The recent proclamation by Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell is mired and clouded in classic overtones of all-things neo-Confederate. You can read the entire, and newly revised, proclamation on the Governor’s web site, or below.
Though no doubt well-intended, Governor McDonell’s recent proclamation of April being “Confederate History Month” serves to illustrate that neo-Confederate sentimentality is alive and well at the popular level of politics and civic-mindedness.
The recent revision notwithstanding, i.e., language was added about the institution of slavery, the fact that the original proclamation left it out only serves my point even more; a well-intended proclamation is clouded, mired, in a neo-Confederate sentimentality that continues to exert its unfashionable and intellectually vacuous head from time to tine.
This proclamation reveals a neo-Confederate sentimentality and mind-set in several ways.
First, the proclamation states that Virginia, as a member of the Confederate States of America, was engaged in “a four year war between the states for independence”. Neo-Confederates prefer the nomenclature of the “war between the States”. Though he does use the phrase “Civil War” later, it is important to notice that when he (the Governor) firsts refers to the war, he calls it the “war between the States”. Why is that? Because Neo-Confederates want the Civil War to only be about States’ rights, not about slavery.
Second, the proclamation also states that the war “concluded at Appomattox Courthouse”. Concluded? That sounds nicely tamed. Appomattox wasn’t just a conclusion. It was that and much more. What happened at Appomattox also involved the surrender of a defeated Army and a Confederate cause, a victorious Union Army, and the noble cause of the restored Union. Where is the language of defeat in the mention of Appomattox by McDonnell?
Third, the newly revised proclamation mentions language of slavery, which was left out of the original proclamation. He states, “the institution of slavery led to this war.” The revision is welcomed and appreciated, but it was only added because of the criticism and feedback the Governor got from people who said, “Hey, wait a minute. There was this little thing called slavery you left out Governor.”
Fourth, the proclamation states, “when ultimately overwhelmed by the insurmountable numbers and resources of the Union Army, the surviving, imprisoned and injured Confederate soldiers gave their word and allegiance to the United States of America.” This is classic Neo-Confederate spin. “Confederates gave in and cried ‘Uncle’ when they finally realized they were out-manned and out-numbered.” Again, no mention of a military defeat on the battlefield. The implied notion underlying that argument, “if the CSA would have had more men, and more resources, they would have won because their cause was more noble.”
Fifth, the Governor missed a real opportunity. He should have proclaimed April as “Civil War History Month” instead of “Confederate History Month”. Why do I say this? What about the Virginia Unionists, slaves and U.S. Colored Troops who were from Virginia and fought for the Union? What about Virginian-born and Union General George H. Thomas? Is his/their history, sacrifice and valor not equally important to remember and study? Another common misperception often perpetrated by Neo-Confederates is that everyone who lived in the South were pro-Confederate and supported the slave system.
As I mentioned at the beginning, I’ll give Governor McDonnell the benefit of the doubt that his overall intentions were good. But the proclamation does more to continue to perpetuate a lost-cause ideology espoused by Neo-Confederates today, that prevents us from truly being able to ” study [of] this time period . . . so we can . . . reflect upon and learn from this painful part of our history”.
Read more about this controversy in the news:
(These links were added after I wrote my op-ed piece above. I did not read any other op-eds before I wrote mine.)
- FacingSouth – op-ed by Kromm
- The New Republic – Kilgore piece
- CivilWarriors.net – Brooks Simpson
- Richmond Times Dispatch – April 9th
Confederate History Month proclamation
(as published on the Virginia Governor’s web site, accessed 4/8/2010)
WHEREAS, April is the month in which the people of Virginia joined the Confederate States of America in a four year war between the states for independence that concluded at Appomattox Courthouse; and
WHEREAS, Virginia has long recognized her Confederate history, the numerous civil war battlefields that mark every region of the state, the leaders and individuals in the Army, Navy and at home who fought for their homes and communities and Commonwealth in a time very different than ours today; and
WHEREAS, it is important for all Virginians to reflect upon our Commonwealth’s shared history, to understand the sacrifices of the Confederate leaders, soldiers and citizens during the period of the Civil War, and to recognize how our history has led to our present; and
WHEREAS, it is important for all Virginians to understand that the institution of slavery led to this war and was an evil and inhumane practice that deprived people of their God-given inalienable rights and all Virginians are thankful for its permanent eradication from our borders, and the study of this time period should reflect upon and learn from this painful part of our history; and
WHEREAS, Confederate historical sites such as the White House of the Confederacy are open for people to visit in Richmond today; and
WHEREAS, all Virginians can appreciate the fact that when ultimately overwhelmed by the insurmountable numbers and resources of the Union Army, the surviving, imprisoned and injured Confederate soldiers gave their word and allegiance to the United States of America, and returned to their homes and families to rebuild their communities in peace, following the instruction of General Robert E. Lee of Virginia, who wrote that, “…all should unite in honest efforts to obliterate the effects of war and to restore the blessings of peace.”; and
WHEREAS, this defining chapter in Virginia’s history should not be forgotten, but instead should be studied, understood and remembered by all Virginians, both in the context of the time in which it took place, but also in the context of the time in which we live, and this study and remembrance takes on particular importance as the Commonwealth prepares to welcome the nation and the world to visit Virginia for the Sesquicentennial Anniversary of the Civil War, a four-year period in which the exploration of our history can benefit all;
NOW, THEREFORE, I, Robert McDonnell, do hereby recognize April 2010 as CONFEDERATE HISTORY MONTH in ourCOMMONWEALTH OF VIRGINIA, and I call this observance to the attention of all our citizens.