It’s the 156th anniversary of the glorious surrender at Appomattox Court House. My sympathies are obvious even after living for decades in the Gret Stet of Louisiana, which was not only part of the Confederacy but voted for Strom Thurmond in 1948 and George Wallace 20 years later.
Today’s quote comes from a writer who has been quoted more than once on First Draft, TPM’s Josh Marshal:
April 9th is a glorious anniversary: the day Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, Commanding General of the US Army, received the surrender of Robert E. Lee, a renegade US Army Colonel who was a leader of a violent rebellion against the United States, which killed hundreds of thousands of Americans. Grant offered generous terms to Lee and the other traitors making up his army. Six days later President Lincoln was assassinated in Washington, DC.
Lee was an able tactician but lacked the strategic genius that made Grant the towering military figure of the US Civil War. His Memoirs are one of the great works of American literature, quite apart from his fame and prominence as General and President. Certainly it is the greatest work of literature written by an American political figure. I wrote about both here.
The reality of the past is unchanging, as immutable as time proceeds only in one direction. But our perceptions of it, our understanding of its meaning and the stories we tell about it are perpetually in flux. Humans are story-telling creatures. Many of the great artifacts of human intellection are analytic, mathematic, visual. But at the deepest and most penetrating level we understand the world through stories, narratives. The production of these narratives become histories in themselves.
Nowhere is this more viscerally apparent than in the century of valorization of the traitors who led the pretended state called the Confederate States of America. This even goes down to the deep valorization of Southern military culture and the Confederacy’s top generals. This goes for Lee himself, a very skilled tactician but a highly conventional commander. This applies equally to the denigration of the commanders and common soldiers of the North whose reputations were downgraded as an offering to the wounded pride of the South.
That was a longer quote than I typically use but it sums up my own views quite neatly. There was, of course, nothing neat about the aftermath of the War of the Rebellion. Reconstruction ended with a whimper with the “compromise” over the disputed Hayes-Tilden election of 1876. General President Grant did not approve, but as we were reminded recently Congress had the final say.
Finally, some folks in Alabama who call themselves White Lies Matter swiped a Confederate Monument and turned it into a terlet. I am not making this up.
The last word goes to Cheap Trick with a song that has nothing to with today’s anniversary, but the title works and the song rocks: