Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Southern Comfort

By Mark W. Danielson

Unanticipated changes in my work schedule gave me extra time in Memphis, Tennessee, so I went to the nearby Olive Branch, Mississippi, library with the intent of refining my next home’s design. Lacking any books on the subject, I was drawn to the April, 2010 edition of the Civil War Times; published in Leesburg, Virginia. I had never heard of this magazine, but it reaffirms that the South has never forgotten the Civil War. Like it or not, in the Deep South, elements of the Confederate flag remain integrated in many state flags.

Having once considered writing a Civil War period novel, I read this magazine with great interest. I have spent many years living in the South, and my father's mother's grandfather, Benjamin Nelson Pullen, fought with the Confederate Army under General Nathan Bedford Forrest (photo right). Benjamin survived the war, but his brother died in his arms at Chattanooga. Still, my only feeling for this war is sympathy for all concerned.

This issue of the Civil War Times was packed with articles on the South’s struggle, but also included one on Lincoln, quoting his November 19, 1863 Gettysburg Address: “Fourscore and seven years ago, our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal . . .” (By the way, “fourscore” equals eighty years.) This article impressed me, as did these other snippets:

On September 23, 1862, Union Colonel Henry Sibley and his army battled seven hundred Sioux led by Chief Little Crow at Lake Wood. Plans are underway to set some land aside to honor the Sioux who were starving on the reservation.

On May 18, 1863, twenty-five black Union soldiers of the 1st Kansas and twenty white soldiers of the 2nd Kansas were foraging for food at Rader Farm, Missouri, when they were attacked by seventy Confederate guerillas led by Major Thomas Livingston. The black soldiers had laid down their arms to load corn on a wagon when the attack occurred. In response to the escaping Union soldiers’ testimony, hundreds of union soldiers descended upon the farm. After placing their soldiers’ mutilated bodies in the farm house, it was burned, as was the nearby town of Sherwood after they learned its townspeople participated in the attack.

The Federal government spent $123,864,915.00 on horses during the war. The Union Army used 825,762 horses between 1860 and 1865. Giesboro Depot, the Union’s largest mount facility, received 170, 654 horses between January 1864 to January 1866, costing one million dollars per day. (That ain’t no bull!)

A travel ad for Corinth, Mississippi, says, History is only half our story. For a look into their past, visit the Corinth Civil War Interpretive Center.

Another ad sells the Confederate Military History, which boasts over 7,000 pages of Southern history, including essays such as The Background and Justification of Secession and The Conduct of the War by the Confederate Government.

Yet another ad for Harper’s Ferry where in 1859, Abolitionist John Brown seized the First Federal Arsenal with the intention of arming black slaves in Northern Virginia. Between the pages were numerous ads for battle recreations and replica firearms.

There was an article on The Papers of Ulysses S. Grant, which yielded his widow $450,000.00, thirteen days before his death from throat cancer. Unable to speak, Grant gave his work to his friend and former Civil War adversary Simon Bolivar Buckner with a note stating, “I have witnessed since my sickness just what I have wished to see over time the war; harmony and good feeling between the sections. I have always contended that if there had been no body left but the soldiers, we would have had peace in a year.”

Former Confederate General James Longstreet lost favor with the South over his post-war statements, including, “The War was a grievous error.” As a commander of the post-war militia and state police, he was despised for using black police to counter violence during the Reconstruction.

An article on treason answers the question about how governments get people to join their armies to fight. Historically, what begins with rhetoric ends with intimidation, and the Civil War was no exception. This article discussed military executions on both sides. As with any war, soldiers must either kill the enemy or be killed by the enemy or their comrades. With desertion the serious problem in the Civil War, military executions were performed in front of hundreds of their peers for maximum effect. The article didn’t provide any statistics for the Confederate forces, but the Union reportedly executed 263 soldiers; 50% for desertion and 25% for murder.

Perhaps the biggest lesson from the Civil War Times is we must all learn from the past. This magazine did a nice job of unbiased reporting, offering historical fact and understanding. I agree with General Grant’s observation that friendliness prevails on both sides, but there is always room for more healing. There is nothing civil about this war, or any war. General Longstreet’s and Grant’s position was that we must come together as a nation. Their vision still prevails.


Jean Henry Mead said...

I've always been fascinated by the Civil War. My dad was born in an ancient farmhouse on the site of the Antietam Battlefield near Sharpsburg, Maryland, the bloodiest battle of them all. It was also one of Lincoln's headquarters during the war. When I stood on the battlefield, several hundred feet from the infamous stone bridge and the house where my dad grew up, I had an eerie sensation and thought I could hear the cries of dying soldiers. I also had the same feeling when I visited Custer's Batttlefield in Montana and the site of the Wagon Box massacre in Wyoming.

Ben Small said...

I remember well hundred year anniversaries that flowed past my days in junior high and high school. Seemed so close date-wise then, and so far away now. Tragic war, the effects of which are still being felt.

Mark W. Danielson said...

After my library experience, I felt compelled to visit Corinth and Shiloh. My experience there is the topic of next week's blog. I agree with you, Jean, there is a lingering presense of the dead.

Ben, it is amazing to me how few generations have passed since the Civil War. Then again, to us, the Vietnam War was only a few years ago. It seems time is always relative.