Neo-Confederates Offer Creative Take on ‘War Between the States’

In February 1961, more than 50,000 people – including three state governors – showed up in Montgomery, Ala., to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Jefferson Davis’ inauguration as the first (and only) president of the Confederate States of America. It was one of many massive events that would mark the controversial, racially charged centennial of the Civil War. The same year in April, officials in Charleston, S.C., hoisted a Confederate battle flag above the Capitol in commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the attack on Fort Sumter that started the war. It flew until July 2000.

By contrast, the war’s sesquicentennial, which kicked off toward the end of last year, has been marked primarily by the sound of crickets chirping. A December 2010 “secession ball” sponsored in Charleston by the Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV), a Southern heritage group, was modestly attended and roundly condemned by the media. Last February, fewer than 1,000 stalwarts rallied in Montgomery for the SCV-sponsored sesquicentennial of Davis’ inauguration, and April’s commemoration of Fort Sumter wrapped up after just a few days.

America, it seems, has moved on.

For the most part, that is. But in the alternative reality inhabited by the League of the South (LOS), a neo-Confederate hate group, the war – and its outcome – are still very much unsettled. In an essay on the League’s “official” “North Carolina War Between the States Sesquicentennial Commission” website Clyde Wilson, an professor emeritus of history at the University of South Carolina and founding member of LOS, bemoans the loss of the Lost Cause:

“America in 2011 is a very different country than America in 1961. The long march of cultural Marxism (political correctness) through American institutions, which began in the 1930's, has achieved most of its objectives,” he complains. “It is now established with Soviet party-line rigour that The War was ‘caused by’ and ‘about’ slavery and nothing but slavery.”

“‘Slavery’ cannot begin to account for the experience of Americans in what is still the central, bloodiest, and most revolutionary event in our history,” he continues. “It is our opinion that history is far too important to be left to official ‘experts.’… We owe it to North Carolinians of the past to ensure that the North Carolinians of the present and future understand the experience of those days.”

Thank goodness for small blessings! Were North Carolinians of the past, present, and future to rely on the official official sesquicentennial website put together by the North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources, they might be tricked into believing all manner of absurd notions. Fortunately, free thought still has a home at the LOS’ “official” site, whose “academic board” – which includes Wilson, Holocaust-denying ex-priest Boyd Cathey, and other prominent hard-line Confederate apologists – has cobbled together quotes from Confederate heroes to create a complete alternative history of the war, its causes and outcome.

An excerpt from the 1901 autobiography of former Confederate Gen. Samuel French tells us that the Ku Klux Klan was the only postwar protection from marauding ex-slaves whose “immorality [was] taught by men from the slums of Northern cities.” According to the timeless wisdom of Zebulon Vance, a Confederate veteran and the 37th and 43rd governor of North Carolina, “The carpetbag rulers were infinitely worse than the Negroes.”

The LOS commission has also created events to commemorate the war. For the most part, they’ve consisted of reenactments and rededications, often co-hosted with the Sons of Confederate Veterans. One August event featured “the world’s only full-sized replica of a 158’ gunboat designed to defend North Carolina.” Another proffered an “Authentic WBTS [War Between the States]-Era Recruiting Table” and a presentation on “WBTS-era Farming Methods, Produce and Accoutrements.” For most events, period dress was encouraged.

All’s quiet on the Northern Front this weekend, but between Oct. 14 and 16, LOS will commemorate the battle of Monroe’s Crossroads, which is described by the National Park Service as “not a major battle in terms of its effect on the outcome of the war.”

Should be a blast from the past.