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Do you think Civil War history should be more objective?

Asked at Massachusetts Street on August 14, 2006

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Photo of Andy Wolff

“I think they should look at if from the perspective that all wars are tragic and that it was a tragedy that happened to the people involved, not as victory for the good people and punishment of the bad.”

Photo of Mollie Sultenfuss

“History really shouldn’t be told by people who write the history books or the side that won, but by the individual histories of the people who actually lived through it.”

Photo of Maura Egan

“If you ask that about the Civil War, then you have to ask the same question of all history. The people who win write the story.”

Photo of Chris Liverman

“I think they oversimplify what happened. People need to learn that it was fought over more than slavery and primarily over sectionalism.”

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Kelly Powell 11 years, 5 months ago

I think they should jazz it up with more nudity and violence....Maybe a section about how lincoln went on a one month behind the lines assasination spree and collected a necklace of ears....And devote an entire chapter on the cocktails grant prefered....Maybe a section about the terminology for all the cool looking beard styles.

Kuku_Kansas 11 years, 5 months ago

After seeing textbooks used in the South that refer to the South as the "victors" and the North as terrorizers.


sgtwolverine 11 years, 5 months ago

Objective history? That's funny. I'm not really sure what they mean, but I doubt history will be objective, and it certainly won't be kind to everyone.

Aileen Dingus 11 years, 5 months ago

I think if you actually sat down and read every book written about the CW since it ended (I think they say one was published every day since...) you could actually come up with an objective viewpoint. So asking if the history should be more objective isn't the right question.

I think a more accurate question would be "Do you think CW history should be presented to the masses in a more balanced manner through movies, the 8 paragraphs in school textbooks and through popular fiction?"

The objectivity is there, but we don't have time or energy to sort the wheat from the chaff, nor does it really seem that important to most people.

ms_canada 11 years, 5 months ago

Shouldn't all history be looked at objectionally? A few years back I developed a deep interest in your Civil War and read everything I could get my hands on. Really liked Bruce Catton's The Blue and the Grey. For fiction I devoured Andersonville by McKinley Kantor and was deeply moved by this very emotional story. What a tragic war is a war between brothers. Human beings are so pig-headed. Anyway, folks, it is early here (6AM) and I have just returned from the airport where I saw our Ms Ceallach off on her homeward journey. We have had a wonderful week together here. We took in two days of our Folk Music Fest. It was great as usual and if you would care to get an independant opinion just ask ceallach. I do believe she enjoyed it.

c_doc77 11 years, 5 months ago

All history is revisionist. It is impossible to be more or less objective when chronicling events that took place before your lifetime. This is evidenced by the fact that the media are unable to objectively examine events as they happen. Everything is told from a viewpoint. If those writing and re-writing history are being honest, they will tell you from which viewpoint the story is being told.

Aileen Dingus 11 years, 5 months ago

hitme- I don't see the correlation there...

jonas 11 years, 5 months ago

What's the big flipping deal with objectivity anyway? I'd rather remember the Civil War the way it happened, with me, early on, getting a musket to the gut and passing away, then waking up to see Sean Connery (Sean Connery!) telling me that I'm a new addition to a race of immortals carrying katanas with very silly hilts. Of course, armed with this new knowledge, I go on to win the war for both the north and the south but mostly the north, and then retire into a quiet life of collecting valuable trinkets in fashionably industrial lofts and occasionally sleeping with Lisa Barbuscia, while I set down the records that you folk are all led to believe, until now!

O-Bob: Isn't one of those the Confederate States of America? Don't tell me that was just a movie!

sgtwolverine 11 years, 5 months ago

I know this is a Civil War question, but how did this become about race?

tnfats 11 years, 5 months ago

Ah, I was waiting for someone to bring out the ol' saw that "The Civil War was not about slavery. There were numerous factors such as blahblahblah." Goes to show how objective CW history is. That right there is revisionist as it comes. Heck the history books I used in the 70's called it the "War Between the States"; as if there wasn't one nation that the south tore apart (and though some southerners call it the war of Northern Aggression, the CSA did fire the first shot).

The Civil War was, and will always be, about slavery. Sure you can take that and dress it up in 'tariffs' or 'agrarian vs. industrial', but it was all about one thing: Slavery.

Quick litmus test: The CSA constitution, drawn up so that the new country, the CS of A, would never suffer the same inequities that drove them to rebellion in the first place, was written based on the US Constitution. Besides a few minor spelling and grammatical changes, there were TWO, only two, major changes: The president served a six year term and slavery was a right. Now, Chris, what was the war about again? A six year term? If it was anything else besides slavery, something so important that they succeeded from their nation, they would have addressed it in the document that was the blueprint for their new country. Oh, wait they did address the most important issue to them: Slavery.

Sorry for the long post, but the "It wasn't just slavery" always bothers me.

mom_of_three 11 years, 5 months ago

My grandfather was a history buff, particularly about the Civil War. I read "The Blue and the Grey" and did a report about the Andersonville prison in high school, and about the ones in the North. Read several books,much historical fiction, but don't recall all of the titles.
Both sides treated their prisoners poorly. But I don't know how you can make Civil War history more objective, without making slavery sound like it wasn't wrong.
In simple terms - The North believed slavery was wrong (and it was), and the South didn't want anyone telling them what to do. The rights of the people....blah, blah, blah.
Nope, it is still about slavery.

beatrice 11 years, 5 months ago

Since the Civil War is still happening, can we be writing its history yet? (We are talking about Iraq here, yes?)

I love that Mollie the teacher dislikes books on history. So what is the alternative, history as told by interprative dancers? Also, the people who lived it can lie about facts just as easily as someone doing research alone. Can't we just say that history is made up of many facts and issues, which effect various people differently? Of course the winning side's story will be different from the losing side, but that doesn't make it any less valid. True revisionist history means widening who is listened to, not just eliminating the voice of the winners.

Aileen Dingus 11 years, 5 months ago

R_I- fiction doen't need to be objective...


sunflower_sue 11 years, 5 months ago

RI, I prefer the word "smite" and must confess, I've been "smitten" a time or two. :)

Now, contrary to the popular belief (held by my evil sister in law) that I am "opinionated and close-minded," I have read books on the CW written from N and S viewpoints and have enjoyed both equally. Reading one book in particular on the "border wars" really enlightened me on the confederate's plight in this area. I had really never given it any thought because I simply was taught to not have any sympathy for supporters of the south. Wow, there really is two sides of every story! (How's that for objective and "open-minded?")

This weekend, I took a 9 mile bike ride lit up with 8000+ luminaries through the woods at night. It was gorgeous! But, to be objective, I took the same bike ride during the light of day. I can say, objectively, that I preferred the night ride. There you have it, my opinion, and I'm sticking to it! Anyone that wants to disagree with me...well, we'll just leg wrestle for the rights to publish our own version.

mom_of_three 11 years, 5 months ago


I said North and South, but never set "boundaries". I am quite aware there were those on both sides who disagreed with the majority around them.
No matter what, the war came down to slavery. Whether it was economics, (because slavery provided the labor), or states rights (don't tell us what we can or can't do) it seems slavery was the root of the war.
Those in the North fought to keep the Union together, and those in the South fought because their states were in the fight for rights. Robert E. Lee chose to lead the confederacy because his beloved state of Virginia was part of the Confederacy. He didn't agree with why.

Slavery was just the root of the war.

mom_of_three 11 years, 5 months ago


There were innocent victims in the Civil War - the families who were caught in the crossfire. Soldiers on both sides can be very cruel and hateful during a war. Did Sherman have to burn all those cities on his march through the South? No, probably not. It was mainly revenge.

mom_of_three 11 years, 5 months ago

Sue, what was the title of the book about "the border wars"? I would be interested to read it.

sunflower_sue 11 years, 5 months ago

RI, yes, apparantly, I'm a walking oxymoron. Who knew???

M'o 3, Let me think. It's been a few years and I read a lot of books. Given a bit of time the title might occur to me. I'll let you know.

DanFreako 11 years, 5 months ago

Atrocities happened on both sides of the line (Blue or Grey), this is a given. I think from the stand point of what I was taught during my public education (undeniably for me, that was many years ago and it was in Oklahoma, so it may be different today). A lot of the events have been sugar coated in order to protect the reader. Granted, you should have material to suit the age of the reader. However, the carnage that was unleashed by both sides should be relay to the masses.

Has anyone heard of The Fort Pillow Massacre? How about the battle at Brice Roads? These are terrible incidents that are not privy to many people in the U.S. due to the watering (dummying) down the information that is allowed to be disseminated to the population, whether that be through public schools or other means.

sunflower_sue 11 years, 5 months ago

MO3, "Wildwood Boys" by James Carlos Blake. It is a historical fiction piece centered around William T. "Bloody Bill" Anderson and primarily focuses on how people in the border states were made to choose a side when all they wanted to do was stay out of it. I found it a good read from a different perspective than normally given.

ms_canada 11 years, 5 months ago

Momof3 and sue - there is a very good website on the border wars of New York and you can read the whole book

ms_canada 11 years, 5 months ago

sorry about that, I tried that site and it could not be found. Just go to google and type in border wars of New York and you will see that address.

bankboy119 11 years, 5 months ago

I didn't take the time to read all the posts so if I'm reposting what some one else has already said I'm sorry.

Tnfats, you need a history check. The North didn't want black people there either. They threw in the incentive to abolish slavery to turn the war even more in their favor. They now had colored recruits. If Lincoln had allowed Virginia to secede, even though Virginia had the right to, then what whould have happened to the USA? Most likely the USA would not be in the position it is today because it would not be 1 country.

beatrice 11 years, 5 months ago

"They now had colored recruits." Oh really? What color were they? I hope they were green, or some shade of deep blue.

bankboy, first off - nice to see you posting again. Hopefully you had a nice long vacation. Secondly, you are too young to be using "colored" to describe people of African heritage, which was certainly an out-dated expression before you were even born.

Kuku_Kansas 11 years, 5 months ago

TOB--I've seen textbooks with my own eyes as well...the following are just links and samplings of online writings that hint toward the textbook biases of Southerners.

Roots of the Textbook Mess The textbook adoption process was, in effect, born to twist American history and frustrate the development of a common civic purpose. Its origins trace to the aftermath of the Civil War, when most publishers had their headquarters in the North. Embittered ex-Confederates distrusted Yankee publishers and wanted Dixie schoolchildren to have their own textbooks-so southern states established textbook adoption processes to make sure anti-Confederate books stayed out of their schools. Northern publishers obligingly complied, publishing separate textbooks for schools in the South and North. For decades, Southern textbooks referred to the Civil War as "the War for Southern Independence" or "the War between the States." Today, nearly 150 years later, most adoption states are still located in the South and West.

Kuku_Kansas 11 years, 5 months ago

In an unpublished paper, Brian Tongier argued for the existence of a southern nationalism manifested through southern school books. His claim rested upon the belief that nations can be forged upon other identifiers besides ethnic and cultural ties, ideological ones can, and in the case of the South do, create nations. The ideological differences over the institution of slavery did pit the South against the North and allowed for the South to identify itself as its own nation, wholly different then the North. (26) Tongier claims that Confederates believed they were restoring a true form of American nationalism. Discussing the similarities between Confederate and American symbols he says: "The symbols of Confederate nationalism speak strongly for a Confederate nationalism that draws from the myths and norms of American Nationalism in a way that united the entire Confederacy behind a restoration of the "true American Nationalism." (27) In short, he is arguing that a Confederate nation was built upon the idea that they were not forming their own nation, but reasserting an already existing one. His claim could be that the Confederacy believed it was the North and not the South that had become a different nation. The manner these southerners went about solidifying this nationalism was through the written word, specifically through school books for southern children. He claims, as others have, text books, "Intimately ties to the process of nation building noted by Anthony Smith as they play a vital function in integrating the nation into a single state based structure and distinguishing between the nation and the other nations." (28) He claims that text books indoctrinate children, who Tongier claims come from all walks of life in the South, to the true Confederate way, using history and English lessons to teach children the nationalist feeling of being southern and Confederate. (29) In these lessons children are taught about the formation of America that largely leaves out the North, making the child believe the South was completely responsible for the formation of the United States of America.

beatrice 11 years, 5 months ago

Marion, was one of your failed business adventures gasket manufacturing? I'm guessing that is why you now have a seemingly endless supply of gaskets, as you seem to blow one or two just about every day. Most of us can't afford to replace them that often.

Chill out already and realize that we are simply sharing our thoughts here in this modern means of conversation -- kind of like being electronic pen pals with strangers. We are not here to SCREAM at one another in a completely immature manner when we don't like what someone else writes.

Besides, I can't help but to think of Woody Allen's response to someone quoting Marshall McLuhan in "Annie Hall." Plus, McLuhan published this about 40 years ago, so it isn't like you are saying anything new. And to be yelling it? Geez. Get over yourself already.

sunflower_sue 11 years, 5 months ago

RI, I'm one of "those" that think the whole moon landing thing was staged. I have a good ex-marine friend that I like to "argue" w/ about it. It makes him nuts that I don't believe we ever actually set foot on the moon. I found a picture from the 'supposed lunar landing' in an antique store and gave it to him as a gift...The camera's crosshairs were in back of things like rocks, flag, etc... Quite a comical faked picture! (I'm sure w/ todays technology they would have cought mistakes like that.)

trollkiller 11 years, 5 months ago

S_S, I would expect theories like that from marion. Better check the well for pesticides.

jayhawktownie 11 years, 5 months ago

forgive me if i'm wrong but i believe the emancipation proclamation only freed those slaves in confederate controlled areas. as an executive order, the proclamation held no water as law in the union and was, as stated above, a political and symbolic move for Lincoln. not until the subsequent legislation and amendments were passed following the war were the slaves officially freed in all states.

jayhawktownie 11 years, 5 months ago

and the war was not just about slavery

the south did not secede because their slaves would be taken away if they didn't.

remember, the impetus of secession was the election of lincoln. basically, they were sore losers and the country's political divisions coincided with geographic divisions. secession was a viable option when politics didn't go their way.

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