By Sam Burnham
There is still stirring in this land a movement that is dedicated to the annihilation of anything that resembles anything traditionally Southern. The movement is hellbent on the destruction of every icon, symbol, every person, anything whatsoever. There must remain no morsel of anything that would suggest that the South had ever been anything more than a carbon copy of the North, but with barbecue - and even that must be acknowledged as racist.
And so we see the current all-out assault on General Robert E. Lee. for over 100 years, Lee has been understood to be one of the finest men this nation ever produced. He was a gifted engineer, a brilliant military tactician, and is also remembered as finishing his life as an educator, beloved by his staff and students alike. He has been honored by American presidents and foreign dignitaries such as Winston Churchill. His tactics are still taught at West Point. As far as his personal integrity and honesty, you'll find no leader in contemporary American politics who can match him. An honest reckoning of his life will prove him to be far more honorable than the majority of his modern detractors.
As a fair and honest assessment of the man Lee must address slavery, I have to say that he was not a "kind" or "benevolent" slaveholder. I say that as I don't believe there is such a thing. There is no way to kindly refuse rights or personal liberty to another human being. The greatest evil in slavery was not the whip. The greatest evil in slavery was slavery itself. It was wrong for Lee to own slaves, regardless of how they were treated. But we must also judge Lee on the morality of his time and not that of our own time. We must look at him with our vision and see where he was right, where he was wrong. We must take that information with the willingness to honor the right and progress our society past the wrong.
There are accusations of treason being attached to him. Yet at Appomattox, where he offered his sword, no such accusation was extended. In fact, no Confederate - politician, officer, enlisted, or civilian would be tied with any such charges. Only Henry Wirz, the immigrant scapegoat of Andersonville, would be convicted on serious charges related to the war. Today the government admits that Wirz was railroaded and his execution was uncalled for, perhaps even criminal.
No, Lee was not a traitor. While we live in an age that subscribes to the "one nation" myth of the United States, "The Union" as we know it now was born from the Civil War. Antebellum men, especially Southerners, understood the importance of home, your state, your friends and neighbors. "The Union" is the same nationalist sentiment that Donald Trump supporters are often labeled with. Lee refused to take up arms against his neighbors, against his family, against his own home. Virginia did not secede until Lincoln had called for states to provide troops to invade and subdue the South. And Lee did not join the south until Virginia had seceded. Contrast this with men like Montgomery Meigs and John C. Fremont, who willfully participated in the killing of their fellow Georgians and the destruction of their property, and I ask, who was the real traitor in this situation?
But here is the endgame in all of this. Lee is not the goal, he is just one more moving of the goal post. 12 months ago, such an open assault on this man would have been thought as odd. But the leftist, anti-Southern movement has reached Lee. Next it will be Washington, and then Madison - and with him, the Constitution he wrote, and Jefferson and the Declaration. It will all have to be updated, properly cleansed of anything "offensive." It is a constant creeping to remove anything American from American history and replace it with what the left wishes for America to become. It is the pig Squealer on the ladder in the night changing the creeds on the barn wall. four legs good, two legs better. It's propaganda. It's lies.
Yes, Robert E. Lee was an honorable man. He was not perfect. In fact, he had one really big flaw. But he remains a fine example of a historic American. He's one we should look to for an example, one we should honor, one we should defend.
By Sam Burnham
I awoke following a long weekend of football, home projects and more football (especially a long night sitting up to see if Tennessee was going to give ABG CFB a losing record on opening week) to a few tweets from a reader. This sort of thing often leads to me sitting at the keyboard spitting out whatever rebuttal needs to be communicated. So here I sit.
The point this time is an article in the New York Times (continuing their fascination with Southern stuff) about Southern publications and their approach to dealing with this region we call home. There were particular publications and links mentioned both in the article and in the aforementioned tweets that had me clicking on a few articles and reading what I could of them.
This was followed by a lot of thought. I see what is going on in many publications, both print and on line, and how they both experience and portray the South. We see in this article that one is setting out to try to fix it. Another is boasting it is "Reckoning With the South." And then we see a few others that may be taking a little too much of a Pollyanna experience of it. What this leaves us with is an incomplete picture. The South is not a neat and pretty artisan doily that comes in a package via UPS. But it is also not broken and it is not in need on some progressive vengeance. All of this points to the same idea - that there is something inherently wrong with the South and being a Southerner. The two sides of response to this problem, polishing it up nice and "fixing" it, equally mistreat the South.
I chose the title of this article from the opening essay of I'll Take my Stand. John Crowe Ransom opens that volume with the essay and it's warning that if the South capitulates to the rest of the nation, if it merely takes its lumps and hops on the train of progress, it will cease to be what it is. It will cease to be Southern. Looking at this some 87 years later, I see much of his warning already blossomed and withered. His talk of the factory system moving in and exploiting Southern villages can be documented in a thousand mill villages across the South. Perhaps you've seen a few.
But more than a warning to mill villages, Ransom was warning us against a mass assimilation. He foretold the possibility of a future in which the South became so enamored with "progress" that the Southern Tradition itself would be threatened. And as Atlanta has spread across the landscape, we see that tradition being overwhelmed by an onslaught of chain restaurants and shopping malls - many now vacant or in disrepair. What factories remain have downsized their work forces with robotics and any new industries are using automation as well. The small country store is a thing of the past. The television broadcasts new stories by people with strange accents who can't correctly pronounce the name of the town they're reporting from. And now we are starting to see statues that have stood in town squares for over 100 years must be removed. No one must ever speak anything respectable about any man who served in the Confederate military. Anything that happened before 1865 falls under the "slavery" tab and anything that happened in the next 100 years was nothing but Jim Crow. And under no circumstances must anyone ever whistle Dixie.
By industrializing the South took the road more traveled. And it has made all the difference.
The progress isn't all bad. Good riddance to slavery and Jim Crow. In my years I've learned that the color of a man's skin does not determine his worth as a human. And as Dr. Sean Busick recently said, "The Southern Tradition is big enough to include both Louis Armstrong and Johnny Cash." If we're honest, the Southern Tradition is incomplete without both of them. And no one is complaining electricity, paved roads, or indoor plumbing. Again, some of the progress has been good but not all of it.
The trick is trying to find the balance between totally shunning modern innovations and becoming Yankees that eat grits and enjoy Bluegrass. The real South will be found high in the Appalachians, down on the coastal islands and marshes, or along the red dirt roads. In these places the New York Times has never seen, Atlanta has forgotten, and we cannot help but love, we find truth. It's not always pretty or profitable but that's the South for you.
ABG is not here to fix the South. We're not here to reckon with it. We're not here to modernize it. We don't care much for craft cocktail lounges or the (mostly non-Southern) idiots who brought violence to Charlottesville. Neither of those things sound very Southern to us in 2017. We're here to talk about the real South, not one we wish to re engineer.
By Sam Burnham
On Saturday we saw a disturbing scene break out in the hometown of Thomas Jefferson. It is a scene that troubled me much of yesterday and honestly cost me some sleep last night.
The rally turned riot in Charlottesville, Virginia must be addressed and I think it needs to be addressed this way. What was packaged as a rally in defense of Confederate monuments under siege in the city turned out to be nothing more than a disgusting display of ignorance and hate. Let's address the brutal truth. This rally had nothing to do with the statue. This rally had nothing to do with the Confederacy. This rally had nothing to do with the South specifically. This rally used those monuments as a scapegoat - a vile excuse to put barbarism and domestic terror on parade. It was an endeavor to drag a spotlight onto their real cause: white supremacy.
As far as the monuments are concerned, the Southern gentlemen who led the Army of Northern Virginia would not have approved of the communications and behavior of the protesters. General "Stonewall" Jackson even refused to tolerate profanity from his officers and men. In his Reminiscences of the Civil War General John Brown Gordon tells of the Confederate Army advancing through York en route to Gettysburg and encountering a group of women who displayed fear at the advancing soldiers. Gordon stopped to assure them that the men were ragged and dirty but that they were harmless to civilians, especially women and that the people of York had nothing to fear from his troops, that there under orders of the Confederate commander-in-chief that non-combatants and private property were safe. He finished his statements, "by pledging to York the head of any soldier in my command who destroyed private property, disturbed the repose of a single home, or insulted a woman."
No such gallantry was present on Saturday. It was a high insult to the memorialized men it claimed to be defending.
In addition, The Second World War, like every American war, was disproportionately fought by men from the rural South. The idea that the philosophies and symbols of the Third Reich are somehow congruent with the Confederacy or the South is appalling. How many Southern farm boys lie in graves in France having died fighting the forces that embraced the symbols and salutes sen in Charlottesville? How many protesters had grandfathers or great-grandfathers who found themselves in brutal hand-to hand combat with a Nazi?
And then there is the fact that this rally was organized by a guy who recently relocated from Indiana. The car that drove into a crowd of counter-protesters killing a woman and wounding dozens of others was driven by a 20-year-old boy from Ohio. Like the most recent Klan rallies in Georgia, the participants are proving to be from the Rust Belt, not the Cotton Belt. This is what we've come to know as cultural appropriation. Southern history is being used to try to channel angst and disillusionment that has stemmed from the collapse of Midwestern industry. Rather than face their own issues and find solutions they choose to consider themselves part of the agrarian South. These are people who feel they have nothing to offer the world but their race. If that race is the best, the superior, the Master Race, perhaps their life would be at least a little less pathetic.
I'm not buying it. Rally in Cleveland, in Detroit, in Chicago. March in your own town, your own state, your own region. In the South we've had our share of unrest, of conflict, of war. Been there, have the monuments. It is someone else's turn. If you think it is yours, do it in your yard. Stay the heck out of mine.
Historian, self-proclaimed gentleman, agrarian-at-heart, & curator extraordinaire