Thursday, September 27, 2007

Shiloh, part 5

I don't remember a lot of rampant overt nationalism when I was growing up, but I guess it was there in a lot of subtle ways. Certainly at a tender age I'd been told many times by TV and books that the US was, you know, heap big #1 hot stuff.

So when I first learned about the Civil War, I didn't want to believe it. We lost a war? No way! What happened to heap big #1 hot stuff?!

Back then there was definitely a North-South us vs. them attitude that still lingered on in the minds of some of my teachers. (My husband, who grew up on military bases, was spared this instruction.) The South (that was us) had been wrong. The South (we) had been beaten.

Mostly, you outgrow it. Us/them becomes we, and the only regional distinctions nowdays usually concern accents or mannerisms, and even those differences are fading.

But the first time I saw the way soldiers were buried at Shiloh...

The Union: individual markers in a cemetery.

The Confederates: mass burial trenches. (This one contains about 700 soldiers piled 7 deep.)

I have to admit to finding in myself a pocket of that old us vs. them. Despite the fact that I know the south was wrong, and I would never defend that cause.


The Union soldiers were mostly dug up from all over the battlefield to be re-enterred in this cemetery after the war (4 years after the battle). That had to have been a tough task.


I had decided not to publish this post. It's a little uncomfortable to talk about, and I don't feel like I've expressed myself very well. But then I saw this bumper sticker downtown.

I have a hard time understanding what leads people to want to express sentiments like this.


edifice rex said...

Well, I'm glad you posted this anyway Karen. I do not understand that bumper sticker at all and to compare the Civil War to the Holocaust is assinine but you know, when I saw those places again of the graves it did bring up more than a little ire. I think the fact that Southerners are brought up with such a strong sense of family and place has a lot to do with it. You know, this is where you were born, be proud etc. Maybe this is due to the natural, genetic inclinations of the original settlers of this place or as a result of losing the war or a combination of the two. And of decades of being looked down upon by other regions as not as erudite or cultured. Well, you could write a whole paper on why some Southerners hold on so to that era and the injury that it left behind. I think having to live and suffer in the aftermath of the war since most of it was fought here, has something to do with it too. A Northern friend of mine once took his mother to see Atlanta and she innocently (I guess) asked a waiter here they could see some of historic, old Atlanta. The waiter looked at her cooly and replied in his most subdued, but polite, Southern drawl, "That was burned Ma'am."

Lorianne said...

As a Naive Northerner, I was surprised some years ago when I took a grad class in "Literary Depictions of the Civil War," and my professor asked us to subscribe to a Civil War listserv that had members from all over the country. I had no idea that the "War of Northern Aggression" was still very alive for some folks. Since I didn't feel very connected to the long-dead Union troops on "my" side, I didn't imagine how connected some modern Southerners felt toward ancestors who had fought & died. I hadn't imagined that anyone did/could take the war personally.

That bumper sticker strikes me as being similar to the things I hear working class Northerners say about immigrants, minorities, or other "hated" groups. It seems like a scapegoat thing. "The reason my life is hard today is because [fill in the blank with any hated demographic] have ruined everything." It's kind of convenient, I think, to have someone to blame for everything wrong in your world.

Dave said...

Lord knows the Indians might have a slightly different take on that "American holocaust" thing.

misti said...

The Indians have their own bumper sticker:

I have to say I've been reading the tour of the battlefield and it is very interesting. I have never been to a site like that and having grown up in Texas we have a bit more of a moderate view of the Civil War. We were there, but we still had our independent streak, too. The closest thing would be going to the Alamo, but even then it is surrounded by city now. Hard to imagine Mexican troops slaughtering all of the Texas pioneers.

Marsha said...

Where I live the Revolutionary War gets more play than the Civil War - there are monuments and battlefields and all kinds of other reminders (town names, creek names, elementary school names, etc.). My church has both "Patriot" and "Redcoat" soldiers buried.

Recently there was a memorial service for the British soldiers, our "erstwhile enemies" as they were described. Some British historians, re-enacters (yep, they re-enact this war, too) and military folk came for the service. One of them referenced the "Colonial Insurrection" and it took me a minute to realize we were talking about the same war.

kay said...

To keep hate a live this
long after the fact....
well, you have to be carefully
There were wrongs an both sides
and heroes on both sides.

kay lee

Rurality said...

Annie, yeah I think it has a lot to do with the "looked down on" idea. I don't think northerners are the only ones who don't realize that Atlanta was razed though! (Didn't they see Atlanta burning in "Gone with the Wind"?!) Funny thing though, there were still a number of antebellum homes in Corinth (near Shiloh).

Lorianne, good point. I think the reason it lingers here more is partly due to Reconstruction. The effects of the war lasted a long time in the south.

Dave, well yeah. I think it's a bit ridiculous the way people compare Hitler to modern-day villans too.

Misti, those are good ones! I've been to the Alamo too. It is odd how it's just crammed in with all the surrounding shopping, etc. But at least it's still there. I mentioned the other day that I wanted to see the old site of Camp Douglas, the Illinois POW camp that one of my ancestors was is... but apparently there are just condos there now. A lot of the old historical sites are just gobbled up completely.

Marsha, I'd love to visit some of those Rev. War sites too! I think eventually southerners won't feel any more animosity towards northerners than we do towards the British.

Kay Lee, I never really thought there was much hate involved, not really, until fairly recently. I have witnessed it just once though, and really I thought that guy was just off his rocker.

I didn't get interested in genealogy until most of my older relatives were already gone. (Could kick myself for that!) But I still was able to talk to one great-uncle whose grandfather (my g-g-grandfather) was in the Civil War. And on another family tree branch, there are still stories of them hanging all the meat in the peach trees, to hide it from the Yankees as they passed through. So the tales are still around.

lime said...

that bumper sticker is simply astonishing. i knew there were still pockets of animosity but the sentiments on that bumper sticker is beyond reason. and why do i tend to think it would be on the car of someone who would be regarding certain minority groups as lesser humans....irony anyone?

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately, I think the current media fuels some of these people's angst. I grew up in rural Georgia with parents that recognized good and bad existed on both sides of the Civil War. They also taught that good and bad people exist in all races and that the color of one's skin does not indicate their value.

Now, I live in metro Atlanta where every day there is a new "racial bias" story being presented in the media. Frequently, these news stories are about crimes that have no basis in race, yet the media presents them that way. For those individuals who cannot let go of the "War of Northern Aggression," these stories just add fuel to their anger. And, also unfortunately, for those of us raised not to believe that race is an issue, it becomes difficult to disregard the underlying "race baiting."

Annie in Austin said...

All these posts have been beautifully written, Rurality - and the comments are engrossing. I was born in the north, and have lived in Illinois, Carolina and Texas.

So over time I've learned about that war in school, from reading non-fiction books and Southern novels, from documentaries, visiting museums or historical sites, from movies and from conversations. It's always been fascinating but it's also been quite firmly in the past.

The ancestors I can trace came here from the later 1860's up to i880 - and that's pretty early compared to those of friends & extended family whose ancestors came through Ellis Island in the early 1900's, or the many people who arrived more recently. We have no ancestral soldiers or family stories to make the Civil War personal - both sides in the war are historical for us.

I wonder what percentage of people living in the USA today have an ancestral connection to the Civil War? Maybe someone's already written that paper.

Annie at the Transplantable Rose

Floridacracker said...

Nathaniel, my relative who died in the CW was no slave owner, like the rich men who started this war. He was just a very young, very poor man caught up in the call to defend his home.
It's sad he died.
It's a blessing we lost.
When you look at the ethnic divisions and civil wars around the world though, it's amazing how we did a successful reconciliation and healed as a nation.
It's a rare thing.

That bumper sticker mentality is fading and while there will always be pockets of stupidthink, the wound is a fading scar.

Rurality said...

Well I had a comment all ready to post and my computer went belly-up and froze and ate it. Arr.

Lime, yeah. You should have seen the other bumper sticker on that car. :)

Anon, it's interesting that you say you're in Atlanta, because from what I've observed, people of different races get along better in Atlanta than in other places. At the recent craft show we did in Stone Mtn, we saw lots of mixed-race families, lots of black & white friends shopping together, etc. You see that in B'ham too but not nearly as often.

Annie, that's an interesting question! I think all my ancestors were here at the time so I've got a lot of them. Seven that I know of, and probably six more that I haven't researched yet, but who would have been the right age. Out of all those, five are great-greats and the rest are great-great-great-grandfathers. In some families, the age just wasn't right for going. In one family the ages fell out such that both the father and the son went off to war. (They both survived - I think they were too mean to die!) I said that all my ancestor were Confederates, but it's possible on one of those lines that I haven't looked at yet, that there were some northerners.

I had forgotten about some research one of my cousins did. I had one other ancestor at Shiloh. He ended up being captured later on, and died at a POW camp at Rock Island, Illinois. (His daughter who was my ancestor was 7 at the time.)

FC, yeah, stupidthink. Or, stoopitthink! :)

mountainmelody said...

I also think that many people in the South (except maybe in larger cities) are from families who have been here a long time--primarily English and Scotch-Irish people who settled the land when it was a frontier (and African-Americans with them).

Their families stayed for generations, often farming, hence the sense of deep roots and connection with the land. Others looked down on the South, and didn't move here. So the population is perhaps more homogenous than most, more rural, and (until recently, at least) less mobile, with a longer memory.

I could be wrong--just my observations.

lisa said...

Great post and comments! Very thought-provoking...too bad hatred in ANY form survives so well, but hey, life can't be Disney-esque bunnies and puppies all the time! I think a lot of it DOES come down to blaming "them" for all our's just that everybody's "them" varies regionally.