it represents, it is a flag from a failed rebellion 150 years ago. Nobody alive today has ever been a CSA citizen; almost nobody alive today ever met someone who was previously. If you are an American citizen then “your flag” is the USA stars-n-stripes whether you like it or not.

  2. Josh Liller
    Thu 25th Dec 2014 at 12:24 pm

    “Some of them saw slavery as an ancillary cause…and thus failed to see how Lincoln’s election and his perceived opposition to the Peculiar Institution triggered secession.”

    That is the real crux of the problem. If someone wants to argue slavery is not the primary cause of the Civil War then they must present a compelling reason why the Whig and Democratic party fractured over the issue and why Lincoln’s election triggered the secession of the entire Deep South.

    They also need to explain how the “right to secede” is compatible with a functional democracy.

  3. Dave Chapman
    Thu 25th Dec 2014 at 3:56 pm

    The Constitution also bars the the secession of one state from another without the consent of both states concerned, as well as Congress (Art. IV, Sec. 3, Cl. 1), yet Lincoln and the Congress approved West Virginia’s statehood, arguably without the consent of Virginia. I’m not a lawyer–I’ll leave that to Eric–bit it seems ironic to me that they approved one form of secession explicitly not allowed by the Constitution (one state out of another), but steadfastly refused the South’s claim for secession despite it not being explicitly denied in the Constitution. I’m not supporting the South’s secession here, but Lincoln and the Radical Republican Congress did seem to play a little loose with the Constitution as long as it benefited them–where you stand depends on where you sit.


  4. E Browne
    Sat 27th Dec 2014 at 10:47 am

    James Varney who wrote that article should have asked “The Lost Causers” if their education ever included reading the book, the “Apostles of Disunion: Southern Secession Commissioners and the Causes of the Civil War.” The Southern Commissioners spell out very clearly that slavery is/was the root of the conflict. James should also have asked “The Lost Causers” if their education included any study of the political turmoil and Compromises that rocked the country previous to the War. They were all about slavery. It was slavery that caused secession and secession led to the firing at Fort Sumter which was the match that ignited the War.

  5. Josh Liller
    Sun 28th Dec 2014 at 2:08 pm

    re: Dave’s comment about West Virginia: I believe the Lincoln administration used a bit of legal maneuvering on the issue. Since the govnerment representatives of the western portion of VA had not left the Union, they were recognized by the Lincoln administration as the legal government of the state. (Andrew Johnson similarly held his Senate seat for nearly a year after TN – the state from which he was elected – had seceded.) The western VA representatives, being recognized as the legal government of VA, had no problem with the creation of WV.

    There were probably similar situations in MO and KY where the state governments were also divided between Unionist and Secessionist.

  6. Annie Lane
    Thu 01st Jan 2015 at 6:23 pm

    Uncluttered, delightfully clear non-fiction, once again leaves the reader with somewhere to bookmark ( especially the more bewildered beginner groping to counter this nonsense with something finite ) , ” What he said! ”

    Just thank you, superb!

  7. Conway Eastwood
    Mon 26th Jan 2015 at 6:27 am

    The battle against neo-confederate claptrap is a never ending one. We must remain vigilaint! Bravo, and continue the good work.

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