Skip to comments.Bubba, Foote from South and North
Posted on 05/21/2003 7:15:11 AM PDT by stainlessbanner
Edie, who lives in a suburb of Rochester, N.Y., chanced upon one of my grammar columns and came knocking at my door on the Internet.
Our discussion led from Bubba, the quintessential gentleman of Southern yeomanry, to Shelby Foote, the highly acclaimed author and narrator who sketches Southern virtues and vices with a loving brush.
Our regional biases quickly became evident.
Edie envisioned Bubba as a rustic rube incapable of speaking a grammatical sentence. I view him as a virtuoso with a wrench, a man of quick mind and versatile talents.
I view Foote as a man with a clear-eyed view of the Civil War and its origins. She saw him on PBS as a man who projected the war through a Southern lens.
"When the subject of the war is discussed, I feel like we are enemies," Edie wrote. "Maybe it's the 'guilt of the victor'?"
I told her to feel no guilt. I regret that the Civil War was fought -- not that the South lost. Like most rational Southerners, I figure we're all better off living in one country instead of two.
I thought Foote showed admirable objectivity in his awesome chronicles of the Late Unpleasantness, I told her. She saw Foote on Ken Burns' PBS program, "The Civil War," first aired in 1990. Each of us heard Foote differently.
"He seemed to be painting the Southern cause as noble, including a righteous comparison of the two constitutions," she wrote. "He is also gung ho about the flag .... and speaks of the motivation of the Confederate soldiers -- that they felt they were fighting for their land more than anything, if I recall."
I called Shelby Foote at his home in Memphis, Tenn., and, as I expected, found a man who gloried in his Southernness.
It makes him proud, he said, when people say they can't tell from his writing which side of the war he supports. But he also acknowledges that his heart beats a little faster when he's narrating a Southern victory.
One of his favorite stories involves a Union soldier who walked over to a Johnny Reb after the surrender at Appomattox Court House.
"I guess you fellows will go home now and farm," the Yankee remarked.
"You guess, do you?" replied the Reb contemptuously. "Well, you'd better not be acting so smart or we'll come back and whip you again."
Southerners know which side prevailed in the war, but they still cherish the conviction that, man for man, the South won.
The typical Southern soldier probably was more conscious of fighting for his country than of fighting to preserve slavery, I told her. He was resisting an invader without giving much thought to why he was being invaded.
Foote holds no brief for slavery, though I think he sees it as playing a less decisive role in secession than I do. But whatever he thinks of the cause for which his ancestors fought, he sees nobility in his ancestors.
On the Confederate Constitution, Foote told me, "I believe in the document as it was viewed by my forefathers."
His ancestors saw it not was a document intended to secure slavery but as one designed to ensure the continuation of their way of life -- which, of course, included tolerance of slavery.
So they were not affronted by Article I, Section 9 ("No ... law denying or impairing the right of property in Negro slaves shall be passed") or Article IV, Section 2 ("The citizens of each State ... shall have the right of transit and sojourn in any State of this Confederacy, with their slaves and other property; and the right of property in said slaves shall not be thereby impaired").
On the Battle Flag issue, Foote told me, "I'm totally opposed to people on either end of the spectrum -- those who see it as a symbol of everything glorious on this Earth, and those who see it as a symbol of the Nazi swastika."
While he himself regards the flag warmly as the banner under which his ancestors fought, "I perfectly understand," he said, "why my black fiends get horrors when they see that flag."
Foote was totally turned off by segregationist politicians such as Alabama's George Wallace, Arkansas' Orval Faubus and Mississippi's Ross Barnett.
In 1963, the author described such men as "soft-talking instruments of real evil."
"They're dreadful people," he told me, "and they're doing what they're doing simply to get votes and the scum from which they get those votes are the scum of the Earth."
I don't think those sentiments will be misinterpreted by anyone, North or South.
Foote thinks Southerners and non-Southerners have worked out a useful compromise in their attitudes. Southerners, he said, acknowledge that a Northern victory was the best outcome for the nation. Northerners acknowledge that the Confederate soldiers were "people who fought nobly for the cause in which they believed."
"When people get to screwing around with that compromise," he said, "they're screwing around with something that works quite well."
I hope Edie and her New York neighbors understand that. I hope, even more strongly, that we Southerners do.
A distinction without much of a difference. Almost the only significant differences between the two Constitutions were those involving the securing of slavery.
There were some changes involving weakening the executive and detailing states rights, but these were relatively minor.
This fact would lead an unbiased person to the conclusion that the only real beef secessionists had with the US government was its threat to their peculiar institution.
I haven't gotten the courage to call him yet and tell him, among other things, that we named my first daughter after him (my wife thinks it's from Steel Magnolias, but it's for Shelby Foote).
Hardly. It is easy to take this view in our hindsight (and influenced by modern political correctness). "Their peculiar institution" hardly bothered the vast majority of contemporary Northerners - with some fully oblivious to it even being an issue or in many cases sympathetic.
Lincoln didn't take the "emancipation" path until it became evident that, as this article states, man for man the South was kicking the North's ass. It became a belated self-appointed (and somewhat unrealistic in light of the huge number of Northerners who also did not find it worthy to war over emancipation) rallying call to try to save their skin. The South only wanted to do things without being forced by a central government much the same as the prevailing attitudes of FREEPERS here...
I have read analysis that opined that the South, had they had equal resources as the North and had defeated the Northern agressors, would have certainly shortly after wars end adopted emancipation and abolished slavery itself (and only a decade or so after Lincoln's ploy).
[And quite obviously given such equal resources WOULD have certainly defeated the North. Then Lee could have been elevated to the level that his integrity, decency, honesty, and valor deserved; while the scoundrel Grant could have dove headlong into his whisky bottle and rotted sooner than he did reflecting the absence of the same aforementioned virtues. Was this the actual birth of political correctness in America - lip service prevailing over truth? Could be... Considering the populations most associated with todays political correctness (and its biggest REAL victims) it looks to be very plausible. An apparently easily adopted "holier than thou" attitude among todays Northerners over this view of 140 year old history (without any real connection whatsoever to the "good wrought" on our country by events that occurred before their great grandfathers lived) would also be testament to this as well. Get real, Northerners. Blessings on the South.]
I wonder how many folks who post on these forums agree with that statement?
True, except that only dead people were unaware of the conflict over slavery.
It became a belated self-appointed (and somewhat unrealistic in light of the huge number of Northerners who also did not find it worthy to war over emancipation) rallying call to try to save their skin.
True, except that the North could have dropped the whole thing at any moment. It wasn't like the South posed some huge direct threat of invasion and conquest to the North
.The South only wanted to do things without being forced by a central government much the same as the prevailing attitudes of FREEPERS here.
I would have nothing but sympathy for this point of view, if it weren't that what they wanted to be left alone about was their practice of enslaving other human beings. This was an evil practice, and as Lincoln said (paraphrasing), nobody has a right to be free of criticism for practicing evil.
Then Lee could have been elevated to the level that his integrity, decency, honesty, and valor deserved; while the scoundrel Grant could have dove headlong into his whisky bottle and rotted sooner than he did reflecting the absence of the same aforementioned virtues.
Like most of those who believe the South was on the wrong side of history, I think it is difficult to overstate the respect due R.E. Lee, as a man and as a soldier.
Why do so many of you who hold the other opinion find it so necessary to degrade the character of a great soldier and man on the other side? He had a lot more flaws than REL, but so just about all of us. He certainly compares well to most of the other southern generals, for example Beauregard, Johnston and Hood.
True, the invasion was Northern. Don't doubt, however, that the South wasn't close on occasion to military victory for their goal of repelling the only invasion taking place...
Again, an apparently easily adopted "holier than thou" attitude among todays Northerners over this view of 140 year old history (without any real connection whatsoever to the "good wrought on our country" by events that occurred before their great grandfathers lived) would also be testament to this as well. Again, get real! Today you are simply blowing your own horn of self-righteousness that completely ignores that racial mistreatment, bloody race riots and racial disharmony have occurred in Detroit, Chicago, and Boston (among other NORTHERN locales)SINCE those in Birmingham and Selma. That's not to even mention that the majority of those importing slaves in the first place were NEW ENGLAND sea captains/enterprisers. Again, today you are simply wrong.
Another significant point- slavery was wrong, dead wrong, however, the populace of the northern states did not develop a conscience about it until AFTER it proved to be an unworkable system in the factories and small-scale farms of the north. Slavery was abhorrent and many people on both sides of the Mason-Dixon rejected it because of moral grounds, but many in the north disliked it because they resented the aristocratic class that had developed in the south, again reflected by current self-righteousness over events with which you had no connection to speak of.
I used the description of the despicable nature of Grant to illustrate that the outcome was in many ways supportive of the worst in humanity. The murderous, raiding parties of war criminal Union bands (killing, maiming huge numbers of innocents - women, children, and the elderly along with non combat related property), particularly from Ohio and Indiana (the biggest stronghold ever in the history of the Ku Klux Klan) also illustrate the moral vacuum to which most Northerners are completely blind - again lending support to the political correctness birth idea. The quote attributed to Lincoln juxtapositioned to his own well documented views, and his political manipulation of the issue just shows how time can sometimes cloud issues rather than lend any elucidation...