Camp Herndon, Va.
August 11, 2000
All Civil War Buffs:
On my last post to this board I showed you my response to a young man's question who had written to me from England. Last night I received another from him and I would like to share that with you.
Some of your answers were indeed very interesting, particularly about heritage. I respect that you are a patriotic American but do you not carry with you a devolutionary outlook? By which I mean a de-centralised view of government, and if so is your view a common one? I have read some extremely interesting articles on the web (your site included) that highlight this contention of State rights. Why, if the issue was so important in 1861 has it faded? Or maybe it hasn't. I don't really know. I'm afraid I'm what you'd label a Royalist and a Redcoat (shame on me!)
I'd like to, if I may, say a few words about what I think the South is missing in terms of heritage - I hope you won't disagree too much. When I visited the South (Virginia, S.Carolina and Georgia) I found a lack of appreciation for the common soldier, Johnny Reb. Too much attention has been paid to the chiefs and none to the Indians. The vast majority 99.9% were fighting for their homes. But where are the national memorials to these dead? Why do school kids have no clue about their fore fathers, when they know all about those men fed with silver spoons. Surely there are vast amounts of decent and morally acceptable southerners could be given to children. I mean General Lee was described by Churchill as the greatest tactician of the 19th century (above Napoleon!).
I should say that in our country WWI is seen as a watershed - 1 million British and Commonwealth men died (including my great grandfather) and proportionally to its population the South suffered worse! What is wrong with a country that can not celebrate the achievements of a (misguided) brave and brilliant generation of common men?
a patriotic Anglo - Celtic son of an British army major!
It's good to hear from you again. To better understand the issue of "States Rights" I have to take you back a little in the history of this country so please bear with me. After the war with England for our independence was won, our founding fathers spent many years trying to hammer out a Constitution that the several states could agree to. When they thought they had it, it was found that there was a problem that had been overlooked. The rights of the "individual" had not been addressed. So there were 10 amendments added to the Constitution that have become known in our history as the "Bill of Rights". These amendments clearly spelled out the individual rights of the American Citizen such as freedom of the press, freedom of speech, right to a speedy trial, right to keep and bear arms, etc. It is the 10th of these amendments that speaks the States Rights issue. This says "powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people." To strict readers of this amendment, the federal government has the right only to declare war and conduct diplomacy in the name of the states. All other matters, including the right to allow slavery to exist within a state's borders, are to be decided by the population of each individual state.
As the country began to develop and the frontiers pushed out, it began to "sectionalize". Those states to the South, being rural and sparsely populated, held to Thomas Jefferson's belief that "the government that governs least governs best" and held firm to the conviction that the "State" was sovereign. While those to the North, being heavily industrialized and densely populated, leaned more to the beliefs of Alexander Hamilton that it was the Federal government that must hold the power in order for the nation to survive and prosper. Now that is a very brief description of how the belief in "States Rights" began.
The belief in these rights was so strong in the South that a Confederate soldier in the war was not fighting for the Confederacy, he was fighting for his state and it's right to determine it's own destiny. In other words a soldier from Alabama was in effect fighting for Alabama, one from Mississippi for Mississippi, and so on. In a letter to his sister explaining why he had to resign his commission in the U.S. Army Robert E. Lee said, and I paraphrase here, "I have been a soldier all my life and I love my country. However, I cannot raise my sword against my family, my friends, or a fellow Virginian. As Virginia goes, so I must go also."
After the South's loss in the war things began to change to what you see today in this country; a strong centralized Federal government with the state governments relegated to a relatively minor role. The author Shelby Foote once said "Before the war one said the United States are, after the war, they say the United States is!" However, make no mistake about, even today in the South, a Southerner is very proud of his state and has a great dislike for the power the Federal government has. Especially when it exercises that power over a function he thinks rightly should belong to the state. Additionally, He will let you know in a heartbeat he is not pleased if you say something bad his state, and they really don't have a great love for people from the North. I joke sometimes and tell people that I was 14 years old before I found out that "Damn Yankee" was two words.
You said that during your stay in this country you found a lack of memorials to the common soldier. If that is true I suspect your stay was confined to the larger cities in the South. If you go to the smaller towns, especially those that were there during the war, in many of the "town squares" you will find a statue of a Confederate soldier. These monuments are not to the leaders such as Lee, Jackson, Johnston, Forrest, etc. but are to the common soldiers from that area who fought and died in the war. However, the greatest monument to the soldier is held in the hearts of the Southern people. It is a grand feeling and makes your heart swell and yours eyes water to sit around the bonfire late at night during a family reunion and talk about how your ancestor(s) fought the "good fight". How they cleansed their wounds in the "bloody pond" at Shiloh, how they stood on their own dead in the "Bloody Lane" at Antietam until all hope of holding was gone. No my friend, the monuments to the Confederate soldier are not necessarily carved in stone but carved into the very soul of a Southerner.
I hope this answers some of your questions. Feel free to contact me anytime. Just remember that these are only my opinion(s). It does not make them right. It does not make them wrong. It merely makes them mine.
I am, very respectfully, your obedient Servant,....
As you can see, I did not want to leave the impression that all Southerners are raving fanatics just waiting for the South to rise again such a many of the "Confederate" websites leads one to believe, but neither did I want him to think that we do not fully remember the war and the sacrifices our ancestors made. Anyway,these were just some thoughts. As always, I'll ya'll in the room.
I am, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
Dick (a.k.a. Shotgun)