(March 13, 2021) When historians search for information concerning what really happened, they prefer documents written at the same time as the events being researched. Prime examples during the Civil War are contemporary letters and diaries. Official battle reports are also primary but sometimes less respected because the commanders often had a motive to put the best interpretation on their performance, particularly when they failed. Era-specific newspapers are also suspect because of a possible underlying editorial bias. Most suspect of all, however, are recollections written years after the war. Unfortunately, modern academia teaches their students to be particularly suspect of Confederate sources, whether they be contemporary or postbellum.
Robert Krick, who was the Fredericksburg Battlefield Park historian for decades before retiring about ten years ago, cites a revealing incident. One Ohio student who had attended a number of Robert’s lectures wrote an honor’s paper for his teacher back home in which he reported that the Northern Lights appeared the night after the battle even though it was rarely visible at that latitude.
When the teacher read noted the student’s sources he marked-down the paper down a grade. He told the student that he must not accept Confederate sources. The teacher reasoned that Southerners mentioned the aurora borealis because they wanted a celestial sign that God was on their side. Unlike Northerners, he implied, Southerners were prone to such simple-minded fantasies. The aurora borealis, he assured the student, were never visible as far South as Virginia.
The student emailed Krick help. Krick responded by providing examples of soldier letters from Rhode Island and Connecticut regiments that presumably convinced the teacher that the Northern Lights had actually appeared on the battlefield.
Like the Ohio teacher, most modern historians are more likely to accept as valid any remarks by Northern leaders, even among their postbellum writings. Consider a Ulysses Grant remark about Confederate General Braxton Bragg.
I have heard in the old army an anecdote very characteristic of Bragg. Once when stationed at a post of several companies commanded by a field officer, he was himself commanding one of the companies and at the same time acting as post quartermaster. He was first lieutenant at the time, but his captain was detached on other duty. As company commander he made a requisition upon the quartermaster—himself—for something he wanted. As quartermaster he declined to fill the requisition and endorsed on the back of it his reasons for so doing.
As company commander he responded to this, urging that his requisition called for nothing but what he was entitled to, and that it was the duty of the quartermaster to fill it. As quartermaster he still persisted that he was right. After Bragg referred the whole matter to the commanding officer of the post, the latter studied the correspondence and exclaimed: “My God, Mr. Bragg, you have quarreled with every officer in the army, and now you are quarrelling with yourself!”
It turns out that Grant’s memoirs, written twenty years after the war and nine years after Bragg died, are the only source for that so-called anecdote. Nonetheless, it is often repeated. General David Petraeus used it nine months ago in a prominent Atlantic Magazine article arguing that no Army bases—including Fort Bragg—should be named for Confederate generals. Nonetheless, objective historians Frank Varney and Joseph Rose have recently published books revealing many of the falsehoods and fantasies in Grant’s Memories that have taken on the status of a holy gospel among most academic Civil War historians.
During moral panics like the Salem Witch trials, McCarthyism or the current wokeness, the accusers think they are the heroes. But after the panic passes, they are villains forever after and that will happen this time too. Thus, there’s a good chance that Confederate Memory will once again become honored. But you must share hope by sharing videos and articles that you like. I don’t care if they are by me or someone else; if you like the article or video please share it.