Almost 150 years ago, our nation was split in two by force. Two sides faced off, and a war was fought. More than half a million Americans died in combat as the Confederate States and the United States fought. At issue was slavery, economics, states rights, and what it means to be a free and sovereign nation. We all know this. It’s part of every American history curriculum in the world. Last Friday, Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell declared April Confederate History Month angering a bunch of people who probably have bigger things to be angry about than this.
When I was in elementary school, we did a geneaology project to find out if any of our ancestors fought in the Civil War. Sure enough, I had relatives on both sides. We have letters from that greats-and-a-grandfather Benjamin Franklin Houff (b.1834) who lived out in Staunton who joined the army of the South after Virginia seceded in April of 1861. He wrote in a letter to his family that though he voted against secession, he was a Virginian first, and an American second. He didn’t own any slaves, he was a farmer, but he was also a Confederate.
Isn’t the point of declaring something This Cause Month or That Cause Month to focus on what actually happened, and focus on the history of the people involved? From as many viewpoints as you can lay your hands on? There will always be agendas and politics associated with history, because that’s what human nature does. There are no lenses free from these subjects Think on the people who made those choices 149 years ago. Not all of them can easily be put into the stereotype that those who are quick to anger at certain key words might have you believe.
A coda to the story: not too far separated on my family tree from B.F. Houff was another ancestor, who served in the Union Army on behalf of a wealthy Chicago scion John Anderson. He fought in Virginia, and was injured and eventually captured as POW, where he spent the last year or so of the war in a prison camp. I’m certain his view of the Confederacy would be a unique one.