HOLCOMB: Traitors They Were Not


➡️ Opinion column written in response to UNTOLD TRUTHS: War Crimes of the Confederates and Post-War Democrats

I was dismayed when I read a recent column by Catherine Salgado entitled “UNTOLD TRUTHS: War Crimes of the Confederates and Post-War Democrats” where she falls for the common post-war liberal consensus about Right vs. Left in light of American history. Truthfully, her assertions are so easily painted as black and white (or more preferably blue and grey), it almost seems too convenient. I would contend that it is. 

Her understanding of the War Between the States is very modern. She describes the Southern figures of Gen. Robert E. Lee and Confederate President Jefferson Davis as “traitors” and that “a country that celebrates traitors is setting itself up for failure.” 

I agree with Salgado’s assessment that statues and monuments mean something. They reflect a people’s respect and admiration for the things they hold dear. I just disagree with her assessment that the whole lot of the Confederacy were woefully warped sycophants riddled with unrepentant war crimes in the bowels of their collective and individual souls. 

She contends that there is history that you’ve never heard before, but I’m uncertain if she intentionally omitted major pieces of history or if she didn’t know, herself. 

It must be stated, however, that the historical events Salgado referenced in her column did occur. Those things are true. Heinous acts of violence did occur by the Confederate Army many times directed by the Confederate government. I don’t deny those things, I simply deny the ease with which Salgado makes her argument. 

RELATED: UNTOLD TRUTHS: War Crimes of the Confederates and Post-War Democrats

Among some of the major omissions from her column were examples like Confederate Gen. Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson who launched a school for his slaves to instruct them in biblical literacy, an act that was likely against Virginia law. 

Chris Graham at The American Civil War Museum stated the story of Stonewall Jackson’s school for slaves is insight into “the complexities of interpersonal relationships” during the Antebellum Era. 

She omitted the story of Confederate Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest, who Salgado rightly noted became one of the first Grand Wizards of the Ku Klux Klan, who also became a noted speaker at an early NAACP event in Memphis, TN in 1875. Why was that omitted? 

Even The New York Times noted Forrest’s speech as “friendly” where he offered reconciliatory language between blacks and whites. The full speech was recorded by The Memphis Daily Appeal

She omitted the commonly known atrocities committed by Union Gen. William “Tecumseh” Sherman during his burning of Atlanta and his “March to the Sea.” Or how poorly blacks in the Union Army were treated. 

However, my purpose in this column is not to conjure up every atrocity that Salgado did not mention. However, it is needed to know that atrocities and other heinous occurrences by Union and Confederate alike do muddy the waters of her point. But now, to my point that they were not, in fact, traitors. This hinges on the idea of the legality of secession. 

Lee, arguably the South’s most notable figure, was offered high command of the Union Army upon hearing that militias were being mobilized across the South in 1861. Lee went back and forth on the secession issue, but in the end, he could not bear his sword against his native Virginia. 

Many of the common tropes that Salgado and others online have postulated is that the Confederate Army, by raising their sword against the Federal Army, were traitors. 

Why, then, did the Union courts not prosecute a single former Confederate for treason after the war? Does Salgado think she is more pious than the United States citizenry and court system of the post-war era?

Lee, Forrest, Davis, and countless other Confederates returned home to their native land and re-swore allegiance to the United States. Every last one of them could have been hanged for their actions, but not of them were.

Clearly, the Union did not view their Southern brothers as traitors. In order to understand this, you have to understand the idea of the formation of the United States in the late 18th century. 

The United States, by her own people, was always viewed as a collection of sovereign states compacted, or covenanted, together with the right to come and go from the Union as they pleased. 

Each colony-turned-state had their own unique flavor of English-speaking Protestantism. While wildly different, each had a common culture of Anglo-American Christianity that informed their Union, and conversely, their right to leave. 

RELATED: Black and White: Little-Known Facts About Race Relations in American History

Rumors of secession were swirling in New England in the 1790s and many northern states were in favor of secession during the War of 1812. John Quincy Adams, arguably the most quintessential “Yankee Republican,” the son of arguably the most quintessential Massachusetts Federalist, even noted as late as 1839 that secession remains a right of a state in “A Solemn Appeal to the People of the Free States.” 

The issue was that something palpable shifted in the northern states’ attitude among its political scene towards the issue of secession. What once was the common view of all Americans in the Early Republic period – that secession was a right of the states within the compacted Union – was all of the sudden viewed as an illegal act. Those politicians in the North who perpetuated the idea of an illegal secession drove the South to no choice but to defend their rights as sovereign states to secede. 

That said, my own family were Union men. I live in the South now, but my direct lineage consisted of all Northerners who fought for their country. That being said, they came from a part of the Union that sought peace with the South in order to restore the Early Republic, the decentralized, Jeffersonian social order that the United States was founded on. 

Southerners, who were concerned over Northern hostility toward the South’s secession movement were vindicated when Lincoln raised federal troops and invaded one of his own states. 

Yes, the South fired first at Fort Sumpter, but what is now known as the Deep South, were states that seceded from the Union before the firing upon Fort Sumpter. 

My overarching point is this: it’s nonsense to refer to Southerners who fought to defend their farms and families as traitors. Salgado falls for the modern leftist myth that the past was filled by unenlightened barbarians, but “we’re not like that now, we’re so much smarter.” 

Just imagine you’re a local farmer in 1863 with a wife and kids living in North Carolina. You hear that there’s an army that’s marching through town burning all farms and homes of your neighbors. I think most sane people would be grabbing a rifle. 

There was a phrase used in the years following the Civil War by those who lived through it. It is this: “Before the war, the phrase was ‘The United States are…’ Now it’s ‘The United States is…” A new Constitution and nation was de facto ushered in, in 1865 and the Constitution of a decentralized Jeffersonianism had been put in the grave.


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4 Responses

  1. I just wish that True American History was taught in our schools. But alas that has been resigned to the dust bin of history.

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