From Ancient Grudge

(An archive post from 2012, from my Celia Hayes blog – which I believe has relevance this week, considering the ongoing ruckus regarding Confederate memorial statuary.)

“From ancient grudge break to new mutiny, Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean.”

When I was deep in the midst of researching and writing the Adelsverein Trilogy, of course I wound up reading a great towering pile of books about the Civil War. I had to do that – even though my trilogy isn’t really about the Civil War, per se. It’s about the German settlements in mid-19th century Texas. But for the final volume, I had to put myself into the mind of a character who has come home from it all; weary, maimed and heartsick – to find upon arriving (on foot and with no fanfare) that everything has changed. His mother and stepfather are dead, his brothers have all fallen on various battlefields and his sister-in-law is a bitter last-stand Confederate. He isn’t fit enough to get work as a laborer, and being attainted as an ex-rebel soldier, can’t do the work he was schooled for, before the war began. This was all in the service of advancing my story, of how great cattle baronies came to be established in Texas and in the West, after the war and before the spread of barbed wire, rail transport to practically every little town and several years of atrociously bad winters. So are legends born, but to me a close look at the real basis for the legends is totally fascinating and much more nuanced – the Civil War and the cattle ranching empires, both.

Nuance; now that’s a forty-dollar word, usually used to imply a reaction that is a great deal more complex than one might think at first glance. At first glance the Civil War has only two sides, North and South, blue and grey, slavery and freedom, sectional agrarian interests against sectional industrial interests, rebels and… well, not. A closer look at it reveals as many sides as those dodecahedrons that they roll to determine Dungeons and Dragons outcomes. It was a long time brewing, and as far as historical pivot-points go, it’s about the most single significant one of the American 19th century. For it was a war which had a thousand faces, battlefronts and aspects.
There was the War that split Border States like Kentucky and Virginia – which actually did split, so marked were the differences between the lowlands gentry and the hardscrabble mountaineers. There was the war between free-Soil settlers and pro-slavery factions in Missouri and in Kansas; Kansas which bled for years and contributed no small part to the split. There was even the war between factions of the Cherokee Indian nation, between classmates of various classes at West Point, between neighbors and yes, between members of families.

How that must have broken the hearts of men like Sam Houston, who refused to take a loyalty oath to the Confederacy, and Winfield Scott, the old soldier who commanded the Federal Army at the start of the war. Scott’s officers’ commission had been signed by Thomas Jefferson: he and Houston had both fought bravely for a fledgling United States. Indeed, at the time of the Civil War, there were those living still who could remember the Revolution, even a bare handful of centenarians who had supposedly fought in it. For every Southern fireater like Edmund Ruffin and Preston Brooks (famous for beating a anti-slave politician to unconsciousness in the US Senate) and every Northern critic of so-called ‘Slave power” like William Lloyd Garrison and John Brown… and for every young spark on either side who could hardly wait to put on a uniform of whatever color, there must have been as many sober citizens who looked on the prospect of it all with dread and foreboding.

There are memories, as was said of a certain English king, which “laid like lees in the bottom of men’s hearts and if the vessels were once stirred, it would rise.” So is it with the memory of the American Civil War. The last living veterans are long gone, the monuments grown with moss and half forgotten themselves; even some of the battlefields themselves are built-over, or overgrown. But still, the memories, the interest as well as the resentments linger, waiting for the slightest motion to stir them up. The Civil War is still very much with us. Consider books like Cold Mountain, The Killer Angels, and Gone With the Wind, and documentaries like Ken Burns’ The Civil War. Every weekend, somewhere across the United States there are re-enactor groups, putting on the blue or the grey and shooting black-powder blanks at each other.

An argument about the causes of it all tends to be just as noisy and inconclusive, and boils down to the academic version of the above. The participants agree on some combination of slavery (or its extension beyond the boundaries of certain limits), states’ rights and the competing economic interests which would favor a rural and agricultural region or an urban and industrial one. What are the proper proportion and combination of these causes? And was chattel slavery a root cause or merely a symptom?
Whatever the answer, sentiment about slavery, or “the peculiar institution” hardened like crystals forming on a thread suspended in a sugar solution for some twenty or thirty years before the election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860. In a large part, that hardening of attitudes was driven, as such things usually are, by the extremists on either end of the great lump of relative indifference in the middle. At the time of the Revolution, one has the impression that chattel slavery in the American colonies was something of an embarrassment to the founding fathers. No less than the eminent Doctor Johnson had acidly pointed out the hypocrisy of those who owned slaves insisting on rights and freedom for themselves. For quite some decades it seemed that slavery was on the way out.

Of course it cannot just slip out of mind, this war so savagely fought that lead minie-balls fell like hailstones, and the dead went down in ranks, like so much wheat cut down by a scythe blade, on battlefield after battlefield. Units had been recruited by localities; men and boys enlisted together with their friends and brothers, and went off in high spirits, commanded by officers chosen from among them. At any time over the following four years, and in the space of an hour of hot fighting before some contested strong point, there went all or most of the men from some little town in Massachusetts and Ohio, Tennessee or Georgia. Call to mind the wrenching passage in Gone With the Wind, describing the arrival of casualty lists from Gettysburg, posted on the front windows of the newspaper office for the crowd of onlookers to read, and the heroine realizing that all of the young men whom she flirted and danced with, all the brothers of her friends and sons of her mothers’ friends . . . they are all gone. As an unreconstructed Yankee, GWTW usually moves me to throw it across the room. But Margaret Mitchell grew up listening to vivid stories from the older generation and that scene has the feel of something that really happened; if not in Atlanta, then in hundreds of other places across the North and South.

No wonder the memory of the Civil War is still so fresh, so terribly vivid in our minds. A cataclysm that all-encompassing, and passions for secession, for abolishing slavery, for free soil and a hundred other catch-phrases of the early 19th century . . . of course it will still reach out and touch us with icy fingers, a not-quite clearly seen shadow draped in ghostly shades of grey and blue.

35 thoughts on “From Ancient Grudge”

  1. There are people who think they were profit from this agitation.

    There was a good column in the WSJ yesterday by Holman Jenkins.

    So how did Charlottesville, Va., turn itself into a stage for their latest, and perhaps age-defining, spectacle?

    The city is a Democratic town, run by a Democratic machine. Its elections are typically settled in a Democratic primary. The GOP is a non-factor. Of the three City Council members who voted in February to remove a Robert E. Lee statue from a town park, two who thereafter faced re-election are now gone.

    One chose not to run. The other lost in a landslide. The lone remaining anti-statue vote, who did not face re-election, was Vice Mayor Wes Bellamy, who recently had to leave his high-school teaching job over a history of bigoted, antiwhite tweets. He is assumed to have no political future either. Notably, Mayor Mike Signer, who declared Charlottesville a “capital of resistance” shortly after Mr. Trump’s inauguration, voted to keep Lee’s statue.

    I think this will be another short-lived Red Guards sort of phenomenon but we will see.

  2. Mike, I hope it is short lived, but I cannot help but think about a picture I received. It is a photograph of the city paid crews [they were contractors, and supposedly this was a spur of the moment decision by Baltimore city government. BS. you don’t conjure up that many contractors without some preparations and contract negotiations] removing all the Confederate memorials overnight.

    The caption is:


    And there are a lot of Leftists lusting after that next step.

  3. Two responses.

    One in that Holman Jenkins column he points out that the city council members in that leftist town lost their next election after voting to remove the statue.

    Two, Richard Fernandez, as usual, has a good column about it.

    The presence of jamming can sometimes be inferred from an excessive number of “sudden” or “unexpected” events that appear in full blown form without the slightest warning. Their sudden onset is explained by the pop out when they pass the filter. When things appear suddenly and very close at hand it might be because they’re past the blinders. The presence of too many sudden and unexpected events of the same type could be a sign that a filter is in operation.

    A little processing can help clarify the picture. The frequency of events is an important indicator of their true proportion. The low frequency of past white supremacist marches could be because there really aren’t that many Nazis around. If there were so many Nazis around why are they so few and why was their flagship website on GoDaddy? If they are on the rise then why are “white supremacist” statues so old instead of so recent?

    Now, we can debate the reason for the “jamming” but this is a made up crisis.

    I should look at Phoenix craigs list to see who is recruiting rioters for the Trump speech.

  4. “I should look at Phoenix craigs list to see who is recruiting rioters for the Trump speech.”

    Indeed. For grins and giggles, Mike – offer to take the job, if they are offering. See what they say… ;-)

  5. A couple of years ago I saw someone draw attention to an article about the Civil War in an American newspaper (perhaps an electronic one).

    By way of illustration the article included a photo of soldiers of the Civil War. Amusingly, it was a photo of soldiers in the Irish civil war of 1922-23. There must be a lesson in that.

  6. >Amusingly, it was a photo of soldiers in the Irish civil war of 1922-23. There must be a lesson in that.

    A lesson about US newspapers. They were far better in 1860.

  7. “It is becoming untenable to think this sort of thing could be accidental.”

    Ah. It is true the Arleigh Burke class of destroyers does seem to fall to random shipping events lately, but I doubt, seriously, that these are coordinated by anyone other than the US navy.

    I could make jokes about how you don’t need weapons to down these ships, but there are 10 sailors missing, which is less than funny.

  8. A conspiracy theory that requires someone to plan to use lumbering merchant ships to spear nimble destroyers isn’t credible.

  9. dearieme: One more time and the onus becomes on those who would explain how it could possibly be accidental. For now, I’ll just say it’s not that crazy of a conspiracy theory if you have motive, opportunity, and multiple actual events.

  10. “the onus becomes on those who would explain how it could possibly be accidental”: the USN is well provided with incompetent officers and crews; that would be an explanation. It’s a huge navy – maybe recruiting, training, and promoting hasn’t been done well. Maybe the best people have left. Maybe the best people are in the missile submarines and the surface fleet has to use the also-rans. Maybe all sorts of things.

  11. Dearie: The next time it happens none of those “maybes” will be tenable anymore. Already they are a stretch.

  12. Dearie: I think you underestimate how big the ocean is. Even a ship staffed by lazy morons is not going to collide with another ship in the open ocean.

  13. Brian: The ocean is vast, but the ships are not evenly distributed across it but rather are clustered in certain areas that are important for shipping and politics.

  14. Dearieme “A conspiracy theory that requires someone to plan to use lumbering merchant ships to spear nimble destroyers isn’t credible.”

    Agreed. One possibility I might (might!) be willing to consider would be an increasing number of ship captains who are from nations hostile to the United States. But using a huge cargo ship as a weapon seems extremely unlikely.

  15. Pst314: Back when the Fitzgerald collision happened, I posted several comments here at this site, where I noted that looking at historical Navy collisions, they were basically all either between Navy ships during exercises, or in or around a harbor. But out in the open ocean collisions just don’t happen. The Navy is understandably a bit coy about the exact positions of these collisions, so it is hard to say, but even crowded shipping lanes are way larger than ships–these aren’t like cars on highways, more like planes in airline routes. Collisions between planes in mid-flight don’t happen, and until very recently, collisions between ships in the open ocean don’t either.

  16. Collisions between planes outside of airport areas a very rare, but bear in mind that all airline flights…and all flights of any kind about 18000 feet…are under positive air traffic control.

    Regarding maritime collisions, there was a famous one in the 1950s involving the Italian liner Andrea Doria. At least one of the ships involved, and I believe both, were radar-equipped.

  17. “I think you underestimate how big the ocean is. Even a ship staffed by lazy morons is not going to collide with another ship in the open ocean.”

    The Straits of Malacca are one of the most traveled places in the world. One Navy guy said it was like a freeway there.

  18. The Andrea Doria was 60+ years ago, didn’t involve a Navy ship, and wasn’t exactly in the open ocean. Now that we’re getting a bit more info, it seems that this collision wasn’t in the open ocean either. Recall I said at the start that twice is coincidence. It’s entirely possible this is innocent, but then that would be exactly what THEY want you to think, ha ha…

  19. West Virginia of course, became a state in 1863 because of the Civil War. But even West Virginia was split. The northern part around Wheeling near Pennsylvania was of course pro union while the southern part of bordering Kentucky favored the confederacy. And I think I read somewhere that even Kentucky was split.

    Those were terrible times.

  20. Here’s another one from WKPD: ‘On May 9, 2017, a South Korean fishing vessel (about 60- to 70 feet in length) accidentally collided with the port side of USS Lake Champlain while the ship was underway and conducting “routine operations in international waters” off Asia. No one was injured. The Navy ship had attempted to contact the vessel, but the fishing boat lacked a radio. The fishing vessel did not respond to USS Lake Champlain’s emergency whistle. Both the cruiser and the fishing vessel were undamaged enough to able to sail away under their own power.’ I don’t know why a USN warship would let a fishing boat get so close.

    In this case the vile conspirators seem to have been fellow USN sailors.

    And here, extraordinarily, the conspirator is Mother Earth herself.

    ‘CNO Richardson noted … that the investigation will include:

    “Looking at operational tempo, trends in personnel, material, maintenance and equipment. It will also include a review of how we train and certify our surface warfare community, including tactical and navigational proficiency… ‘

    It doesn’t look as if he is inclined to blame some near-supernatural conspiracy. It sounds not too different, indeed, from my conjectures above.

  21. “Maybe all sorts of things.”

    One conceivable conspiracy theory is that someone is jamming radar and doing it at very inconvenient times.

    Those are Aegis ships and it might be quite tempting to see if the radar can be spoofed.

    I’m afraid the explanation may be more embarrassing. The US Navy has gotten far more interested in transgender sailors than seamanship, I fear.

    Obama’s Navy dismissed quite a few COs for less than serious infractions, many because of complaints of enlisted personnel.

    Here are some examples.

    25 COs in 2012.

    There were many more unexplained dismissals. At least eight commanders were let go for inappropriate conduct. Navy spokeswoman Lt. Lauryn K. Dempsey said the Navy could not provide further details on those dismissals.


  22. Bill Brandt:
    And I think I read somewhere that even Kentucky was split.

    My posts with links have not been accepted, so I will try without links. Mountaineers from Virginia to Kentucky to Tennesee to North Carolina had a strong Unionist strain. The Hill Country Germans in Texas were Unionist- as was Sam Houston. From several sources, there appear to have been about 300,000 whites from slaveholding states that fought on the Union side, broken down to 200,0000 from slaveholding states that stayed in the Union, and 100,000 from (slaveholding) states that seceded. In addition, about 200,000 blacks fought on the Union side.

    Jones County in Mississippi was also rather ornery.
    I recommend South Vs. South by William Freehling.

  23. Doesn’t anyone find it odd that just as a hugely embarrassing scandal involving the DNC, various democratic congress people, DWS, and some very dubious IT people from a family of Pakistanis, who were allowed access to all sorts of congressional files, starts to really heat up, some former occupy and Obama guy sets up a totally manufactured confrontation between some disreputable a-holes from two fascist factions, and that’s all the media and the usual idiots can babble about for the next two weeks?

    How many times are these crooks going to get away with this kind of squirrel chasing? And how many times will the public just wander along with it, instead of demanding some real accountability and actual news reporting instead of nonsense and sensationalized trivia?

  24. Kentucky also had sizable early migrations of anti-slave Quakers to the western part of the state and Ohio River Valley, Danial Boone being a notable example. They also had a lot of slaveholding settlers from Virginia, typified by Henry Clay.

    After the war, those issues were put to rest. Kentucky didn’t have Jim Crow laws, and the buses were never segregated. Their opinions about which side their allegiances were with were ably summed up by John Prine’s classic song.

  25. My brother (the one to the left and not the right of me) sent me an Atlantic article about the myth of the gentle Lee; well, yes, I’m sure he didn’t like it when his slaves ran away; he was of his time as we are of ours. I would like it better if the virtue signalers fought today’s slavery instead of pretending it doesn’t exist and could recognize Lee’s virtues.

    I also told my brother I had paid my dues – listened to NPR for decades, read NYRBwhen its letters section was still full of people sure Whittaker Chambers was a liar, etc. But I just didn’t buy this line of stuff any more.

    I suspect this statues argument was well prepared for with such articles. I’m not saying there is a conspiracy but the acceptance by even relatively conservative media that the Antifa is defensive (haven’t they seen Berkeley when Milo came? or the limousine outside Trump tower Inauguration day?) is getting old. The ESPN moment indicates we (or at least some of us) are living in some kind of alternative universe.

    Sure the Nazis and Klan are to be condemned but if we don’t see this in a more “nuanced” way than that then we aren’t really ever going to come together. You can only come together in honesty; taking an announcer off the air because his is the commonest of Asian surnames – an apparent worry because of its similar to an also common English of a rebellious general who offered his sword in surrender over a century and a half ago is impossible to parody.

    My cousin just send records of our maternal grandfather’s family. I don’t know how accurate; it goes back to 1430. And I realized that growing up in the 50’s I really didn’t know if they fought on the Confederate or Union side. I’d assumed, since they were from the South, that it was the Confederate. But I see in the records ones buried in Union cemeteries and that fought in Union groups out of Tennessee and Kentucky. The Virginians were probably Confederate. I don’t understand why this can have seemed to unimportant to my family in the forties and fifties (they were against segregation and saw those who believed in it as uneducated) and now it seems that leaving a statue up for one more day is unbearable.

    A lot of this seems like transference – we can’t and won’t talk about what we need to talk about so we are talking about battles of 150 years ago and sides that were drawn before a very large percentage of this country even had an ancestor on American soil. It is easier to say you are a good guy because you are against slavery and against Nazis. It is more complicated to find out the good thing to do – the best educational system, the most productive tax system, the health system that efficiently and sensitively, creatively and scientifically meets the needs of our children and our children’s children.

  26. “they were against segregation and saw those who believed in it as uneducated”

    Careful. Segregation is back at elite colleges like Dartmouth where each racial subgroup must have its own housing.

    And Russ Feingold, former Senator, has announced that all Republicans are white supremacists.

    The Guardian, of course, but now we know the tactic.

  27. Collision of the McCain: I saw this comment on a British discussion thread – it seemed to me to be interesting.

    “[The USN has] some glaring problems. Officers are generalists, they consequently are jacks of all trades and masters of none. Captains are also sent to sea on 18 month commands after years in shore roles. It’s common knowledge that the USN are not great at ship handling or navigation in relation to other navies. They might be great at carrier ops, BMD, logistics etc. but getting around they are not up to snuff. RN officers on exchange to USN ships frequently comment on how crowded USN bridges are and how manoeuvres that in the RN would be left to a junior officer require the Capt. or Exec on the bridge. USN exchange officers to the RN who have completed the standard RN Navigators and watchkeeping course are on record as saying that when they had completed it they were better trained than their instuctors in the USN and have repeatedly requested that the USN implement such a course.

    … The Fitzgerald was badly handled, the McCain may have suffered a steering failure. In both cases the Captain of the merchant ship involved will have been far better trained at ship navigation, and have had far more time at sea, than the naval officers aboard, including the Captain.”

    The claim that “USN exchange officers … have repeatedly requested that the USN implement such a course” is a claim that should be readily checkable.

    Many of the comments were sympathetic: someone who described himself as an ex AB [Able Seaman] on a merchant ship with many hours experience ‘at the wheel’ opined: “Poor seamanship, bad luck, human error, mechanical or system failure or a combination of 2 or more of these things would seem to me to be the likely cause of the collision.” He dismissed ‘Cyber attack by the commies’.

    Another commenter said ” A first look at this latest incident and and that of the Fitzgerald makes me think of the Andrea Doria & Stockholm collision of many years ago. In that, both ships were monitoring the situation using radar but only one was also plotting the courses on paper charts. The raw radar output made it appear as though a safe avoidance distance existed when it did not. Using only the radar plot can give a false impression of relative movement and clearances. Since then, most major lines and senior captains insisted on plotting being carried out in confined & congested areas, using the radar information.

    I wonder if the ultra modern US Navy, crewed by many from the computer & online generation now, may have let that habit slip. Possibly the youngsters (and not so youngsters) genuinely thought the radar information gave them clearance which was illusory – just as in the Andrea Doria case. Humans do repeat errors and have to relearn lessons from time to time. This may be a example of that.”

    A fourth says “I worked as an Engineering Officer for many Years on BP Oil and Gas Tankers; the Straits of Singapore, just like the English Channel, are the seagoing equivalent of the M25 or the Paris Orbital Motorway. Responsible companies including BP Shipping double up on the watch and Officers of the Watch at these busy periods. And for good reason, you need eyes in the Back of your head, such is the rapid growth in seagoing trade.”

  28. I have not served in the Navy but have navigated small boats thousands of miles.

    I doubt there are paper charts on USN bridges anymore. I would be interested to get that corrected. Everything now is GPS and plotters a that are electronic.

    Malacca Strait is extremely congested and narrow. I once had a patient who had fallen overboard and swam to shore while transiting the strait.

    The other site was also very congested. I have read that USN policy requires the captain on the bridge in such situations.

    The Navy may be sharing the Air Force’s problem. Not enough ships. No opportunity to get experiece in such a small Navy.

  29. There are paper charts on those freighters the navy runs into on a regular basis, but they are backup. The freighters run AIS and happily sail on these congested routes with very rare collisions.

    So rare the Chinese are complaining now, that American navy ships are a traffic hazard.

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