“The Ghost of Bobby Lee”

Mark of New Jersey

Mark is a Founding Editor of The League of Ordinary Gentlemen, the predecessor of Ordinary Times.

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25 Responses

  1. Will says:

    Now if only the dude would spend more time cranking out stuff like this and less time posting random YouTube clips and open threads.Report

    • Jonathan in reply to Will says:

      @Will, Agreed.

      I find a lot of respectable writers shower praise on TNC. I find his blog posts (which is, I’ll admit, all I’ve ever read) are all over the map. Sometimes they’re great. Sometimes they’re fluff (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing). Sometimes his writing is quite sloppy, and then he gets all churlish with his commenters when they don’t agree with him or misunderstand his poorly worded prose.

      This post, however, demonstrates that, yes indeed, he’s a valuable voice.Report

  2. As to the post itself – what I think Coates forgets is that when Southerners honor their Confederate forbearers, we’re usually thinking about a great-great grandfather who served in some miscellaneous regiment, often as a private carrying a rifle he brought from home. When I visit the Confederate cemetery down the street from my house, I’m not reading the ranks on the tombstone. I’m reading things like “1st Kentucky Mounted Rifles” and “4th Kentucky Infantry”. Sure, some of these men either owned slaves or benefited from slavery or held positive views towards slavery…but that’s gone now. What remains is that they are my fellow Kentuckians and in my state, as in many other Southern states, that means something.

    I’m certainly not an apologist for the Confederacy or the Southern Cause or slavery…but I get goosebumps when I hear ‘Dixie’. I also think that ‘Amazing Grace’ is the most beautiful song ever written and The ‘Battle Hymn of the Republic’ is a close second. That is the contradiction that Southerners live with today.Report

    • @Mike at The Big Stick, Mike: I think Coates would say that he doesn’t have any problem with the type of ancestor honor you’re referring to here. He’s not explicit about that in this particular post, but I think he’s been explicit about that in the past.

      Instead, I take his point as being directed at the revisionist movement that has, it would seem, achieved quite a bit of success over the years in persuading people that the South seceded over something other than slavery, with R.E. Lee’s humanitarianism leading the way as Exhibit A of what the Confederacy was really about. Particularly with respect to Lee, the revisionists have been incredibly successful at dissociating him from a regard for the institution of slavery.

      TNC’s line of posts on this subject are unique and useful in that they recognize that there really was quite a bit to admire in a R.E. Lee and in Confederate ancestors more generally, while also acknowledging their humanity and the fact that they were still prisoners of a particular worldview that was just normal to them.

      In some ways, this is the flip-side to the “Anti-fascist Super Hero” problem that Freddie shredded back in November: http://www.ordinary-gentlemen.com/2009/11/anti-fascist-super-heroes/

      Rather than discard the good of Lee and Confederate ancestors, Confederate revisionism simply tries to demean and minimize the bad. Coates’ posts provide a way of coming to terms with the role of ancestors in slavery while still holding them in high regard.Report

  3. Bob Cheeks says:

    Having spent ten years or so writing civil war battle sagas of America’s Civil War I’ve developed a certain appreciation for the Southern fighting man, the secessionist cause, that special conservatism located south of the Mason-Dixon line, and the knowledge that the South, Constitutionally speaking, had every right to secede.
    Lincoln engaged the North in war not because of any idealists nonsense about slavery or African-American rights or the horrors of African chattel slavery rather because in April of ’61 the Confederate States of America House of Representatives, in Montgomery, I believe, passed a national tarriff that was very much lower than the Lincoln tarriff. And, that my friends really pissed off the east coast bankers and manufacturers who feared mightily for their profits, elite “monied interests” as they say. I’m not sure at all that there would have been a war had not the Confederates passed that very low tarriff.
    Slavery, it is argued would have ended sooner with two countries, simply because the Confederacy could not stop the slaves from fleeing north across the Ohio River. The truth is northern racism was even more virulent than Southern.
    Pat Cleburne wanted to enlist blacks in the army in exchange for manumission.
    Old Abe was as racist.
    Martin Luther King was a Republican.
    Bobby Lee freed his slaves before U.S. Grant.
    Stonewall Jackson had a Sunday School class that was comprised of all black kids.
    Enslaving another person is totally weird, but then so is butchering your kin in the womb. I wonder what our ancestors will be saying about us in a hundred years?Report

    • sidereal in reply to Bob Cheeks says:

      @Bob Cheeks,

      Wow, Bob. I think you covered the complete gamut of Confederate apologia.

      The Civil War wasn’t really about slavery, Confederates weren’t really racist, actually the Unionists were the racists, Republicans used to be the party of civil rights, and hey, abortion is worse than slavery anyway.

      Keep on fighting. . you’ll rise again.


      • Jaybird in reply to sidereal says:

        @sidereal, My family hails from Kentucky and, when I visit them, I see a weird resentment toward the Northerners who brought enlightenment and reconstruction to their ignorant selves.

        Instead of being thankful towards the kind liberals who brought modern values, they get all hung up on being called “hillbillies” and considered ignorant for having different vowels.

        Instead of greeting the Reconstruction with flowers, they instead act like really passive-aggressive Iraqis who just don’t appreciate being dragged, kicking and screaming, into the 20th Century.

        Stupid Hillbillies. They should be thanking us.Report

  4. Cascadian says:

    I’m sorry, I still see the question of slavery and the civil war as distinct. The South didn’t wage war on the North to enforce slavery. They wanted to take their ball and go home. I think it’s consistent to condemn slavery, the war, and the institutional changes that occurred as a result of the war.Report

    • Scott in reply to Cascadian says:


      Exactly, not to mention that the federal gov’t back then couldn’t afford to lose all the customs duties collected in the southern ports. Frankly, I still fail to see why the states that joined togerther to create the federal gov’t can’t choose to leave it. It seems axiomatic of the ideas embodied in the 10th amendment.Report

    • @Cascadian, True, but that’s not the point here, which is that the Confederate cause is unworthy of respect. It is the elevation of the Confederacy to some sort of especially noble entity that is terribly wrong-headed, not the elevation of ancestors or even of particular Confederate leaders. R.E. Lee was almost certainly an exceptional person, even an exceptionally noble person; but that does not change the fact that the cause for which he fought was, ultimately, slavery.Report

      • @Mark Thompson, I don’t think the Confederacy was any less noble than any other country which accepted slavery, the US being among them. To be sure – many Union sympathizers, Lincoln’s best friend among them, believed slavery would be preserved in the United States. One can imagine how much support Lincoln would have lost if he had made his emancipation plans known in 1861.

        I think if the implication is that the Confederate government was flawed then one must also assume the governments of the Union slave-holding states were also flawed. Keep in mind that my own state only entered the war officially when it’s neutrality was violated by Confederate incursions. They would have prefered to sit it out and maintain slavery within our borders.Report

        • @Mike at The Big Stick, The difference is that the Confederacy was explicitly fighting to preserve slavery. It was, quite literally, a nation based on slavery. The Union and the antebellum United States, by contrast, was a nation that merely had slavery.

          No matter how ignoble the Union’s initial cause may have been, its cause was not slavery, and it is difficult to imagine a more ignoble cause.Report

          • @Mark Thompson, Or, to borrow a famous quote from Gen. Sherman (who I probably would not consider a terribly decent person): “A better set of men never served a worse cause.”Report

            • @Mark Thompson, My sentiments exactly.

              It’s extremely hard to really put ourselves in the mindset of Civil War actors. Stonewall Jackson, for example, was an extremely devout Christian who was, by most accounts, as kind to blacks as anyone could expect from a Southerner in the 1860’s. Even still, he believed slavery was God’s will.

              An interesting question is what is worse, the moral justification for a war or the way a war is fought itself? For example, the reasons we fought in WWII were fairly noble. The way we fought the war is certainly ripe for moral critique. But that was 60 years ago and wars were fought differently. Slaveholding was such a radically different concept to our contemporary sensibilities that it’s far too easy to take the moral high ground too far.Report

      • Cascadian in reply to Mark Thompson says:

        @Mark Thompson, Trust me, I’m no fan of the South. However, focusing on their moral character as the de facto response to their complaints is misleading. They should have been allowed to leave. The political maneuvers used to bring about the war (Maryland) and to fundamentally alter the state (fourteenth) significantly undermine the moral high ground of the North in my view. Unfortunately, one can’t have a conversation about something like secession or nullification without being charged with supporting slavery or worshiping Henry Clay.Report