Honoring Confederate History Month

Ta-Nehisi Coates writes for The Atlantic. Since I stumbled on his blog about a year ago, it’s become one of my favorites: TNC writes with insight and verve, covering a broad range of topics, most incisively the subject of race in America. He’s also a comic book and computer game nerd, which of course I find charming.

For the past year or so he’s gone on a Civil War kick, offering stories and images from the history books he’s been reading and the tours he’s taken of the old battlefields. As a black man, his interest is especially in those who rarely got to write their own histories: the freed slaves, the black soldiers, and how their lives were woven into the societies of the time. He’s also been confronting—with impatience, but also, sometimes, with a surprising level of compassion—the ‘Lost Cause‘ mythology that persists in the South to this day.

So when the governor of Virginia recently declared April to be “Confederate History Month,” reigniting an old controversy, some were appalled and some were defiantly pleased and some, like me, just kind of winced and hoped it would all blow over soon. But TNC decided to take it very seriously, and to contribute as much as he could to the effort, as the Confederate History Month declaration put it, “to understand the sacrifices of the Confederate leaders, soldiers and citizens during the period of the Civil War, and to recognize how our history has led to our present.”

Here’s TNC on a group of citizens whose “sacrifices…during the period of the Civil War” are beyond measure.

Here he presents a group of soldiers who laid down their lives at rates “astronomical when compared to other regiments.”

And here he finds Ulysses S. Grant writing in visionary fashion of how a Confederate History Month should be truly “honored.”

I would not have the anniversaries of our victories celebrated, nor those of our defeats made fast days and spent in humiliation and prayer; but I would like to see truthful history written. Such history will do full credit to the courage, endurance and soldierly ability of the American citizen, no matter what section of the country he hailed from, or in what ranks he fought. The justice of the cause which in the end prevailed, will, I doubt not, come to be acknowledged by every citizen of the land, in time. For the present, and so long as there are living witnesses of the great war of sections, there will be people who will not be consoled for the loss of a cause which they believed to be holy. As time passes, people, even of the South, will begin to wonder how it was possible that their ancestors ever fought for or justified institutions which acknowledged the right of property in man.

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