Last week, Governor Bob McDonnell declared April to be Confederate History Month. The proclamation was widely criticized for its glaring omission of slavery—a fairly significant event in Confederate history.
After the backlash, the original proclamation was revised to include “…it is important for all Virginians to understand that the institution of slavery led to this war and was an evil and inhumane practice…”
One commentator, CNN’s Rowland Martin, even went so far as to call Confederate soldiers the equivalent of “Jihadists.” By Jihadist, he means to say Islamic terrorists, not peaceful Muslims on a spiritual quest attempting to cleanse their personal lives from internal impurities, which would have been the correct use of the word. But I digress.
Sorry to disappoint those who disagree with the whole idea of a Confederate History Month, but McDonnell’s proclamation is nothing new. In fact, the only recent Virginia governors to not proclaim a Confederate History Month are Tim Kaine and Mark Warner.
For better or for worse, Confederate history is a part of Virginia history, and while we should not glorify the misguided principles of the South, it is important for all Americans to know why the Civil War was fought, and that slavery had only a minor role in it.
Originally, the War Between the States was over the encroachment of state rights and taxation without representation. Does this sound familiar to anybody? “Taxation without representation” was the rallying cry of the American colonists during the American Revolution.
Most of the soldiers fighting this war were only a generation or two away from Revolutionary War veterans. For both sides, the memories of the revolution were still fresh in their minds. By the way, it is important to remember that the only difference between a revolution and a civil war is who wins.
Before we demonize anybody, we should remember that the average Confederate soldier was conscripted and was unlikely to be a slave owner. With both sides charging $300 to buy yourself out of the draft, the Civil War was a poor man’s war. This means that aside from the generals, the Confederate soldiers had to fight for a way of life they didn’t even benefit from.
In the North, slave holders from Maryland fought not for the abolition of slavery, but for the preservation of the Union. That reason was the largest for why the North fought the Civil War.
The North made abolition a rallying cry only after 1863. The reason for this is because the North was afraid that England or France would recognize the Confederacy’s independence and support them with military aid.
After the Emancipation Proclamation (which didn’t actually free anybody), the Civil War became about slavery, and no other nation wanted to become involved in the conflict.
Why didn’t the Emancipation Proclamation actually free anybody? Because it only freed the slaves in the rebelling states that had seceded from the Union, over which Lincoln had no jurisdiction.
Lincoln feared the antagonizing of Maryland would cause them to also secede from the Union, and therefore deliberately chose not to free the thousands of slaves held in bondage on his own side.
The whole idea of Confederate History Month is to remember what many of our relatives fought and died for. In no way is this an attempt to minimize the atrocities of slavery. Instead, it serves as an opportunity to understand the complicated factors that led to the most costly war America has ever fought.
History is never linear, and is usually more complicated than good versus evil. The Civil War is no exception. Between the Union’s Andersonville Prisoner Of War camp, General Sherman’s total war waged on non-military Confederate civilian targets and Lincoln’s suspension of the writ of habeas corpus, the North had its fair share of injustices.
Confederate History Month is a deliberate attempt to pass the knowledge on to a new generation, so they do not fall victim to the popular misconception that slavery was the prevailing cause of the Civil War.
Indeed, slavery was a terrible atrocity and an irreparable stain on our nation’s history. The enslavement of an entire people based simply on the color of their skin is a memory that would be easier to live without.
However, we have a responsibility to those held in bondage and to the future generations of Virginians to remember our roots. It is because of this second revolution that the social structure was changed so that our 13th amendment could be adopted, banning the enslavement of all people within the United States of America.
The purpose of Confederate History Month is not to glorify the wrongs committed by the South, but to remember what our state and national history actually is.