|My son Michael poses beneath a period cannon|
in 2006 at Wilson's Creek National Battlefield.
Don't mess with this boy, he's "packin heat!"
You'll notice I didn't call it the "Civil War." This is because I'm a student of history, so I recognise that the common classification as a civil war is technically inaccurate. Technically speaking, the war from 1861 to 1865 was not in any way a civil war. You see a civil war is when two rival political entities are fighting for control of the same government. That is not what happened as all in this war. Rather, what we had from 1861 to 1865 was a group of 13 states fighting for independence from one government, in the hope of establishing their own completely separate one. In this sense, the Dixie Revolutionary War was very much like the American Revolutionary War in 1775 - 1783. If we want to talk about war names, the only official name for the war of 1861 - 1865 recorded in the Congressional Record and the Library of Congress is the "War of the Rebellion." While a little one-sided, obviously, it is at least accurate. The war was a rebellion against the United States Federal government, and goes along the same lines of what the British called the American Revolutionary War.
Therefore, in my opinion, there are only four proper, and historically accurate, names for this war. One of them is the "War of the Rebellion" recorded in the Library of Congress. It is a bit one-sided, and slanted toward the North, but it's at least technically accurate. Another is the "War for Southern Independence," which is technically accurate. The third is my own invention, but I'm partial to it. I call it the "Dixie Revolutionary War." It's accurate and brings to mind the parallels with the American Revolutionary War. The fourth and last is a bit slanted toward the South, but technically accurate again, and that is the "War of Northern Aggression."
In California there was plenty of history, and it was very old history indeed, dating back to the Spanish colonial period, but since I am not of any Spanish descent whatsoever, I had difficulty connecting with it. However, I did like the old architecture. I have sat in homes that were over 400 years old! I have walked through missions of equal age and touched the articles of clothing and armour once worn by conquistadors. That part I liked, but beyond that, the political history of California is somewhat disconnected from me. Because of my heritage I seem to feel more at home with the history found here in the Ozarks. Though it is not nearly as old, I do find it more intriguing.
|A large Confederate monument|
in Springfield Missouri
I'll give you a quick synopsis of how I see this epic struggle that is commonly and inaccurately referred to as the "Civil War."
Thirteen states tried to secede from the Federal Union of the United States unsuccessfully. That's it. They did not try to take over Washington DC. They did not seek to overthrow the Federal government. They did not go on a campaign of conquest into the Northern states. They simply tried to break away from the United States, start their own country, and be left alone. It didn't work. Now as somebody who is Southern by heritage, through my mother, but born and raised on the West Coast, I tend to NOT get too emotionally tied up in this whole thing. I've found that people here in the Ozarks get very emotional about it, regardless of which side they fall on. I suspect that because of the nature of the conflict, it's hard to be emotionally disconnected, unless you were born and raised in an area that had little to do with it. Yes, I know California did participate in the Dixie Revolution, but let's face it, California's participation was minimal to say the least. The state almost just waited to see who would win.
My view of the Dixie Revolution is what I think to be a dispassionate one. The Dixie Revolution was really just a war of secession -- nothing more and nothing less. I see no difference between the Dixie Revolution and the American Revolution. Both were wars of secession. In both cases, the secessionists fought against impossible odds. In both cases, the secessionists were slave territories. In both cases, the wars were unpopular. The one and only difference is this. In the American Revolution, the secessionists won. In the Dixie Revolution, the secessionists lost. That's it.
|A Confederate cemetery, joined to cemeteries of other wars,|
in Springfield Missouri
Now if you tend to favour the Northern side of the conflict, you will likely see slavery as the sole motivating force behind the Dixie Revolution. If you tend to favour the Southern side of the conflict, you will likely see unfair taxes and big-government intrusion as the motivating factors behind the Dixie Revolution. While I think there is an element of truth to both views, and all of these things did indeed play into the social tensions leading up to the Dixie Revolution, I don't believe any one (or combination) of them was the cause. No more than I believe any one (or combination) of them was the cause for the American Revolution. It's funny really, because the common Northerner (or Northern sympathiser) will take the Northern view of the Dixie Revolution, but then turn around and take the Southern view of the American Revolution. At least the Southerners (or Southern sympathisers) are consistent, taking the Southern view (taxes and meddling government) in both the Dixie Revolution and the American Revolution. I'll give the Southern sympathisers a "C+" for consistency, and the Northern sympathisers a "C-" for confusion. However, I still think both of them are wrong, and are over complicating what I see as a very simple explanation for the Dixie Revolutionary War of 1861 - 1865.
The reason for the Dixie Revolution was simply this. The Southern states wanted to secede and start a new country. The Federal government said "no" and the Northern states simply did what their overly centralised Federal government told them to do. That's it folks. I really don't see it as anything more complicated than that.
Of course, the question begs to be asked as to why? Why did the Southern states want to secede? Why did the Federal government say "no"? Why did the Northern states agree to do the Federal government's bidding? (By that I mean make war on their neighbours.) This is where it gets sticky, and this is where all these other factors come into play. There is only one group of people who can accurately say why they wanted to secede from the United States, and that is the Southern people of that time period. When you look at their stated causes for secession, you will find some citing the preservation of slavery and others citing taxes, and others citing various other things. In all of these explanations, one thing remains consistent. The Southerners all agreed that the Federal government of the United States was getting too big, too powerful, too centralised and was taking on characteristics of the British Empire. So they did what their forefathers did in 1775 - 1783. They seceded and started their own country. In the Northern states, no explanations are given, because they didn't secede from the Union, and so they didn't need to issue any explanations. They did what the Federal government told them to do; making war on their neighbours to the South, and of course the question begs to be asked as to why? Would Ohio make war on Virginia today if told to? Would New York attack Mississippi today if the Federal government gave the order? I dare say "no." The people in all of these states would be more likely to tell the Federal government to "go to hell" and that would be the end of it. It wasn't that way in 1861, and perhaps that's why we still have such a fascination with this war over 150 years later. Here is where I see religion playing a huge role in the conflict.
|The Ray House, is the last remaining structure from|
the War era at Wilson's Creek. It served as a
makeshift hospital after the battle.
|Period re-enactments are rare at Wison's Creek,|
but they are extremely popular. Here we see
2012 Confederate troops advancing on the Union Army.
|Re-enactors depict Confederate cavalry advancing|
on Union troops at a reenactment of the
Battle of Wilson's Creek.
Lincoln took a distinctively different view of presidential power and secession than his predecessors James Buchanan and Thomas Jefferson. Lincoln was hell bent on preserving the Union by all means necessary, and even supported a constitutional amendment (the Corwin Amendment) that would have made slavery constitutionally legal in the United States forever, if it would keep states within the Union. The U.S. Congress passed this amendment, but it was never ratified by the states since secession of the Southern states was already under way. (Technically, it's still a candidate for ratification, even though the 13th Amendment technically nullifies it.) Lincoln knew the only way to bring the Southern states back into the Union was by force, but if he managed to get a Declaration of War from the Congress, he would effectively be admitting that the South had successfully seceded and formed their own country. It is doubtful the Congress would have supported such a war declaration anyway. Lincoln needed to provoke the South into military actions against Federal troops to gain enough congressional support for a "police action." By refusing to recognise the secession of the Southern states, he could say a rebellion was under way just as soon as Southern troops fired on Federal troops. To get this to happen, he needed to provoke it. Lincoln began supplying munitions to Federal forts throughout the South, stating openly that he would use harbour forts to stop foreign ships to collect Federal taxes. The Southern states (especially South Carolina), now an independent nation, interpreted this as a declaration of war from what they considered a foreign country (the United States), equivalent to the hypothetical situation of Canada trying to collect British taxes in New York Harbour. This is what led to the Confederate firing on Fort Sumpter in Charleston Harbour in 1861. Lincoln now had the political excuse he needed, a "rebellion" had just begun, so he then commenced a Federal invasion of Southern states. The interesting thing about Fort Sumpter is that there were no casualties in that battle. Nobody was killed, and nobody was even hurt. It was just a whole lot of fireworks. From this, a war commenced that resulted in the deaths of over 620,000 people.
Declaration of Independence for details.)
When it comes to the Dixie Revolution, I do not blame the North, nor do I blame the South. For the thirteen Southern states did exactly what the thirteen colonies did in the American Revolution. They were following the example of their forefathers. The Northern states were just doing what they were told. They were following orders, from a centralised government they had already surrendered all of their rights to. No, the only one I blame for the Dixie Revolutionary War was the man who gave those orders, the man of whom they say "the buck stops here," the one and only man who had the power to stop this tragic cascade of events, and had the example of an immediate predecessor and a founding father to show the way. I'm talking about none other than Abraham Lincoln.
I know. I know. It's American "blasphemy" to say such things. For Abraham Lincoln is considered a "founding father" himself and is revered as a super-president of sorts -- the supposed greatest one of all time. Well, you have to remember that the victor of a war writes this history of a war. The propaganda is old, having been around for over a century, but I would like to think I'm a little smarter than that. I don't buy it. If our current president, Barack H. Obama, launched a military attack on California, who would we blame for that? The Californians? New Yorkers? The Western states, or the Eastern states? No, it would be nobody's fault but Barack Obama's, regardless of what events precipitated it. After all is said and done, he is the President, and "the buck stops" with him.
So why did Lincoln do it? Or maybe we should ask, why did he allow it to happen? I think the answer is simple really. Lincoln believed it was his duty as president to preserve the Union at all cost. The direction of his predecessors notwithstanding, he could not tolerate the idea of the Union broken up under his presidency. He didn't want to go down in history as the president who oversaw the breakup of the United States of America. Of this tragic course of action, the notable English author G.K. Chesterton had the following to say...
The American Civil War [sic.] was a real war between two civilisations. It will affect the whole history of the world. There were great and good men, on both sides, who knew it would affect the whole history of the world. Yet the great majority of Englishmen know about it, or only know the things that are not true. They have a general idea that it was `all about niggers'; [note: I personally don't care for this word, but Chesterton was quoting others here.] and they are taught by their newspapers to admire Abraham Lincoln as ignorantly and idiotically as they once used to abuse him. All this seems to me very strange; not only considering the importance of America, but considering how everybody is now making America so very important. America is allowed to have, if anything, far too much influence on the affairs of the rest of the world...So when it comes to Lincoln, I am genuinely unimpressed. I don't think of him as any kind of hero, and I make sure my kids don't either. I'll not have them participate in the "emperor worship" of a man who clearly doesn't deserve it in my estimation. Not to worry, I have no desire to rip up five-dollar bills, melt pennies, or deface his monuments. As I said above, I'm quite dispassionate about the whole thing, and I really don't give a hoot. I've always said if you have a problem with a dead man, dig up his grave and rattle his bones or something, but I have no desire to do that either. I just find it strange and awkward that so much civil reverence is given to this man. It boarders on the homage given to the Caesars, and I find that a bit uncomfortable. I would much rather venerate the angels, Saints and martyrs who have actually earned my respect, rather than some politician who probably wouldn't have even earned my vote had I been around to cast it. In the end, that's all Lincoln ever was -- just another politician. He wasn't even well liked in his day. Strange that he is so loved and revered in ours.
....We know, in our own case, that it is sometimes possible to lose a war after we have won it. The American politicians lost something more valuable than a war; they lost a peace. They lost a possibility of reconciliation that would not only have doubled their strength, but would have given them a far better balance of ideas which would have vastly increased their ultimate influence on the world. Lincoln may have been right in thinking that he was bound to preserve the Union. But it was not the Union that was preserved. A union implies that two different things are united; and it should have been the Northern and Southern cultures that were united. As a fact, it was the Southern culture that was destroyed. And it was the Northern that ultimately imposed not a unity but merely a uniformity. But that was not Lincoln's fault. He died before it happened; and it happened because he died.
Everybody knows, I imagine, that the first of the men who really destroyed the South was the Southern fanatic, John Wilkes Booth. He murdered the one man in the North who was capable of comprehending that there was a case for the South. But Northern fanatics finished the work of the Southern fanatic; many of them as mad as he and more wicked than he. Mr. Bowers gives a vivid account of the reign of terror that Stevens and Sumner and the rest let loose on the defeated rebels a pestilence of oppression from which the full promise of America has never recovered. But I have a particular reason at the moment for recommending to my countrymen some study of the book and the topic.
Every age has its special strength, and generally one in which some particular nation is specially strong. Every age has also its special weakness and deficiency, and a need which only another type could supply. This is rather specially the Age of America; but inevitably, and unfortunately, rather the America of the Northern merchants and industrialists. It is also the age of many genuine forms of philanthropy and humanitarian effort, such as modern America has very generously supported. But there is a virtue lacking in the age, for want of which it will certainly suffer and possibly fail. It might be expressed in many ways; but as short a way of stating it as any I know is to say that, at this moment, America and the whole world is crying out for the spirit of the Old South.
In other words, what is most lacking in modern psychology is the sentiment of Honour; the sentiment to which personal independence is vital and to which wealth is entirely incommensurate. I know very well that Honour had all sorts of fantasies and follies in the days of its excess. But that does not affect the danger of its deficiency, or rather its disappearance. The world will need, and need desperately, the particular spirit of the landowner who will not sell his land, of the shopkeeper who will not sell his shop, of the private man who will not be bullied or bribed into being part of a public combination; of what our fathers meant by the free man. And we need the Southern gentleman more than the English or French or Spanish gentleman. For the aristocrat of Old Dixie, with all his faults and inconsistencies, did understand what the gentle man of Old Europe generally did not. He did understand the Republican ideal, the notion of the Citizen as it was understood among the noblest of the pagans. That combination of ideal democracy with real chivalry was a particular blend for which the world was immeasurably the better; and for the loss of which it is immeasurably the worse. It may never be recovered; but it will certainly be missed.
-- G.K. Chesterton
On America, from "Come to Think of It"
In any case, as Chesterton pointed out above, Lincoln may have started the destruction of Dixie, but he didn't finish it. He was the author of the saying: "hard war, easy peace." His commission of General Sherman to commit cultural genocide and war crimes against the South, was tempered only by his willingness to let things go back as they were, if only the rebels would put down their rifles and go home. That ended with his assassination, and the terms of the surrender of General Lee, and his Army of Virginia, were not worth the paper they were printed on by the time General Grant delivered them to the desk of Lincoln's notorious successor, President Andrew Johnson. What followed was the cultural and social dismantling of the South through Reconstruction and the 14th Amendment.
I am glad that I moved to Dixie. Missouri is probably one of the most interesting former Confederate states. The secession of Missouri is disputed, and that's because of the circumstances under which it happened. Missouri had two secession conventions, both in the same year. The first overwhelmingly voted to stay within the Union. The second voted to secede. What happened in between to change people's minds? Well, that was the result of a man named General Nathaniel Lyon. General Lyon served the Union, and he was stationed in St. Louis. His orders were to cross Missouri and attack the Confederates in Arkansas west of the Mississippi River. Missouri held its first secession convention and voted overwhelmingly to stay within the Union, but conditionally, stating that it did not want to turn the state into a war zone. A state guard would be commissioned by the governor to keep the Confederates out of the state, and effectively stop them from advancing through Missouri territory. In exchange, General Lyon would keep his Federal troops out of Missouri and not draft any Missourians into his Federal brigade. It was a reasonable compromise and a fair settlement. Compromise is how Missourians lived during that time. Missouri was a split state, with Germans settling the northern half, and Scots settling the southern half. Thus slavery was permitted in southern Missouri, and outlawed in northern Missouri. Missourians were used to making compromises work. They thought this would be no different. When Governor Claiborne Fox Jackson presented the plan to General Nathaniel Lyon, this was Lyon's response...
"Rather than concede to the State of Missouri the right to demand that my government shall not enlist troops within her limits, or bring troops into the State whenever it pleases, or move troops at its own will into, out of, or through the State; rather than concede to the State of Missouri for one single instant the right to dictate to my government in any matter, however unimportant, I would [pointing at the three state officials] see you, and you, and you, and you and every man, woman and child in the State, dead and buried. This means war. In an hour one of my officers will call for you and conduct you out of my lines." -- General Nathaniel Lyon in St. Louis, June 11, 1861What followed was carnage. The capital of Missouri, Jefferson City, was attacked and captured. Some elected officials and high-ranking dignitaries were killed. General Lyon conducted a military raid against the relatively unarmed and completely unsuspecting people of Missouri. This caused several state congressmen to flee west toward Neosho, just south of Joplin, near the Missouri-Oklahoma border. There they eventually gathered enough of their number to form a quorum and the following secession ordinance was passed...
An act declaring the political ties heretofore existing between the State of Missouri and the United States of America dissolved.
Whereas the Government of the United States, in the possession and under the control of a sectional party, has wantonly violated the compact originally made between said Government and the State of Missouri, by invading with hostile armies the soil of the State, attacking and making prisoners the militia while legally assembled under the State laws, forcibly occupying the State capitol, and attempting through the instrumentality of domestic traitors to usurp the State government, seizing and destroying private property, and murdering with fiendish malignity peaceable citizens, men, women, and children, together with other acts of atrocity, indicating a deep-settled hostility toward the people of Missouri and their institutions; and
Whereas the present Administration of the Government of the United States has utterly ignored the Constitution, subverted the Government as constructed and intended by its makers, and established a despotic and arbitrary power instead thereof: Now, therefore,
Be it enacted by the general assembly of the State of Missouri, That all political ties of every character new existing between the Government of the United States of America and the people and government of the State of Missouri are hereby dissolved, and the State of Missouri, resuming the sovereignty granted by compact to the said United States upon admission of said State into the federal Union, does again take its place as a free and independent republic amongst the nations of the earth.
This act to take effect and be in force from and after its passage.
Approved, October 31, 1861.
Source: Official Records, Ser. IV, vol. 1, pp. 752-53.
|My son Michael poses before a confederate|
monument in 2006 at Wilson's Creek.
Personally, I think Missourians should be proud of their Confederate history. The Confederates in 1861 did nothing more shameful than the colonists in 1776. If you're proud of the American Revolution, you should likewise be proud of Dixie Revolution. When you celebrate the 4th of July, you should likewise remember those brave Southern states that followed in the colonists' footsteps. They were both "freedom fighters" to use a cliché term. I love the history here, and its something I'm trying to instill a sense of pride in with my children. They should be proud that they were born on once Confederate soil, and even though it was essentially a lost cause, that doesn't mean the principles behind it have died. This is no longer 1861. The social problems of that era are long dead and buried. Today we have new social problems, and whole new tensions that have arisen which our children will soon face. I think it's important for them to have a sense of history and their place in it. I think it's important for them to know where they came from, and what their values are. I want them to know that the boys in grey who fought so valiantly in that great and terrible war so long ago were American soldiers too. Lately, there has been a lot of controversy surrounding their monuments, flags and cemeteries, as some very Left-wing radicals would like to tear them all down, and erase them from our collective memory. These are American soldiers we're talking about here, who fought valiantly for a cause they deeply believed in. Whether we agree with that cause or not is irrelevant. I think their memory deserves better treatment than that. MY children are taught to tread softly near their tombstones, speak with a quiet hush, giving them the respect every American soldier has rightly earned.
Shane Schaetzel is an author of Catholic books, and columnist for Christian print magazines and online publications. He is a freelance writer and the creator of 'FullyChristian.Com -- The random musings of a Catholic in the Ozarks.'
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