Browsing "Southern Culture Laid Bare"

South Regards Itself as Unbeatable

Southerners in early 1861 exhibited the same intense desire for political independence and fighting spirit as their revolutionary fathers. Though Russell did not fully know at the time why his country would not come to the aid of the Confederacy, after September 1863 it had more to do with hostile Russian fleets in Northern ports and threats against British shipping.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

South Regards Itself as Unbeatable

“[William H. Russell’s] Diary is as rich in historical value as in interest, which is saying much. His energy and reputation at first carried him everywhere, and his courage made him signally outspoken. In New York, where Mayor Fernando Wood and half the press were opposed to the war, he was shocked by the apathy and want of patriotism . . . The pages of the Herald and several other journals were filled with the coarsest abuse of the Great Rail Splitter, but contained not a word to encourage the government in any decided policy. In Washington the correspondent found much bustle and nervousness, but complete uncertainty.

When he saw the District of Columbia militia and volunteers drilling before the War Department Building, he set them down as a sorry crowd. “Starved, washed-out creatures most of them, interpolated with Irish and flat-footed, stumpy Germans.”

Crossing to the South, the correspondent found a far more belligerent spirit than among the Northerners. At Norfolk a crowd was yelling “Down with the Yankees! Hurrah for the Southern Confederacy!” and threatening the frigate Cumberland. On the Wilmington [North Carolina] quay there were piles of shot and shell, which a resident identified as “anti-abolitionist pills.” All along the way in the Carolinas he found Confederate flags whipping in the breeze, troops waiting for the train, and an excited buzz about Fort Sumter, which had just been captured.

At Charleston the fury, the animosity, and the eagerness for war astounded him. He went out to Morris Island, where there was a camp, full of life and excitement. Tents were pitched everywhere, the place was full of tall, well-grown young men in gray, and the opening of hostilities had plainly put everyone in high spirits:

“But secession is the fashion here. Young ladies sing for it; old ladies pray for it; young men are dying to fight for it; old men are ready to demonstrate it. The founder of the school was St. Calhoun. Here his pupils carry out their teaching in thunder and fire. States’ Rights are displayed after its legitimate teaching, and the Palmetto flag and the red bars of the Confederacy are its exposition.

The utter contempt and loathing for the venerated Stars and Stripes, the abhorrence of the very words United States, the immense hatred of the Yankees on the part of these people cannot be conceived by anyone who has not seen them. I am more satisfied than ever that the Union can never be restored as it was, and that it has gone to pieces, never to be put together again, in its old shape, at all events, by any power on earth.”

At Pensacola, Mobile, and New Orleans he was struck by the same intense fighting spirit, reporting that “as one looks at the resolute, quick, angry faces around him, and hears but the single theme, he must feel that the South will never yield to the North, unless as a nation beaten beneath the feet of a victorious enemy.”

The South regarded itself as unbeatable. But from one other belief, the belief that England would intervene, Russell strongly dissented. “Why, I expect, sir,” one Charleston merchant told him, “that if those miserable Yankees try to blockade us, and keep you from our cotton, you’ll just send their ships to the bottom and acknowledge us.” Russell said no.”

(America Through British Eyes, Allan Nevins, Oxford University Press, 1948, pp. 217-218)

The Wise But Unschooled Uncle Remus

The antebellum plantation culture informally educated the African workers in European trades and agriculture, customs and traditions; the postwar Southern economy needed people informally schooled in the useful arts of agriculture and mechanics, and little if any use for workers with advanced university degrees and speaking Latin or Greek. Thus Booker T. Washington’s method was far more acceptable and productive than DuBois’ method of political agitation.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

The Wise But Unschooled Uncle Remus

“Southern historians, trapped by the belief that education is a cure-all, have exaggerated the accomplishments of formal schooling. They like to prove that Sir William Berkeley was inaccurate when he said that there were no free schools in seventeenth-century Virginia. They are dazzled that today we have “a triumphant “progressive” education which progresses even faster than the North.” They gloss over the defects of our much-praised educational system.

The historians would be wise to admit the defects of Southern education as measured by the proclaimed goals of American public schools; indeed they might be skeptical of these goals. They might admit that Berkeley was not a complete fool when he inveighed against schools and presses.

In New England the Prussian-type school was loaded with antislavery sentiments and with notions of social reform repulsive to a region of Christians not dominated by hopes of earthly perfection. The leveling tendencies of the new schools ran counter to the Old South’s conception of hierarchy. Their content was more suited for those who need guidance in town life than for a people whose chief task was to subdue a wilderness and to establish farms.

Someone should tell that the South’s resistance to formal schooling did not grow out of laziness or stupidity. Their resistance was vital part of the region’s attempt to survive as a social and cultural entity. The South unconsciously fought against the idea that the school be allowed to iron out provincial differences in order to make the Southern States into undifferentiated units of the republic.

Southerners have preserved their folkways and ancestral superstitions. Thereby they have avoided the fate of the people of Hawaii, a people who have deliberately escaped their ancestral heritage in order to become Americanized through the public schools. Such a people lack creative originality.

Our chroniclers of the past should quit being ashamed of the cloud of illiteracy which once hung over their province. They should wake up to the fact that Uncle Remus was among the wisest Southerners. They have stressed to such a degree the benefits of the schools that they have neglected the triumphs of informal training outside the school.

This informal education was good because it was useful. Our colonial and frontier ancestors put the art of subduing the wilderness first; they learned to use the ax and the rifle extremely well. With some justice they regarded formal education as an adornment of the upper classes.

The dark spot on Southern civilization of denying formal education to the slaves can be wiped out by an understanding of what was accomplished in the so-called school of the plantation in which the barbarian captive of Africa was Anglicized. This was a type of training more effective than anything the South had experienced since.

The slave was so well inoculated with Anglo-American culture that almost all elements of his African background disappeared. The Negro imbibed the rich heritage of European folklore and became so skilled in English handicrafts and in the intricate practices of plantation agriculture that he was perhaps better educated in the industrial arts than those Negroes who had lived since the time of Booker T. Washington.

(Tolerating the South’s Past, Francis Butler Simkins, Address in Columbia, South Carolina, November 12, 1954, The Pursuit of Southern History, George Tindal, editor, LSU Press, 1964, pp. 319-320)

State Sovereignty Paramount

Jefferson Davis and other West Point graduates of his time were taught from Rawle’s “View of the Constitution,” and understood that should a State subvert its republican form of government, “the national power of the Union could be called forth to subdue it. Yet it is not to be understood that its interposition would be justifiable if a State should determine to retire from the Union . . . The secession of a State . . . depends on the will of the people of such a State.”

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

State Sovereignty Paramount

“On my way home from Boston I stopped in New York once when the ex-President of our Confederacy and Mrs. Davis were there in the interest of his book, and I went to see them.

“Mr. Davis,” I said, “had I come from the South I should be laden with loving messages from your people. But even in abolition Boston you are held in high esteem as one sincere, honest and earnest.”

“Yes,” he said, “though we disagreed on many issues, I believe I held the respect of my fellow Senators from Massachusetts.”

“But you were not a secessionist in the beginning, Mr. Davis, were you?”

“No; neither in the beginning nor the ending,” he smiled.

“But to me the sovereignty of the State was paramount to the sovereignty of the Union. And I held my seat in the Senate until Mississippi seceded and called upon me to follow and defend her. Then I sorrowfully resigned the position in which my State had placed me and in which I could no longer represent her, and accepted the new work.

I was on my way to Montgomery when I received, much to my regret, the message that I had been elected provisional President of the Confederate States of America. I regretted it then and I have regretted it ever since.”

(Words From Jefferson Davis, Confederate Veteran, March 1913, page 108)

 

You Called These Men to the Colors

Thomas Dixon is less known for his time spent in the North Carolina Legislature, and far better known for his books “The Leopard Spots” and “The Clansman,” and also his silent movie “Birth of a Nation.” Below, Dixon appeals to his progressive fellow legislators to not forget those crippled patriots they had earlier called to defend the State.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

You Called These Men to the Colors

“Early in the [North Carolina legislative] session I met Walter Hines Page, reporting for his Daily Chronicle. He asked me to drop into his office and see him often. I did, and we formed a friendship which lasted through life.

The big occasion on which I decided to deliver my maiden speech was my report from the Finance Committee (Way and Means) of the bill to pension the poor disabled soldiers of the State who had fought in the Confederate army. The first measure to pension Confederate soldiers any man had dared to introduce into a Southern legislature. The discussion of the bill by the press during the hearings had stirred the State. When I spoke to a crowded House and packed galleries I was in dead earnest, never more so in life. I read the speech today, fifty years later, with a sense of satisfaction.

“I am aware, gentlemen of the House, that this bill, small as the pittance given by it to our crippled veterans, means in the long run at least a million dollars in taxes to be borne by our people. I am aware that a new spirit is abroad in the Old Commonwealth. Progress is the watchword of the hour. We have started an industrial expansion after twenty years of struggle against starvation. We must and will give the full force of our energy to this development.

But while we are on the road to prosperity, I must ask you to remember that back in the rear of your marching people, amid the dirt and dust and misery of the direst poverty there comes painfully struggling along, a band of your wounded comrades, forgotten in their distress.

I am talking now to the sovereign State of North Carolina in its representative body assembled. You called these men to the colors. They answered as citizens of the State, not as delegates of the Confederate Government. They fought as citizens of North Carolina. Their bodies are mangled today because you sent them to the front. I speak in the name of humanity whose cries have been neglected until they echo at God’s bar crying for justice against you and me. And if there be a God — which none of you doubt — you will hear these cries before you enter the prosperity toward which you now so eagerly look.

Remember, gentlemen, that these crippled soldiers marched under the same blue flag of your State whose silken folds now flash above your council chambers. On a hundred fields of blood they bared their breasts until a bullet came that sent them to a surgeon’s tent. Some of you who hear me in this House limp across its floor on one leg. You remember the scene. The blockade had closed our drug stores. There was no chloroform or ether.

In trembling, piteous tones you heard them begging the young surgeon for God’s sake to spare their limbs. Heard until sick at heart you closed your ears with hands pressed tightly against them. The knife severs the flesh while the victim screams, the arteries are tied, the saw grates through the bone, it’s over, and a wretch is carried out, hope and spirit broken, the light of the world gone out. [These men] in the morning of life, in the glory of [their] youth, stood shoulder to shoulder with your heroic dead who charged over our historic fields and made records of your army immortal.

On May 10th, we cover the graves of our dead with flowers. A pious beautiful ceremony. Let it never be forgotten. Should we forget their mangled comrades who in bitterness of soul have cursed God and envied the lot of those who sleep in peace beneath your tears and flowers?

(Southern Horizons, Autobiography of Thomas Dixon, IWV Publishing, 1984, pp. 177-179)

“I’ll Bet on Dixie as Long as I’ve Got a Dollar”

Charles Henry Smith (1826-1903) was a Georgian, graduate of the State University and practiced law afterward. He mingled the occupations of the lawyer with the activities of the politician and of the farmer. Thus he had varied opportunities for careful and critical observation of Georgia life.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

“I’ll Bet on Dixie as Long As I’ve Got a Dollar”

“Smith began his letters of mixed wisdom and humor, wit and sarcasm, scorn and defiance in 1861. The first publication of these in book form appeared in 1866 with the title, “Bill Arp, So-Called; A Side Show of the Southern Side of the War.” Its motto was “I’m a good Union man, so-called; but I’ll bet on Dixie as long as I’ve got a dollar.”

In the preface of his book, explaining his pen name “Bill Arp,” Smith said: “When I began writing under the signature of Bill Arp I was honestly idealizing the language and humor of an unlettered countryman who bears that name. His earnest, honest wit attracted my attention, and he declares to this day that I have faithfully expressed his sentiments.”

Smith’s first letter is addressed to Abraham Lincoln in April, 1861. In view of the latter’s proclamation calling for troops, “Bill Arp” thought “Abe Linkhorn” ought to be informed of how the Georgian regarded it. He intimated that things were getting too hot for him, and he would like “to slope out of it.”

Speaking of the boys about Rome, Georgia he says: “Most of them are so hot that they fairly siz when you pour water on them, and that’s the way they make up their military companies here now — when a man applies to join the volunteers they sprinkle him, and if he sizzes they take him, and if he dont they dont.”

(History of the Literary and Intellectual Life of the Southern States (Vol. VII), George F. Mellen, Southern Historical Publication Society, 1909, pp. 85-86)

 

How Sundays Were Kept

The passage below describes how Sunday was kept in Wilmington, North Carolina about a century ago, when religious faith commanded better attention than today. The painting that captivated Emma at the end was of the burial of Captain William Latane, the only casualty of Stuart’s ride around McClellan’s army in the Spring of 1862. His body was seized by the enemy, who refused to allow a clergyman to pass through their lines to officiate at the burial. The lady holding the Bible described below was Mrs. Willoughby Newton, who read the funeral service.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

How Sundays Were Kept

“Preparations for Sunday started on Saturday in our house; the kitchen was a-hustle with the making of cake, bread, puddings and pies. My Mother did not believe in making her servant cook anything on Sunday that could be prepared the day before. We children were made to study our Sunday School lessons and the catechism and to take a more thorough and inspected hot bath than on other days.

In our home we generally got up on Sundays an hour later than week days. We were always eager for our breakfast as we knew we would have salt mackerel and hominy. The mackerel had been soaked overnight and when cooked was served with cut up hard boiled eggs and butter poured on top.

And that was real butter — no substitute — we did not know there was such a commodity. The hominy had been cooked and stirred for an hour. There were biscuits and coffee and cambric tea for the children. And in season we had canteloupes and oranges—fruit juices were unknown.

After a leisurely meal the family dispersed until Church time, some to read the papers. We smaller children generally followed Mama to look at her garden, for my mother always had flowers in bloom, regardless of season, and Sunday morning was always the time to show them off and talk about them.

If there was time before church we would run next door to speak to Grandpa Worth, but only for a minute because we had to be at Church on time and we walked . . . as there were few pavements we had to pick the best side to walk on, for we had our Sunday-go-to-meeting shoes to keep clean.

After Sunday dinner the older members of the family had their naps and woe to any of us that played the piano or gramophone during those hours. Then we had to get ready for Sunday School at four o’clock.

By the time we reached home it was almost 5:00 p.m. But as we sat listening to our elders talking about things we were not interested in, we had one unfailing source of wonder. We sat facing a picture which has been almost a part of our lives. I have it to this day in a place of honor in my living room — “The Burial of Latane.”

It told us a story of a young Confederate officer’s burial. Weeping young women stood there. There was the grave digger leaning on his spade ready. There was no clergyman to read the service. A dignified woman dressed in black held an open book and was ready to do what she could for service. Two lovely children stood near and the faithful colored servants were in the background. We read much into the picture and have always loved it.”

(A Goodly Heritage, Emma Woodward MacMillan, Wilmington Printing Company, 1961, pp. 9- 14)

Eminent and Unmatched Virginians

Senator George F. Hoar of Massachusetts seemed unaware of his State’s deep involvement in the transatlantic slave trade as he arraigns the South for an absence of morals. Senator John Critcher below served during the war as a lieutenant-colonel of the Fifteenth Virginia cavalry.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Eminent and Unmatched Virginians

“In the debate on Education in the House of Representatives, Mr. Hoar, of Massachusetts remarked that slavery in the South was not so observable in the degradation of the slave as in the depravity of the master.

Mr. Critcher, of Virginia replied:

“Reminding the gentleman from Massachusetts that every signer of the Declaration of Independence, except those from his State, and perhaps one or two others, were slave-owners, he would venture to make a bold assertion; he would venture to say that he could name more eminent men from the parish of his residence, than the gentleman could name from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. He would proceed to name them, and yield the floor to the gentleman to match them if he could.

On one side of his estate is Wakefield, the birthplace of Washington. On the other side is Stratford, the residence of Light Horse Harry Lee, of glorious Revolutionary memory.

Adjoining Stratford is Chantilly, the residence of Richard Henry Lee, the mover of the Declaration of Independence, and the Cicero of the American Revolution. There lived Francis Lightfoot Lee, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. Charles Lee, at one time Washington’s Attorney General; and Arthur Lee, the accomplished negotiator of the treaty of commerce and alliance between the Colonies and France in 1777.

Returning, as said before, you come first to the birthplace of Washington; another hour’s drive will bring you to the birthplace of Monroe; another hour’s drive to the birthplace of Madison, and if the gentleman supposes that the present generation is unworthy of their illustrious ancestors, he has but to stand on the same estate to see the massive chimneys of the baronial mansion that witnessed the birth of Robert E. Lee.

These are some of the eminent men from the parish of his residence, and he yielded the floor that the gentleman might match them, if he could, from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.”

(Degrading Influence of Slavery, Southern Historical Society Papers, Volume 12, Barefoot Publishing, pg. 59)

 

Here Lies an American Hero

The first commander-in-chief of the United Confederate Veterans, General John B. Gordon of Georgia, tried repeatedly to retire from his high office, “but his comrades would not consent.” Below, he spoke in 1890 of the necessity of maintaining unblemished the nobility, heroism, sacrifices, suffering and glorious memory of the American soldiers in grey.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Here Lies and American Hero

“[The United Confederate Veterans] was created on high lines, and its first commander was the gallant soldier, General John B. Gordon, at the time governor of Georgia, and later was United States senator. General Gordon was continued as commander-in-chief until his death.

The note . . . struck in the constitution of the United Confederate Veterans were reechoed in the opening speech of the first commander-in-chief. General Gordon, addressing the Veterans and the public, said:

“Comrades, no argument is needed to secure for those objects your enthusiastic endorsement. They have burdened your thoughts for many years. You have cherished them in sorrow, poverty and humiliation. In the face of misconstruction, you have held them in your hearts with the strength of religious convictions.

No misjudgments can defeat your peaceful purposes for the future. Your aspirations have been lifted by the mere force and urgency of surrounding conditions to a plane far above the paltry considerations of partisan triumphs.

The honor of the American Government, the just powers of the Federal Government, the equal rights of States, the integrity of the Constitutional Union, the sanctions of law, and the enforcement of order have no class of defenders more true and devoted than the ex-soldiers of the South and their worthy descendants. But you realize the great truth that a people without the memories of heroic suffering or sacrifice are a people without history.

To cherish such memories and recall such a past, whether crowned with success or consecrated in defeat, is to idealize principle and strengthen character, intensify love of country, and convert defeat and disaster into pillars of support for future manhood and noble womanhood.

Whether the Southern people, under their changed conditions, may ever hope to witness another civilization which shall equal that which began with their Washington and ended with their Lee, it is certainly true that devotion to their glorious past is not only the surest guarantee of future progress and the holiest bond of unity, but is also the strongest claim they can present to the confidence and respect of the other sections of the Union.

It is political in no sense, except so far as the word “political” is a synonym for the word “patriotic.” [It will] cherish the past glories of the dead Confederacy and transmute them into living inspirations for future service to the living Republic; of truth, because it will seek to gather and preserve, as witness to history, the unimpeachable facts which shall doom falsehood to die that truth may live; of justice, because it will cultivate . . . that broader and higher and nobler sentiment which would write on the grave of every soldier who fell on our side, “Here lies an American hero, a martyr to the right as his conscience conceived it.”

(The Photographic History of The Civil War, Vol. 5, Robert S. Lanier, editor, Blue & Grey Press, 1987, pp. 298-299)

 

Truth, the Chief Good

Henry Lee’s Letter to Son Carter Lee, September 30, 1816

“Important as it is to understand nature in its range and bearing, it is more so to be prepared for usefulness, and to render ourselves pleasing by understanding well the religious and moral knowledge of right and wrong, to investigate thoroughly the history of mankind, and to be familiar with those examples which show the loveliness of truth, and demonstrate the reasonableness of our opinions by past events.

Read therefore the best poets, the best orators, and the best historians; as from them you draw principles of moral truth, axioms of prudence and material for conversation. This was the opinion of the great Socrates. He labored in Athens to turn philosophy from the study of nature to the study of life. He justly thought man’s great business was to learn how to do good, and to avoid evil. Be a steady, ardent disciple of Socrates; and regard virtue, whose temple is built upon truth, as the chief good.

[But] virtue and wisdom are not opponents; they are friends and coalesce in a few characters such as [Washington]. A foolish notion often springs up with young men as they enter life, namely, that the opinion of the world is not to be regarded; whereas, it is the true criterion, generally speaking, of all things that terminate in human life. To despise its sentence, if possible, is not just; and if just, is not possible. H. Lee.”

(Life of General Henry Lee, Revolutionary War Memoirs, R.E. Lee, editor, DaCapo, 1998, page 60)

Helping Those in Need

Though Southern people may have held Africans as slaves, a labor arrangement of the British colonial system and accelerated by Northern slave traders and New England cotton mills needing cheaply-produced raw material, this in no way indicated a hatred of black people by Southerners. Before and during the war black and white people attended the same churches; in the postwar interracial harmony ended as the Republican party sowed the seeds of racial hatred between black and white for political purposes.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Helping Those in Need

“During the Depression my parents befriended an old Negro woman who didn’t have a husband but a house full of children. We had a smokehouse down here where we’d keep the meat, corncribs, potato bins, produce of the farm. And the woman’s family was fed out of that for several years. She was too old to do much work, but she was competent and she did what she could in gratitude and out of knowing that she’d been provided for.

Well, she brought along some little boys. There were Billy and Charlie and Lester and Matt and James. We’d play outside, ride the marsh ponies, hook up the old mule and ride him, go out and gather wood, get in fights, kill snakes, go fishing. I didn’t know that we were especially conscious of any strain.

We knew that on Sunday they went to their church and we would go to ours. We had three or four Negro servants in the house in those days – a housekeeper, a cook, a washerwoman, a gardener. Most of them were people who desperately needed food and shelter in the Depression.

When those boys I used to play with got to be teenagers, I went away to college. And we grew apart. I’ve seen then through the years, and once in a while we’ll stop and talk. I’ll ask them how they’re getting along. They don’t have any interest in talking to me. I don’t think there’s any resentment or hurt, but it’s hard to relate to them today as individuals the way we did back then. It’s part of the times.

One of them left these parts. He’s a bartender in Camp Lejeune over in Jacksonville. He makes more money than I make. I know he owns a better home than I have; he drives a new automobile. He certainly isn’t impressed. The fact is, he doesn’t need me anymore. His family does not need my family. We helped when he did need help, and I think maybe that’s appreciated. But there’s no more corn in the crib. There’s no more meat in the smokehouse.”

(William Dallas Herring: Rose Hill, Reed M. Wolcott, G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1976, pp. 32-33)