Saturday, August 18, 2012
This past week, I picked up a copy of the July 2012 edition of the Civil War Society’s bi-monthly magazine North & South. One of the articles drew analogies between coaching mistakes in football and Confederate blunders in the Western theater that cost the Confederacy the war, the argument being the United States didn’t actually win the war, the Confederacy lost it. It’s not my purpose here to argue the merit’s of the South’s strategy, or lack thereof, to wage the war it did. I just did research on the battle of Shiloh for my next book, Camellia Creek, and anyone who has made even cursory study of the battles in that war (or any war for that matter) knows egregious errors were made by commanders on both sides, the crux being one side had unlimited assets with time on its side and could afford to squander both, and the other did not. It’s my humble opinion that the South had a brief window of opportunity to—maybe—win its independence. But I digress. What gave me pause to write this post was the argument put forth by a couple of the contributors to that North & South article that the war would have/could have continued if the South had been willing to keep up the fight vis-à-vis the resolve of the North’s population to continue the effort until the South was defeated. Resolve? From my corporate memory, passed to me from generation to generation, which my research builds on—the latter so I can site documented specifics vice depending on the emotional diatribes of my ancestors (mostly the womenfolk, who are passionate about their men, and yes, I am proud to say that I am one such female), I do not give much credence to the “resolve” of the Northern populace. In Claiborne County, the setting of Camellia Creek, Grant spared the town of Port Gibson as “too beautiful to burn.” [The town at the time was inhabited by women, children, the old and the sick—the men being at war. Now, I’m not going into why General Pemberton remained holed in right up the road in Vicksburg with an army of 30,000 when he could have moved out and made Grant pay dearly for every inch of Mississippi soil he violated. My purpose here is the “people’s resolve.”] Though Port Gibson was not burned, it did endure raids from Federal forces stationed in the area. Soldiers came in to the town on several occasions from 1863 until the end of the conflict and plundered it. Not just thievery of every item of food, clothing, bed linens, etc., but wanton, purposeful destruction of furniture, mirrors, windows and doors, the gardens, wells, sheds, etc. so that the means of replacing food, caring for the sick, and so forth could not easily be replaced. On at least one occasion, the white troops came in one day, but left their colored troops (USCT) outside town. After the whites plundered what they wanted, they camped outside town. The next day they let loose their colored troops to take/destroy whatever was left. In Jackson, one has simply to dig a few feet into the ground to find the phosphorous Grant used to firebomb the city that same summer of 1863. Sherman razed Meridian—that was before his march through Georgia and the burning of Atlanta, and he continued that wanton destruction against the civilians of the South all the way to the sea. And let’s not forget Phil Sheridan’s laying waste to the Shenandoah Valley. And when I turn to page 46 of my copy of The Civil War Catalog (Anthony Shaw, editor), I see an ancient photo of Richmond after its surrender—it looks like Berlin in May of 1945. Humpf, wonder why the Germans didn’t keep fighting? And oh my gosh, those wimpy Japanese! Surely they could have held out for a couple more nukes on their heads! Forced us to invade the homeland. This was not a case of rogue officers and undisciplined soldiers. This was a matter of policy made in Washington. The American way of war didn’t start in the 1940s it started in the 1860s, and the South fought until it didn’t make sense to fight anymore. The only thing gained would have been more suffering and death—oh, yeah, and getting to kill a few more Yankees. [And had they known what was to follow, they might have kept up the fight a bit longer.] Hey, I’m not faulting total war; I understand the concept all too clearly, and I’ve been on the winning end of it ever since, but I do have trouble pitting the Northern populace’s “resolve” against that of the Southern people. Moreover, this attack on all things Southern is a more recent aberration that has evolved over the past fifty years and made all the more odious in that it’s all too often perpetrated by Southerners. (Wait, I think I’ll refer to that particular segment as southerners, or as apologists who happen to live in the South). Why? Even if the allegations were true—and so much of this is conjecture as we move farther and farther from the suffering of our ancestors, why would one piss on his/her ancestors’ graves? The South was not wrong. As regards the Constitution, the law of the land, the secession, and defense of its homeland, we are on solid ground and we remained on solid ground through the tyranny and despotism of Reconstruction, which undermines to this day one of the basic tenants of this Federal Republic—state rights vis-à-vis what should be a co-equal and limited central government. What exactly tested the “resolve” of the Northern populace? Given their grand strategy, their unhindered line of communication, and the ruthless determination of their leaders, the only way they could have lost that war was to roll over and play dead—and early on they might very well have if the South had pressed harder—maybe. They were “resolved” all right, but the truth is the aforementioned “resolve” refers to a populace, virtually untouched by war’s destruction, willing to employ unlimited assets to wage unrestricted warfare against a populace which was not—and in the beginning the South could have, and looking back, should have. But to paraphrase the man who set our strategy to destruction: We simply wanted to be left alone.