Echoes of Appomattox
April 10, 1865 Confederate General Robert Edward Lee gives General Order 9 to his legendary Army of Northern Virginia. It is considered his Farewell address to a group of men that did far more than they should have been expected to do with the resources and the numbers they had to work with. The order is much shorter than our modern superfluously worded legal documents but is far more elegant than anything you'll find in print today.
The hand-written document was produced the day after Lee's surrender to Union General Hiram Ulysses "U.S." Grant at the home of Wilmer McLean. Grant showed up in a worn out jacket that misrepresented his rank. His boots were coated in mud. There was likely at least of hint of whiskey on his breath as this was common for him. Lee was the picture of elegance. Every detail polished and shined, the only wrinkles that could be seen were carved across his wise but war-weary face. Appomattox is the story of how the quintessential gentleman surrendered to a muddy, profane drunk.
That was the moment the vulgar America you know today was born.
This is why the War Between the States matters. Because it tells the story of where we came from and how we got here. Yes, it helped rid our nation of slavery's curse but what else hath Lincoln wrought?
Our society has tumbled into a crude and distasteful state in which order and appropriateness is subservient to chaos and lewdness. The tearing away of social norms, including many of the pillars on which Western Civilization remains precariously balanced, is dragging us into a dark age and we seem to be cheering it on.
Just yesterday, I had commented about the inclusion of Nasty Dancer by Kilo Ali on a "Georgia Playlist" of essential Georgian songs. My protest against the "song's" inclusion in a cannon of Southern music was met with the rebuke "Southern Culture is defined by a variety of experiences. Even ones traditionally easy to ignore by most."
First of all, pride, ego, and perhaps even arrogance, forbids me to easily accept correction on Southern Culture from any entity inside the smoggy warped circle of road rage that we refer to as Interstate 285. That concrete barrier cuts across the Georgian landscape like its storied Chinese counterpart and diligently prevents its Southern surroundings from encroaching upon Sherman's eternal colony in The South. Only a scattered few outposts of decency and civility remain inside the wall to tell the stories of of the days when Atlanta was a part of The South.
So I made the observation that just because someone lives or was born in The South, that doesn't mean that any and everything they do is automatically Southern. The South is classy, polite, hospitable, agrarian. We have values based in family and community and a love for our land. Our arts celebrate the good and the bad, the happy and the sad.
If we, as Southerners, are to stand for our culture and for what is right, we need to recognize assaults for what they are. We need to consider changes and discern the good from the bad. For instance, the changes brought about to give liberty and societal equality to all races is a good thing. Publicly celebrating the objectification of Southern women of any race is not.
And before I am accused of racism in speaking out against rap music in the South, allow me to add equal rebuke to the recent rise of "Bro Country" acts that think adding mentions about dirt roads and pick-up trucks while embellishing their drawl make them Southern. No, their mentions of short shorts and seducing young women are no better than Nasty Dancer. Can you imagine if Johnny Cash spoke on stage about Miss June the way these guys ramble on about the girls they see? Yes, she'd have slapped him and then walked off to leave him is a cloud of whiskey and loneliness. Which would have made for some good music but wouldn't have been very beneficial to our friend Johnny.
I could ramble on all day about the acceptance of all sorts of profanity being used in public, kids having no idea what "yes sir" or "no ma'am" means. I could talk about young men that think any sort of public behavior is acceptable as long as they have a big enough truck or how trashy many girls in the South have become.
Some will tell me its modern, that I'm stuck in a bygone age and that I need to catch up with the times. And on some level, I agree with them. I am stuck in an age of polished gentlemen and classy ladies, an age of manners and propriety; an age of order and decency; an age where a gentleman's appearance, actions and communication reflect on his family and his region. And I'm being overrun by a barbarian horde led by an under-dressed, vulgar, drunk slob whose mother didn't teach him to not wear his muddy boots in the house, especially the house of a gracious host.
So wave whatever flag you want. Pay your nasty dancer. Drop the F-bomb anywhere you please. But don't call it Southern, because it ain't.
4/10/2015 08:09:12 am
Honest question: why do you think the positive traits you describe define "Southern" any more than they define "New England" or "Midwest?"
4/10/2015 11:00:56 am
I think it's a great question. But I think that the conflict here between Atlanta, and the rest of Georgia is possibly the same issue in the regions you mention. I am addressing the Southern perspective here as it is the one I am familiar with and the one that the blog addresses.
4/13/2015 09:15:40 am
Sam, you know I am from suburban Chicago, lo! just a few days shy of 60 years ago. The values you espouse are the values with which I was raised. They are the values with which I raised my own children; the values with which my grandchildren are being raised. I, too, lament their wholesale passing as, more and more, I feel my age and recognise I am quickly become an anachronism; a throwback; some quaint relic from a kinder, gentler time known as "the '60s".
4/13/2015 09:27:15 am
First of all, I am so thankful that the comments feature works so much better on the new site!
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Historian, self-proclaimed gentleman, agrarian-at-heart, & curator extraordinaire