Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Enemies No Longer

The American Civil War was the bloodiest in our history, a total war of attrition waged on our own territory, which an at times none to congenial peace. It is, thus, all the more inspiring to read about the reunion which was held at Gettysburg in 1913, celebrating the 50th anniversary of one of the war's bloodiest battles. An open invitation was made to all those who had served in either army, north or south, and been honorably discharged, and more than 50,000 men came to the three day event.
Personnel from the United States Army Quartermaster Corps and Engineer Corps arrived at Gettysburg National Military Park in 1912 to plan military and civilian support for the encampment. The engineers surveyed the field adjacent to the fields of "Pickett's Charge" where they laid out the arrangement for "The Great Camp", divided into areas for Union veterans and for Confederate veterans. Soldiers installed utility systems, erected hundreds of tents to house the veterans, built picnic tables, benches, and boardwalks throughout the camp. By the first of June the sprawling Great Camp occupied 280 acres, included 47 1/2 miles of avenues and company streets, was lit by 500 electric arc lights, and 32 bubbling ice water fountains were installed. Over 2,000 army cooks and bakers manned 173 field kitchens, ready to provide three hot meals per day for veterans and camp personnel alike....


The first veterans arrived on June 25 and within days the Great Camp swelled to overflowing. Every veteran was provided a cot and bedding in a tent that would hold eight men. Meals were served from a kitchen at the end of each company street and varied from fried chicken suppers to roast pork sandwiches with ice cream for desert. By the end of the reunion, the army kitchens had supplied over 688,000 meals to reunion participants. Invariably the days were hot and the thermometer topped 102 degrees on July 2. Heat exhaustion and physical fatigue resulted in hospitalization of several hundred veterans. Over 9,980 patients were treated by medical personnel for ailments ranging from heat exhaustion to stomach disorders. Remarkably, only nine veterans passed away during the week-long encampment. Despite the heat and often dusty conditions, nothing could keep the aged men in camp and hundreds wandered the battlefield. Many visited battle sites where they or their comrades had been fifty years before. Confederate veterans especially were pleased to find old cannon mounted on metal carriages to mark the locations where their batteries had been during that fateful battle. Invariably, the presence of khaki-clad US Army personnel caused a lot of excitement. The soldiers were there to guard camp supplies, give demonstrations, and provide services to the veterans who delighted themselves discussing the modern weapons of war. Many an aged veteran was eager to explain how much things had changed in fifty years to any soldier who was handy and army personnel were constantly entertained by the old soldiers at every turn. [source]

One of the major events of the reunion was a reenactment of Pickett's Charge. Confederate veterans assembled to walk the three-quarters-of-a-mile across open fields towards Union lines, retracing the charge which on which fifty years before 12,500 men had set out and suffered 50% casualties. As union veterans watched the men in gray approaching them across the field again, many eyes were far from dry. And as the Confederate veterans approached the wall, their old adversaries broke ranks and came forward to meet them, not with lead and steel this time, but with the embraces of friendship.

17 comments:

Anonymous said...

But did Lincoln screw up by fighting the Civil War at all? I've been wondering lately if the US might be better off today if Lincoln had just let the Confederacy go. Southern states today have the least economic output, the worst schools, the highest rates of obesity and smoking, the highest rates of teen pregnancy, and the lowest life expectancy. Not to mention the legacy of racism that persists to this day. (Frex: Alabama was the last state in the nation to repeal their anti-miscagenation law, in 2000.)

Maybe everyone in the USA would be better off today if the CSA had gone their own way with Lincoln's blessing. We would of course now have a banana republic bordering us to our southeast. Slavery would be long gone by now, even there, but Jim Crow would probably still be alive and well, just like the semi-official racist systems that still persist in the Caribbean. They would be much poorer than us, and probably would be a perpetual recipient of US aid. And the US Republican Party would not exist in its current form, having no regional base of support.

Food for thought . . . .

Joel

cliff said...

Darwin - thanks for posting this.

Amy said...

I love this post. The video is wonderful - it made me teary to see them shaking hands over the wall.

Darwin said...

Joel,

There's certainly been plenty of alternate history written about what might have happened if the CSA had been left alone -- one of the major questions there would, of course, be: Which CSA?

The deep south seceded immediately after Lincolns election, but the mid and upper south didn't secede until after Lincoln responded to the attack on Fort Sumpter with a call for the states to raise militias.

Personally, I think you'd also have to imagine that a Union which let the South secede would probably have broken up further over the following 60 years. Once the precedent for peaceful secession was made, it would be an obvious answer to regional tensions between East and West, etc.

On the economic question: I'm not sure to what extent you could use the modern economic condition of the South as a predictor of how the CSA would have done, as the South's economic history from Reconstruction through the New Deal was heavil determined by being militarily defeated and politically in the minority. And, of course, some former CSA states rank pretty high economically (Virginia, Florida, Texas, etc.)

A final factor which shouldn't be overlooked: If the CSA had been left independant, Wilson would clearly never have become president of the US -- and the presidency of Wilson (who said his earliest memory was of huddling with his family in the steeple of his father's Presbyterian church and watching the flames of Sherman's army passing through Georgia) was one of the formative influences on the US in the 20th century and on the modern Democratic Party.

Darwin said...

Just in case it's not clear from the above, I'm really not sure that this would be the case:

We would of course now have a banana republic bordering us to our southeast. Slavery would be long gone by now, even there, but Jim Crow would probably still be alive and well, just like the semi-official racist systems that still persist in the Caribbean. They would be much poorer than us, and probably would be a perpetual recipient of US aid.

The Southern states were much more agrarian than the Union, but they were actually quite well off economically at the time (agriculture being a major part of the economy in both regions). They also had the English/American political traditions of the original Founding, and close ties with England (backed up by the fact that the South was supporting free trade in the Civil War, while the North wanted protectionism).

Given its place in the Anglosphere, its racial problems, and its agrarian focus, I would imagine that a modern CSA would fall somewhere in a spectrum between Australia and South Africa, but much closer to the former than the latter.

Anonymous said...

The Blackadder Says:

To a first approximation, my guess is that if the South had been allowed to split from the Union, the U.S. would look a lot more like Canada today, whereas the Confederacy would look like Argentina.

I would also guess that you would have had several wars between the North and South in the 1860-1940 period, just as periodic wars were common in Europe during the time-frame.

Anonymous said...

The Blackadder Says:

Maybe everyone in the USA would be better off today if the CSA had gone their own way with Lincoln's blessing. We would of course now have a banana republic bordering us to our southeast. Slavery would be long gone by now, even there, but Jim Crow would probably still be alive and well, just like the semi-official racist systems that still persist in the Caribbean.

I highlight this passage as it is a clear example of a common error people make. Anonymous says that the U.S. might be better off if the Confederacy had been allowed to leave, but as his reasoning suggests, this would be true only in a bookkeeping sense (I assume that he doesn't thing Jim Crow was a good thing). If we sent all the poor to Montana and then declared it an independent country this would do wonders for the U.S.'s poverty statistics, but it wouldn't actually make anyone better off.

Anonymous said...

Blackadder: In my home state of Iowa we used to tell a joke, that if the southern tier of Iowa counties were to cede to Missouri, it would raise the average IQ of both states. The same principle applies with the South. They are poorer, more ignorant, more racist, and sicker than the rest of us, but if Lincoln had given them their wish they wouldn't be our problem.

darwin: No, the South was not well off in the 1860's. On a per capita basis - including all the slaves, of course - they were much poorer than the North. But your other point, about the rest of the Union breaking up after the southern secessions, is well taken.

Joel

Darwin said...

Joel,

Well, here's an interesting way to think about it: In 1860 the largest capital asset in the US was the slave population, which was valued at two billion dollars. The runner up was the national railroad system (north and south) which was valued around 600 million.

In the terms that the Southerners looked at (that is, how much wealth whites had) they were doing pretty well.

Though on the other hand: they were in general a highly specialized, agricultural export economy. And the track record for those in the 1860 to 2010 time period in regards to development is not very good.

Just for grins, here's the 1860 census, the last third of which has a fair amount of interesting information on production:

http://www2.census.gov/prod2/decennial/documents/1860e-05.pdf

I suppose a fair amount of how such a thing played out would also have to do with how Southern imperial ambitions played out. For instance, the big advocate in the Senate in the 1850s for the US taking over Cuba was a guy named Jefferson Davis.


Frankly, though, I'm just not that sympathetic to either the claim that certain regional populations are inherently inferior to others, nor to the 'then they wouldn't be our problem' way of thinking. My suspicion is that both the South and North are better off now than they would have been had secession been allowed.

CMinor said...

They are poorer, more ignorant, more racist, and sicker than the rest of us...

Dang, is that the South I live in?

Right now, compared with the country at large, we're in not too bad shape economically. There's still a viable auto industry slightly north of me, for example, that isn't in hock to the Fed. I believe unemployment is still below national average, and plenty of businesses are still up and running.

As for ignorance, there are probably about a dozen colleges and universities of excellent repute within three hours' drive from me, including a very good medical school and hospital complex downtown. Public schools, I admit, are spotty, but the ones in my county are probably as good on basics as those we encountered living in the Balto/Wash corridor. And the public attitude towards homeschooling is very accomodating.

Racism is a hard thing to quantify (yes, it exists, but black folks who moved north after the Civil War found plenty there, too) but I don't think recent statistics bear you out. My personal experience sure doesn't: the only adult I've known since moving to Georgia to directly apply the "N" word to another person was a native Californian.

BTW, Joel, that joke of yours is really kinda mean-spirited. Also a bit classist, if not outright racist.

Mrs. CrankyCon said...

Thank you, CMinor. My thoughts exactly, but more diplomatically stated.

Darwin said...

Agreed.

Anonymous said...

CMinor, I stand by precisely what I wrote. Public schools throughout the former Confederacy pretty much fill out the bottom nationwide by almost any measure. Southern states have lower economic output, higher rates of smoking, obesity, teen pregnancy, cancer, and diabetes, and lower life expectancy. Fewer southerners go to college. These are facts, not opinions. Deny them at your peril.

Also, the south still has a major problem with racism. It is informative to look at the map of voting districts where John McCain got more support in '08 than Bush did in '04: it's pretty much the old Confederacy.* Now go ahead, I dare you to argue that race wasn't the main reason. If you try, I'll fire back by pointing out that McCain had 90% support among white people in Alabama.

Joel (glad to have grown up in the Midwest)

* Well, the Confederacy plus Alaska, but Alaskans had their own reasons for voting that way this time around.

Darwin said...

Joel,

Ethnic minorities also have lower economic output, higher rates of smoking, obesity, teen pregnancy, cancer, and diabetes, and lower life expectancy. They go to college at lower rates than "whites".

Would you support kicking them out?

Anonymous said...

If they themselves made the request, and indeed felt strongly enough about it to fight for it, then yes.

Joel

Anonymous said...

(Well, with the caveat that you noted above: if we let one group leave, then others will also want to leave, and pretty soon the whole thing dissolves. A real quandary.)

Joel

eulogos said...

Hey, I voted for both Bush and McCain.
And it had nothing to do with racism!
Had a black Republican run for president I would have been very happy to vote for him.

Perhaps those Southerners were just better at recognizing meaningless bullshit ....or better at seeing the dangerous subtext of the meaningless bullshit, than some of the rest of the country!

I thought the South was now doing well.
Compared to where I live, when I go to Maryland I see far more new cars on the road.
I don't see all the closed factories and empty store fronts that I see here in upstate NY.
Here, population is shrinking, and churches are closing. In the South they are actually building new Catholic churches.
People are always leaving here and going to North Carolina or Texas to work.
It just doesn't sound like the South you are describing!
Susan Peterson