Sunday, February 5, 2012

The Wisdom of E.P. Alexander

I am one of those people that actually reads the introduction of a book. This can sometimes be an exercise in boredom that contains no real benefit. Then there are some where the author is simply trumpeting his or her own views and knowledge of the subject. Save it for the dust jacket. On occasion however, hidden in the part of a book so often taken for granted one can find a true gem. Such is the case of the following from “Military Memoirs of a Confederate” by Edward Porter Alexander, (1907) late Brigadier General, Confederate States Army. The following is a passage of the introduction but not its whole body.

“One thing remains to be said. The world has not stood still in the years since we took up arms for what we deemed our most valuable right – that of self government. We now enjoy the rare privilege of seeing what we fought for in the retrospect. It no longer seems so desirable. It would now prove only a curse. We have good cause to thank God for our escape from it , not alone for our sake, but for that of the whole country and even the world.

Had our cause succeeded, divergent interests must soon have further separated the States into groups, and this continent would have been given to over to divided nationalities, each weak and unable to command foreign credit. Since the days of Greece, Confederacies have only held together against foreign enemies, and in times of peace have soon disintegrated. It is surely not necessary to contrast what would have been our prospects as citizens of such States with our condition now as citizens of the strongest, richest, and, strange for us to say who once called ourselves “conquered” and our cause “lost”, the freest nation on earth.”
These few words written a little over forty years after the war seem directed toward a Southern, ex-Confederate reader who may have needed reminding that the outcome of the war was actually beneficial to them as much as it was to those that served the Union. It must have been hard for them to see it at the time. I think Alexander's words may also have been aimed toward the generations to follow the old soldiers and their children. Even today there are those that espouse the “Lost Cause” and seek to distort the historical record to suit their agenda.

Perhaps he foresaw that some in generations beyond his that would hold such feeling. His words, “It would only prove a curse.”, should be enough warning to those that would seek to distort history. There is nothing wrong with being proud of a Confederate ancestor, Southern heritage, or Southern culture. The sticking point is not being able to differentiate between the Confederacy and the others. They co existed for four years but kin, culture, and heritage predated the Confederate States of America and has post dated it for 150 years and there is much more to look at and be proud of along with the old soldier.

While I do not hold with the “Lost Cause” mentality, I do not stand with those that would lump all people that are proud of their Confederate ancestors and heritage into that same mold.

What is important for all of us to remember is that the war is over and the outcome is determined. We all live under one flag now, and that flag covers all of us with the freedom to hold feelings and opinions that may go against what some would say are out of step with what is perceived to be the “right” way of thinking. Having differing views is but one of the fruits we all enjoy under that common flag and they are a part of what makes this “the freest nation on earth.”

Alexander concludes his introduction with this:
...for our Union is not built to perish. Its bonds were not formed by peaceable agreements in conventions, but were forged in the white heat of battles, in a war fought out to the bitter end, and are for eternity.” (italics mine) I can not add to that.
The Picket
Military Memoirs of a Confederate, retrieved from Google books.

1 comment:

  1. Wise words.... He was a wise man indeed. Most talented and a wonderful writer as well. I've always enjoyed reading his words. Thanks for bringing him up and introducing others to this relatively unknown man!