Education Amid the Desolation of War
Holding the schoolroom to be an important part of the national strength during the war crisis, Southern educational leaders urged citizens to maintain good schools “as an illustration to the world of the civilization of the people of the Confederate States.” It was also stressed that the times demanded the labor of teachers corresponding to the “unexampled heroism and devotion of our soldiers . . . “
Bernhard Thuersam, Chairman
North Carolina War Between the States Sesquicentennial Commission
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Education Amid the Desolation of War
“Among its many home-front problems the Confederacy faced the question of its children’s formal education. If this posed difficulties in normal times, it proved doubly so as the new nation fought for its existence on the battle line. Of special concern to educators and other interested citizens were persistent problems of maintaining support for public schools during the exigencies of war, and providing young Confederates with textbooks free from the taint of “foreign” views.
Soon after North Carolina seceded from the Union, State Superintendent of Schools Calvin H. Wiley called a convention of teachers in Raleigh to discuss the situation. Those in attendance agreed on the desirability of forbidding the importation of foreign textbooks and urged the production of locally-written books . . . [At] the 1862 meeting of that association, Wiley announced that the South would soon be independent “of all other countries” for its school books.
At this meeting, members . . . adopted a resolution calling for “a general convention of teachers throughout the Confederate States . . . to take into consideration the best means for supplying the necessary textbooks for use in our Schools and Colleges, and to unite their efforts for the advancement of the cause of education in the Confederacy . . .”
The convention was called for April 28, 1863, at Columbia, South Carolina. Publicity and preparations were extensive . . . Newspapers [urged] a large attendance from the South. Groups of teachers and citizens in several cities chose delegates to represent them at the Columbia convention . . . [and] the North Carolina Literary Board named as its delegates [Wiley] and Richard Sterling, a board member and principal of Greensborough’s Edgeworth Female Seminary.
Sixty-nine person registered at the convention . . . South Carolina [sent] thirty six delegates . . . Sixteen attended from North Carolina, ten from Georgia, three each from Virginia and Alabama, and one from Louisiana.
Enhancing the prestige of the convention was a letter from President Jefferson Davis. While regretting the inability to be present, Davis expressed his “fullest sympathy” with the purpose of the convention and extolled the importance of school books in developing character and intelligence in children. He expressed his joy in knowing “that the task of preserving these educational springs in purity has been devolved upon men so qualified to secure the desired results.”
Several other letters, including one from North Carolina’s Governor Zebulon B. Vance, were read to the delegates. Vance’s letter underscored President Davis’s concern for “purity” in textbooks and he declared it a “pleasure to see that the desolation of war does not prevent the good the good men of the country from looking after this great and important matter. This is certainly the time to inaugurate the system of supplying our schools with our own books and impressing the minds of our children with the effusions of Southern genius.”
His closing must have served as an added charge to the convention: “May God bless and prosper your efforts in a cause so patriotic and so greatly to be commended by every true Southern heart.”
(The Educational Association of the CSA, O.L. Davis, Jr., Civil War History, Volume 10, Number 1, March 1964, State University of Iowa, pp. 67-71)