Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

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A Civil War re-enactment

Catherine Watson writes a lovely essay on her experience as a Civil War re-enactor at the 140th anniversary of Gettysburg. "Whenever the action swept toward me, the cavalry came so close that I could hear the clang of saber on saber and see the lathered sweat shining on the horses’ sides.

Big cannons were blasting nearby, their explosions so loud that my lungs shuddered, and gunpowder smoke hung over the field like clouds of sulfurous fog.

This was time travel, pure and simple, a painting of the Civil War come to life, a Mathew Brady photograph in living -- thankfully not dying -- color.

Even watching from the sidelines, I found it thrilling. For my comrades on horseback that weekend, the battle of Gettysburg had to be spectacular.

They were Confederates -- reenactors whose hobby is living and breathing the Civil War. A few months earlier, through a mutual friend, they’d invited me to camp with them at the huge reenactment scheduled for Gettysburg’s 140th anniversary.

The invitation had been irresistible: I’ve always been interested in the Civil War, and I’d always wanted to try reenacting. But I never imagined I’d be wearing gray. Or that I’d be impersonating a man.

Now, in the sweet rolling farmland of southern Pennsylvania, I was doing both. I was a dismounted but duly registered member of the 35th Battalion Virginia Cavalry." Read the whole thing. Thanks to

Discussions - 3 Comments

Professor Schramm:

I know you have a great interest in the Civil War. Therefore, I was wondering if you have read "The South Was Right" by James Ronald Kennedy and Walter Donald Kennedy.

This book does not just speak to the south’s argument of states rights, but it also is heavy into the treatment of slaves by the north and the south. In addition the book speaks of the "Yankee myths" of Lincoln, and the misperception of how the slaves felt about the north (according to the book this was usually not a positive position).

The authors clearly believe the war to be more of an invasion than a liberation of slaves.

I do not want to take too much of your time, but I was curious as to your response to the book, if in fact you have read it.

Thanks, Eric

Mr. Kajca: No, I haven’t read the book. Actually, I have never heard of it. It seems to resemble Dilorenzo’s "The Real Lincoln." Look, the problem with these kind of books is that they really aren’t worth serious study. The Dilorenzo book, for example, is just another extraordinary misleading and unsubstantiated attack on Lincoln and the North. Such theories (or, whatever they might be called) usually take the form of either some misunderstood pro-Southern (read, "states’ rights") sentiment, or, and frequently combined, anti-big government sentiment (and somehow blaming Lincoln as the first big government president, etc.). The Civil War was fought over the extension of slavery. The South couched their position in terms of states rights; but also see Alexander Stephen’s (the VP of the Confederacy) of March 21, 1861, wherein the deeper truth of the problem is revealed. (Here is the link.) All this is a long story, and I cannot retell it here.
Read things by Mac Owens, Lucas Morel, Charnwood’s biography of Lincoln, or, Allan Guelzo’s. There is more, but that’s a start.

Does the James Ronald Kennedy and Walter Donald Kennedy explain how the 7 States, which seceded because they believed firmly that States and Territories should be forbidden by the Federal government the "sovereignty" to determine for themselves whether or not they would allow slavery within their borders, could possibly justify their actions under the facade of "States Rights?

The FACTS related to the causes of Civil War are simple:

1. Steven Douglas, Democrat candidate for President in 1860 sponsored in the U.S. Senate in 1854 the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 which was Popular Sovereignty [Right of People in each state to choose between slave state - free state status]

2. The 7 Deep South Slave States of South Carolina; Georgia; Florida; Alabama; Mississippi; Louisiana; and Texas bolted the Democrat Party over Douglas’ nomination, and ran their own "Democrat" candidate because they believed that the Federal government must FORCE slavery in every territory and State, despite what the people in those territories and States might want. (This assured Abraham Lincoln’s victory.)

3. Lincoln won the Presidency with only 39% of the popular vote.

4. As soon as the results of the election were announced, these 7 Slave States seceded from the Union.

5. After much negotiating and attempts at reconciliation, including assurances by Lincoln in his Inaugural Address that he would (and could) not do anything to effect the status of slavery in the United States, Lincoln announced that the Federal government would asking the States to raise troops to put down the rebellion of the 7 seceding States.

What is particularly interesting is that the Dred Scott decision in 1856 nullified the Kansas-Nebraska Act and also all but assured that the Federal had to ENFORCE slavery in every State and territory. Neither Lincoln, nor the Republican Congress, nor even the State governments could do anything about Nation-wide slavery. Perhaps the ancient expression: "Those that the gods would destroy, they first make mad!" - is best illustrated by the action of the 7 Deep South Slave States. Slavery was never an issue in the Civil War until Lincoln issued his Emancipation Proclamation after the Union victory(?) at Antietam. This punitive action which only effected slaves in the States that were in rebellion put slavery on the table as a moral issue. This accomplished several things which likely assured the final Federal victory:

1. Helped recruitment in the North by making the war a moral rather than a political cause.

2. Helped keep Great Britain out of the War on the side on the rebels.

3. Helped keep Border States, like Maryland, where slavery was permitted, from seceding and joining the rebels. (The Southern drive into Maryland, which was blunted at Antietam, was directed at bringing Maryland into the Confederacy.)

The true "Myth" regarding the Civil War is the Southern Myth that it was all about States Rights.

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