The truth about the Civil War
Hint: The South lost
The controversial bust of Nathan Bedford Forrest its former spot in the Tennessee Capitol between the chambers of the House of Representatives and Senate. (Photo: John Partipilo)
“I, Randy McNally, Speaker of the Senate in the One Hundred Thirteenth General Assembly of the State of Tennessee, in conjunction with the undersigned, do hereby proclaim that we join with citizens from across this State in commemorating the month of April 2023 as Confederate History Month and encourage all Tennesseans to increase their knowledge of this momentous era in the history of the State.”
This resolution of Feb. 3, 2023, was sponsored by Lt. Gov. Randy McNally, R-Oak Ridge, and Sen. Mark Pody, R-Lebanon. When I found out about this I was an angry grandmother but then I started thinking: Perhaps some members of our Tennessee Legislature do not know any better or have not read history books. Why would these leaders take the time to honor the losing side of a war?
The war was fought about slavery: do they understand honoring the Confederacy hurts the feelings of our fellow Tennesseans whose ancestors were enslaved?
What better way for our legislators to learn the facts of the Civil War than by reading? I used to own a bookstore so I can help with recommendations of some easy-to-read books about the War Between the States. I want to help our lawmakers here in Tennessee so I suggest they form a book club and discuss one or all of these books. Many of us like to share “what I read this summer,” and the legislature could join in.
- “Battle Cry of Freedom — the Civil War Era,” by James M. McPherson was the winner of the 1989 Pulitzer Prize. This book is a volume in the Oxford History of the United States series and it is easy to understand. McPherson begins his book in 1847 and explains what was happening in the U.S. that made our country erupt into war. In a 2017 interview, McPherson was asked why we should care about the Civil War and he said, “To understand the society in which they live, Americans need to understand how it got that way, and the Civil War determined a large part of how it got that way.”
- The war is told through the life of William Lloyd Garrison in Ibram X. Kendi’s brilliant book, “Stamped from the Beginning.” This is one of the most powerful books I have ever read and Kendi earned the 2016 National Book Award for it. The reader can jump to Part III from pages 161 through 260 and examine the racist attitudes of America during the Civil War. There were a lot of flaws in the leaders of the Union, as well as those of the South, and Kendi does not hold back.
- I recommend that our legislators listen to the audio version of “And There Was Light: Abraham Lincoln and the American Struggle,” by Jon Meacham. Lincoln had his flaws but Meacham tells the story of his evolving faith as the president changed his beliefs about slavery and abolition. It is powerful and something for our elected officials to ponder as they drive to and from the capitol.
I grew up in East Tennessee and the Civil War was not something we talked about much because we identified as Unionists and Lincoln Republicans who won the War. I did not understand how divided Tennessee was until I attended a church camp in West Tennessee. Part of the weekly entertainment was singing “Dixie,” and shouting about how “the South will rise again.” It wasn’t until the camp was integrated that it stopped.
I also had ancestors who fought for the South. My impression was that many of them were poor farmers and I wonder if some of them were paid by the wealthy to fight in their place.
I was taught that there was nothing civil about the Civil War. It was not romantic as portrayed in “Gone with the Wind.” We were taught families fought each other for the right to own slaves and it took a war to stop the practice of slavery. I also learned that those who fought for the South were committing treason against the U.S. It was all very cut and dried for me and very sad.
The inability to accept the truth and outcome about the war has been a problem for Democrats and Republicans alike in Tennessee. The late Sen. Doug Henry, a Nashville Democrat, passed legislation in 1973 to glorify the Confederacy, leading the effort for a sculpture of Confederate Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest to be placed in the Tennessee Capitol. Forrest also made a lot of money buying and selling slaves before the war and later was the leader of the Ku Klux Klan, a domestic terrorist organization. The Forrest bust was finally removed from its post outside the House Chambers in 2021, but not without a fight.
This angry grandmother cannot roll my eyes and say, “Bless their hearts,” when there is such overwhelming misinformation about the Civil War. Please check the facts: the Civil War ended, the South lost and racism is still with us.
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