Remembering Dixie is a cause that lives on

By AMY HORTON, The Brunswick News

Wednesday marks the 138th anniversary of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee’s surrender to Union Gen. U.S. Grant at Appomattox Court House in Virginia — the moment the South admitted defeat and the 11 states of the Confederacy were reunited with America.

Six generations of Americans have lived on both sides of the Mason-Dixon Line since the war, but there isn’t a single one alive today who witnessed the death of the Confederacy.

Yet for many Southerners, it’s still a very painful personal loss. To them, the widely misunderstood cause of the Confederacy is one that’s still worth fighting over.

That cause became immortal the moment the Confederacy died, and it has been passed from generation to generation like battle-tattered, blood-spattered colors pried from the dead fingers of fallen Confederate standard bearers on the hallowed fields of Chickamauga or Bull Run.

It is the foundation upon which life in the modern South is built, and it is the root from which Southern heritage — and a whole movement to preserve it and pass it along correctly to future generations — has grown.

"I think it’s very important that we celebrate our heritage because it’s who we are," said Scott Newbern, past commander of the Thomas Marsh Forman Camp No. 485, the Brunswick chapter of the Sons of Confederate Veterans.

"We honor the people that we come from because they are our forebears. You have to know who you’ve been to know where you’re going."

Why is the Civil War still such a personal issue for people so far removed from the fight by the passage of time?

"C. Vann Woodward, the great dean of Southern historians who taught at Yale and died a year or two ago, once said the difference between Northerners and Southerners is that history has happened to Southerners, that they’ve experienced defeat and that means that even an experience as powerful as the war, which was felt on both sides of the Mason-Dixon Line, was felt more by Southerners," said James Roark, professor of history at Emory University in Atlanta.

The Civil War was a revolutionary experience for Southerners, Roark said. It was fought almost entirely in the South. A higher percentage of Southerners died in the many battles, and an entire way of life died with them.

"I do think Southerners feel the Civil War and remember the war more vividly and more powerfully than Northerners do," Roark said. "Now, whether they remember it well, whether their history is one that’s accurate, is a big debate in this society."

Newbern and two brothers in the fight to preserve the South’s history and traditions believe society isn’t correctly remembering the South’s reasons for seceding and fighting.

They believe that by revising history to make it more politically correct, the nation is maligning the contributions and sacrifices of 200,000 Southerners who fought and died for the Confederacy — and denying their descendants the right to be proud of their heritage.

"Most Southerners are willing and ready to acknowledge and respect the heritage of others, but it’s a two-way street. We expect the same from them," said Tom Scott, a retired U.S. Marine and well-read student of Southern history. "Winston Churchill once said, ‘Any people with contempt for their heritage have lost faith in themselves, and no nation can long survive without pride in its traditions.’"

Roark — a Louisiana native — believes that history is, for the most part, being rewritten to include the contributions of everyone, not to obliterate any one group.

"I think obviously there have been examples of revisionism. An elementary school, George Washington Elementary School, has to change its name because George Washington was a slaveholder — there is nonsense out there. There has been that kind of ‘politically correct’ loss," Roark said.

But there’s also been a movement to include the contributions of mainstream America — including women, poor people and African-Americans.

"We write better history today because we try to give voice to all the people, not just the minority who were the movers and shakers," Roark said. "History is fuller, richer, more honest and more complete."

But as long as states like Georgia declare war on the symbols of Southern heritage — primarily the Confederate battle flag that symbolized the South’s first fight for freedom — men like Dewey Barber won’t accept any historical account of the Civil War that doesn’t fully explain the South’s reasons for leaving the Union.

Barber agrees with Charles Dickens’s summation of the American Civil War, which was written in 1861. Dickens wrote: "The love of money is the root of this as of many other evils… the quarrel between North and South is, as it stands, solely a fiscal quarrel."

According to the history Barber defends and celebrates with his controversial line of Dixie Outfitters T-shirts — produced in Odum, a small town northwest of Jesup — the South was victimized by the federal government.

He believes that "Lincoln invaded the South" and "forced us back into the Union at gunpoint," and says democracy in America hasn’t been the same since.

"Up until that point all of the states in the Union were there voluntarily. When the Declaration of Independence was drafted, all of the states joined the Union voluntarily and they understood that they had the right to secede," Barber said.

Seven Southern states, including Georgia, chose that route in the 1860s because they felt they weren’t being represented fairly by the federal government, he said.

"We were paying 75 percent of the federal revenues and we were only 35 percent of the population and that, among several other factors, led the South to believe that it would be better off if it had its own government," Barber said.

By virtue of losing the war, the South was never given the opportunity to tell its side of the story.

"The victors of the war are the ones that get to write the history, so they’re going to get to write what they think is true," Newbern said. "Northern writers, what they’ve written still creeps into our history books, if the war creeps into our history books at all."

Barber, for one, will keep talking about it until the Northern states and the federal government publicly acknowledge that the battle between North and South wasn’t simply a fight over human bondage.

"When that happens all this controversy will die away and people will be proud of their ancestors who fought in the war," Barber said.

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