Today, we’re pleased to welcome Joseph L. Owen back to Emerging Civil War. Joe is a historian with the National Park Service and co-author of Texans at Gettysburg: Blood and Glory with Hood’s Texas Brigade.
Due to the politically correct climate of the interpretation of Civil War history, I am concerned about how it will be interpreted and taught to future generations. It is becoming more prevalent to blame all the evils of American history before and during the Civil War to one section of our country, “the South,” or the former Confederate States of America, and not looking at both the northern and southern states before, during, and after the Civil War and reconstruction.
Civil War history that is becoming more prevalent in the classroom is the belief that the South=Slavery, the Confederate States of America=Evil, and the Confederate States of America=Bigoted War Mongers. Focusing on the broad strokes of “north=good” and “south=bad” and focusing less on the individuals of both sides who fought in the war is become more and more common. If historians and teachers are not vigilant and watchful, American history that doesn’t suit the political climate of the future will be ignored and, at worst, erased—not only history of the antebellum South, but of all American history that doesn’t suit the “politically correct” opinion and knee-jerk reactions of future societies.
Captain John Henderson, former officer in the 5th Texas Infantry, said it best during a speech to the Hood’s Texas Brigade Association reunion in 1901:
I am not unmindful that there be those who would rob us of our title of courage and honor – all that remains to us as a result of the war. But of this rest assured, they are not the soldiers who fought in that struggle. These if they would, could not afford to disparage our courage or bravery, for on this pedestal rests their own prowess and fame. For, take notice of this fact, no nation will discredit its own deeds of heroism. All men love glory, and all men admire courage, and without courage and love of glory a nation is doomed.
While the harvest of death through four long years of terrible war enriched our soil with the blood of our purest and noblest, it was not shed in vain; for in that martyrdom which tried men’s souls our people coined a reputation for courage and duty, for patriotism and love of country, which glorified them, and of which nothing can ever rob or despoil us. That honor and courage henceforth is consecrated to the preservation of the nation, and we will transmit it as a precious legacy to our children. May they not forget the immortal dead; may they emulate their example.”
[Close of the speech about the history of Hood’s Texas Brigade read by Captain (later Texas Superior Court Judge) John Henderson, 5th Texas Infantry Regiment on June 28, 1901, in Galveston, Texas.]