It is such innocuous slights to the South that fueled my resolve a number of years ago to concentrate my reading on Southern history. I don’t mean writings produced over the last fifty years, a proliferation of anti-Southern bias designed, at its most benign, to marginalize the South’s role in this nation to the malicious portrayal of Southerners as violent, murderous opponents to liberty, freedom, and civil rights, supposedly making the South upside down and backwards to what this nation is supposed to stand for. Such portrayal serves a liberal agenda that does, in fact, reject the Founder’s Republic.
A child of the sixties, during which I witnessed the purposeful destruction of the Southern wing of the Democratic Party, I understand the agenda driving revisionist history. What is inexplicable to me is why so many tax-paying Americans, who more and more find themselves under the thumb of government, fail to make the correlation between the skewing of that history and what is happening to this nation.
Let’s return to the ancestry of my friend’s Southern heroine that introduced this post. Though not impossible, the ancestral migration cited is improbable. More significantly, when one has the founding of Jamestown, Virginia in 1607, or more convincingly, the great migration to Jamestown in 1609-1610 to draw from, why establish the woman’s historical bona fides via New England? Jamestown predates the Pilgrims by a decade.
I do not believe the author’s oversight was intentional, rather an honest belief that the Pilgrim’s landing at Plymouth was the iconic moment in colonizing what would become the United States. Maybe it’s the Thanksgiving thing—the turkeys and pumpkin pies and the brief “kumbaya” interlude with the friendly natives. I’ll give the Pilgrims that—I like Thanksgiving, too—but as for being the forefathers of fine Southern lineage, no.
Imagine my pleasure, then, when on one of my visits to Barnes and Noble, a book bearing the uniformed chest and strong hands of a Revolutionary War soldier cradling his long rifle jumped off the shelf at me: Ilario Pantano’s Grand Theft History. Admittedly, it’s the kind of cover that catches my eye and a quick perusal of the subtitle told me the volume was one after my own heart. Pantano is himself a transplanted Southerner and former U.S. Marine with an understanding of military history, an interest in research, and a talent for writing.
Grand Theft’s theme deals with the steady disappearance of the South’s role in the history of this nation. He supports his argument by taking a slice of that history, the Revolutionary War, in which the South’s role proved crucial, and shows how that participation has been buried. He presents his argument in the form of a criminal trial in which evidence is presented to a jury to support a case of dereliction on the part of modern historians to give the South its due for the victories in the Carolinas in 1780 and 1781, which led to Cornwallis’ retreat to and subsequent surrender at Yorktown. In school, I learned about Lexington and Concord, the Declaration, Trenton, Saratoga, and Benedict Arnold, and, of course, I knew Cornwallis surrendered at Yorktown bringing it all to an end. I knew there was fighting in the South, but nothing I learned emphasized the strategic importance of the Southern theatre. As I grew into an adult, I learned that the war was particularly vicious in the South, while ancillary reading about events to the north left me with the feeling that there was too much pragmatic intercourse going on between the antagonists. Today, I wonder if the British wouldn’t have been better off if they’d dealt with their Southern colonists with equally kid gloves. But then, perhaps, their Southern colonists simply wouldn’t have it.
Have you ever asked yourself how Cornwallis managed to get himself surrounded in Yorktown, Virginia or what he was doing there to begin with? Personally, I can’t recall ever studying that in school, but I’m no spring chicken and “school” was a long time ago. To make a long story short, for those who don’t know, he was there because he’d hauled his ass out of the Carolinas before he’d lost his entire army. The British had, since his victorious landing at Charleston in the late spring of 1780, met with several resounding defeats at the hands of some very pissed off frontiersman—those being, to hit some of the highpoints, Huck’s Crossing, King’s Mountain, Cowpens, but there were more—all crowned by Cornwallis’ Pyrrhic victory at Guilford Courthouse. Not only was Guilford costly, the Patriots got away to boot. That’s when Cornwallis decided it was time to get out of the Carolinas. Things were a little more stable in Virginia, so that’s where he headed. He holed up in Yorktown on the coast and waited for General Clinton, cozy in New York, to come move him to safety. Clinton promised to come, but dawdled, and the Americans and French beat him to Cornwallis. Pacification of the South had failed and renewed hope swelled the Patriot ranks stalemated to the north. In a blink it was over (at least according to the history books) and the final decisive victories had been won by hard fighting Southerners who were fed up being violated by British regulars, irregulars, and colonial loyalists recruited not only amongst their neighbors in the South, but in New England.
But you know something I learned specifically from Pantano’s book? On February 27, 1776, Carolina patriots defeated a much larger force of Carolina loyalists at a place called Moores Creek Bridge in North Carolina. The loyalists were on their way to augment British naval forces for the planned assault on Charleston in June of that same year. Turns out they really needed those ground forces, because a few months later the British naval bombardment of Sullivan’s Island, defending Charleston Harbor, failed. The British ships took a licking and sailed away, delaying the main offensive against the Southern colonies four years. That failure to bring the Southern colonies to heel would ultimately cost Britain the war.
In 1781 Mother England knew where the final gambit had been played...and lost. As cited above, she’d already prudently postponed a second invasion of an area (South Carolina) where she’d already been thwarted once. In addition to unfriendly colonists, there was the environment which was hostile to conventional armies. Okay, it was hostile to just about everybody, but the patriots there had struggled long and hard to build what they had. They had adjusted to not only the environment but the native inhabitants born and bred in that briar patch; they had, themselves, become indigenous. Now, with the north at a stalemate and the promise of Southern loyalists (also indigenous, which is what made the war there so nasty) who would rally to the British cause, she decided the time was ripe to subdue what remained of the rebels. At the time, a great deal was made by Mother England’s intent to invade the South. Immediately after, a great deal was made of her decision to have done so and who was to blame for the failure. Today that has fallen out of the mainstream histories. Oh, books are written by Southerners, but the television documentaries and the academic histories, and the curriculum taught in the prestigious, left-leaning universities, which for some reason I am unable to fathom, have been dubbed the torch-bearers of American history, gloss over the Southern role. These people have the market, leaving no room for the Southern presentation, something Pantano points out along with a detailed list and description of the miscreants. It’s not that the South’s role was more important, but certainly it was as important and the strategic picture for ultimate victory needs to be studied overall, from start to finish. There is plenty of room for the recognition of all. Two-hundred and thirty-six plus years ago we all worked together..., but we were a different nation then.
I am a Southerner. This theme of promoting the South’s role in this nation is dear to me. I’ll never be an academic and I’m never going to make a movie or a television documentary, but I do intend to fight back against the forces undermining not only the South, but our Founders as well.
More next time and thanks for reading.