Southern discomfort


“You could say my family was bitter about that war. Still is.”
Jack Hackley of Oak Grove

The pickup rattles along Route H in Oak Grove until it stops square with a gnarled tree.

“This is it,” says Jack Hackley.

The spot where he still sees the Civil War.

He strides through a freshly mowed pasture and squints through the haze toward distant hills. Then, stamping his foot, he declares: “right where my great-grandfather stood when he watched it.”

Nearly 150 years ago, James L. Turner was eyewitness to nine burning homesteads … orange flames … black smoke … blue uniforms…

“I always heard the smoke from those fires just curled up.” Hackley’s finger draws tiny swirls in the air.

The 77-year-old’s telling of the Federal scourge known as Order No. 11 has been passed down generation to generation. Always told in this field. Always with the same theme: Yankees did this to us.

In these parts of Missouri, family lineages often include such tales of Confederate martyrdom. People here not only discuss the war but often know intimately what their ancestors endured. Heads tilt a little higher, knowing the DNA is shared.

Some trace their politics back to Civil War divisions: defenders of traditional values caught in the forward march of Big Government — led by Abraham Lincoln then, by Barack Obama now.

But skeptics ask, are they celebrating Confederate heritage or capitalizing on a now-popular term, “states’ rights,” to shed negative Southern baggage?

In this sesquicentennial, a theme has emerged — a neo-Civil War of words and suspicions lobbed toward those who are passionate about remembering but who tend to forget the harsh past of slavery.

“That’s not just an issue with Southerners and the Civil War,” said Jesse Milan, retired professor of education at Baker University. He sees history books and teachers too often ducking many issues about race. “All of U.S. history is full of denying, even in the 21st century.”

Others say shame has been shackled to pride too long.

“Times have changed greatly over the last 50 years,” said Bill Myrick, a Sons of Confederate Veterans camp commander speaking at an Alabama event. “Political correctness has managed to instill a false shame in so many Southerners. One has only to mutter the word ‘racist’ to send many into hiding.”

Only 38 percent of Americans said in a Pew Research Center poll that slavery was the major cause of the fighting. The April survey showed 48 percent believe the war was mainly about states’ rights. Puzzled academics digging deep into the thinking of the 1800s say, no, it was mostly about slavery.

Hackley is perplexed about it, too: “A funny thing… Out of all the stories I ever heard, no one in my family ever mentioned slavery.” But he shrugs off what others may think. His ancestors, being pretty poor, probably didn’t own slaves, anyway.

What the war dealt his family is sad enough.

Among the many whom great-grandfather Turner killed were his brother and a neighbor, both Union men. Years later, he tried to kill himself and spent the rest of his life in an insane asylum.

“Yeah,” says Hackley, his face drawn with sadness. “You could say my family was bitter about that war.

“Still is.”

At the Midwest Genealogic Center in Independence, 14 women bow their heads for a moment of silence.

“On this day 150 years ago, at 11 a.m.” says Trish Spencer, United Daughters of the Confederacy chapter president, “the war began that would eventually take more than 600,000 lives. We do this to remember them.”

Next, the women pledge allegiance to a miniature U.S. flag, say an oath to the Missouri flag, and offer “undying remembrance” to the Confederate battle flag.

On their agenda is a report on their work, finding and identifying headstones of forgotten rebel veterans. Woodlawn Cemetery in Independence, Spencer says, has 160 named Confederate graves, twice as many as previously thought.

The Daughters of the Confederacy are amateur history sleuths, piecing together entire lives from shards of information, pension records, family letters, diaries and death certificates.

Founded in 1894, the Daughters nationwide raised most of the Confederate monuments across the South, as well as the tall, rebel-topped pillar in Forest Lawn Cemetery and the striking “dying lion” sculpture at the old veterans home near Higginsville, Mo.

Setting aside nearby antebellum Lexington, the region’s epicenter of Southern memory is surely Independence. Here meet the Civil War Roundtable of Western Missouri, the Civil War Study Group, the Sons of Confederate Veterans and the Quantrill Society.

At a Sons meeting in April sat Patrick Cole, his eyes shaded by the blue-tinted spectacles favored by war re-enactors. With long brown hair and goatee, he seemed to walk off a page of antebellum history.

“Yes, ma’am,” said Cole, 33, offering a genteel bow. “I’m a neo-Confederate and proud of it. I have lived under Federal domination all my life and believe the Southern government was the best form of governing America has ever seen.”

But in a later interview, after Googling the hate-group-fighting Southern Poverty Law Center’s definition of “neo-Confederate” — “a reactionary conservative ideology that … overlaps with the views of white nationalists and other more radical extremist groups” — the Independence man recanted.

“I’m not that at all,” he said. What ignited his interest in the Civil War was the history never learned in school. The details that keep emerging won’t let go, he explained. What’s more, his ability to “become” a Confederate soldier earned him a bit part in an upcoming movie, “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Killer.”

Although these lineage groups include FBI agents, police, firefighters and military veterans, many are mindful of a public who sees only a love for the Confederate flag and not their love for history.

Out-of-town hotels have denied the Daughters reservations, believing it to be racist, Spencer said. Their display booth was vandalized at one.

The members shook their heads sadly as Sandi Leshikar recalled how her employer, just that day, jokingly “wanted to know when my Ku Klux Klan meeting would be over.”

“It’s frustrating,” Spencer said. “Our number one goal is to remember our Southern roots.

“What’s wrong with that?”
Varied viewpoints

Younger Americans might wonder, too.

Polled by Pew on the major reason the Civil War erupted, six out of every 10 people younger than 30 chose “states’ rights.”

But then, they didn’t live through the racial turmoil of the mid-1900s.

When President Harry Truman desegregated the armed forces in 1948, South Carolina’s Strom Thurmond founded the States’ Rights Party and launched a presidential bid centered on racial separation.

The Ku Klux Klan and much of the Deep South waved the rebel flag as a symbol against federal efforts forcing states to integrate schools and giving voting rights to blacks.

Thurmond said nobody should “force the Southern people to break down segregation and admit the (black) race into our theaters, into our swimming pools, into our homes and into our churches.”

For the next couple of decades, “states’ rights certainly was code for segregation,” said Washington University professor Wayne Fields, an expert on political rhetoric. “It has since become a softer, gentler term reflecting more of a Libertarian position. It’s abstract, wrapped in an incredible amount of vagueness and ambiguity.”

Many historians reject states’ rights as the reason perhaps a quarter-million Southern men died. Especially since the Confederate constitution provided little in the way of additional states’ rights than those outlined in the U.S. Constitution.

Both charters established a three-way central government — executive branch, Congress and Supreme Court. Both featured a “supremacy clause,” enabling national legislation to reign over the states as the supreme law of the land.

One key difference: The Confederate constitution cited slaveholding as a specific right. States of the confederacy were not allowed the right to outlaw slavery.

When classroom teachers have the time to tackle the “slavery or states’ rights” question — dates, battles and who’s who tend to eat up the hour — the safest answer is “both.”

Historians agree that the institution of slavery was so vital to a Southern economy largely based on cotton — and crucial as well to emerging textile mills in the North — it drove the South to secede. Framers of the Confederacy considered secession their right.

Lincoln and Union men deemed the states’ leaving to be unlawful, anarchic and treasonous, and they moved to block it. That, say Southern sympathizers, led to a needless bloodbath.

Even that pared-down explanation can create more arguments than some teachers care to encourage. But would it help or hurt young minds to ponder the words of Alexander H. Stephens, vice president of the Confederacy?

“Our new government is founded…its cornerstone rests,” he said, “upon the great truth that the Negro is not equal to the white man: that slavery, subordination to the superior race, is his natural and normal condition.”

Last year, the conservative Texas Board of Education tried to change “slave trade” to “Atlantic triangular trade” in a new social studies textbook. It backed off, accepting “trans-Atlantic slave trade.”

At Harvard, an argument is back on whether to honor at Memorial Hall the 71 graduates who fought for the South. Many are appalled at the idea, despite the fact that men who fought for Germany in World War II are remembered there.

Meanwhile, the Minneapolis park board has been asked to change the name of Lake Calhoun because South Carolina Sen. John C. Calhoun was an outspoken advocate of slavery in President Andrew Jackson’s day.

The Abbeville Institute in South Carolina is named after Calhoun’s birthplace. It’s an intellectual sanctuary for more than 100 Dixie-devoted philosophers, authors, political scientists and law professors.

Its conferences were not broadly publicized until recent years, because of a feared backlash from academic peers.

Abbeville’s critics at the Southern Poverty Law Center question the honesty of Abbeville’s reason for being, as stated on the institute’s Website by historian Eugene D. Genovese:

“Rarely these days, even on Southern campuses, is it possible to acknowledge the achievements of white people in the South.”

Are George Washington and Thomas Jefferson really getting short shrift? Since when have William Faulkner, Tennessee Williams and Elvis been verboten in the classroom?

At Abbeville, founded in 2003 by Emory University philosopher Donald Livingston, the Civil War is called the “War to End Southern Independence.”

While acknowledging slavery as an evil, Livingston contends it eventually would have vanished. White Americans are “scandalized, embarrassed by slavery… So, we don’t want to talk about it.”

The war’s sesquicentennial would benefit from respectful dialogue from all sides, he said.

The Southern viewpoint “about a war fought on noble grounds prevailed for a century” until the civil-rights movement, said University of North Carolina historian David Goldfield: “What’s happened since is the pendulum has swung all the way to the other side. Now we’re depicting the North as a republic of virtue and the South as the evil empire.”

And when charges of “evil” are thrown, he said, “all discussion ends.”
Poisonous feelings

Song lyrics tucked inside the program for the 11th Annual Confederate Heritage Dinner in Osceola, Mo., captured the mood of the room.

Oh, I’m a good old rebel

Now that’s just what I am

And for this Yankee nation

I do not give a damn…

Sponsored by the Sons of Confederate Veterans, the dinner brought together 200 to remember what the hosts called the “War of Northern Aggression.”

Cars and trucks filled the parking lot; just as many had to park in the grass. Only two trucks sported rebel flags on bumpers, one captioned: “Fighting terrorism since 1861.”

That was the year U.S. Sen./Gen. Jim Lane and his Kansas Brigade came to Osceola, executed at least 10 local Southern men and reduced the thriving Osage River town to charred piles.

As the homemade rolls were cooling at the food tables, the ashes of that 150-year-old war crime still seemed warm. Not only were several Confederate flags on display, but also what Tony Horwitz in his bestseller “Confederates in the Attic” called “militant victimology”

The featured speaker, Paul Petersen, who recently published his third book on guerrilla William Quantrill, suggested that hype and misinformation still swirl around the 1863 massacre at Lawrence. The town was crawling with Yankee militants, making many of the 150-plus victims not so innocent, he said.

The raid became just more blasphemy of Quantrill’s legacy by Yankee historians.

“No matter how many lives he saved or the property he protected” for the South, Petersen complained, “the Lawrence raid outweighs them all — that one, single instance.”

Earlier, another speaker mentioned Union Gen. Nathaniel Lyon’s death at Wilson’s Creek, and the audience broke in applause.

…Three hundred thousand Yankees

Is stiff in southern dust

We got three hundred thousand

Before they conquered us.

In late 1861, a breakaway band of state legislators gathered in Neosho, Mo., and voted to secede. The Confederacy added a star to its flag, representing Missouri. But the Union ignored their action.

Under federal occupation and heavy-handed martial law, Missouri fast became a flaming mess. Residents had to swear a loyalty oath or face fines and/or imprisonment. Nearly 2,000 Missouri civilians were tried by military commission during the war — far more than in any other state.

Southern men, forced to join pro-Union militias, fled to the Confederate army or bushwhacker bands. Their capture often meant a death sentence, the same for any man caught feeding them or giving them information. Southern farmers were hanged in their barns, their women jailed and banished for pro-Southern remarks.

Both sections of the country had demonized the other, raising pre-war temperatures. The viperous feelings between Americans did not abate.

“The expedition to Lawrence was a gallant and perfectly fair blow at the enemy,” rationalized the Examiner in Richmond, Va., “as the population of Kansas is malignant and scoundrelly beyond description.”

After viewing the Confederate dead and captured at Westport in 1864, the pro-Union Kansas City Daily Journal of Western Commerce sniffed: “They seem to belong to a different race from ours, and most certainly to an inferior one. In truth, this war is one of intelligence, enlightened, and Christian civilization against barbarism.”

…I can’t take up my musket

To fight ’em down no more

But I ain’t a-goin’ to love ’em.

Now that is certain sure.

Given such bitter memories of Missouri Confederates, one might never know that twice as many Missouri volunteers joined the Union Army as fought for the South.

“Memory is an interesting thing,” says Arnold Schofield, administrator of the Mine Creek Battlefield in Kansas.

“Missouri had pro-Southerners, but also a lot of pro-Union people, free blacks, even slave owners who wanted to remain in the Union — all these factions fighting each other….But in the memory of Missourians, it’s easier to blame someone not from their state.”

Back at the heritage dinner, some heaved blame at today’s Washington. In Osceola, federal heavy-handedness still inflames.

Up stood a blue-jeaned, plaid-shirted man to speak his mind about the Obama administration: “Lee Harvey Oswald, where are you when we need you?”

His words seemed to hang over the all-white audience. Nobody applauded. Some groaned or rolled their eyes. Most stayed silent.

“We don’t hate our country,” said the embarrassed master of ceremonies. “We might not like where it’s going, but we’re here to honor our ancestors.”

The Civil War ushered in the expansion of U.S. government’s size and power, along with the income tax — begun under Lincoln to fund the war — and fresh grievances of how banks and industrial interests got preference over the little guy.

Across America, in states red and blue, “nullification” movements are springing up against an array of federal rules, especially health care reform.

So-called “tenthers” wield as their sword the 10th Amendment of the Bill of Rights: “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”

This clause is cited by Confederacy fans upholding the right of states to break away.

It’s not just conservatives claiming the 10th. Californians want to use it to eliminate the federal government’s prohibitions on pot possession. In other states, the gripes are aimed at federal gun laws, FDA rules applied to small dairy producers, or the executive branch using state National Guard troops in an undeclared war on terror.

“It’s taken 150 years to get to the point we’re at now,” says Mike Maharrey of the Tenth Amendment Center, a California-based advocacy group. “It’ll probably take another 150 years to get back to a limited government that the framers intended.”
Regional disdain

“Poor white trash,” the frustrated Yankee occupiers labeled the Missouri insurgents they could not catch.

“Not one in a hundred could write,” Lt. Col. Elias Caulkins of the 3rd Wisconsin alleged, inaccurately. “They are usually of a yellow sandy complexion … and they had uniformly bad teeth. …They were ignorant, uncombed, unwashed.”

Such slander fed the flames of sectional disdain then, but seems material for Jeff Foxworthy today.

“Rednecks,” the comedian teases. You might be one “if more than one living relative is named after a Civil War general…If you are still holding on to Confederate money because you think the South will rise again.”

Steven Heiner seems to defy all the labels.

Born in Singapore, Asian in appearance and staunchly Catholic (with no known family links to the war). Still, he says:

“I consider myself a Southern partisan.”

He arrived in Texas with his parents at age 9. He fell in love with football, country music, conservative politics and fried chicken. The books of Faulkner and Flannery O’Connor stirred a romance for the Old South.

“Spanish moss hanging on large trees in South Carolina, Fort Sumter in the distance, yeah, you can say that conjures up some special feelings — a connectedness to a gone-away world,” says Heiner, 32, who runs a Kansas City company that prepares students for college entrance exams.

When he was a student himself — English Literature at Rockhurst University — Heiner attended a summer session at Abbeville.

“I would not call myself a neo-Confederate for the same reason I would not fly a Confederate flag outside my house, north of the Mason-Dixon line. It carries too much baggage for an American populace thick on emotion and thin on cogitation.”

To Gwen Grant, the flag represents nothing good.

“It’s the same as seeing a swastika,” said Grant, executive director of the Urban League of Greater Kansas City. “It conjures up, for me, all the negative history of our country, and not all that I love about America…

“What exactly are they celebrating? It only reminds us of the struggle black Americans and whites had to endure.”

To Kurt Holland the Confederate flag is a reverent symbol. A way to both honor and remember the dead.

At his Missouri City home, he unfolds, then shakes open the red cotton material with its blue cross and 13 bold stars. As big as a full-sized bed quilt, with tiny hand-stitching, it is his most prized possession.

“This isn’t from China,” he says softly, fingers tracing the outline of one of the stars.

This flag once draped the coffin of his great-great-grandfather, Thomas C. Holland, a captain in Company G, 28th Virginia Infantry. At Gettysburg, he was shot in the jaw and left among the dead. He survived a prisoner of war camp and spent the next 60 years mostly in Kansas City, where he was active in the United Confederate Veterans.

Holland, 50, flies another, newer nylon version of the rebel flag on Confederate holidays — and always on July 3rd, when his great-great-grandfather rushed with Pickett’s division against the Union center on Cemetery Ridge.

“I’m not ashamed of my Southern heritage,” Holland said with a shrug. “It’s who I am, my family’s history.

“I fly the U.S. flag, too.”

He walks over to a shelf and pulls out a folded flag in a triangular glass-enclosed case.

“This one came from my stepfather’s funeral. He was a World War II veteran… And I’m pretty proud of him, too.”

Holland is also a member of the Sons. He says he rejects political correctness and will push back against those who twist Southern history. “I’m angry with those hate groups who have taken over our flag,” he said. “That’s not what we’re about.”

That’s why, too, he doesn’t paste Confederate flags on his truck’s bumper. It’s disrespectful.

“When I fly my Confederate flag, it is my freedom of expression. I think about all the brave men who put their lives on the line for what they believed…

“Their states’ sovereignty.”

On The Web: