The Confederacy lasted 5 Minutes. It’s about time to let it go.
Much of my life has been spent in the South; as a child, 2/3 of my life was spent in Florida and North Carolina. As an adult, I am again living in Florida, although South Florida is a different animal than the rest of the state in terms of being part of the “South.”
My mother, and much of my family are from North Carolina. My maternal grandfather, was born in a very small, country, Southern town, near Fort Bragg in North Carolina. I even did Basic Training for the Army, in South Carolina where other family members are from, having been sent out there from when I was living out West. A large portion of my family is from the South, and still lives in the South.
All my life, as a child and an adult, I have heard about the “War of Northern Aggression” and the occasional conversation, joke, or complaint, as if the Civil War happened within the memory or lifetime of the previous generation or two. As long as I can remember, there was a nearly life-sized portrait of Confederate General Robert E. Lee hanging in the family room at a family member’s house, where I spent a lot of time. I was told many times over the years, that my family held slave-owning plantations in North Carolina, and I have even driven through the area where that supposedly would have been. I have never been able to verify if that was true or not, but it’s part of the family lore, just the same. I heard on multiple occasions that in terms of slavery, that Black people “…loved it,” and that they were “cared for and provided for,” and so on…
The point is, the South, and that legacy, are a huge part of my heritage, my family, and the my story of my life… But since it seemed to be such a huge part of life in North Carolina, and so much of the South, and as I was young, I didn’t think much of it.
A quick history lesson about the Confederacy: it lasted less than 5 years.
Five. Years. Less, to be completely accurate: four years, and some change. That’s it — no more. Quick history lesson over.
Perspective for comparison: Nirvana and Breaking Bad lasted longer than the Confederacy. The New England Patriots have a longer legacy than the Confederacy.
It was a misguided movement, a failed rebellion. A small period of time in American history. A very short, and very failed attempt at creating a new country that was never recognized by anyone else, by any other country, or the majority of the American people. To continue to treat it as a “legacy,” a “heritage,” or a multi-generational culture or “way of life,” and anything else other than it was, does every American, Black and White, a huge disservice.
Here is a slightly longer history lesson:
Abraham Lincoln was elected President of the United States on November 6th, 1860. Many Southerners and the majority of the Southern slave-holdings states, to put it simply, were pissed off that the Republican Party — Abolitionists who were dedicated to ending slavery — had won the election, and the conversations about the South seceding from the Union over the previous several years, became an immediate reality. In February of 1861, the first seven states seceded from the United States (South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas), and a provisional government was established. After Confederate soldiers attacked Union (Federal) Soldiers at Fort Sumter in South Carolina on April 12th, 1861 and officially started the Civil War, four more states joined the Confederacy and seceded from the Union (Arkansas, Virginia, North Carolina and Tennessee).
The Confederate States of America elected a president (Jefferson Davis), and created a constitution. They printed money and commissioned stamps, and raised an army. They named ambassadors to travel to Europe and gain support from England and France, to make attempts to create commerce and relationships with other countries, and to be recognized as its own country (which never happened). The capitol was established in Richmond, Virginia, in the spring of 1862, and while there was the appearance of a sophisticated, and fully-functioning government and country, there were significant problems and challenges the entire time.
Many people may not realize that the majority of the Civil War, and most of the major battles and campaigns of the war, were fought in the South. While the Confederacy was out-manned and had fielded a smaller army, they did enjoy key victories and success during the first couple of years of the war. Fighting in the South, gave the Confederacy advantages that helped compensate for their inferior numbers. In addition, right or wrong, they believed they were fighting for their way of life and against “Northern Aggression.” These facts are not insignificant; a smaller force fighting for what they believe is a way of life against an “invading” army, in their own territory, is not a force to be trifled with or simply dismissed. Because of the success of the first two years of the war, many in the Confederacy took for granted the fact that they would win. This arrogance, combined with all the challenges that plagued them from the beginning, and the fact that their position and foundational theory were not sustainable, led to the defeat of the Confederate States of America, in less than five years.
On April 9th, 1865, General Robert E. Lee surrendered to the Union Commander, General Ulysses S. Grant, in Appomattox, Virginia — almost 4 years to the day, from the start of the Civil War. In May of 1865, Confederate President Jefferson Davis was captured by Federal troops and sent to prison for treason. The Civil War ended (generally) on May 13, 1865, and with the end of the war, it also marked the end of the Confederacy.
Again: less than five years — closer to 4 years, in fact: The Confederacy was a movement, a rebellion, and an effort to promulgate a backwards, evil way of life, which lasted four years, and three months. In the grand scheme of things, and the timeline of American history, the Confederacy lasted about five minutes.
“Legacy?” Yes, legacy… in quotation marks.
Much of the legacy that we have today, and the romanticizing of the Confederacy, comes from the Confederacy itself: within even just a few years of losing the war, Confederates, Jefferson Davis, rebel soldiers, slave owners, racist Southern politicians, and even some Northern sympathizers, started to rewrite history and their contribution to the war, in what has become known as the “Lost Cause of the Confederacy.” In a nutshell, the Lost Cause is “an American pseudo-historical, negationist ideology which advocates the belief that the cause of the Confederate States during the American Civil War was a just and heroic one.”
This is also what many children are taught in school, to “rethink” the history of the Civil War and Confederacy; it’s not as “cut and dry” as we are often led to believe. This is why the telling of the causes of the war and the Confederate secession, are often skewed to be more about States’ rights versus Federal rights, than about the true cause of the war: slavery. This is why the artificial “legacy” of the Confederacy as a fundamental part of Southern life has been perpetuated, and why generations of people have come to believe an inaccurate and white-washed (pun intended) narrative that the Confederacy was not as bad as it really was, downplaying the significant and bigoted white supremacist nature of millions of people. This is why it is still referred to as “the War of Northern Aggression” in certain conversation, and we still see Confederate statues and monuments, or a painting of General Robert E. Lee in the family room (and why I as a “Union” Solider, have had heated debates with family members as to why he is regarded as a war hero rather than a war traitor).
We cannot forget about The Confederate Sates of America; the Civil War is a huge, pivotal moment in American History. A very important, and vital time in American History — so important, that even today, over 150 years after the end of the Civil War, we still haven’t completely reconciled it and we are still dealing and struggling with the very same issues of that war. Obviously, there were charming and are lovely parts of life in the South, and things about the South that are and should still be with us.
Claiming the good things of the South and Southern heritage, however, and keeping the Confederacy “alive,” are also not the same thing, and should not have the same intent and level of historical consideration in American history. This is not about “rewriting history,” or the notion that “history is written by the victor.” Wrong, is wrong, and it should be labeled as such. And also, not forgotten, so as to learn from those mistakes in history, lest we keep repeating them.
If there is any doubt about the true nature and legacy of the Confederacy, what they stood for, and why they seceded from the Union, read the Cornerstone Address, given as a speech by the Confederate States Vice President Alexander H. Stephens. In his speech, he makes it blatantly clear that the Founding Fathers and their efforts to start creating equality for all men, and planting the seeds to end slavery, were in the mind of the Confederacy, “fundamentally wrong,” and that their “…new Government is founded upon exactly the opposite ideas; 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 moral condition.”
The Civil War stands as the bloodiest, most deadly war in American history. It was a war that needed to be fought, and an important, defining, and pivotal moment in our history. We had to fight that war — we had to go through those growing pains, and correct two hundred years of slavery, bigotry, evil, and industry at the expense and torture of other people — other human beings. It should not be lost on anyone, that the two most defining, significant and memorable times in American history, were two wars — the Civil War and World War II — both of which were fought as two of the most “just wars” in world history. Two wars that were about taking a moral stand against evil, against bigotry and racism, and the worst that we as humans have to offer: how we treat each other, and how we treat those that are “different” than we are.
End the Civil War.
Keeping the Confederacy alive is not about legacy, or even remembering a short period of time in American history. It is not about a “lost way of life,” or something charming that should be preserved in modern culture or society. It is not a heritage, or something lived and experienced through or by multiple generations of people, nor a struggle to be commemorated. It is not a philosophy or a time to be proud of — people need to stop pretending that it is. It’s about one thing: white supremacy.
We often still hear the joke from time to time, about people who are “still fighting the Civil War…” The Civil War was fought and won by the Union over 150 years ago. The Confederacy was defeated, over 150 years ago. It leaves nothing of value in the heritage and history of the United States of America. A lot of Americans died during that war, to put us on a better path and in doing the right thing. It’s time to finally finish that war, and leave the Confederacy right where it belongs: only in the past.