By Brad Smith
Daily News Staff Writer
Monday, May 8, 2006
YREKA — Reenactors and students of history such as Hunter Cogle have different views of the American Civil War. History, they note, is written by the victors. Rewritten. Even white-washed.
“I have this analogy of the War,” said Cogle, who is a member of the Reenactors of the American Civil War (RACW). “Look at the Confederacy as a woman and the Union as a man. They are married. The husband is very pushy and demanding. The wife has finally decided that she has had enough. She isn’t going to take it anymore, so, she asks for a divorce. The husband says no. She leaves, goes to her mother’s house. The husband tracks her down. He then beats her within an inch of her life and drags the woman by her hair, kicking and screaming, back to their home. There she stays, bitter and angry, and there she remains, with all of that anger, festering.”
To Cogle and others, that analogy fits the history of the Union-Confederacy War. It should be noted, that Cogle and many others do not support the practice of slavery. Less than five or six percent of Confederates were slave owners — and some of them were free men of color, blacks who owned black slaves.
“Of the the some two million men who fought for the Confederacy, less than one percent owned slaves,” Cogle said. “The Confederate States of America even had blacks, both free men of color and slaves, serve in its military.”
The Confederate military was very diverse, Cogle pointed out.
“Blacks. Hispanics. Jews. Irish. American Indian. Many served and served with honor and distinction in the Confederate military. It’s well documented but often overlooked in many history books.”
Over 65,000 blacks served in the Confederate military, with over 13,000 seeing combat. During the Battle of Gettysburg, the turning point of the War, Cogle said that three black soldiers were killed. All wore Confederate gray.
“The movie, ‘Glory,’ about an all-black Union regiment, leaves out a key incident in the 54th Massachusetts’ history,” Cogle said. “Union commanders figured that they would humiliate the South by sending the 54th into Richmond, the capital. However, the 54th was repulsed by a regiment of all-black Confederate troops. You don’t see that in the movie.”
And, Cogle pointed out, the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Regiment was not the first all-black Union regiment. There was a unit of freed slaves, the First South Carolina Volunteer Regiment. The 54th was the first unit from a Northern state.
“In ‘Glory,’ there is a subplot regarding the difference in pay and treatment the 54th received, in contrast to white Union troops,” Cogle commented. “The Confederacy paid free black soldiers, cooks, musicians, and teamsters the same rate as a white Confederate private.”
Many Confederates did not support slavery. Robert E. Lee, the Confederacy’s top military commander, eventually freed the slaves on his plantation and those who stayed with him were paid a wage. Compare that to Ulysses S. Grant, who held onto his slaves until passage of the 13th Amendment.
“Jefferson Davis, the Confederate president, knew that slavery was going to end, regardless of the War’s outcome,” said Cogle. “In fact, in order for some nations to recognize the Confederacy, slavery had to be abolished.”
Davis did own slaves. But, a little know fact is that Davis, knowing that slavery would end, had the slaves form their own laws and courts. Slaves settled their disputes this way.
To Davis, it was his way of readying the blacks for life as free people.
“The War had many causes, and the issue of slavery was one of them,” Cogle said. “But, it was also about economics and the encroaching power of an increasingly centralized Federal government. Too much authority and over-regulation. Southerners felt that they were being pushed too far. At some point, the South reached its breaking point.”
Cogle is looking forward to the War reenactment, coming up May 19 – 22.
“It’s living history. People get a chance to learn firsthand on what life was back then. I have a lot of fun doing it. But, it’s something that means a lot to me, because it’s a part of my history.”
Cogle hopes that many do attend the reenactments. For more information on the reenactment, Cogle says that www.racw.org, the Reenactors of the American Civil War website, has a lot of information.
“Face it, some really don’t know a lot about this War and why it was fought. Blue versus Gray. Billy Yank. Johnny Reb. No, I’m not a Johnny Reb — I’m a Confederate patriot.”
He knows that, over the years, the Confederate Navy Jack — what some see as the “Confederate Flag” — has been hijacked as a symbol of hate and oppression. To him, it is not.
“I have a bumper sticker, one with the Flag, and it says, ‘Heritage — Not Hate.’ To me, that’s what it’s all about.”
And, to many others, history.
© 2006 Siskiyou Daily News