I’m reading this book in preparation for a book chat on September 17 for a completely different book,“Why Won’t You Just Tell Us the Answer?” by Bruce Lesh. I don’t think any author has inspired me to order books more than Bruce Lesh, and I’m really glad I ordered this one. My husband thought I paid too much because it cost me $4.00, and the book only cost $7.95 new. (Of course that was in 1990).
Lesh’s lesson captured my attention since I’ve dedicated the 150 year anniversary of the Civil War years to studying it. Unlike a true historian I still default to my experiences and imagination (as you will see as you read) to help me understand what took place at another time very different from the one in which we are now living.
When siblings fight, there is always the “He started it!” accusation that is supposed to vindicate the scuffle to Mom and Dad. I think I’ve always just naturally felt that way about the North and their culpability for the Civil War. The first shots of the Civil War were fired when South Carolina authorities ordered state militia to fire on the unarmed merchant ship, Star of the West and to bomb federally controlled Ft. Sumter off the coast of Charleston. When I found out last year that some Southerners still call the Civil War the “War of Northern Aggression“, as a Northerner I was truly puzzled. They started it – right? To be fair I went on a quest touring Southern Civil War sites to find out what they meant.
Struggling to understand the Confederate point of view, when I got to the museum in Petersburg, I felt my first pang of empathy. Pictures, artifacts, and a 20 minute video of the destruction of life and property during General Grant’s deadly siege left me feeling heartsick. I had more than an inkling of why they wanted revenge for that 9 month battle. I saw for myself how beautiful those antebellum homes were.
Here I have to revert back to my life. I love the beauty and safety that my home provides me. From time to time I imagine how I would feel if people, someone – anyone, would come in and destroy all the work that has gone into creating our comfortable home. I think about how frightening it would be. So I can understand the fear, and anger that Southerners felt when their towns were destroyed by those aggressive northerners. After reading Steven Oates book, I now believe that their designation of “Northern Aggression” had little to do with what happened toward the end of the war. Southern desperate fear and hostility may have started with Nat Turner’s slave rebellion. Until that time, they convinced themselves that the slaves didn’t mind being slaves.
A little aside here – I can’t imagine being a slave, let alone liking it – no matter how hard I try. I get testy when my husband is bossy doing home improvement projects when he wants me to help him. I do as little as possible, and hide out. So to even think about slavery being remotely likable for any human is just outside my ability to imagine. OK – back to the past.
Southern hatred of “Northern Aggression” started long before the War. In Fires of Jubilee, the author does more than recount the story of Nat Turner and the slave rebellion that spawned terror in the hearts of Southern whites in 1831 and beyond. There was nobody powerful enough to calm the revenge storm that raged against negroes after the rebellion.
Oates set the context with his words, “..Needing to blame somebody for Nat Turner besides themselves, Southern whites …linked the revolt to a sinister Northern abolitionist plot to destroy their cherished way of life” p. 129. Even the governor of Virginia believed that abolitionists urged “our negroes and mulattoes, slaves and free to the indiscriminate massacre of all white people” p. 130. So there you have it. The Northern aggressive abolitionists were responsible for the negroes acting dissatisfied with their way of life.
Now, even though I still firmly believe that Southern whites were 100% in the wrong by holding on to the institution of slavery, I can finally understand how they had to blame “damned Yankee fascists” as one Southerner recently labeled us, tongue in cheek, for attacking their peaceful way of life.
First published in 1975, so you may have already read it, but I’m going to step out here and make a sales pitch and recommend Stephen B. Oates‘, The Fires of Jubilee: Nat Turner’s Fierce Rebellion. You will learn so much about this one pivotal event that contributed to the War of Northern Aggression. In addition, I also hope many history teachers will read as “Why Won’t You Just Tell Us the Answer?” by Bruce Lesh to help us as we learn to teach engaging, Common Core-friendly lessons.
And if you live in my area I hope you will come to the book chat on September 17th.