Dr. Richard Lee Montgomery October 16, 2017


The South Was Right, pp 7-9
by S. A. Steele
(Samuel Augusta Hawkins Steel)


In 1861 eleven States of the American Union withdrew and formed themselves into the Confederate States of America. They did so under the due forms of law without revolutionary violence, and with the most peaceable intention. The United States resolved to compel these seceded States to return into the Union by force of arms. The South resolved to defend her liberties. The war between them lasted for four years. Nearly four million men were under arms on both sides from first to last; about two thousand battles, engagements and skirmishes were fought; nearly half a million lives were lost; thousands more were maimed for life; billions of dollars’ worth of property was destroyed; and no estimate can be made of the suffering inflicted on the women and children of the country, or words be found adequate to express the sorrow they endured, the loss they sustained in being deprived of educational opportunities and the means of social culture, and the universal demoralization that ensued. It was one of the most gigantic conflicts of history, and one of unparalleled bitterness. As both sides were in mortal earnest, there was no way to stop it until one of the contestants was exhausted.


After four year’s of heroic struggle, the South fell. To quote the language of General R. E. Lee, in his farewell address to his army at Appomattox, it was “compelled to yield to over-whelming numbers and resources.” After a time the seceded States were readmitted into the Union. The people of the South, ruined by four years of strife in their territory and the destruction of their whole system of life, with all but honor lost, indulged in no idle repinings, uttered no unmanly regrets, bore with marvelous patience the horrible injustice of the “Reconstruction,” made their appeal “to Time,” went earnestly to work, and left their vindication to the impartial judgment of History, Who was responsible for that awful war? As in the case of Carthage, so with the South, the victors have told the story to suit their own ends. The result is a very one-sided and misleading account. Much of what the North has written about the war is on a par with the testimony of a darky witness in court. “Mose,” said the lawyer, “do you understand that you have sworn to tell the truth?” “Yas, sir.” “Well, then, have you told the jury the truth about this matter.” “Yas, sir, boss, and a leetle the rise of the truth.” One writer says that the North won, not because it “out-fought the South, but because it out-thought the South,” that it was a victory of mind more than force. I can not agree with this. If we must keep the alliteration of the phrase, I would say that the North won, not because it could outfight the South, but because it did outwrite the South. But a vast deal of what they wrote was not true. It was pure fiction, like, for example, Whittier’s poem about Barbara Fritchie, and Mrs. Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin. It v/as false, but it accomplished its purpose of hostility to the South. There arc gratifying indications now that the motives of the South are beginning to be understood.


Still we frequently hear it said now that the Southerners “believed they were right.” But it is nearly always said in a connection which makes it mean: Of course they were wrong, but since they believed they were right, they are entitled to the respect due to sincerity. This condescending courtesy can never satisfy honorable men. As a modus vivendi it may be accepted, and afford a diplomatic ground of meeting, where the sentimental “fraternity” of a superficial and emotional patriotism may disport itself in iridescent oratory. I believe in fraternity, and have tried to contribute to its establishment between the North and South; but if it must be obtained at the cost of truth, the price is too high. I have respect for the honest Northern man who was willing to lay his life on the altar of the Union, and this sentiment is perfectly consistent with a deep conviction that the South was right in the essential thing for which it fought, the right of self-government. The North has told its side; let us tell ours. We are not afraid to take the question into the high court of History.


Samuel Augusta Steel, The South Was Right (Columbia, S. C.: The R. L. Bryan Company, 1914), 7-9.


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