“Foote gestured toward a framed certificate on the wall from the United Confederate Veterans. It was dated 1892 and honored his great-great-grandfather, Colonel Hezekiah William Foote. Before the war, Hezekiah owned five plantations and over one hundred slaves. ‘I was given clearly to understand as a child that I was a Southern aristocrat,’ Foote said.
His great-grandfather had opposed secession but fought without hesitation for the South. ‘Just as I would have,’ Foote said. ‘I’d be with my people, right or wrong. If I was against slavery, I’d still be with the South. I’m a man, my society needs me, here I am. The difference between the North and the South in the war is that there was no stigma attached to the Northern man who paid two hundred dollars to not go to war, or who hired a German replacement. In the South you could have done that, but no one would. You’d have been scorned.’
Foote’s retroactive allegiance to the Confederacy surprised me. It was the honor-bound code of the Old South. One’s people before one’s principles. The straitjacket of scorn and stigma. ‘It’s a bunch of shit really,’ Foote conceded. ‘But all Southerners subscribe to this code to some degree, at least male Southerners of my generation.’ In Foote’s view, this same stubborn pride had sustained Southerners during the Civil War. ‘It’s what kept them going through Appomattox, that attitude of “I won’t give up, I won’t be insulted.”’
It took almost a century after Appomattox for Confederate blood to cool. Southerners’ ‘abiding love’ for Franklin Delano Roosevelt tempered their prideful regionalism, Foote said; so, too, did the patriotic fervor surrounding World War II. It was in 1945 that Mississippians finally dropped their eighty-year ban on celebrating Independence Day. This was also when many Southerners stopped referring to the Civil War as the War Between the States. ‘It was a big admission, if you think about it,’ Foote said. ‘A Civil war is a struggle between two parts of one nation, which implies that the South was never really separate or independent.'”
Excerpted from Tony Horwitz’s chronicle of the south’s Lost Cause nearly a century and a half later Confederates in the Attic: Dispatches from the Unfinished Civil War.
- Foote relates what Yankees and Confederates sounded like in battle
- William Tecumseh Sherman describes war as “glory’s moonshine”
- The first book in the Western canon tells how the rich used to fight