April is Confederate History month. Before the pall of political correctness descended on the country and drained politicians of what little courage they had, Southern governors routinely proclaimed the month. These days, I suspect few will.
Nevertheless, there are only two really important events in American history. One is the American Revolution, and the other is the War Between the States and Reconstruction. The latter has been called America’s second revolution and, by some, America’s French Revolution.
Sad to say, the America we live in today comes from that second revolution, not the first. Contrary to the politically correct version of history, Confederates saw themselves as defenders of the first revolution, not as defenders of slavery — though, to be sure, slavery played a part in the conflict. It came to symbolize all the other differences.
It was not a civil war because the South never aspired to overthrow the government of the United States. The Southern states simply withdrew peacefully from what they believed, and in earlier years all Americans believed, was a voluntary union. The U.S. remained, and the government in Washington remained. No Confederate official or military officer was ever tried for treason because no treason had been committed.
The war, which the North started (we Southerners refer to it as the War of Northern Aggression), was a conflict between nationalism and federalism. Regardless of which side you agree with, the events are so important to understanding America today that you owe it to yourself to get up to speed on what really happened, as opposed to the Hollywood version.
I’ve chosen four short books that will help. The best short overall history of the politics and the war is North Against South, by Ludwell H. Johnson, published by the Foundation for American Education. A more recent book, The Real Lincoln, by Thomas J. DiLorenzo, published by Prima Publishing, is a devastating critique of the man who literally destroyed constitutional government in America and foreshadowed the modern Machiavellian politicians.
When in the Course of Human Events, by Charles Adams, a Northern historian, will disavow you of the notion that the war was about freeing slaves and preserving the union. It was about money and control of territory and resources. The publisher is Rowman and Littlefield.
Finally, Eric Foner’s A Short History of Reconstruction will show you how the modern world and many of its problems were created. The publisher is Harper Perennial, and the author is no friend of the South, but he is honest and keeps to the facts, no matter how unflattering to any side of the issue.
Naturally, there are tons of books on the war and Reconstruction, but I deliberately chose well-written short histories. If you wish to read Shelby Foote’s novelized history in three volumes, you will need a long summer. You would need another long summer to read Volume I and Volume II of The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government, by Jefferson Davis. I think you will like these shorter volumes better.
I would also recommend that you consider, if your ancestors fought in either army, two fine organizations, Sons of Confederate Veterans and Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War. Both are full of people interested in history and genealogy, and I find such people to be mighty good company. Real veterans of the two armies founded both organizations.
I would hope all Americans would develop an interest in our country’s history. The more you know about America, warts and all, the more you will love it.
Charley Reese [send him mail] has been a journalist for 49 years.