"I wish I had been born before the Civil War and had died at Gettysburg.” I suspect this is the secret wish of some modern reenactors! - Jonah


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.


The war started again in July 1961 with the grand reenactment of the Battle of First Manassas (Bull Run), which the South, not surprisingly, won again. Twenty-three states on both sides sent participants, although a large number of soldiers came from the ranks of the North-South Skirmish Association, an organization founded in 1950 by devotees of the muzzle-loading rifle, whose purpose is to hold shooting contests from time to time. The association units included "reactivated" regiments from the original battle: the First Regiment of the Virginia Volunteers, Hampton Legion, Washington (D.C.) Blue Rifles, and Richmond Rifles. For the First Manassas reenactments the participants wore authentic uniforms and carried old muskets whose blank cartridges often bruised the shoulder, blacked the face and seared the eyes of the unwary.


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.


The centennial engenders nothing if not sacrifice. The late Bill Polk, editor of the Greensboro Daily News, once showed me a letter from a North Carolina high-school boy which read, in part: "I wish I had been born before the Civil War and had died at Gettysburg."


These 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 Washington, D.C.


On to Washington! On to Yesterday!


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.


That realization is why the centennial is something less than a huge success in the big Southern cities. The plan for my own home, Charlotte, North Carolina, by far the largest city of the two Carolinas, was to commemorate the fact that it was the site of the Confederate Navy Yard. It seems that, after the war broke out, the naval stores at Portsmouth, Virginia, were seized and transported inland to Charlotte. The long board-walk, which storekeepers walked to cheek on the turpentine, tar and rope, is still called "the wharf." But except for the members of the committee itself, few people are even aware of the centennial, let alone a Confederate Navy Yard.


Such lack of interest is reflected in the local press. During the past year the papers carried only two short wire-service items. One from Montgomery, Alabama, reported the reenactment of the inauguration of Jefferson Davis as the first president of the Confederacy, and the other told of the resignation of Maj. Gen. U.S. Grant III as chairman of the Civil War Centennial Commission. This almost total lack of Dixie enthusiasm I attribute to the fact that Charlotte has been busy building three skyscrapers since the establishment of the Centennial Commission in 1957. And few centennialists can spare time from sales meetings and the filling of orders in some 600 branch offices and warehouses of national concerns.


Outposts in the Twentieth Century


Charlotte is not alone in reflecting this attitude of the new South. Such cities of the Confederate States as Norfolk, Winston-Salem, Greensboro, Greenville, Spartanburg and, most important of all, Atlanta, have their committees and their plans, but the populace is not interested in celebrating the world the Civil War ended; rather, they are absorbed in the world the Civil War made.


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.”


In 1962 the North does not need in­struction. It knew in 1862 that it was fighting to preserve the Union and free the slaves. Historians may say that the Confederate States did not war against those objectives, but rather were trying to preserve a way of life. Nevertheless, those were the objectives accomplished by the Emancipation Proclamation and the surrender at Appomattox.


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.


Q: Why did not slavery continue to exist in the State(s) of New England?

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.


I doubt, however, that any committee would ever propose a dramatic pageant to herald the day James B. Duke, the tobacco tycoon of North Carolina, lost, once and for all, the Southern cause. If there are Southerners who still consider Appomattox only a strategic displacement of troops in overall tactics, then let them know that the day 'Buck Duke' built his first power station on the Ca­tawba River, at Indian Hook Shoals in 1904, was the day of final defeat.


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 Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania arc de­pressed because of the factories which have pulled up stakes and relocated in the South with its milder climate, its limit­less land, its superior natural resources and its unorganized labor.


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 America.


Was the "Old South" a Myth?


The 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 Kentucky. There were Southerners before 1800, but there was no “Old South.” One of our Southern writers, Wilbur J. Cash, in his book The Mind of the South, recalled that boys who cleared out the Indians in the Carolina backwoods lived to command brigades at Bull Run, which means that the Old South could not have been more than two generations old.


The fact is that the Old South was nothing more than a myth and a poem and as Jimmy Street, another Southern writer, put it, a malady for which there fortunately is a vaccine - the industrial payroll.


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.


The 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 the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill or a daughter to the University of

Michigan at Ann Arbor.





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'.