The headline on the front page of the Monday edition of The News & Observer was “New perspectives mark Civil War anniversary.” The story described how North Carolina wants to tell us about the war by including everyone and every issue that was involved during the 150th anniversary events planned for the next several years.
Some organizations, such as the N.C. War Between the States Sesquicentennial Commission cited in the N&O story, just want to focus on personalities (read: noble Southern freedom-loving white males) and gloss over the root causes.
The commission’s website states its purpose as “to advance a clear, unbiased history of North Carolina’s role during America’s War Between the States, 1861-1865. Avoiding a social and class perspective and concentrating on the leaders, people, politics, heroic sacrifices and wartime suffering, this website will provide a more telling story of why North Carolinians were ‘forced out of the Union,’ and pursued self-determination and political independence for a second time in 85 years.”
Now, anybody who uses “forced out of the Union” and “unbiased” in the same declaration is either kidding or hasn’t developed a very good sense of irony. Just as someone saying it was treason for former slaves in North Carolina to take up arms against the state while proclaiming that the Confederacy was justified to do the same. But that is exactly what Bernhard Thuersam, an amateur historian from Wilmington and head of the N.C. War Between the States Sesquicentennial Commission, said in the N&O article: “They [freed slaves who joined the Union army] were committing treason against the legal government of the state and killing North Carolinians.”
Thuersam believes planned state observances, symposia and state websites lean too much to revisionist thinking about the war and the South. He obviously is of the stripe that believes the conflict doesn’t sound so bad when people refer to it as a “war between the states” instead of a “civil war.”
On the group’s website at ncwbts150.com, you’ll find an introduction written by Clyde N. Wilson, a professor emeritus of history at the University of South Carolina and an ideologue of the neo-Confederate movement. According to the Southern Poverty Review, Wilson told Gentleman’s Quarterly in 1998 that “we don’t want the federal government telling us what to do, pushing integration down our throats. … We’re tired of carpetbagging professionals coming to our campuses and teaching that the South is a cultural wasteland.”
And, yes, that’s the same Clyde N. Wilson who referred to the Voting Rights Act of 1965 as “the second Reconstruction of the South.”
Neo-Confederates believe in honoring the Confederacy, its veterans and Southern cultural identity. While they are careful not to defend slavery, they deny it as the primary cause of the war. Many support public displays of Christian symbols and unabashedly oppose illegal immigration. Some support a re-secession of the South, but while they don’t advocate a violent secession, they would like to see something along the lines of the breakup of the Soviet empire and its states.
They especially don’t want anyone interpreting history in a way that would blame the South for the death, destruction and upheaval the region brought upon the nation by its obduracy and recklessness. They are opposed to what they call “revisionist” history that would place slavery as a root cause of the war.
Of course, for Chapel Hillians these things always come around to the statue on campus that celebrates the Confederate dead who were students at UNC. I see no reason why Silent Sam shouldn’t be moved or even abolished. It is a monument to UNC graduates who were traitors to the nation. It is a monument to a segment of those who fought and does not acknowledge the sacrifice of all participants in the fight. Why not observe the sesquicentennial by celebrating its removal?
If folks want to dress up in gray uniforms and antebellum dresses and parade around as if it were 1860 all over again, they can do that. But when they start traveling down the path advocated by the neo-Confederates, they do a disservice to all of us.