Monday, April 09, 2007

Did you know?

General Lee surrendered his forces today.


Puff the Magic Dragon said...

Did you know that today is the 90th anniversary of Vimy Ridge?

Anonymous said...

Yep and Nope

Robert E. Lee is ahero of mine. I admire his integrity, his tenacity, his competence and consider him to be "The Last Gentleman".

I just wish He'd took command of the union armies offered him by that Lincoln fellow--would most probably saved the nation a couple of years of destructive warefare, and the south a century of backwardness, degradation and suffering.

And, he didn't own slaves, or so I've been told.

Ignorant Redneck

Anonymous said...

Puff, didn't know you're Canadian. anon, "Marse Bob" is a hero of mine as well, and much admired by my late father. I'll never forget visiting Washington and Lee Univ. in Lexington, VA, and touring the Chapel, the Lee Family crypt, and the office where REL worked as President of Washington U. Next door of course is VMI where Stonewall Jackson taught before the war. It was also heartwarming to see Lee's horse Traveller resting close to his master. I too wish Lee could have made the decision to accept Mr. Lincoln's offer of command. It's interesting to speculate how differently things would have turned out. The war would have been shorter, definitely, and the South would have been spared the depradations of Sherman et al., and relations between North and South would have been much more amicable. Of course, if Lincoln hadn't been assassinated, things might have turned out better, too. But we'll never know. however, at least Grant behaved like a gentleman during the whole surrender process. I guess Lee's example was catching!

Anonymous said...

I just finished reading Killer Angels, by Michael Shaara, a novel about the battle of Gettysburg, in a continuing effort to eliminate some of my ignorance about the Civil War. I recommend this book highly, because it discusses the event from the viewpoints of the Union and Confederate officers, and really personalizes the conflict. Some of them were friends and classmates at West Point, and now they are on opposite sides. -But all the while I knew that fifty thousand men died at Gettysburg, so the farther I read, the heavier my heart. Magistraret

Jim said...

Anonymous said:I just wish He'd took command of the union armies offered him by that Lincoln fellow--would most probably saved the nation a couple of years of destructive warefare, and the south a century of backwardness, degradation and suffering.

Lee understood what horrors would result from an all powerful federal government. It took about 70 years for FDR to really bring it to fruition but we all suffer from it up to this day.

Anonymous said...

Yes, and had Lee surrended, or better not violated the vow me made as a soldier to defend the nation, 4 years earlier, 200,000 young men's lives would have been spared.

Father Martin Fox said...


I think that's unfair.

General Lee was asked, in the context of the secession crisis, to "defend" the U.S. by invading and attacking his homeland of Virginia. And that he said he could not do.

Now, that sort of loyalty may not make sense to people today, but a lot has changed, such that the word "state" simply does not mean what it did, 150 years ago. If you look up the word, you'll find it means a whole lot more than "administrative unit of a central government" -- it used to mean something like how we use the word "nation" and "country" (which are also misused, perhaps because we are so confused about what a "state" really is).

Of course the whole war of secession was a tragedy; one wishes those states had not sought to secede. But given that, then arose a terrible thing: the federal government made war on those it claimed were its own citizens. And that was and is a truly frightening thing: you will be "free" as part of our nation, or we'll . . . we'll . . . well, we'll annihilate you!

Wow, what a deal!

Paul, just this guy, you know? said...

But given that, then arose a terrible thing: the federal government made war on those it claimed were its own citizens. And that was and is a truly frightening thing: you will be "free" as part of our nation, or we'll . . . we'll . . . well, we'll annihilate you!

Ah, Father, that, too is unfair.

The states declared their secession, but then it was them who opened fire first. Remember Fort Sumter?

And, lacking any provision for secession in the Constitution, why would anyone objectively presume that the union of states could be dissolved unilaterally by individual states? In joining the union, a state at least made a contract, some believe a covenant, with all the other states.

Surely, such a covenant, nor even contract, could not be dissolved by only one party to it, without reference to or consent from all the others.

So to paraphrase you, the secessionists claimed, "we will assert our right to commit the evil of slavery, without let, hindrance, debate or even criticism, or we will seceed and make war on you."

Remember, please, that the point of secession was that the states were free to engage in the moral outrage of slavery.

Now, I know enough about the study of history to know better than to apply modern values to historical judgements. But slavery was known then to be a moral evil (and had been so for generations), and should have been so known to the secessionists. Otherwise, why did George Washington free his slaves in his will?

(The Confederate coat of arms featured George Washington on a horse; their position was that as a Virginian, Washington would have supported the confederacy; having studied Washington, I find this highly unlikely.)

I also offer this quotation from Lincoln's first Inaugural address (as quoted in Abraham Lincoln Great Speeches, Dover Publications, 1991):
I hold, that in contemplation of universal law, and of the Constitution, the Union of these States is perpetual. Perpetuity is implied, if not expressed, in the fundamental law of all national governments. It is safe to asert that no government proper ever had a provision in its organic law for its own termination...

Again, if the United States be not a government proper, but an association of States in the nature of contract merely, can it, as a contract, be peaceably unmade, by less than all the parties who made it? One party to a contract may violate it -- break it, so to speak; but does it not require all to lawfully rescind it?

Descending from these general principles, we find the propsition that, in legal contemplation, the Union is perpetual, confirmed by the history of the Union itself. The Union is much older than the Constitution. It was formed in fact, by the Artcles of Association in 1774. It was matured and continued by the Declaration of Independence in 1776. It was further matured and the faith of all the then thirteen States expressly plighted and engagedd that it should be perpetual, by the Articles of Confederation in 1778. And finally, in 1787, one of the declared objects for ordaining and establishing the Constitution, was
"to form a more perfect Union."
[Emphasis in original.]

There is a tradition of romanticizing the Confederacy, but let us not forget what the founding ideal of the Confederacy was: moral relativism. That is, the freedom to assert their own moral code, which included the right to own slaves.

In his biography of Lincoln, Carl Sandburg wrote of Confederate Major General Nathan Bedford Forrest, "When it was urged that the was for Southern independence and not slavery, Forrest replied, 'If we ain't fightin' fer slavery then I'd like to know what we are fightin' fer.'"

Not everyone was so forthright in his public comments, but it was Lincoln's perceived position (as distinct from his stated position) on slavery that preciptated the secession crisis in the first place.

Lincoln did not believe that as President he had the authority to interfere with slavery in the states; but he did believe that he had the authority and the obligation to enforce the laws; this did not include permitting the forcible seizure of federal military installations and assets by those he rightly called "insurgents".

I believe that the day is coming when we will see another civil war in this country, this time over abortion. Remember how many spoke of secession after the 2004 election? I don't think such a sympathetic view of the rights of men to do evil will serve us well when that day comes.

- Paul, the Union Man

Father Martin Fox said...


Thanks for stopping by.

1. You can certainly argue that the firing on Ft. Sumter was a causus belli, but that hardly mean it justifies everything that came in its train. No one was killed in that bombardment. Further, that came, in turn, as a result of the fort being reinforced; prior to that, there was no assault on the fort.

As to the question of slavery. I think the reason for secession is more subtle than that, because you can make the argument both ways.

Everyone knew you needed a constitutional amendment to end slavery, and the slave states had more than enough votes to stop that.

I think it would be more accurate to say they were keen to preserve their "way of life," which was a much larger economic and social reality, of which, unfortunately, slavery was a morally evil part (and recognized as such, as you say). But other aspects of their way of life were not morally evil--on the contrary. (And it may be that some future generation will say the same of us.)

Now, as to the question of secession. I would have thought you'd be aware that it was very much an open question prior to the War of Secession; practically, it was closed -- not by legislative or judicial action, but by military action. I am not sanguine at that idea, but there it is.

Now, I have very conflicting views about secession:

> On the one hand, I find offensive the idea of the government maintaining the union through an escalating level of violence against resisting citizens, with no apparent limit. If a state secedes, at what point is the federal government bound, morally, to cease compelling that state's return? The logic of the actual conduct of the war seems to have been, no limit. (And that is part of what I was saying in the quote you cited: the Union war policy was a big step toward the "total war" policy that became sadly normal in the 20th century.)

> On the other hand, had secession been successful, I don't see how it would have been anything but a disaster for our nation -- that is, unless it had been healed rather quickly.

It seems clear that the threat of secession was rather useful, in previous crises prior to the war, insofar as it had a kind of deterring effect on the federal government going too far. One wonders what might have happened had the secession crisis been resolved peacefully in 1860-61.

It seems clear enough to me that the Union victory in the War of Secession, for all else you can say good about that, went a long way to unleashing Leviathan government.

Paul, just this guy, you know? said...

It seems clear enough to me that the Union victory in the War of Secession, for all else you can say good about that, went a long way to unleashing Leviathan government.

Undeniably true.

But it also brought about an end to slavery.

May I quote Lincoln again? This time from his 2nd inaugural address:

Fondly do we hope -- fervently do we pray -- that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue, until all the wealth piled by the bondman's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash, shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said, "the judgments of the Lord, are true and righteous altogether."

Lincoln's view was that for the punishment of the nation in committing and even tolerating the sin of slavery, much, much more than even the horrors that had already been endured, might be justly laid on the nation.

Perhaps leviathan government is part of the nation's punishment for slavery.

I would also ask you to review your sources on the assault on Ft. Sumter. According to Carl Sandberg's account in his biography of Lincoln, Sumter was under siege. An attempt -- not at reinforcement, but re-provisioning, had been re-buffed.

On April 11th, the Confederate forces requested that Sumter's commander, Major Anderson, name the date on which he would surrender.

Two hours later, Anderson replied that, failing of overriding orders or new provisions, he would surrender by noon of the 15th, unless there was an attack on the fort or his flg.

The Confederates opened fire an hour later, in the wee hours of the 12th.

One of the defenders was killed in the exchange, when one of the fort's cannon exploded.

Ft. Sumter was not engaged in any hostile operations whatsoever. The Confederates struck first.

Sandburg relates a story to the effect that Alexander Stephens, who became the Vice President of the Confederacy, might have been President had he promised to strike first. He refused, and the honor went to Jefferson Davis instead.

Lincoln had promised not to strike first, and did not. Davis had promised to strike first, and did. It was considered important to gaining popular support for secession to be able to demonstrate early military success.

The Civil War was not a defensive war by the south. It was a war to get out from under the limits on slavery put on it by the other states; to resume the importation of slaves from Africa, to no longer hear the rebukes of the anti-slavery "extremists" who thought they were "better Christians" than the plantation owners who so dominated southern culture.

Too, you mention that their economy was more complex than just slavery. I submit that that's not relevant.

The culture of death is about more than abortion, but if we manage to ban abortion (a goal I know we share), how much else in American culture must change?

Could someone reasonably defend abortion on the grounds that without it, embryonic stem cell research, or even artificial contraception, will also have to go? Indeed, even the casual hook-up culture that is so prevalent might be lost if abortion is banned. Must abortion therefore be tolerated?

Southern culture was based on the false notions that they had a right to keep slaves, they had a duty to keep slaves, and that to stop keeping slaves would result in a wholesale slaughter by former slaves of their former owners.

Finally, you asked how far was the federal government justified in bringing the rebels back in line?

I can only offer the words of General MacArthur, who said in his farewell speech that once war is undertaken, "there is no substitute for victory".

Who'd have thought a one-sentence post would garner so much comment?

Brad Harvey said...

"General Lee surrendered his forces today."

And high time, I say! I`m shocked that CNN, Fox and the networks neglected to cover this story.

Fr. Fox, Greetings from a fellow Buckeye. I`ve been dropping in from time to time and have really enjoyed your blog. This post and comments have given my brain something to chew on today.

Rick Lugari said...

Late to the game here, but thought I'd share my take on the Civil War. I'm a history buff with an affinity for military and Church history, but I have a terrible aversion to the American Civil War and here's why. Examine your own debate here on this forum. Everybody is right and everybody is wrong and that's because in that conflict both sides were right and wrong. And I'm not merely noting the usual faults that any side my have while still being in the right.

The positions and actions of each side are of very grave matter and I don't believe we can honestly claim that one side was right and the other wrong. I think because of this we find the debates become dishonest in a way. Because the line of right and wrong is so fine, so blurry, and so questionable that to take a side one must discount the other side's position to a degree which is intellectually unjust. Unfortunately...or maybe fortunately, we can't turn back the hands of time and change things. The best we can do is accept our history, learn and move on from it.

And Paul, friend, I want to counter some of your assertions, not because I'm an apologist for the South (I truly find fault with both sides) but because I think you've made a better case for your side, and sticking to my position of mutual contempt/love for both sides I just want show some balance that I think is needed. First, to deny that there weren't other very important economic concerns for those in the south other than slave holding is simply wrong. Even if there were no slavery issue, the agrarian southern economy was being unjustly affected by the federal tax/tariff structure. It simply was an unfair and unfortunate reality and give another decade without genuine relief the stage would be set for what we know to have happened. So, I'm not discounting the importance of the slavery issue, I'm just saying that if we are going to be objective we have to recognize there was a lot more to the issue as far as the South was concerned.

The other thing I wanted to mention was, without having thought your argument (well Lincoln's words anyway) through with great care concerning the insolubility of the union, I am thoroughly unconvinced of its merits. A great number of specific problems with it arise in my head, but to keep it at the bottom line. His argument doesn't hold water on the face or in regards to ideas that created the Union in the first place. Lincoln is citing the "universal law", which I presume he means what us Catholics and the Founding Fathers call the Natural Law (nuances aside). He also makes referrence to the Continental Congress and the Declaration of Independence. Here's the thing though, it takes some real twisting on his part to conclude the perpetual nature of a government in such terms. The Founding Fathers acknowledged the Natural Law and used that as justification to rebel against their sovereign. It is the formal termination of that bond of governance that prompted the writing of the Declaration of Independence. Further, in the DoI the Founders are making the claim that government is only legitimate by the consent of the governed. That the people reserve the right to to alter or abolish those bonds. And far from the Continental Congress making his argument, it does the opposite. The states abolished that government and created a new one...the Constitution of the united states of America was not an amendment to the Cont. Cong., it was an entirely new entity and that too required the consent of the governed. I could go on but I *think* my point is validly made. Clearly the South accepted the Founders' assertions and Lincoln didn't.

Father Martin Fox said...


You have me beat on the details of Ft. Sumter; I was a little fuzzy, sorry. That said, the idea (not necessarily advanced by you, but I have seen this point made) that the firing on Ft. Sumter justified the entirety of the Union war effort--"you started it!"--is more than a bit much.


Some great points; you more or less made the argument I wanted to make, thanks.