Question of the Week: July 13, 2015—The Confederate Culture Wars


Here’s the context: South Carolina votes to remove the Confederate flag…the Army of Northern Virginia’s battle flag is banned from National Cemeteries and Park Service book stores…the Lutheran Seminary in Gettysburg has banned the Confederate battle flag from its property…Nathan Bedford Forrest is getting disinterred…Lee and Jackson are getting booted from the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C.

Has the South finally lost the Civil War?

We’ve posed that question to ECW’s team of historians, and this week, many of them will offer their thoughts as part of an ongoing series. But we start out today by asking you, dear readers, what your thoughts are on the matter. The Confederate Culture Wars seem to be in full swing.

Has the South finally lost the Civil War?

18 Responses to Question of the Week: July 13, 2015—The Confederate Culture Wars

  1. Not according to all the Confederate flags we saw on a trip from Indiana to Florida and back in the last two weeks. The South is alive and well. Revisited Lookout Mountain and Chickamauga. The New York monument(on Lookout Mountain) is so impressive. Lots of battle flags at the gift shop.

  2. All the folks (black and white) moving from New Jersey, Connecticut and Michigan for better opportunities at the American Dream in North Carolina, Texas, and Georgia would suggest otherwise.

    The Confederate States of America lost a war. The South most certainly did not.

    1. As used in the above question, “Confederacy” and “The South” were meant to be interchangeable, as they’re often used. But I like the distinction you make between them. Population in the South continues to boom, while population in the northeast and rust belt continues to stumble.

  3. The South didn’t lose the war; the Confederacy did, and it deserved to. But the South is much more than the Confederacy. Coerced labor and prejudice certainly were not unique to the southern states. They are part of human nature, the common failings of all of humanity in all societies throughout history. On the other hand, there is much that is unique to the culture of the region, much to remember, and much to celebrate, including the courage, dedication, and sacrifice of those who fought for a bad cause. They were Americans too, who believed–however wrongly–that they were fighting for American values. They were mistaken, not just bad, or perhaps they had no honorable choice. Look at where the South is now. Unfortunately the symbols and monuments of the war reflect the both the wrongs of the Confederacy and the good of the South. We need to promote understanding and compassion on both sides of the debate; we must learn from the mistakes and cherish the transcendent values. That is why we study history and why this site is so valuable. Thanks for all you do.

    1. “We need to promote understanding and compassion on both sides of the debate”– so well said, Dwight!

      We have some great insights coming up this week from some great historians, so I hope we’ll have a really interesting–and valuable–ongoing conversation here at ECW over the next few days.

    2. ” They were mistaken, not just bad, or perhaps they had no honorable choice.”

      I like that.

      One of the big historical questions is “How could it have been avoided”. Thomas Fleming’s “A Disease in the Public Mind” does a good job in detailing all the missed opportunities, I think. A good read.

  4. The Confederate States lost the war in 1865 with the meeting at Appotamax Courthouse. The Lost Cause is still eminent, especially in the American South, and likely will be, whether or not the Confederate battle flag flies or not.

  5. I believe that after the CSA lost the Civil War, another war started brewing. The culture war started during Reconstruction and continues to this day. Events like the rise of the KKK (led by Forrest), the Civil Rights Act (a full century after the CW), and now the banning of a Southern symbol that has waved since 1861. Another blow to the South was the nutjob who posed with their symbol before committing his crimes, thereby creating an attack on anything that’s Southern or Confederate. Like the patriots in the Revolution fighting against tyranny, the CSA believed they were doing the same thing. I think a new Civil War may be brewing over this issue. They lost the Civil War, and they are also losing the Culture War.

    1. By further study of this period, you’ll find Jim Crowe segregation laws LAWS were born in Washington D.C. to appease southerners and get back the southern vote. Slave trade happened in New England port cities. The north depended on the south for agriculture, while the north was industrial$$$$. The survival of the south as a food and cotton (textile mills up north) growers was dependent on slavery. I.E. the survival of the north too. Discussing culture wars 150 years later is just what Lincoln wanted to avoid but his progeny disciples had amnesia right after the war, aided and abetted by their $$ greed to get all they could from what remained of a broken people. Racism inflamed by northern sponsored segregation….. Reality check.

      1. That seems like a mish-mash of pre- and postwar history, and it seems pretty selective. Could you lay out your argument in a more chronological way that doesn’t conflate Antebellum- and Reconstruction-era examples?

        Indeed, a lot of postwar politicians waved the bloody shirt as a way to inflame passions and impose harsher Reconstruction, but Federal policy in those postwar years was clearly intended to combat, not inflame, racial injustice. And yes, the slave trade did exist in Northern port cities–until 1804, when it was made illegal in all Northern states. You hang part of your argument on that, but a real “reality check” would suggest a nearly 60-year gap.

  6. These described actions are not about the Civil War or History for that matter. They are the actions of a Progressive-Socialist political correctness movement with the goal of homogenizing the American society. Many business and groups that interact with the public have cowered from the commitment to truth in history. This will slowly swing back since hard core Progressives are not generally interested in Civil War history.
    Anyone who promotes social justice or is offended by free speech or guns (1st & 2nd Amendments) has an agenda to fundamentally transform this country. Individualism, responsibility and tolerance are attributes not to be abided.
    With a liberal press, a progressive Supreme Court, a weak Congress and a socialist President, various political groups have been unleashed to direct their hate toward those they perceive to be standing in their way.
    The one bright spot is Charleston S.C., were the citizens expressed tolerance and the State politicians expressed empathy. This response to a tragedy was so out of character from a city that the Nation was caught off guard. The subliminal question that the Media asked is, How could people be so responsible to their community?
    I believe that the mental health of Dylann Roof is the sole cause of this tragedy, not any hobbies or sports.
    I will leave you with this quote: “You never let a serious crisis go to waste. And what I mean by that it’s an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before.” – Rahm Emanuel

  7. Opinions may differ on the the South finally losing the Civil War, but I propose it is far better that the nation as a whole is losing its complacency with racism. For too long both the North and the South have turned a blind eye to the disparity in their humanity towards people different from themselves. The only difference between the two regions is that the North was a bit more subtle in its prejudice. However, the South was oblivious to the overt nature of dragging the battleflag of the Army of Northern Virginia out of the museums and running it up flagpoles in defiance of the progress that was being made in civil rights during the 1960s. Once that progress was made the law of the land, it was time to put it back in its rightful place and not continue to stain it with hatred for fulfilling the promise that all men (and sexes) are created equal..

    The argument in favor of the flag’s display by state governments that exist of the people, by the people and for the people is that it simply honors the heritage and history of the Lost Cause. But the absence of that flag from locations that are supposed to represent those people for a hundred years leaves no other conclusion than its public reappearance was solely in defiance to the end of segregation and subjugation of a portion of those people whose ancestors have been here for a century and a half before the signing of the Declaration of Independence.

    The flag’s symbolism is not about what it was but what it now is. Before the rise of the Nazi party, the swastika was a symbol for good luck in the Hindu culture, of friendship in the Native American culture, of a talisman in the Polish culture and the name of a town in northern Ontario, Canada, Now it is illegal to display the swastika in Germany, and its appearance in graffiti and at hate filled rallies is simply not acceptable to anyone in a civil society.

    I am not advocating that the display of the battleflag of the Army of Northern Virginia be made illegal because it is an intricate part of Civil War history and was eventually made part of the Confederacy’s national flag. I have not heard anyone of any race object to it being unfurled over Confederate reenactors at any of the reenactments during the Civil War sesquicentennial (and I attended more than my share). Nor has anyone insisted it not be displayed in its proper historical context. But I would welcome the day it is just as unacceptable to display that flag as a symbol of resistance to equal justice for all.

  8. Charles Martin makes a valid distinction between the two major modern uses of the Confederate battle flag, as (1) a symbol of the Lost Cause, and (2) as Strom Thurmond’s Dixiecrat symbol of defiance to desegregation and the continuation of racist policies. The problem is, how can we now be sure which use is intended? Clearly, the killer at the Charleston church believed the flag had the second meaning. If the supporters of the flag as a symbol of the Lost Cause had, long ago, made it clear to the Southern racists in their midst that it was not to be used as a symbol of racism, and backed that view up with action, things would not be at the point where they now are. As controversial as Lost Cause views are in the vast body of Civil War literature, they too may become tainted with the racism expressed by the killer in Charleston.

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