"I wish I had been
born before the Civil War and had died at
Let’s End the Civil War!
Re-fighting yesterday’s battles will never solve today’s problems.
By Harry Golden
(Saturday Evening Post, 11 August 1962)
There were more Confederate flags sold during the first year of the Civil War Centennial (1961) than were sold throughout the South during the war itself (1861-1865). One hesitates to estimate the number of Confederate flags that will be sold during the next three years, but the prospects are that the total will be more than all the flags sold in all the wars the nation has fought.
Yet the Civil War Centennial is hardly a promotion dreamed up by flag manufacturers. Nor is the centennial merely a project of the enthusiastic city booster to lure the tourist dollar. No city booster anywhere in the South or in the North has any intention of proposing a celebration of World War I or World War II or the Korean War.
We celebrate no other war because essentially we believe those wars are over, their outcomes final, the course of history decided. But there are centennial committees throughout the South which would have us think the Civil War is not done with, that it ought to be refought. These fellows grow beards, wave flags and charge over the few meadows the housing developers have left—hoping somehow by this exertion to sustain the illusion that the South may yet snatch victory from defeat. They do everything to re-create the Old South except save Confederate money.
war started again in July 1961 with the grand reenactment of the Battle of
First Manassas (
The son of a friend of mine, a "corporal" in the Guilford Greys (Greensboro, North Carolina), has been "killed" three times since First Manassas and is perfectly willing to give his life in a fourth reenacted battle. It is nice, indeed, to have more than one life to give to one's country, although the plane fare to the different battlefields is considerable.
centennial engenders nothing if not sacrifice. The late Bill Polk, editor of
the Greensboro Daily News, once
showed me a letter from a
mock recruits, I suspect, secretly hope one day the batteries will load real
projectiles in the cannons, and the bayonets will be cold steel, not rubber.
And this time they will take
Once they take the capital, they can force upon the Supreme Court the decisions that will restore the old plantations, the crinolines, the dueling pistols, the house on the hill with smoke coming out the chimney at twilight and little Sambo rolling in laughter under the magnolia. Ah, what a dream!
Yet it is not entirely an idle dream. The Civil War centennialists have some vague idea that, if they can mount a sufficient show of force, they may not have to deal with the more aggravating and immediate problems of Southern life - the problems that press upon an urban, industrial area that is leaving behind the old, easy agrarian values.
Thus the centennial has turned into a party rather than a pageant. I have even seen a few automobiles decorated with the Stars and Bars, filled with Negro students, each of the occupants therein wearing the butternut-gray dinks of Confederate soldiers. The centennial is democratic, and that may be its weakness. No centennial committeeman, no matter how skillfully he ties his bowstring, is completely unaware of what is going on in the business district of his hometown. He doesn't even have to work behind a store counter to know that, in the states of the old Confederacy, at least one third of all the purchasing power and one half of all the credit buying comes from the pockets of grandchildren and great-grandchildren of the Negro slaves.
realization is why the centennial is something less than a huge success in the
big Southern cities. The plan for my own home,
lack of interest is reflected in the local press. During the past year the
papers carried only two short wire-service items. One from
Outposts in the Twentieth Century
Thus, the serious centennial committee pretends the war took place among other peoples in other times. The committeemen would have it that it was a gentleman's war. As Carl Sandburg says, it thinks of the Civil War as it thinks of Sir Walter Scott's Ivanhoe.
The fact is, however, that the Civil War was the first modern war. It was the war the North won because the North realized it was an industrial war - a war won by a superior advantage in men, materiel, transportation and logistics. All wars since then have been won in this way, which is why the North finds it harder to throw itself unreservedly into the centennial celebration. The Civil War was a continuation of the North's history, not its climax, and it is far more difficult to verbalize and mythologize about continuity. Thus the celebration in the North has been largely carried on by publishing ventures.
Books on every conceivable aspect of the war inundate library shelves. But then, the North has always been, according to many Southerners, materialistic. Whether the centennial celebration has brought the publishers profits, I have no way of knowing. While it is eventful to read books by Bruce Catton and Lenoir Chambers, I am not sure I can devote the time to obscure major generals and books based on such ideas as "I Rode With Longstreet," "I Rode With Lee" and "I Rode With Jackson.”
1962 the North does not need instruction. It knew in 1862 that it was fighting
to preserve the
For any reader not yet persuaded of the silliness of the centennial, I recommend Catechism on the History of the Confederate States of America. That little brochure, issued by the United Daughters of the Confederacy, Tennessee Division, and intended for the patriotic instruction of the Southern child, has such questions and answers as:
Q: Did slavery exist among other civilized nations?
A: Yes, in nearly all.
Why did not slavery continue to exist in the State(s) of
A: Because they found it unprofitable, and they sold their slaves to the States of the South.
Q: How were slaves treated?
A: With great kindness and care in most cases, a cruel master being rare.
Q: What was the feeling of slaves toward their masters?
A: They were faithful and devoted and were always willing to serve them.
But if you really want an exhibition of plunging fully clothed into the past, think of one of the centennial committees, whose members pledge themselves to talk up John C. Calhoun at cocktail parties, ball games and backyard barbecues. John C. Calhoun was one of the tragic figures of American history. He so badly wanted to be President that he managed to author a lot of the South's woes by insisting it save its liberties by maintaining slavery and a plantation economy. I don't care how well prepared the barbecue is, it is not easy to digest John C. Calhoun as the long-lost Southern prophet.
doubt, however, that any committee would ever propose a dramatic pageant to
herald the day James B. Duke, the tobacco tycoon of
And since Buck Duke's time, every mayor of every Southern
city, every chamber-of-commerce secretary, every state legislator, has been
scurrying through the North looking for industry. In the past thirty years they
have found it, too. Parts of
The ideas which the mayor, the chamber-of-commerce
secretary and the legislator sell the Northern manager arc not the ideas of
chivalry and honor and family. They are instead the ideas of the middle class,
the ideas of city people who run factories, sell cars and manage national
distributorships. Certainly they are not the values of an isolated, provincial,
agrarian aristocracy. They are the values of the people who have had and
continue to have the comfort and prosperity of the industrial middle class of
Was the "Old South" a Myth?
chamber-of-commerce fellows are selling the ideals of the modern industrial
world because the ideals of the Old South were only make-believe currency. The
Old South nourished because Eli Whitney invented the cotton gin, and the cotton
gin followed appreciably after Dan’l Boone hiked into
fact is that the Old South was nothing more than a myth and a poem and as
The Civil War started with the Negro in slave cabins. But all of the blanks and muskets and beards and chattering Calhoun champions will not disguise the truth that Negroes serve today on the Republican and Democratic national committees. The real Confederates found cover behind occasional tar-paper shacks. In their place today, the recreated regiments and brigades have to charge around factories where the skilled workmen inside knock off a few minutes to cheer them on.
time has come to end the Civil War because we are one country with one economy.
We cannot take time out from industrial and urban problems of unemployment,
housing, schooling and civil rights to indulge ourselves in silly excess,
celebrating a time that no longer is - and never was. The truth is that, at
best, the rather expensive centennial provides but a minor amusement for the
people who are paying off mortgages and putting by the money to send a son to
Harry Golden is the widely quoted (New Yorker transplanted to North Carolina) editor of The Carolina Israelite and author of several books, including the best seller Only in America, For 2c Plain, and the newly published You’re Entitle'.