We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
- T.S. Eliot


Welcome to Ten Roads! This blog is intended to be a place for me to share my (generally Civil War-related) thoughts and experiences. I try to update once a week at the very least. All comments and readers are greatly appreciated!

Saturday, May 24, 2008

An inflammatory post

The first time I ever heard about the Lost Cause was when my good friend Zack Fry chided me for saying that the Civil War was not solely about slavery, but other issues as well. I did not mean that slavery was not an issue, or even that it was not the main issue, only that it was not the only issue the lead to civil war. Zack explained the concept of the Lost Cause and all that it entails and we moved on to a less heated topic. It may have even involved Monty Python and hovercrafts being full of eels.

Since that time several months ago, I have come across many blog entries pointing out Lost Cause-ers, stating annoyance and/or disgust with their beliefs. I came across one today as I sat at my desk at the train station, bored out of my mind. And suddenly it hit me. I had a philosophical, historical, and social epiphany.

Now one must know before reading the rest of this post the type of person I am. I am historically unbiased in most cases. Unless someone has done personal harm to me or my loved ones, I am likely to see both sides of every conflict or situation. There are constantly recounted stories at my school about me taking on entire classes in debates because I am the only person able to understand where both sides are coming from. I've found this especially helpful in my academic pursuits. Whether I personally agree with something is immaterial to me when dealing with historical research. As a student of the Civil War, I have remained sympathetic to neither North nor South. Instead I have become sympathetic to individuals - mostly the misunderstood ones - from both sides of the conflict. This leaves me in a position in which many historians are not, and thus I feel this is one of the few things I am actually qualified to comment on.

So about that. Back to my epiphany.

The Lost Cause, from my understanding, started primarily as an artistic movement. It was the South's Norman Rockwell version of the war. Whether it was correct or not, I don't care; that's not the point here at all. The point is, rather, that the Lost Cause today is an actual belief. It has been in the culture so long that it is now considered true by many. And whenever those people are insulted or berated for what is actually their belief, it is the equivilent of telling someone they are wrong for being a certain religion. Just because you do not believe that what they believe is accurate does not give you the right to be rude. Is it so unbelievable that someone could have an outlook on something that is completely different from yours? The point is, to tell someone they are wrong does not make you right.

Don't think this is me going after the pro-Union guys because the Lost Cause-ers are just as bad, stirring up just as much trouble on the internet.

I suppose the accuracy of the Lost Cause itself lies in whether you are talking about the political causes of the war or the personal causes. The government was surely fighting for different reasons than the common soldier was. But that's not the point either.

I am a firm believer that to understand a conflict you must take note of both sides. The Lost Cause is actually part of history but everyone is too focused on deriding it and the people who seem to believe in it to take note of this.

Chances are you are disagreeing with me. "What a silly little girl," you may be saying. That's fine with me. I don't need you to agree with me. All I ask is that you understand my point. And if you don't due to any lack of clarity on my part, please let me know and I'd be more than happy to clarify.

Disagreeing is one thing; insulting is another.

4 comments:

Brett Schulte said...

Sarah,

Excellent post! There are nice ways to disagree with someone, and then there are those who choose the condescending path. I prefer the former just as you do, though I vehemently disagree with those who do not believe slavery was the primary cause of the Civil War. The Secession Commissioners in their own speeches and writing will tell you slavery was the main cause, but I do not feel the need to attack or ridicule those who believe otherwise.

Brett

Daniel Sauerwein said...

Sarah,

This was one of your best posts. It shows that you can rise above some of the petty arguments that surface in our profession. While the Lost Cause must be remembered for what it was, ridiculing people for having that belief is wrong. We must strive to correct the record while allowing proper respect and remembrance to those who served the Confederate cause, as attempting to defend slavery was wrong and truly a lost cause, but that does not mean that the service of their soldiers was any less noble. Keep up the great work.

Daniel

David H. Jones said...

Sarah,

Appreciating both sides in the American Civil War is essential to fully comprehending the enormity of this event in our nation's history and its continuing impact. I recently wrote an historical fiction closely based on the Prentiss brothers of Baltimore - "Two Brothers: One North, One South". As you recognize the importance of taking an even-handed approach to this subject, you might enjoy my presentation of their wartime experiences. If so, please e-mail me and I will be happy to send a complimentary copy of the book to you.

David H, Jones

Nick said...

Great post Sarah. I highly recommend you read a book called "Apostles of Disunion" about the secession commissioners who went to the upper south for the secession debates of 1861.

It pretty much locks down, in the words of the commissioners themselves, that the south seceded to protect slavery.

Yore