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23 December 2011


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Jim Ticehurst

Well Said Pat...Merry Christmas and Thanks for SST...

Sidney O. Smith III

Fascinating post. Thanks for taking the time and effort to share it.

When reading about the battle at Fredricksburg, I remain in awe of the Union forces who marched straight into Longstreet. In many ways, that scene symbolizes a pinnacle of sacrificial heroism.

Truth be told, I have a difficult time comprehending why they made such heroic sacrifices "far from home", although, when looking at the war from a much broader angle, Gary Gallagher in his recent book helps explain the motivation of the North. It was the concept of Unionism. As Jonathan Yardley wrote in his review of Gallager’s book in the WaPo:

"Now, in The Union War, Gallagher is back to take issue with what has become the new conventional wisdom, that the North fought the war in order to achieve the emancipation of the slaves. While welcoming the post-civil-rights-era emphasis on "slavery, emancipation, and the actions of black people, unfairly marginalized for decades in writings about the conflict," Gallagher makes a very strong case--in my view a virtually irrefutable one--that the overriding motive in the North was preservation of the Union....
--Jonathan Yardley (Washington Post 20110619)


Gallager's book breaks new ground, but it is David Goldfield's brilliant book, America Aflame, that has really caught my eye. If you are not already familiar with his book, you may find that it is particularly relevant today and even serves as a warning that we may experience American aflamed once again.

First, let me assure you that Goldfield is no Southern apologist. Far from it. If anything, he, in all likelihood, writes from the tradition of Zinn revisionism.

But what is absolutely fascinating about Goldfield is he has concluded (as have I, at least for now) that the war was unnecessary. He traces the cause of the war -- and here is the prophetic significance to today -- to the rise of evangelicalism that ultimately overtook the apparatus of the State, particularly in the North. The following quote from booklist hopefully will pique your interest:

"Where past scholars have limned the war as a triumph of freedom, Goldfield sees it as America's greatest failure: the result of a breakdown caused by the infusion of evangelical religion into the public sphere. As the Second Great Awakening surged through America, political questions became matters of good and evil to be fought to the death."
Goldfield's book opens up describing the vicious mob attack on a Catholic convent in Boston in 1834. From there, the action is nonstop and many of the great historical characters come to life: Frederick Douglas, Alex Stephens, Walt Whitman, and more.

And, again, not to worry: he pulls no punches, including against some of the characters in South.

I cannot say I agree with all his views, particularly his interpretation of Reconstruction in the South, but I can say with complete confidence that Goldfield's work is exceedingly important. Here is a link to the book:


One the great ironies in American history, imo, is that it is now Southerners who are leading the way in exhibiting the same theocratic zeal that once was pointed at them. It is just that in the 21st century this “American exceptionalism” will lead to a conflagration in the Middle East, and the blowblack will render asunder the USA.

A bit of a digression but one I want to share before ending, although I admit this comment is far too long. By a fortunate set of circumstances, I read Goldfield's book while living, for a short while, in a rambling old house once owned and occupied by a CSA doctor and his family in GA. The house is now owned by a public defender who restored it and rented it to me. (restored it for the most part, as my fiancée would quickly add). According to the public defender/great friend, the CSA doctor left some symbolic markings in the house and I have spent a little time musing over them.

Well...just last evening, one of the public defender's son, recently returned from Guatemala, came by with a black guy who is attorney in the public defender's office. We had a great chat there in the house. He went to Alabama law school but he agreed with me that Athens, GA is a "cooler" place to hang out. As they left, I wished them both a Merry Christmas.

I can say with a high degree of certainty that the CSA doctor was nodding his approval at all the changes that house has witness. Changes, yes, but in many ways, it comes back to one thing. And it is something that political scientists certainly miss and even Goldfield misses. In the South, despite all our ills, we have been saying Merry Christmas to each other many, many years.

And I can only speculate but, in my imagination, the CSA doctor would send you his very best wishes for Christmas as well, knowing you take great pride in your hometown "up North" and rightfully so.


"This is Christmas Day. The sun shines feebly through a thin cloud, the air is mild and pleasant, [and] a gentle breeze is making music through the leaves of at the lofty pines that stand near our bivouac."

That's a lovely bit of writing. Thank you for reprinting it.

I've just begun reading Goldfield's book. Mr. Smith is correct, it draws you in immediately. Looking forward to finishing it. Merry Christmas to all.

The Twisted Genius


Glad you enjoyed it. I'm familiar with Gallagher's contention that the preservation of the Union was a powerful and near religious cause for the North, far more deep seated than the later cause of emancipation. I'm not familiar with Goldfield's book, but it does sound very interesting. Evangelicalism does seem to lead people to do extreme things for a cause. Couple that fervor of the self righteous with the wielding of coercive power and hell is bound to ensue. Perhaps that is what W.T. Sherman had in mind when, before leaving his position at a Louisiana military seminary, he prophetically warned his friend that secession will only bring destruction, misery and defeat to the South. (Please accept my apologies for mentioning Sherman to a Georgia gentleman during this holiday season.)

Virginia is having a lasting effect on this old New Englander. A few months ago while visiting my father in law's nursing home, there was a pianist playing for the residents. As my wife and I were leaving, the pianist broke into a rousing rendition of "Dixie." I felt an unexplainable stirring in my soul and a spring in my step. For the first time, I felt this tune was part of me. Perhaps this would bring a smile to your CSA doctor's face.

The Twisted Genius


You're welcome. That sentence also struck me. It paints a vivid picture. I find the sound of the wind in the pine boughs to be most soothing... even prayerful. I often got lost in its reverie while hiking, camping and even in bivouac.



"Virginia is having a lasting effect on this old New Englander." This sounds like Farrell. He was a Vermonter. MG Chase Whiting, CSA, a northerner by birth, arrived at Ft. Fisher in the midst of the impendingg 2nd assault. There were 59 ships in the USN bombardment force and the landing force outnumbered the garrison 6 to 1. Whiting told the fort's commander, "I have come to share your fate." pl

Sidney O. Smith III

Hope you like Goldfield's book. Both he and G. Gallagher come across as totally dedicated to their profession.

Goldfield's book even rec'd praise at Salon, of all places on planet earth.


As a lagniappe, Goldfield has a wry sense of humor from time to time.

Imo, 'bout near everywhere is beautiful if you give it chance, including most certainly, New England.

A little outdated, but can I introduce you to the Allman Brothers? Take a look at this photo and in a different era, perhaps, they would have been tearing up track for Forrest -- including the black guy, I add provocatively:


Another photo just to make the point -- sure enough down home. Everything you need to know is right there:


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