How the Confederates Won the War

March 21, 2019

Golden Papers

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            “How the Confederates Won the War,” written by Dr. W. Wayne Smith, begins with Smith presenting a brief look at a character from George Orwell’s “1984.” The character is Winston Smith, and his role in the book is to make sure that all the historical records of the past were representative of the political doctrine of the day. Any documents in conflict with that doctrine had to be destroyed. Dr. Smith states that the work of Winston Smith raises three important issues with regard to the nature of history: whether history can be created by people with an agenda; whether history incorporates the prejudices or social values of society at a given time; and whether historical records can be wrong or misrepresent the past. He goes on to state that these issues are best illustrated through the writing of Civil War history.

            Dr. Smith states that in order to understand his argument, it is necessary to understand the pro-slavery stance of the Old South. The following evidence is provided: first, Southern intellectuals defended slavery by stating that it was beneficial for the national economy, for the slaves, and for Southern culture; second, immediately following the secession of the Deep South states, they sent ambassadors to Upper South states with a message stating the goal of the Confederacy, which was to defend slavery; and third, on March 21, 1861, the Vice-President of the Confederacy – Alexander H. Stephens – declared that slavery was the foundation of the Confederacy. Clearly then, slavery was the underlying issue of the Civil War.

            Smith continues by discussing the various groups of writers who presented Civil War history. The first group consisted of those who actually fought in the war, and they are categorized as apologists. The writers of this group were predominantly Southern, and as a result, their stories often became justification for and vindication of the Confederacy. They changed the underlying issue of the war from that of slavery to that of states’ rights.

            The second group of writers consisted of historians representing the first generation that came of age after the Civil War. Spanning the period of 1890 to 1910, these historians were members of the nationalist school. They viewed history as a series of cataclysmic events that could not be easily controlled. Also, their presentation of military and political history was very impersonal, which led them to view the Civil War being the result of sectional and economic issues that could not be resolved.

            The third group of writers emerged in the 1920s and 1930s, following World War I, which they viewed as a catastrophic event that had caused nothing but death and destruction. Their attitude was that the war could have been averted, and this same stance was adopted with regard to the Civil War. In both situations, they believed that had the politicians involved been more levelheaded, neither war would have occurred.

            The fourth group of writers that emerged in the 1940s was known as the moralist school. They were influenced by the experiences of World War II, and argued that sometimes war is necessary to root out evil, as it was in the case of the Civil War. They felt that without that war, slavery would have continued unchecked, ultimately destroying the country. Finally, the last group of writers was known as the modernization school, and their goal was to find and use historical examples to assist in the victory over communism. With regard to the Civil War, modernization historians felt that the core issue was whether America would be a modern society or a regressive society. In other words, would slavery continue or end?

            Dr. Smith concludes the article by stating that the debate over slavery is over, and that the Confederate viewpoint of the Civil War remains strong. This is a somewhat incorrect statement, as there are still many historians who are strongly interested in the Civil War. Not only are they interested in the events of the war itself, but they are also paying closer attention to the various people involved. There are a variety of writings covering almost every aspect of the war, and from different perspectives as well. Although the article is informative in providing the various ways the Civil War has been studied and viewed, it does not live up to the title. The Confederacy did not win the Civil War, and their biased writings clearly demonstrate that fact. Thus, the conclusion of the article is negated.

            Another aspect of the article that is incorrect can be found when Dr. Smith stated that the North did not care about the war once it was over. Northerners did care about the aftermath of the war, for it was them that went to the South in order to help both whites and blacks rebuild their society. Granted, there were those who went in order to make a quick buck at the expense of the Southerners, but the majority did not do so. Eventually the North did get fed up with the reconstruction period that followed the war, as it became more evident that the Southerners did not want to change their way of thinking. Only then did their attitudes change.

            Ultimately, it is clear that Dr. Smith himself is a bit biased about the Civil War. Although he attempts to be objective, he himself is evidence of how the nature of history can be altered to satisfy an individual or collective opinion. Much like the Southerners who, even in present-day America, view the Old South with nostalgia, Dr. Smith is viewing the Civil War through rose-tinted glasses. Again, the choice of title for this article is completely negated, by Smith’s presentation as well as by the biased writings of the Confederacy.