I support efforts for a monument to Columbia Countians who fought for the Confederacy, because I honor and respect those who fought on both sides of the Civil War. But the Oct. 6 letter by David Butler, the commander of the Evans branch of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, is a remarkable exercise in historical distortion. Butler rightly believes that history books often omit many pertinent facts about the era, but he does the same thing to suit his own agenda.
My own ancestors fought for the South. The overwhelming majority of Southerners were far too poor to ever own a slave. Many Northerners weren't opposed to slavery. States' rights and secession were the immediate causes of the Civil War. Southern soldiers, though vastly outnumbered, fought bravely and well throughout the war. History texts often point out the inhumane conditions at Andersonville without any corresponding reference to the harsh treatment many Confederate troops received while in Union prisoner-of-war camps.
All of the above statements are true, but it's also true that slavery was the core issue which led to secession and to the war. Butler states in his letter that the Confederate constitution contained the "first steps to abolish slavery completely." The Confederate constitution forbade the importation of slaves, but this certainly wasn't intended to be the first step to abolish slavery. Quite the opposite it was an attempt to maintain the slave population at a manageable level and ensure the continuation of the institution of slavery. The South hoped to be able to secede peacefully from the United Sates. The last thing the Confederacy needed was a race war, which could have resulted if a growing black population, egged on by Northern abolitionists, had begun agitating for freedom. There were plenty of slaves to go around in 1861. The importation of slaves into any state, Southern or otherwise, had been outlawed by Congress after 1808. From that point on, slavery was maintained because new generations of blacks were constantly being born into slavery in this country. The Confederacy simply intended to follow that practice.
Alexander Stephens, the vice president of the Confederacy and one of the drafters of the Confederate constitution, stated that slavery was "the proper status of the Negro." Prior to secession, Stephens had written to Abraham Lincoln that efforts to restrict or ban slavery aroused in the South "a spirit not only of general indignation" but also of "revolt."
Times, of course, were much different then. Slavery was accepted in much of the country (and much of the world) in 1861. It was only during those days that America as a nation began to assert that slavery was morally wrong. I don't find fault with my ancestors for fighting for what they believed to be a legitimate cause. What saddens me is that today far too many white Southerners, given the benefit of historical perspective, can look back on that era and still not admit what to me is an obvious fact: Morally, on the core issue which led to the war, we were wrong.
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