Friday, August 17, 2012

Civil War Trends

God and General Longstreet (by Connelly and Bellows) was a perplexing book. Anyone would think that with that title there would be a lot in the book about Longstreet, but not so. He is in the title (of the book & the first chapter) by virtue of his having been demonized by Lost Causers. There is God (Lee) and the Devil (Longstreet), but not much more is said about the latter.

Connelly & Bellows continue with their perplexing titles in the second chapter entitled "How Virginia won the Civil War." Virginians established their case that they did not really want to secede, they never really liked slavery, and they had the most noble leader of the Civil War (almost as much revered in the North as in the South) in Robert E. Lee. With hardly a lapse after the Civil War, the North resumed thinking that Virginia was one of the (if not the) most wonderful states in the Union. All (if indeed anyone could think of anything that needed to be) was forgiven.

The third chapter title is unobjectionable: "Robert E. Lee and the Southern Mind." It dwells a bit on the Lost Causer's deification of Lee and contrasts it with evidence of what Lee was really like -- nothing outrageous, but he did have a temper and he wasn't really raised by the upper crust in Virginia. Also, his father Light Horse Harry was a bit of a bounder. Lee's steely resolve to behave himself may have been in part due to his fear of turning out like Light Horse.

The Last chapter "The Enduring Memory," seems almost as though it were written by someone other than the author of the first three. We learn what the South has become in literature and movies. None of the early histories were all that great and no one wrote a novel to compare with War and Peace. James Dickey's Deliverance may be a cut above the rest because it is a "metaphor of the entire human condition."

But then they provide a paragraph that makes one wonder just how "enduring" the memory is going to be: ". . . In 1977 about 200,000 people made the pilgrimage to Fort Sumter where the war began, but meanwhile 100 miles up the South Carolina coast, 4.7 million people journeyed to the sun and sand empire at Myrtle Beach. That same year 138,000 visitors went to Stone's River battlefield, site of one of the Civil War's fiercest engagements; while, thirty miles away, 2 million people were enjoying the garish country-music-theme park at Opryland, U.S.A. It is no surprise that a 1979 poll conducted among a class of students at a large southern university revealed that out of 100 students questioned -- almost all natives of the region -- 75 percent had never heard of the great Confederate hero, General Nathan Bedford Forrest."

The implication of this disinterest is not pursued, instead the authors return to safer territory, i.e., historical trends. There is an ongoing interest as we know in what caused the war and precisely who lost (or won) it. This last chapter is the least satisfying of the four, perhaps because it deals with events still happening. Perhaps wisely they don't predict how anything (neither popular opinion nor historical direction) is going to turn out.

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