A Confederate Heritage Apologist Shares His Understanding of History: Phil Leigh

Phil Leigh is a very funny person posing as a student of the American Civil War. He’s duped other people and publishers into believing the same thing. Writing about history allows him to get something off his chest, and he can become very unhappy when someone reveals that he doesn’t know what he’s talking about and that what he says reveals that he holds some beliefs and prejudices that might not make him a very appealing person … unless, of course, you are a fellow Confederate heritage apologist in a state of constant denial (with a bitter edge) when it comes to African Americans.

Mr. Leigh (hereafter called “my critic”) was especially offended when one of my posts shredded his effort to blame anyone but white southerners for the Memphis riot of May 1866. Ironically, had I not called attention to his post, no one would have noticed it (point for you, Matt Gallman), for many of his readers and commenters seem to have found his post while “monitoring” this blog, as Connie Chastain puts it (especially people who deny reading this blog). Unable to deal with the information or interpretation offered in my post, the critic sets aside evidence of his own incompetence to offer his own description of the post:

He writes a total of eleven paragraphs, five of which play the race card, sometimes more than once. He apparently suffers from a private signature form of Tourette’s syndrome in which the term “racism” (or one of its code words) ejaculates uncontrollably from his mouth or keyboard….

Characteristically, you continue to shrink from a debate you know you can’t win, perhaps because the attempt aggravates your Tourette’s. 

My critic seems concerned about ejaculation. I wonder why. I note that he can’t restrain himself from whining about the “race card” in his comments, but I would not compare that to Tourette’s syndrome. I wonder whether mocking the handicapped or the disabled is par for my critic’s rhetoric. Someone must be taking lessons from Connie Chastain. I guess that’s the best a Confederate heritage apologist can do. Sad, isn’t it? Especially for someone who writes for the Abbeville Institute. I’m sure they’ll enjoy this.

I agree with you that he seems to hate the South, even though in the South blacks are mayors of more cities over 50,000 in population than any other part of the country. As I recall, about 45% of all black mayors of such cities are in the South.

Now who’s playing the race card …:)

We’ve talked before about how Confederate heritage apologists are convinced that people hate the South. Apparently this justifies their own expressions of hatred and intolerance.

But my favorite comment is where he speaks of “Simpson’s poisonous view of Reconstruction …”

That’s right … my poisonous view of Reconstruction.

I guess my notion that blacks were entitled to enjoy the fruits of emancipation defined as being treated as equal human beings before the law and being shielded from white terrorist violence is a “poisonous” view to someone who mocks emancipation and black rights and ignores white supremacist terrorism. You may speculate why he sees blacks and whites in that way. Seems to me we know who’s playing the race card.

Well, let’s look at one of those views held by my critic:

Freedmen were largely manipulated by white carpetbaggers and scalawags.

An oldie but goodie from a century ago … and an excellent example of playing the race card, Birth of a Nation style.

Look, if you want to agree with my critic’s view of Reconstruction, fine. But at least you might want to turn to a book that does it so much better and with so much more style than my critic. Claude Bowers’s The Tragic Era is a magnificently flawed book, but it’s a fun read for someone who isn’t interested in historical accuracy … and so we know the folks who should flock to it.

An examination of my critic’s blog demonstrates that his understanding of Reconstruction is little more than warmed-over summaries of the period offered by scholars during the first half of the twentieth century. Indeed, he is hard pressed to offer anything original beyond that which he has read. So we have evil Republicans looking to preserve political power who have no concern about black rights, and who are out to loot the South. In fact, my critic’s view reduces white southerners to passive bystanders who had nothing to do with Reconstruction. We have no idea how it came to an end. It just did.

Now let’s highlight what one of my critic’s appreciative readers had to say:

Mr. Leigh also did not mention the main purpose of empowering Blacks as voters and disabling whites: They looted the ex-Confederate states with gusto.

I’m always puzzled by this. If the war reduced the South to a state of devastation, what was left to loot? And, of course, if one views slavery as stealing the labor of another, who better than white southerners to recognize the process?

Choose your Lost Cause myths carefully.

And then there’s “the Simpson agenda”:

Simpson and all of those in his echo chamber he calls a blog have a very obvious agenda which is to denigrate Southern history at ever turn.

First, I’ll note that the person who made this comment used to comment here a lot. So I guess denigrating southern history “at ever turn,” whatever that means, was his preoccupation as well.

But how does one denigrate southern history? Is celebrating emancipation and looking at the accomplishments of white southern unionists an example of denigrating southern history? I guess so. I might (once more) point out that southern history is far more than Confederate history, and to define the South in terms of the Confederate experience is to denigrate southerners, white and black, but clearly it’s all about “the waoh” and the Reconstruction that followed to some folks.

But then you do expect losers to identify with defeat, now, don’t you?

If this is what passes for historical understanding in the Confederate heritage apologist community, well, no wonder Confederate heritage is in so much trouble.

The Memphis Massacre of 1866: A Conference Blog

Readers of this blog will recall that not long ago I mentioned the Memphis Massacre of 1866 (also known as the Memphis Riot of 1866, although the reasons for the renaming are of interest) in examining a rather badly-flawed attempt to discuss the event and its implications.

It seems only right and proper to direct you now to a blog bringing together and reporting on the results of a recent conference on the event. Click here to go there. I guarantee you’ll learn something.

I think this is a wonderful way to share the scholarship presented at a conference by people who know what they are talking about, and I believe more conferences should follow suit.

The Sunday Question: Who Was the Confederacy’s Greatest Cavalry Commander?

The nominees are:

  1. Jeb Stuart: Lee’s eyes and ears, who might have even made a good corps commander had he retained command of Jackson’s corps after Chancellorsville (note the Gettysburg what-ifs usually shy away from that possibility). His performance during the Gettysburg campaign remains the most controversial part of his Civil War career.
  2. Nathan Bedford Forrest: Forrest has his fans, and not always for the right reasons. Moreover, he did not play well with others, and it’s a good question whether he made that much of an impact strategically. Still, the man could fight, and fight well.
  3. Wade Hampton: There are those who believe that Hampton might have been better than Stuart, and that he performed well after Stuart’s death. Others may claim that he never had a chance to display his talents for long in an independent command in Virginia.
  4. Joe Wheeler: Wheeler’s men did a lot of damage. Of course, white Georgians claimed that his men forgot that they were on the same side.
  5. Anyone else come to mind? For you Romeos out there, there’s Earl Van Dorn. And if you like nepotism, Fitz Lee’s reliable.

The Growing Vacuousness of Confederate Heritage

Over at Civil War Memory Kevin Levin’s speculated about the decline and eventual disappearance of Confederate heritage commemorationsimplying that perhaps confining such ceremonies in time and place may prolong their existence by confining their expression to appropriate venues and occasions. As you might well imagine, some of Kevin’s most vocal critics (who also happen to be among his most loyal readers) offered their usual pitiful petulant protests. Fine, folks: just go raise another flag somewhere and claim victory.

Although I appreciate Kevin’s argument, I hold a different view (although I suspect that Kevin agrees with much of what I am about to say). I think that the real problem with Confederate heritage today is that it has less and less to do with the Confederacy or any sort of heritage and much more to do with serving as a vehicle through which people express their political views and cultural preferences. There are several themes sometimes associated with Confederate heritage that come through in these declarations, much as other themes woven throughout Confederate heritage reappear in the claims made by critics of Confederate heritage (think slavery, folks: there’s no Confederacy without it).

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Republicans and Black Suffrage During Reconstruction

Phil Leigh’s upset. Having had his essay on the Memphis Riots shredded in this blog, he complains that I’ve failed  “to address the central question of whether black suffrage in the South was more important to Radical Republicans as a matter of morality or as a tool to sustain the Party’s political power.”

Generally speaking, that’s not the central question people choose to explore when they discuss the wholesale slaughter of African Americans, including US Army veterans, by an out-of-control white supremacist mob egged on by local leaders. But Mr. Leigh would rather not tell you whether white southerners who opposed Reconstruction killed African Americans for political advantage or simply because they were vile racists. After all, in his mind it was the murderers who were the victims, not the murdered.

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A Massacre of History

On May 1, 1866, a mob of whites in Memphis, Tennessee, attacked blacks in the city. The violence continued through May 2 and ended only after federal forces intervened on May 3. By that time some forty-six blacks were dead, while only two whites died; five women had been raped, and a significant number of people were injured. You can read a summary of the event here. Blogger Patrick Young has written on both the riot and the events leading up to it.

So has Phil Leigh in a post that reminds us of his skills as a historian. Continue reading

Gary Gallagher and the Continuing Civil War

Nearly a month ago the Twitterverse tweeted with commentary on a lecture delivered at the University of Virginia by Gary Gallagher. Apparently Gary was determined to take on current understandings of the American Civil War, namely the emphasis paid to emancipation and the debate over when the Civil War ended. Gary took several authors to task concerning the first point, which received most of his attention, before turning to the second point at the 40:45 mark of the video below:

As I understand it, Gary’s argument is that present concerns shape our inquiry of the past, framing the questions and suggesting the answers we seek. There’s nothing exceptional about that observation: it’s often at the core of many a historiographical essay, the sort of discovery usually reserved for first year graduate seminars and for the occasionally perceptive undergraduate.

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