The Civil – ity War

This isn’t the post I intended to write. I had learned of New Orleans removing Confederate monuments, and was going to argue there is less diversity now than a century and a half ago. For when Lee surrendered at Appomattox, Grant’s men saluted the defeated Army of North Virginia, and Union and Confederate veterans settled the town of Fitzgerald, Georgia, and marched as one in the town’s first Independence Day parade. Yet other things came to mind. For while some former Confederate officers were later commissioned in the US Army and while there was an incredible sense that both Blue and Gray were now one nation, you could also find Northern hatred toward the South, and Southerners who’s sentiments echoed James Randolph’s Good Ol’ Rebel:

“I can’t take up my musket
And fight ’em now no more
But I ain’t going to love ‘m
Now that’s for sarten sure

And I don’t ask your pardon
For what I was and am,
I won’t be reconstructed
And I don’t give a d***.”

Then there was what amounted to sporadic guerrilla activity during Reconstruction, the Northern habit of “waving the bloody shirt,” and ill feeling and disinformation that continues down to this day. When I heard New Orleans Mayor Landrieu’s statement on removing the Confederate monuments, I wondered if he knew enough history to catch the meaning if someone called him “Spoons.”

In other words, my entire premise went up in smoke. On top of all that went on back then, there was widespread antisemitism, from Spoons Butler to Grant’s infamous General Order 11. Then, when N.B. Forrest spoke to the black organization The Independent Order of Pole-Bearers in Memphis on July 5, 1875, he mentioned that some whites thought he was doing wrong by speaking at the barbecue. Hardly the picture of diversity.

Yet few, if any, in the South objected to Union monuments on Southern soil – and there’s a good many, from Camp Sumter, also known as Andersonville, to various battle sites. And, of course, few if any in the North objected to the South raising their own monuments. I have seen a photo of Jefferson Davis’ wagon driver holding a Confederate flag at the unveiling of one memorial. And when the carving of Confederate heroes on Stone Mountain opened in 1970, it was civil rights figure William Holmes Borders who gave the invocation.

So, what was going on? If there wasn’t as much diversity as I thought, why the incredible level of tolerance?

I think it was simple civility and common courtesy. Like it or not, former Confederates not only made up the US, but might be your next door neighbor; the same for former members of Union forces. There’s also no escaping that the great majority of blacks in the US in 1865 were former slaves. Yet when someone wanted to raise a monument, there was a recognition that this was in memory of someone’s father or husband, and Union or Confederate made no difference. As with other issues, some things just weren’t said or done, at least not to someone’s face. The end result was a considerable amount of live and let live, at least until it got to the realm of politics, then Katie bar the door.

Looking back at all that, and comparing tensions then with those now, the biggest change may well be the decline of civility and courtesy. It should then come to no surprise that there is also a corresponding lack of tolerance. If we have less of an inclination to be civil and courteous, then it’s reasonable that we also have less of an inclination to live and let live. That is probably a subject in of itself (and I make no promises), but if we see no pressing need to treat others with courtesy, then we are going to be less likely to tolerate things we find offensive – and less to consider that others may find us equally offensive.

That, more than anything else, is likely behind the purge of a major portion of our history. The days when someone realized that such things also touched on family are gone. It raises a significant question: If New Orleans is that ashamed of  its Confederate past, is it also also ashamed of those who’s ancestors were Confederates?

Hmm . . . I wonder if Mayor Landrieu will raise a monument to Benjamin F. Butler. That would be most appropriate.