A Commentary by J. D. Longstreet
150 years ago today, around 3 PM, some 12,000 Confederate soldiers, "stepped off" on a death march into a hailstorm of lead and canister shot poured into their ranks from well dug-in Union positions and artillery batteries on the outskirts of a little Pennsylvania town called Gettysburg.
Those doomed Confederate troops would walk nearly three-quarters of a mile -- over open ground -- with no cover of any kind, while the union forces poured lead into their ranks toppling bodies like a scythe in a wheat field.
The Confederates were slaughtered. It was the turning point of The War Between the States.
Gen. James Longstreet was unhappy with Gen. Robert E. Lee's command to attack the Union positions. When it came time for him to issue the order for George Pickett to take his men across that great killing field, he simply could not bring himself to say the words. He merely nodded with bowed head. Pickett ordered his men into the sluice of death, in line abreast, extending nearly a mile in breadth.
In less than an hour it was over. That field was littered with Confederate dead. Over half of Pickett's Division lay dead upon the field... over three thousand men. All 15 regimental commanders, including two Brigadier General's and six Colonel's were dead. Their skill, their experience, gone forever.
When George Pickett finally made his way to Lee, Lee ordered him to prepare his Division for a possible Union counter attack. Pickett replied to Lee: "Sir. I HAVE no Division!"
Pickett never forgave Lee.
Union forces did not counter attack -- their commanders not wishing to face the still formidable Confederate forces nor the Confederate artillery dug-in on Seminary Ridge.
The next morning, the morning of July 4th, 1863, dawned dark and foreboding with skies that soon opened with torrents of rain. Lee seized the opportunity and retreated.
It still hurts.
Some few years ago, I stood in the cemetery of a small, rural, southeastern North Carolina church and helped to dedicate six granite Confederate Veteran Grave Markers for six “Heroes of the South” who were veterans of the Confederate Army.
As the exceedingly bright September afternoon sunlight shone down upon those gathered for this solemn ceremony, three flags snapped in the strong fall breeze as it danced it’s way across the cemetery embracing each stone in turn, and forcing our flags to flutter and, at times, stand straight out with their halyard as taunt as a bow string.
At the top of the flagstaff was the Stars and Stripes, the flag of our country, the United States of America. Just below “Old Glory” was the state flag of our state, the state of North Carolina, and directly below that was the Confederate Battle Flag, the flag of no country, and no state, just a battle field ensign, but… it was the flag under which the men we honored had marched and fought and died.
As I spoke to those assembled on that sacred ground, I let my eyes drift casually over the onlookers. I saw one child, a little sandy-headed boy, about 4 maybe 5 years of age. He was the only youngster there.
I thought, that young man needs to hear this, he needs to have his parents tell him what all this color and honor means. He needs to be told… before it is too late.
Our children have been taught a “revisionist history” about this unique part of the United States. Generation after generation of American children had been led away for their roots until southern children, especially, no longer know who, and what, they are.
Although the history of the United States, and the people of the US, is colorful the history of the Southern portion of our country is even more colorful. Settled primarily by Scot-Irish peoples, with French Huguenots along our southeastern coasts, the people of the early South always felt the difference between them and their northern brothers and sisters.
The South was agrarian… a land of farmers. The North was industrialized... a land of factories and immigrant workers from, mainly, northern Europe.
Farming is inexplicably tied to the weather, to the seasons, and weather and the seasons move at their own pace, a pace which is, for the most part, much slower than the pace of impatient man. Factories, for the most part, were not dependent upon the weather as the workers were most often inside out of the elements so their manner of work and life was at a much more rapid pace than that of the South.
Our dress was different from that of the north. Hot and humid, the south demanded lighter weight clothing, and lighter colors, than that of our nothern counterparts.
Our speech mannerisms became a birthmark of the Southron. We spoke slowly… almost poetically. Our northern neighbors spoke in a more rapid-fire cadence.
The early South was much more prosperous than the North. At the outbreak of the American Civil War the gross national product of the South was three times that of the North. For all intents and purposes, the South was supporting the North.
The North demanded more and more southern money to run the government and laid tariffs and taxes against the South and the South’s trade with Europe until the Southern people said: “enough”. The government of the US would not give an inch on the tariffs, and taxes, and the South parted company with the US and formed it’s own country, the Confederate States of America.
The Confederacy had a Congress, a President, an Army, and a Navy, and a land area, and population, much larger than that of the 13 original colonies. Plus, the South had… the money. Without the South’s money the US government was broke.
And so, the US invaded the Confederate States of America. (Always follow the money, dear reader.)
One of the hallmarks of the Scot-Irish people is their willingness to fight and… the intensity with which they fight. The ancient Romans got a bellyful of the Scot-Irish warriors when they tried to tame them.
I don’t mention slavery, here, as a cause of the American Civil War … because it wasn’t. It WAS dragged into the war later… but, at the outset of the war, slavery, in the South, was not THE issue. In fact, Lincoln had said publicly he was not against slavery.
Here are the words of a proposed 13th amendment to the US Constitution… House Resolution 80 (Joint Resolution of Congress, Adopted March 2, 1861)
Full Text of H.J.R. No. 80, the "Ghost Amendment":
Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That the following article be proposed to the Legislatures of the several States as an amendment to the Constitution of the United States, which, when ratified by three-fourths of said Legislatures, shall be valid, to all intents and purposes, as part of the said Constitution, namely:
ART. 13. No amendment shall be made to the Constitution which will authorize or give to Congress the power to abolish or interfere, within any State, with the domestic institutions thereof, including that of persons held to labor or service by the laws of said State.
--12 United States Statutes at Large, 36th Congress, 2nd Session, 1861, p. 251.
The resolution above is often referred to as the “Ghost Amendment”, the proposed original 13th Amendment.
The argument still rages today as to whether it passed… or not. At least two states ratified it… Ohio and Maryland!
The opening shots of the Civil war occurred in 1861. The Emancipation proclamation did not take effect until January 1st of 1863. The real 13th amendment, abolishing slavery, passed the Senate easily in April 1864, but was defeated 95 to 66 the first time it went before the House of Representatives in June. It took the House six more months before it reconsidered the amendment and adopted it 119 to 56 on January 31, 1865. The war ended at Appomattox Courthouse, Virginia, in April of 1865.
The four years of turmoil left scars upon the South, which have never healed. North Carolina, as an example, lost 40,000 of its men to the war. The US was involved in the Vietnam War for nearly ten years. The US lost 58,000 men as a result of that nearly decade long war. Compare that to the 40,000 men NC lost… in just four years. The South’s population was nearly stripped of it’s young men... for a generation.
The southern men who survived came home to a land devastated. All the advancements made in the 80 years since their grandfathers had fought the British for Independence was, for all intents and purposes… gone. Many found it impossible to start over so they packed up they families, and whatever meager belongings that had left, and went west.
Those who stayed turned to the hard work of rebuilding a society, which had been utterly destroyed, and began rebuilding. The South has continued to rebuild ever since.
But the scars are still evident, if not in our buildings and our landscapes, then certainly on our psyches. As the only part of the US to be invaded, and conquered, and occupied, we have a greater sense of liberty and freedom than, perhaps, any other part of this great country.
But we don’t talk about it. We aren’t allowed. We cannot remember our heroes who gave their lives in defense of their homes, their families, and their country… the Confederate States of America. The scars are still tender. Poke around them and you will be surprised at the vehemence with which you will be challenged by a Southron.
We fly our Confederate Battle Flag, not as a put down, or as an implied expression of a deep-seated desire to secede, but in remembrance of the sacrifices the South made.
Our Southern children are forbidden to celebrate their heritage. It is a heritage of heroes. Yet, too many feel threatened by the truth to allow a southern student, in public school, to wear even a belt buckle with the battle flag under which his ancestor fought and most likely died.
One thing the detractors of the South have overlooked. Their attitude does little to meld this nation into one. If anything they continue to drive a wedge between the people of the South and the people of the North. Suppression of the celebration of one’s heritage creates a smoldering anger, which will burn until it bursts into flames. When that finally happens, more than just feelings will be hurt.
All this was pouring through my mind as I spoke to those assembled for the dedication of those stones.
Ours is a great country. Somehow we have managed to get along since 1865 with a modicum of courtesy toward each other. But we must realize that we are yet two nations within one country. There is no way to ever remove the wall of separation between the North and the South unless, and until, we allow the truth to be told to our children and future generations of Americans. Continuing to cover-up the truth of our heritage, the good and the bad, is unhealthy and it needlessly feeds into the bitterness over wrongs done half of this nation 150 years ago.
There is no reason for half of this great country to feel threatened by the other half. Our Southern ancestors meant the US no harm when they parted ways in the 1860’s. What they did was perfectly legal and was their way of righting an injustice. The South had no interest, whatsoever, in overthrowing the government of the US. And yet, the US invaded and overthrew the government of the Confederate States.
The scars are deep here in the South. I carry a partial list of my blood kin who were killed in battles with US troops, or died later, as a result of wounds received in those battles. Southern families consider those men heroes of the highest order. And we bristle when their good name is besmirched by some ignorant, politically correct, individual, from a Congressman, to a Senator, to a public school administrator.
The Confederate History of THIS family WILL be passed on to the children and grandchildren, and great grandchildren, so that we may keep their memory alive for the generations yet unborn.
A walk through a cemetery of a southern church can be a journey back in time. Looking at the dates, and the military ranks, carved in the headstones of our southern heroes can sweep one back to the days of Southern Knights in their gray and butternut uniforms. It also takes us back to the second half of that war when those same Southern Knights walked mile after mile on bloodied feet, in tattered uniforms, on empty stomachs, and still managed to claim victory, time and time again, against the army of a fledgling superpower.
You think we’re not proud of them, of their legacy, and our heritage? Then you have no understanding of the South, at all.
© J. D. Longstreet