Fumbling the Heritage … and Homer

At Dead Confederates Andy Hall recently highlighted another fumbling of Confederate heritage by its most impassioned advocates. This time the effort betrays an ignorance of American art as well as Civil War history.

Here’s the post, which appeared on the Facebook group “Defending the Heritage”:

DH Homer spoof

I’m sure this post came from the heart. And I’m sure many people actually understand the emotions that drives certain people’s passion for the Confederacy. And I’m sure that someone believes this is all somehow a deprivation of civil rights (Confederate heritage advocates are experts on the issue of depriving people of their civil rights).

But it’s just wrong.

This is not a painting of long-suffering Confederates by an unknown artist. Rather, it’s Winslow Homer’s 1871 painting of Union soldiers in camp, supposedly based on Homer’s observations in the spring of 1862 during the Yorktown campaign.

DH Homer MMA

The painting itself betrays a refashioning of history: although the barrel in the foreground displays a corps badge, those badges were not introduced until later, first by Phil Kearny for his men, followed by a more widespread systematic employment starting in 1863. A closer look at the soldiers (as well as the row of horses in the background) betrays that they are cavalrymen. Moreover, the sketch upon which the painting is based would have to have been made in late April or early May 1862, for the 61st New York, the regiment supposedly related to the corps insignia in question, was transferred to the Peninsula at that time, just before the siege of Yorktown ended (Homer included the regiment and its former commander, Francis C. Barlow, in another well-known painting). While a sketch of the mule survives, one might venture that other efforts to date and place the scene portrayed by the painting are at best suggestive but problematic, and that the trifoil on the barrel is really what one nowadays calls an “Easter egg.”

Perhaps the MMA will have a Civil War art expert examine the painting more carefully.

Homer knew how to paint haggard and hungry Confederates, but he did not do so here. But we must remember that it’s not the only time Confederate heritage advocates have mishandled images in service of their cause, and frankly this is not nearly the most serious case.

After all, it’s heritage, not history.

The Persistence of Myth in Confederate Heritage

As people reflect on William T. Sherman’s march through the Carolinas, it stands to reason that some folks hold dear to myths about the march, especially when it comes to certain claims about Yankee atrocities. So, for example, we aren’t surprised to see that a Confederate heritage blogger points to a famous letter, offering it without comment or analysis, as if the letter speaks for itself.

The document in question, as you might recall, was supposedly a letter from a Union officer, Thomas J. Myers, composed on February 26, 1865, at Camden, South Carolina. It professed to detail exactly how the Yankees went about their business of looting and destroying property. You can find it here, in the first of two posts that appeared on this blog in August 2012. Both that post and a followup post about another letter on the same topic examined certain troubling facts about both letters.

Note that these posts were published in August 2012. The post in question from Defending the Heritage appeared in November 2013.

Now, what are we to conclude from this? After all, we all know that certain folks who embrace Confederate heritage visit this blog often. They did not contest the discussion of the letter. They simply continue to embrace it as true. This suggests that to “defend the heritage,” one has no problem ignoring history, or fabricating it … as the fellow who runs Defending the Heritage has done before. So, are they stupid, ignorant, or dishonest? Or some combination of the above?

You tell me.

Robert Anderson Caused the Civil War

Recently a poster declared:

Secession had many causes, but none of them led to the war. Your proof positive is the Secession documents, which are nothing more than a list of grievances. So that being case, show proof using these documents that the war was fought over slavery. When you have done this I will show proof the issue was not slavery

The only event that leads to the war was Anderson moving from Moultrie to Sumter. Without that event there would have been no war.

Discuss.

Getting It Right: The Dred Scott Decision

Over at the gift that keeps on giving, the members place a great deal of emphasis on accurate history. That’s quite commendable. So what should one say when the following post appears?

Dred Scott SHPG

Really? Really?

It is one thing for someone seeking information to get something so confused that we understand why that person is requesting help. After all, the Dred Scott decision did nothing of the sort as described above. It opened the territories to slavery; it had nothing to do with the population of the North, preserving northern power in Congress (indeed, the implications pointed in precisely the other direction) or maintaining protective tariffs (I must admit I’ve never heard that one before). Republicans attacked the decision. In short, everything about this summary is wrong. However, one can say that the poster is seeking clarification or correction.

Seems that there’s none to be had among all the active participants of the group. Apparently not a single one of them knows better.

Wow.