Friday, July 27, 2012

It wasn’t just the generals

There was a myth accepted in both the South and the North that the South, especially Virginia was settled by descendants of the Normans while the North was settled by Saxons. "The Lee tradition," McMurry writes on pages 5-6, "early became united with the long-standing plantation myth to create the image of the Army of Northern Virginia as a group of cavaliers whose gallantry, chivalry, education, heritage, wealth, background, knightly manners, courage, and 'breeding' set them apart from and a notch or two above other Americans and even other Southerners. Lee's men in Virginia were romanticized and made the epitome of what white Southerners fancied themselves to be. G. F. R. Henderson . . . wrote of Lee's soldiers sitting around their campfires in the winter of 1862-63 studying Latin, Greek, mathematics, and even Hebrew as they awaited the coming of the spring campaign."

On page 44 45 McMurry writes, Richard Devon Watson, Jr., in his book The Cavalier in Virginia fiction, has traced the development of the 'myth of the Old Dominion.' 'The most potent and evocative projection of the mythical aristocrat,' he writes, 'has been the Virginia Cavalier,' who became 'the most magnetic symbol' of the aristocratic ideal. So strong was this myth that thirty years before the Civil War the figure of the Virginia cavalier as the embodiment of medieval knightly virtues was solidly embedded in the American mind. 'By 1832,' writes Watson, 'there were precious few minds capable of being objective about Virginia, and in the following three decade objectivity in Virginia fiction vanished altogether.' . . The Old South in general, and Virginia in particular, was Arthur's Camelot reincarnated in nineteenth-century America. The cavaliers were latter-day Knights of the Round Table.

"In contrast to the Southern cavalier stood the 'Yankee' -- the symbol of the North in general but especially of the northeast and even more especially new England. The Yankee was depicted in American fiction as the churlish, greedy, grasping offspring of materialistic, low-class Saxons. . . Such financial and industrial careers as Northerners were likely to pursue thus combined with their genetic (or 'racial') characteristics to weaken the soldierly virtues of courage and self-discipline. In the nineteenth century, then, the assumption was that industry weakened a nation's military strength and made its people unfit for warfare. (This assumption was a major reason why so many Confederates were not dismayed by the economic statistics contrasting the relative wealth of North and South.)"

And then on page 48 McMurry writes, "The crushing Yankee defeats at First Manassas on 21 July 1861 and at Balls Bluff three months later convinced many in the North that 'the old fears of Southern military skill and preparations were justified.' 'The invincibility of landed society seemed apparent."

The situation in the West was entirely different. The Northern soldier there may have heard of the myth, but soldiers from Ohio and Illinois believed their association with the land (as opposed to business) made them immune to Eastern Yankee effeteness. Conversely the Confederate solders in the West were for the most part not from Virginia. Thus, their sense of superiority was deficient. They weren't convinced they were that much better than the Western Yankees.

Also, the Confederate Generals in the West were for the most part not from Virginia. Bragg, for example, was from North Carolina. Just as Hooker hesitated in the face of Stonewall Jackson and his Virginians; so did Bragg far too often hesitate in the face of soldiers from Ohio, Illinois and Indiana. Those Yankees didn't fit the myth. The loss of battles in the West didn't entirely hinge upon the competency of Bragg, Johnston & Beauregard. The Western Confederate Army itself didn't possess the mythological prowess of the Army of Northern Virginia. Neither was the Union Army they faced subject to the Eastern Yankee's Army sense of inferiority.

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