Sunday, March 29, 2015

The pride of the South

Yes, and there were Union men who wept with joyful tears,
When they saw the honored flag they had not seen for years;
Hardly could they be restrained from breaking forth in cheers
("While we were marching through Georgia")

From Josh Gerlenter's "The Romance of the Confederacy"
.... I wouldn’t ask sons of Confederate veterans to disown their ancestry; in fact, my mother’s mother’s family was southern, and four of my great-great-grandfathers fought in the Confederate army. And I know that lots of Americans sincerely see the Confederate flag as a symbol of states’ rights — particularly because virtually no Confederate soldiers actually owned slaves. But, personally, I see the Confederate flag as the symbol of men who, as Lincoln put it, wrung their bread from the sweat of other men’s faces; who, “to strengthen, perpetuate, and extend” slavery, were willing to “rend the Union, even by war.” And I’m a very reasonable man.  ....

Needless to say, the South has lots to be proud of, and — though it might not be my place — I’d like to point out something that could (and ought to) supplant its traditional reverence for the Confederacy.

The best estimates of the size of the Confederate army range from 750,000 men to a million. One hundred ten thousand additional southerners fought in the Civil War — for the Union. That means that more than one of every ten southerners who fought in the war fought to end slavery and keep the country united. The South ought to be very proud of that.

Over the last 150 years, historians have carefully dissected the Union Army, which was 2.2 million strong; 1.2 million Boys in Blue were born in the United States, but the rest were immigrants: 5,000 Polish Americans born in Poland, 6,000 Mexican Americans born in Mexico, 7,000 Jewish Americans born all over Europe (including, I’ll slip in, another of my great-great-grandfathers). The largest subdivisions were 200,000 men each from Germany and Ireland; the third largest such “minority” was the southern contingent. A very impressive record. In fact, southerners constituted such a large proportion of the Union Army that every Southern state except South Carolina assembled at least one battalion. Ulysses S. Grant singled them out for praise as “brave and loyal men who volunteered under great difficulty.” ....