About Daniel Sauerwein

I am a graduate student in History at the University of North Dakota pursuing my PhD in History with a minor in Geography. My primary historical interests are military history, specifically early US and the Civil War.

Lose the Lost Cause by David Patten

I was contacted by Mr. Patten, who asked me to post his essay considering the topic of the “Lost Cause” and its level of influence on our understanding of the war since its conclusion. I know that this may spark some vigorous discussion and debate, as this is a subject that historians have argued over for well over one hundred years. I hope you will all give Mr. Patten’s essay consideration and thought.

LOSE THE LOST CAUSE

BY

DAVID PATTEN

As we journey through the sesquicentennial of the Civil War and with the release of the movie Lincoln, and particularly with the anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation upon us, Americans have been well motivated to deeply assess every aspect of the time period that tore our nation apart. While we ponder those times and analyze why our nation plunged into such strife, we will, as always, be exposed to the continuing drumbeats of the “Lost Cause”. Southerners, and many Northerners alike, will regale us with the noble reasons that actually motivated eleven states to secede. We will be told that they were fighting for their liberties and for their proud heritage. The Southern states, in fact, stood up to an overreaching, draconian national government bent on crushing individual freedoms and destroying states’ rights.

Have I missed any of the other lies the “Lost Cause” might tell? The lies actually never seem to end. They started just after the smoke cleared from the battlefields that revealed Southern defeat and they continue to this very day. Only now, they are magnified by the moment.

One issue dominated the politics of the Civil War time period and everything else spun off of that issue. The issue of racially specific slavery caused the Civil War and the “Lost Cause” revisionists, from 1865 to the present, cannot change or sanitize the true reason for Southern secession. Can any of us today honestly imagine our nation splitting apart in 1861 had there been no slavery? What other issue or issues so captivated the imaginations of the people back then that could have caused the Union’s destruction? Only one issue had that kind of power and anything else anyone could cite would be a mere corollary. Even a cursory reading of the thoughts of the Southern leadership exposes their obsession with the issue of slavery. Dig deeper and their obsession over that singular horror becomes pathological.

Jefferson Davis lauded slavery as a great institution through which “a superior race” changed “brutal savages into docile, intelligent, and civilized agricultural laborers…worth thousands of millions of dollars.” He proclaimed that “the labor of African slaves was and is indispensable” and he bridled at any attempt to interfere with that system or limit its extension.

Alexander Stephens, the Confederacy’s Vice President, declared that the Confederacy’s “cornerstone rests upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery, subordination to the superior race, is his natural and normal condition.” In addition, he unequivocally stated that slavery “was the immediate cause of the late rupture and present revolution.”

State after Confederate state declared in their “secession resolutions” that slavery was the primary cause of their departure. Mississippi summed it up best, “Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery—the greatest material interest of the world.” “There was no choice left us but submission to the mandates of abolition, or a dissolution of the Union…”

The Confederate Constitution enshrined slavery and forbade its states and territories from banning it or interfering with its spread. In addition, Section 9 of the document extended the same prohibitions to the national government, “No bill of attainder, ex post facto law, or law denying or impairing the right of property in Negro slaves shall be passed.” As a result, there was no avoiding slavery in the C.S.A., not even through secession, for curiously, no such right was provided. In effect, the Southern leaders created exactly what they wanted; a slaveholding nation well insulated against those who would seek to alter or abolish the peculiar institution.

Northerners of the time period were hardly confused as to the origin of the conflict. Lincoln unlocked the deep non-mystery in his Second Inaugural Address, “All knew that this interest (slavery) was somehow the cause of the war. To strengthen, perpetuate, and extend this interest was the object for which the insurgents would rend the Union, even by war…”

In his memoirs, Grant came right to the point, “The cause of the great War of the Rebellion against the United States will have to be attributed to slavery.”

The Confederate dream of an exclusive slaveholding nation crashed in 1865. But, out of the ashes of Confederate defeat emerged a victory of sorts; it was the “Lost Cause”. History is supposedly written by the winners, but not this time. Rebel writers such as Edward Pollard, Alexander Stephens, Jefferson Davis, and so many others seized control of the narrative and transformed the ugliness of the slaveholding cause into a fight for liberty and rights. Both the Confederate journalist Edward Pollard and the former Vice President Alexander Stephens began their assault on history directly after the war was over. Slavery ceased to be an issue. Rather, valiant struggles for freedom by gallant Southern cavaliers facing overwhelming odds became the norm. Davis waited a few years, but then in 1881, he joined the club with his memoirs, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government. In volume one, he wrote, “The truth remains intact and incontrovertible, that the existence of African servitude was in no wise the cause of the conflict, but only an incident.” Views such as these found enormous audiences and sparked a tidal wave of historical distortion that tragically gained acceptance.

One Southerner wasn’t fooled by any of it. Colonel John S. Mosby, arguably the finest partisan raider the Confederacy produced stated, “The South went to war on account of slavery.” He found the “Lost Cause” sentiment repulsive and wrote, “I never heard of any other cause of quarrel than slavery.” But then he added something very interesting, “After the fight is over they invent some fanciful theory on which they imagine that they fought.”

Now we see the “Lost Cause” fully exposed. With slavery abolished upon the ruin of the South and labeled as the filth that it was, how then do the losers cope? Looking at the reality of the war, the South endured destruction on a scale few could ever have imagined, and for what? They shed blood and lost all defending a system of horror and disgust, thus myth became their only refuge. Given their situation, the so glorious, so holy “Lost Cause” could have turned out so no other way.

We now have the perfect opportunity to set things straight and see the conflict as it truly was. Only time will now tell if we can finally put the “Lost Cause” myth away and face the brutal truth of our past while celebrating the new birth of freedom that gave meaning to all the destruction.

Today marks anniversary of Dakota War hangings-Grand Forks Herald

To add to Walt’s mention of the anniversary in his post, I wanted to share part of this lengthy article that appeared in the Grand Forks Herald yesterday (Dec. 26). It is particularly interesting to me, both as it occurred in Minnesota, and related to the larger conflict between the Dakota and the Federal government, which included the siege of Fort Abercrombie, which was commemorated this past September, including participation by several reenactors (myself included).

Today marks anniversary of Dakota War hangings

MITCHELL, S.D. — They were Dakota warriors. They met their fates with courage 150 years ago. The 38 condemned men, their hands bound behind them, rushed to the gallows that had been specially built for them on the edge of the Minnesota River in Mankato, Minn. They danced in place as the rough-hewn nooses were pulled over their heads. All wore white muslin caps with flaps on them, pulled down to obscure faces adorned with ceremonial paint.

The 1862 Dakota War was coming to a deadly climax.

According to an eyewitness report in The New York Times of the largest mass execution in American history, most of the men on the scaffold sang a slow Indian death song. Some of the condemned, including a few of mixed blood who had embraced Christianity, sang a song of their faith. Several had worked their hands free, and clasped a final grip with the man next to them.

Meanwhile, about 4,000 people watched. They were being monitored by more than 1,400 uniformed soldiers in the Minnesota Sixth, Eighth and Ninth regiments, there to ensure the warriors died of hanging and not of a mob attack.

Just after 10 a.m. on Friday, Dec. 26, 1862 — 150 years ago Wednesday — a drum was sounded three times. Capt. William Duley stood ready with a knife at the base of the platform.

Duley had been wounded, had lost three children during the conflict, and his pregnant wife and two other children had been taken hostage. Laura Duley later said she was repeatedly assaulted and lost the child she was carrying during captivity, he would learn when they were reunited.

As the final drumbeat echoed, Duley severed the heavy rope on his second try, releasing the traps beneath the warriors’ feet. All plunged down from the 20-foot-high platform.

Some died instantly, their necks snapped. Others writhed in agony as they choked to death. One man, known as Rattling Runner, plummeted to the ground, the rope around his neck having broken.

As he was brought back to the platform and a second rope placed around his neck, the crowd — and the soldiers — cheered long and loud when they saw all 38 bodies swinging in the frigid morning air.

One little boy, who reportedly had lost his parents in the 1862 Dakota War, was heard to shout, “Hurrah! Hurrah!” according to The New York Times report.

That mass hanging was the culmination of the 1862 Dakota War, also known as the Dakota Conflict, the Sioux Uprising of 1862, and Little Crow’s War, among other names. The executions were held after weeks of attacks, skirmishes and battles between white settlers and soldiers and Indians angry about the loss of their homeland and being denied access to food.

Hundreds, many of them settlers who were surprised by sudden attacks, died in August and September 1862. The Mankato hangings were intended to put the war to rest, but it has remained a heated topic among many Indians and some whites for 150 years, while others, even some who live in the region, are completely unaware of the bloody late summer of 1862.

Lyle W. Miller Sr., a Crow Creek teacher and 1993 Dakota Wesleyan University graduate, spoke on the 1862 Dakota War during a Dec. 14 presentation at the Mitchell Prehistoric Indian Village.

“When I think about that time in 1862, and I think about the reasons why it started — it had to happen,” Miller said. “A lot of people think war isn’t ever supposed to happen, but at this time, let’s put it this way: There’s no good about a war, but sometimes it has to happen. The little ones were starving. What do you do when you’re faced with a position like that?”

Read more from the Grand Forks Herald.

A Civil War Christmas: Santa Claus on the battlefield

Hat tip to Ethan Rafuse at Civil Warriors for sharing this interesting story yesterday.

A Civil War Christmas: Santa Claus on the battlefield.

VIENNA, Va., December 18, 2012 —  It’s difficult to write about the Civil War at Christmas time, since during that time of war, battles and skirmishes, most folks just did not sit down and commit their thoughts of Yuletide observances to paper and ink, that is if they had ink.  But Christmas was celebrated to some extent both in the North and in the South.

However, you can never talk of the Civil War and Christmas without bringing up the name of Thomas Nast, who was a newspaper cartoonist and a rabid Northerner. It was Nast to whom we owe the word-picture and the actual drawing of Santa Claus, which flowed from his prolific pen.

He published his first Christmas-related cartoon in “Harper’s Weekly” during Christmas,1863, showing a bewhiskered gent passing out gifts to Union soldiers. A couple of fairly young looking boys are pictured on the floor, opening boxes.

The debate over the language of Lincoln

First off, it’s good to be back to blog with you all, as the last few weeks have been extremely hectic for me preparing for my doctoral comprehensive exams, which I am now through the written portion (cue Hallelujah Chorus). Thanks to intrepid fellow CWH blogger Walter Coffey for keeping up some interesting posts the last two months.

Now, I did find a little time to go see the Spielberg film Lincoln with my two friends and fellow reenactors Stuart Lawrence and Den Bolda. Den dressed in period civilian trappings, while I dressed as a soldier for the event (Hey, if folks can go to comic book movies, etc. dressed as the characters from those films, why not us?), which was fun, as one couple who were visiting relatives in the area, but were from Indiana took their picture with us.

My thoughts on the film are mixed. I felt that Daniel Day-Lewis’s portrayal of Honest Abe was pretty good, aside from being a departure from the classic Hal Holbrook rendition in North and South, or Gregory Peck in The Blue and the Gray (which were good also, but not necessarily as accurate). I also enjoyed Tommy Lee Jones as Thaddeus Stephens.

I would have liked to have seen a bit more on Lincoln’s conduct of the war as Commander-in-Chief, which did not have to mean another Civil War film full of battle scenes, but just more on the course of his presidency. I thought the debate over the 13th Amendment was interesting and one of my colleagues noted that he hoped it would get people into the documents surrounding the debate on that legislation. Den and I both enjoyed the costuming, as the material culture presented in the film was quite good. Overall, I thought the film presented a real conception of Lincoln, more human as opposed to being on such a pedestal.

That said, one other area that I thought was a bit off, and has apparently became a topic of debate between historians is the foul language that appears a few times. Doris Kearns Goodwin, whose book Team of Rivals was an inspiration for the movie did not have much problem with the profanity used in the film. In contrast, James McPherson argued that Lincoln did not approve of such language and likely did not use it to the degree that was portrayed, especially the utterance of “f—” by W. N. Bilbo, one of the lobbyists for the 13th Amendment. Another who argued that Lincoln likely did not swear as much as was portrayed in the movie, but would not have had as much issue with swearing around him was University of Richmond president Edward Ayers.

Overall, I have to agree with both McPherson and Ayers on their assessment of Lincoln and colorful language. I wonder if Spielberg chose to keep such language to resonate with modern audiences, who are used to such things, and if that is so, what does it say about our society. Further, the movie would have been just as good without it, which would have allowed parents to take younger children to see the film. One wonders how many stayed away because of the language issue. It would have been interesting to see, were he still alive, what David Donald would have said about this issue.

While swearing has become increasingly pervasive in our culture, this does not mean it was so in earlier times. I think the work by Richard Bushman called The Refinement of America is particularly relevant. While focused on the eighteenth century, it also explored the nineteenth century, charting the desire of Americans to achieve elements of refined culture, which extended to personal behavior, including manners and decorum.

It is interesting that this has become a mini debate among respected scholars, but it is good, as it allows historians to interject their knowledge and insights on a given topic into the larger culture. Much like the earlier kerfuffle over how Day-Lewis vocalized Lincoln, the issue of swearing by Abe will be another in a series of appraisals on the film in the coming weeks. Such is the nature of the beast when movies based upon historical events and actors are produced. I encourage everyone to at least go and see Lincoln, but also pick up a good biography of him (I recommend Lincoln by the late David Donald).

Watch Death and the Civil War online

If you happened to miss the television showing of Death and the Civil War, you can watch it online via the PBS website, where you can also order it on DVD. You can also check out my review of the film as well.

Watch Death and the Civil War on PBS. See more from American Experience.

Please be aware that the video is only available until October 17.

A milestone and new scholarship on the war

I thought I would take the opportunity of the blog’s 300th post to share with you the interesting contents in the latest issue of the journal Civil War History (not related to this site). The field of environmental history has been an emerging one over the forty years and the Civil War is not outside this field. The fine staff at the journal have put together a review essay and two articles dealing with environmental history of the war, specifically considering an overview of the literature on the field and the war, the nature of the war in the Trans-Mississippi, and preservation at Gettysburg.

I received the issue of the journal in the mail today and I look forward to reading it in detail in the coming weeks, but my brief examination of the article “The Nature of Preservation: The Rise of Authenticity at Gettysburg” by Brian Black shows it to be good both from an environmental history perspective, but also public history, as it touches on the changing landscape of the battlefield in the years after the battle, including the controversy over the battlefield tower that was demolished several years ago. Now with the new interpretive center and further reconstruction of the natural landscape in recent years, this article is quite timely.

I encourage interested readers to consider subscribing to this journal as well as the Journal of the Civil War Era. Civil War History has a long history and track record, being in its fifty-eighth volume, while The Journal of the Civil War Era is the new flagship publication of the Society of Civil War Historians, and has proven to be good in its first few years. Journals are worthwhile, as they contain articles on a variety of topics, which can be more accessible to some than large monographs. Plus, they are great resources for learning about new books in the field through their book reviews.

Welcome to our newest writer

It is my pleasure to welcome Zack Biro, a Masters student at Lehigh University, as a writer for this blog. As we close in on our 300th post, it will be interesting to see who will write it, but I look forward to Zack’s postings and hope you will welcome his contributions as well.