John McIntyre, whom James Wolcott called "the Dave Brubeck of the art and craft of copy editing," writes on language, editing, journalism, and random topics. Identifying his errors relieves him of the burden of omniscience. Write to firstname.lastname@example.org, befriend at Facebook, or follow at Twitter: @johnemcintyre. His original "You Don't Say" blog at The Baltimore Sun ran from 2005 to 2021, and posts on it can sometimes be found at baltimoresun.com through Google searches.
The Hon. Bob McDonnell, governor of Virginia, reminds us in an official proclamation that we are in the middle of Confederate History Month. In three days we can commemorate the 145th anniversary of those events at Appomattox Court House that determined that the Confederacy was, for all practical purposes, over.
I wish that we could mark the Confederacy to honor figures like Robert E. Lee, who fought bravely and determinedly for his cause and, when defeated, acknowledged the loss and contributed no further to resistance – who would not allow a word to be said against General Grant in his presence.
I wish that we could mark it in the manner of those aging veterans in the Ken Burns Civil War documentary who, after shambling though a re-enactment of Pickett’s futile charge at Gettysburg, fell into one another’s arms in recognition that, much as they had once tried to kill one another, there was something in their common heritage that bound them together forever.
But I grew up in a border state, a great-great grandson of slaveowners, a fact of which I cannot be proud, and I live in another border state, whose official song* calls the federal government a bloody tyrant. I have seen the degree to which identification with the Confederacy became solidarity for racist yahoos over the past six decades.
I have also read William W. Freehling’s books (both excellent) on the secession movement from the Colonial and Federal eras to the Civil War, and I know that, despite the feeble apologetics for the Lost Cause today, you know, that it was more about states’ rights and cultural and economic differences than about slavery, that slavery was the states’ right at issue.
You need only read what the secessionists themselves wrote, and it is not a cause you would want to take pride in today.
So commemorate away, but get your facts straight. The Stars and Bars was the official flag, not the battle flag you and Dukes of Hazzard fans display. And General Lee and Stonewall Jackson and Joseph Johnston and all the others whose memory we honor were good men, even noble men, who battled heroically in a bad cause.
We are better off that they lost.
*Sung to “O Tannenbaum.” Dear Lord, the embarrassment.