Making A List and Checking It Twice

Sometimes history repeats itself.

Readers of this blog will remember the visit paid by George Purvis and the “Southern Heritage Advancement Preservation and Education” group and its website.  Mr. Purvis claims he’s very interested in finding out evidence about black Confederates, and he’s currently engaged in making a list called “Negros in Gray.”  Mr. Purvis assures us that he “has spent countless hours researching what we have listed on this site, and we will continue to do so for the sake of educating our visitors and guests. We ask that you the viewer join us in applying as much factual detail to our site as possible.”

Well, Andy Hall appears to have taken Mr. Purvis up on his invitation.  The results are not good for Mr. Purvis.  Andy picked out a fellow named Peter Phelps, who was of interest to him because he hailed from Andy’s own county.  The result was a rather nice piece of research which nicely debunks Mr. Purvis’s claim that Peter Phelps was a black Confederate.

It will be interesting to see what Mr. Purvis says in response, or whether his fellow travelers, like “BorderRuffian,” scamper away again like cockroaches exposed to light.  For now, however, another Black Confederate claim is debunked.  Nice work, Andy.

Discussion: Warren’s The Legacy of the Civil War

After reading (again) the first forty pages of Robert Penn Warren’s The Legacy of the Civil War, I offer a few observations that I hope might spur a discussion.

First, Warren states ( p. 4) that “The Civil War is our only ‘felt’ history–history lived in the national imagination.”  I’m not sure this was true at the time, and I have reason to believe that it’s less true now.  I’m not even sure who the “we” are in “our.”  What would African Americans and Native Americans have to say about that?  Indeed, what is “felt” history?

Second, what does Warren’s characterization of Jefferson Davis Robert E. Lee, or Stonewall Jackson as unionists tell you about his “felt” history, that is, what he needed to believe about the Confederacy?  Would that observation hold today?  Do you buy his argument about a “crypto-emancipation” sentiment lurking deep in the heart of white southerners, who were thus secretly relieved to be rid of slavery?  Recall that he calls Lee a “unionist-emancipationist Virginian’ (pp. 14-15).

Third, Warren proclaims that “slavery looms up mountainously and cannot be talked away” (page 7).  Yet much has been said about how the centennial celebration that helped bring forth Warren’s essay was all about “talking away” slavery.  If this has changed, in what way has it changed?

Fourth, what do you make of Warren’s commentary on the absolutes of “legalism” and “higher law”?  How much insight does that give to events of that time … and what about those categories as applying to Warren’s own time?

Fifth, what do you think about Warren’s characterization of abolitionists?  Were they people who exercised “conscience without responsibility” (p. 31)?

Finally, Warren says of white southerners that “the habit of mind that had worked to precipitate the War, now worked, with equal efficacy, to lose it” (p.39).  True?  How so?

Mind you, there are other questions to ask and you may want to ask them.  My own reading suggests that perhaps many of the people who praise Warren have not read all that he had to say, preferring to pick and choose as fashion and agenda dictated.