(April 4, 2018) Eric Foner acolytes and similar historians equate the reasons for secession with the reasons for the Civil War, even while admitting they cannot explain why the North declined to let the South depart in peace. Anti-Southern “experts” like an interpretation that demonizes the typical Confederate soldier for fighting to defend slavery and ennobles the ordinary Yankee for fighting to end it. In short, it endorses the Evil Twin metaphor for the War that portrays the South as America’s “evil” twin and the North is her “good” twin.
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But objective historians realize the reasons for secession and the reasons the average Rebel soldier fought are not the same. William C. “Jack” Davis, for example, writes: “The widespread Northern myth that the Confederates went to the battlefield to perpetuate slavery is just that, a myth. Their letters and diaries, in the tens of thousands, reveal again and again that they fought and died because their Southern homeland was invaded and their natural instinct was to protect home and hearth.” Only about thirty percent of Southern families owned slaves and fewer than ten percent of individuals held title to them.
While Davis supports his opinion with letters and diaries, mere common sense implies how improbable it would have been for the typical Southerner to leave his family, risk his life, endure army-life hardships, and kill others who had done him no harm simply to protect slave property owned mostly by wealthy planters. Only a
deluded historian propagandist could suggest that it was a prime motivation.
It’s more likely that the typical Southerner felt as Daniel Woodrell portray’s his main character’s motivation in his novel, Woe to Live On. The protagonist is a nineteen year old Bushwhacker named Jake Roedel. As the Civil War progresses his best friend becomes Daniel Holt, a slave. Like Roedel, Holt joined his white childhood friend to be with the Missouri Bushwhackers. Jake responds to a question from Holt about why the Rebels fight:
“[The Yankee] is the cut of man who if you say the sun is high, he will say, no, you are low. That is nothing in itself to war over. But then he will say, I believe my way, my life, and person have more loft to them than yours do, so be like me. . .The Rebel is not the man you want to say that to. He don’t care for it. . . The Rebel will fight you if you try to force him to your way. And it don’t matter too much what your way is, neither.”
Today’s experience among students of the Civil War suggests that Roedel’s viewpoint still applies. Most modern historians sympathize with the North and many will condemn anyone who challenges the Evil Twin metaphor. Such historians believe that they “have more loft” and require that Southern historians be more like them. Megan Nelson, for example, urges that all Confederate monuments be destroyed and left as rubble to dishonor Southerners of the Civil War era as well as those born later who erected the monuments. Such condescensions cause Roedel’s explanation to resonate with many present-day Southerners. “We don’t care for” such haughtiness.
Roedel fought to protect his right to think for himself. He instinctively rebelled against those who proclaimed themselves as morally superior and presumed they had the right to tell him what he should think. He fought because he was a rebel.