What I learned was that these gentlemen were entirely comfortable with their U.S. identity. They did not pine for the Confederacy to rise again. They did not blame the U.S. military for Confederate wartime deaths. There was no anger in connection with Sherman’s march, and the destruction of southern cities, farms, infrastructure, and other public & private property. So what exactly did bother them–what precisely was their beef? It was The Battle Hymn of the Republic. It upset them to no end. I was young then. Perhaps, I should have understood why it upset them so much. In my defence, I can say, after some years (decades) of reflection, I figured it out.
Interesting thoughts. More here.
8 thoughts on “Seth Barrett Tillman: <i>Some Late Thoughts on the American Civil War and Southern Identity</i>”
This ought to garner some interesting responses. Exposed to those from the region first as a teen, I’ve had the opportunity to hear some interesting opinions on the matter over the years. Although from the Deep North, I now reside well below Mason-Dixon.
Tillman helps me understand my hawkish, pro-Bush friend who found Bush’s choice of the “Rattle Hymn” divisive in the “War of Northern Aggression.” That has
seemed the point to Sawyer Brown’s “Another Side”: “I know some things are wrong / But what gave them the right / To point their righteous fingers and expect us not to fight.” I found the choice apt and moving. But what I probably found most moving was what would most upset her – the “die to make men free” rather than to live to do so. Either way, that pesky word “free” – so central to our founding was there.
She often notes that her family didn’t have slaves; mine did (one came west with the family and became a respected homebuilder). Lincoln thought we were redeemed by the blood shed in that bloody war. Wars are useful if we take the right lessons – one of them, of course, is the necessity, beauty and strength of a warrior culture. The south takes justified pride in many of those virtues. But another is that some ideas are worth defending and some aren’t.
I believe Georgia has buried their enmity towards Sherman. Atlanta is now an internationally renowned city, the university system has adopted the post-industrial academic and social culture, and the ‘reverse’ Great Migration has blacks streaming out of the northern Rust Belt back to Georgia and surrounding states.
I have met people from Mississippi who still blame Grant and Sherman for their problems. The Vicksburg and Meridian campaigns were just as psychologically damaging to Mississippians, but in some ways they never recovered. Sherman honed his maneuver tactics marching across the state, and his deceptions were so effective Confederate forces weren’t sure if he was moving to attack Meridian or Mobile or Dalton, Georgia. He had them all frozen with fear and indecision.
It may have been worse in Mississippi because there were many Union sympathizers, and the population was torn asunder. Some still speculate that John C. Pemberton, the Confederate general who lost Vicksburg, was really a turncoat.
As a Southerner, born and raised in Louisiana, and as one well versed on the subject of the Civil War, I can assure you that not 5% of Southerners would have a single thought on the subject were it not being constantly brought up by those who bear grievances for a war not even their grandparents participated could recall.
We never sit around the veranda, sipping mint juleps, debating General Beauregard’s strategies. The fact is, most Southerners know nothing beyond Robert E. Lee and are unclear about which side he fought for.
But, like the Irish, Scots, Spaniards, Britons, etc, all having historic military struggles, many of which were defeats, Southerners still regard themselves well for a valiant fight against odds. The causes of that war are political grist for some, still. For Southerners, they fought well, lost, and have moved on in the last 150 years, but are still prideful of their ancestors’ valiance.
The constant belaboring of Southerners for their reverence for the flag and Dixie is not about a people who can’t admit they lost. Rather, it’s about a people who are unsatisfied merely to have won. The desire to humiliate Southerners does not end with comedic references to incest and gapped teeth. Southerners are supposed to feel humbled, forever . In our vernacular, ‘That dog don’t hunt’.
Interesting perspective on Georgia. In metro Atlanta you’ve got to look around a bit to find many actual Southerners. I don’t spend much time at all in the city (BLUE), but I understand it’s spectacularly corrupt, and without the massive surrounding suburbs (RED), would already closely resemble the Northern cities many of it’s residents come from. When you get out a ways, you kind of get a feel for the region, for the culture.
An old-timer I worked with when I first moved here, once said (rather dryly) when someone brought up the subject of the “Old South” in conversation, that; “they didn’t own nuthin’, not the land they worked on, nor the house they lived in, or the bed they slept in”. In many instances, it’s still much the same. Doesn’t buy them a bit of sympathy from the their betters in New York and Hollywood, though.
The Vicksburg and Meridian campaigns were just as psychologically damaging to Mississippians, but in some ways they never recovered. Sherman honed his maneuver tactics marching across the state, and his deceptions were so effective Confederate forces weren’t sure if he was moving to attack Meridian or Mobile or Dalton, Georgia. He had them all frozen with fear and indecision.
My great, great uncle was wounded at Vicksburg and died two weeks later. I have his letters to his wife where he expresses his thoughts for volunteering in spite of having a wife and four children. They were about slavery. I’ll have to find the quote.
Sherman is in my opinion, our greatest general in combat. Washington and Eisenhower were great political generals.
Sherman fought a war of maneuver than was an inspiration to his descendent, Patton.
At his death, one of the pallbearers was Joe Johnston, his old antagonist. Johnston was told by an aide that he was too old to go and would risk his life.
He replied, “Sherman would do it for me. ” He died a month later.
Sherman was firm believer in Churchill’s dictum
“In War: Resolution,
In Defeat: Defiance,
In Victory: Magnaminity
In Peace: Good Will.”
He got into a lot of trouble with Stanton for negotiating a peace armistice with Johnston. At the Grande Review of his army in DC, he refused to shake Stanton’s hand.
Stanton gave him a lot of trouble for trying to put in lace Lincoln’s peace plan but Lincoln had been assassinated, the worst disaster the south suffered.
Sawyer Brown most underrated band ever. I love this band a lot. Another Side one of the best songs ever.
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