Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe.

Posts tagged “south

A policeman rips the American flag away from 5-year-old Anthony Quinn, having already confiscated his ‘No More Police Brutality’ sign. Jackson, Mississippi; ca. 1965


The guy in the background looks justifiably shocked. And yet is doing nothing.

In the South during the civil rights movement, the American flag was a potent symbol of support for racial integration (and support for federal law). Southerners who believed in racial segregation displayed Confederate flags instead. People were pulled from their cars by policemen and beaten simply for displaying an American flag on their license plates. So the simple act of a small child carrying an American flag represented defiance of Mississippi law and custom.

Anthony and his mother were arrested and hauled off to jail, which was a cattle stockade at the county fairground, since the city jails were already full of protesters. The Quinn protest was organized by COFO (Council of Federated Organizations), an umbrella organization responsible for most civil rights activities in the state. Today Anthony lives in Florida. I believe he is a lawyer. His mother died recently, and when Patrolman Kohler died a number of years ago, his obituary in the Jackson Daily News referred to this photograph and mentioned how Kohler regretted that moment ‘for the rest of his life’.”

Were Southern Generals better than Northern Generals in the US Civil War?

Right after the Civil War, there was something called the myth of the “Lost Cause.” It was pioneered by Edward A. Pollard, A Richmond journalist who wrote a history of the war in 1866, called (can you guess?) The Lost Cause. Basically, the book says that the Confederacy was a glorious agrarian state, and was defended by the best armies in American history. Pollard argues that the Armies of the Confederacy were more motivated, they fought better, they were led by better officers, and they were fighting for a noble and glorious cause (the defense of the antebellum south). Many historians, especially in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, repeated this myth and rebuilt it into its modern, “acceptable” form. Basically, they repeated it so often, and so loudly, that the “Lost Cause” became accepted as truth. Men like Douglas Southall Freeman, and even Ken Burns, have been influenced by the “Lost Cause” mythos. More recent historians have moved away from the “Lost Cause” myth, but the myth is still incredibly powerful, especially in conservative and southern circles, where the myth is undergoing yet another reinvention.

Were the South’s generals really better? Well that depends.

Robert E. Lee was repeatedly able to produce battlefield successes; hes called the American Napoleon for good reason! But he also failed strategically, by wasting the South’s precious manpower in offensive battles that cost the Confederacy more than it gained.

And on the other hand, Ulysses Grant maximized the Union’s advantage, especially in the Overland Campaign, by using multiple armies to attack the Confederacy all along its border. This strategy prevented the Confederates from reinforcing one area after another, as they had done in 1863, and it also stretched the CSA’s manpower to its very limits. So, there, you could say that Grant better adapted his strategy to the unique strengths and weaknesses of the resources at his disposal. In addition, he waged a spectacular series of campaigns, first in Mississippi against Vicksburg, then later against Lee in Northern Virginia, which achieved remarkable battlefield success.

What held Grant back, and what held both the Confederacy and the Union back throughout the war, was the state of professionalism in the wartime armies. Many of the Generals who fought in the American Civil War, on both sides, really weren’t generals at all. Lee was a Colonel before the war, Grant was a washed up Captain, Winfield Scott Hancock was a quartermaster, Sherman was a Colonel at First Bull Run, etc. Nobody really had the command experience required to maneuver large forces either strategically, or tactically. Unlike in Europe, where generals learnt how to be generals for decades before a war put their training to the test, in America, these men had to learn on the job. What that meant was that those with natural talent, like Lee, Grant, and Sherman, floated to the top, while everyone else made a mockery of warfighting. And when a commander would be wounded, or worse promoted, their subordinates would have to come up to fill the gap, regardless of skill or training. The Armies needed officers, and it was too late to shove a new batch through West-Point to make a general staff.

Thats why we often look at the Union Army, especially the Army of the Potomac under Hooker and Burnside, and snicker. They look so dumb, and these men were give command of an army. But really, I think if you look at what was going on in the Western theatre, and if you look at the Corps commanders of the Army of Northern Virginia, Grant and Lee were the exceptions, not the rule. They were the cream that rose to the top. Even men like Longstreet and “Stonewall” Jackson had major problems with commanding their forces in the field, Longstreet did poorly without Lee’s supervision, and Jackson did so with it.

So I think thats the real issue with Generalship in the Civil War. The South was fortunate to have found Lee so early on, while Grant was a gem that had to be dug out of the rough.

Where did the KKK get its bizarre titles for its hierarchy, such as “Imperial Wizard,” “Grand Goblin,” “King Kleagle,” and “Cyclops”?

Ku Klux Klan Meeting.

The Reconstruction Klan emerged out of the minstrel tradition. It was a theatrical, racial performance, with the moral being follow the racial dogma of the Confederate South or great harm will come to you.

This is especially present when we look at the origins of the Klan. In Pulaski, Tennessee, the processor Klan organization was “The Midnight Rangers.” (Rangers being something akin to highway men of the south, roaming armed men of questionable legal status.) Here is an early photograph of them. These proto-Klansmen did not brandish the musket, but armed themselves with a different kind of weapon that showed their early roots in the minstrel or local folk tradition, musical instruments. In order to understand the Klan, one must understand the theatrics of the minstrel tradition.

The minstrel tradition was well established in the south before the Civil War. The Reconstruction Klan was always in line with local customs, and fed off these costumes in order to create the juggernaut of hate that it became–nothing develops out of nothing. It was a theater trope, that often allowed for stories to be told. Primarily, these stories were those that one must adhere to the racial dogma of the day. Just as these stories often had pranks at their base, the Reconstruction Klan viewed what it was doing as a theatrical prank, which is where I guess OP is getting the term lark. However, it was only a prank for those who assented to the racial dogma. For those on the margins of the southern racial systems–freedpersons and whites who worked with blacks and freedpersons–the Klan was terrifying. But terror lacks full explanatory power for understanding the Reconstruction Klan. Surely, if the Klan was just about terrifying those race traitors, then why bother with such elaborate robes? Wouldn’t pistols do the trick?

Indeed, the robes also derive from the minstrel tradition. Namely, the Klan was also about performance and theatrics. Thesis that argue that the Klan used such robes for the sake of concealing their identity are lacking. If they were trulyjust used robes for the sake of remaining anonymous, then why did they wear such elaborate robes, likes these? The robes were another indication of the theatrics. The Reconstruction Klan, unlike the Second Ku Klux Klan, did not standardize their uniform, but allowed for folks to build their own to fit the theatrics of the context. For example, in the most popular story about the Klan in the Reconstruction period, a Klanman kept a bucket between his legs, and then moved to drink a whole bucket of water, with the water filtering down to the bucket, to show that he was no mere mortal. But southern blacks were not the only ones with their eyes on the Klan.

The Klan also used theatrics due to the legal liminal space of Reconstruction. The Klan wanted to test the limits of reasserting political white supremacy, but the new found political reality of being reabsorbed into the Union was ambiguous. The Klan used their costumes to place them more into theater than politics in order to downplay their movement as a political movement. Indeed, a North Carolina Republican judge, in his historical novel, discussed the Klan as a “farcical,” stating that the Klan was “a piece of the broadest and most ridiculous fun.” For this judge, the Klan was not a political movement, but was in line with the minstrel tradition only.

(Without understanding these elements, we are left with a really superficial understanding of the Klan.)