How do you write about understanding and appreciating the Southern side of the Civil War and not come off as a bigot? I keep seeing stories over the past few years about the “Confederate Battle Flag” being removed from public places and I’ll tell you, it makes me angry. Angry that the “Stars and Bars” is called a “battle flag” (unless the Stars and Stripes is considered a battle flag too) and angry that the succession of the South has been reduced to nothing more than the issue of slavery.
What the Confederate States did was no different than what the Colonies did 100 years before – refuse to allow the oppression of their freedoms by others. They believed that their entire way of life was being threatened and, as such, decided to form their own country free of (ironically) that oppression. And yes, slavery was a PART of that, but only a part.
What most folks tend to forget (or to overlook) is that the USA was founded on slavery – both purchased and indentured – the latter used to enslave “white” people, who were looking for a new beginning, but without the means of achieving it. And this suited the “rich” business folks perfectly, as an indentured servant was less expensive (and more intelligent) than the ones from Africa being sold on the open market. And in a land where laborers were scarce and needed to be imported, this, to them, was the way to go.
And as the country grew, the Northern part of the United States became the industrial arm of the country, with skilled labor driving the manufacture of goods. And the South – where the land was rich and the temperatures conducive to longer growing seasons – became the raw materials arm of the country. They faced the same problems as the North did – the need for laborers – but their need was less about “skilled labor” and more about bodies to work the fields.
And over time, the North used less and less indentured slaves (or purchased slaves) in their businesses and just began hiring the folks who were immigrating here – the “skilled white folks” from Europe, looking for a better life. Their need for labor was being filled, but the South, well, that was a different story. None of the immigrants wanted to work the fields for the small sum that they’d earn, so the plantation owners had to “buy” their laborers – and they did this through slave traders – at the time a perfectly acceptable thing.
Most owners invested nearly their entire wealth in the purchase of this labor force, with the hopes of increasing their holdings and growing their businesses. And this had been going on for over 100 years, since slavery was acceptable on a world-wide basis then. Now, how any man could condone the enslavement of another is beyond me. Or to treat ANY creature as inhumanely as some of these owners did (or allowed) – human or otherwise, is just inexcusable in my eyes. And obviously to others, as it was this issue that sparked the beginning of the end of life as the South had known it.
When word began to spread North of the treatment of slaves in the South (mostly from escapees), the response was shock and a demand to cease slavery entirely. Since the North no longer had the need of slaves, and had pretty much done away with slavery anyway, this cause was a simple one to support – after all, the cost to end slavery for them was minimal. But for the South, for all the plantation owners who had put their family fortunes into owning slaves, the end of slavery would be devastating.
What the North proposed would literally wipe out the majority of the ruling South, and like anyone that faces catastrophe, they refused to take it laying down. This wasn’t just about slavery, but about dynasties that had been built and a way of life that had been forged. No, this was unacceptable to the South, and it was THIS that lead to the Civil War. Slavery itself – well, that was what Lincoln used as a prod to gain re-election and funding for the war. Don’t get me wrong – Lincoln was against slavery – but his main goal was to reunite the country, using any means possible, including using the popular “anti-slavery” platform.
Succession and the war began, not over slavery, but over one group of individuals telling another group of individuals how to live and what to value. As I said in the beginning, not much unlike the War for Independence in 1776. The only difference was that both sides had two things in common – they were both American, and they were both steadfast in their beliefs.
At home, on my shelf, I have the Stars and Stripes and the Stars and Bars (both obtained at Fort Fisher, North Carolina). I have them as a reminder, not of slavery, but of Great Americans, who fought and died for what they believed in – a way of life. And I won’t deny that I have a great deal of admiration for the Southern Army. Look up some of the battles if you are unfamiliar (check out the history of Fort Fisher – it’ll make you think of the movie “Glory”). Many times, the Army of the South, under-armed, under-fed and over-manned, held toe-to-toe, if not defeating their Union counterparts.
And I don’t believe that, for one minute, the biggest thing on their minds as they marched to their deaths was “At least we’re keeping slavery alive”. No, I firmly believe that these men and boys marched with only one thought – that NO ONE was going to take from them their way of life or all that they owned. And that, to me, is the America of old. The underdog that refuses to give up until the last breath.
So the next time you see the Stars and Bars being taken down or away, understand that it stood for YOUR fellow Americans, who fought and died against great odds, for a way of life that they believed in and for all that they had. And ask yourself what you would do today if all you have and your way of life were threatened. Then, maybe, you can find some compassion and understanding, instead of just ignorance and hatred. And respect for what the Stars and Bars REALLY stands for.