The letter to the editor from Brian Weber (from South Carolina) [“Civil War Historians Should Face Reality,” May 30, Xpress] complaining about Karen Cox’s statements about United Daughters of the Confederacy is fascinating because his letter proves the points that Ms. Cox was making about the postwar creation of the “Lost Cause” idea, post-Reconstruction Jim Crow laws and how those myths continue to reverberate over 150 years later.
Mr. Weber states that most of the Confederate soldiers were not slaveholders. This is true, but the overlooked fact is that the men who attended secession conventions across the South were almost all slaveholders, and the majority owned large numbers of slaves. Likewise, most government officials in the Confederacy were slaveholders. And by the later part of the war, many soldiers were complaining about bearing the burden of the war, while many plantation owners not only were exempted from military service but would refuse to rent their slaves as laborers to support the Confederate army.
Mr. Weber states that there was no declaration of war declared by the United States. Again this is true, with a however. If the president had asked Congress for a declaration of war, it would have been a recognition that the Confederate States of America was a sovereign nation. When the Confederate army fired on U.S. forces at Fort Sumter, it was the South that started the war and required a response from the United States. That at least 618,222 men died in the Civil War — 360,222 from the North and 258,000 from the South — is a terrible tragedy, but surely the blame lies on both sides.
He then says that Robert E. Lee was more anti-slavery than most Northern politicians. While Northern Democrats as a rule did not oppose slavery, Republicans did. As for his supposed ambivalence to slavery, Lee said he felt that it was more a burden to whites than black slaves. In a letter Lee wrote to his wife in 1856, he stated, “The blacks are immeasurably better off here than in Africa, morally, physically, and socially. The painful discipline they are undergoing is necessary for their further instruction as a race, and will prepare them, I hope, for better things. How long their servitude may be necessary is known and ordered by a merciful Providence.”
During the Gettysburg campaign, Lee’s army kidnapped free black farmers for sale into slavery. In Reconstruction, Lee made it clear that he opposed political rights for the former slaves. Lee told a congressional committee that he hoped that Virginia could be “rid of them (the freed slaves).” And when he was asked to condemn the Ku Klux Klan’s terrorist violence, Lee remained silent.
Mr. Weber closes with the statement “… defend our noble and God-given right to remove ourselves from a corrupt nation.” He doesn’t state what corruption, but the supporters of the Lost Cause have long tried to obscure the reason for secession, but the secession articles from most states and the CSA constitution makes it clear that the preservation of slavery was the overriding reason. South Carolina’s gives the reason for secession as “increasing hostility on the part of the non-slaveholding States to the Institution of Slavery.” And one of the few significant changes in the CSA constitution from the USA constitution reads: “No bill of attainder, ex post facto law, or law denying or impairing the right of property in negro slaves shall be passed.”
The irony that the supporters of the Lost Cause claim to oppose the rewriting of history is that in many cases, they were the ones who rewrote that history. One bit of history that was overwritten was that four regiments of white North Carolinians served in the Union Army: the 1st and 2nd North Carolina Union Volunteer Infantry, Eastern N.C., and the 2nd and 3rd North Carolina Union Mounted Infantry, Western North Carolina. The Union also recruited the North Carolina Colored Volunteers, which totaled three brigades and were made up of ex-slaves.
— Frank E. Thomson