Monthly Archives: December 2018

When Academics Accept Secondary Sources

(December 28, 2018) Typically academic presses that publish books on the Civil War and Reconstruction will decline manuscripts that rely primarily on secondary sources. As opposed to a primary source such as an era-specific letter, diary, or official document, secondary sources are usually books and articles that cite the primary sources within their narratives. There are, however, three exceptions to the academy’s avoidance of books chiefly documented with secondary sources.

First are books that denigrate the Confederacy or her leaders. One example is Alan Nolan’s Lee Considered, published by the University of North Carolina Press in 1991. In her review of the book for the New York Times historian, and former Harvard University President Drew Gilpin Faust, admits that Nolan provides “no new or sensational facts.” Yet she applauds Nolan’s destruction of “the Lee tradition” because it “led Americans to embrace a racist view of the war.” This, Faust quotes Nolan as saying, “deprived . . . the nation of any high purpose for the war.” She shows no concern about whether Nolan’s revised portrayal of Lee is accurate or fundamentally changes his character. Instead she is satisfied that it provides an excuse to ignore Lee’s nobilities in order to pin America’s lingering racism on the losing side of the war while simultaneously sanctifying the winning side.

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Second are books that demonize white Southerners as “terrorists” obsessed with abusing blacks during Reconstruction and thereafter. Allen Guelzo’s Reconstruction: A Concise History, released earlier this year by the Oxford University Press, is a good example. Eighty-seven percent of Guelzo’s 141 sources are secondary ones.

Like Eric Foner’s much bigger text released thirty years ago, Guelzo idealizes the black community. Also like Foner, Guelzo is so lacking in sympathy for all Southern whites that their problems receive none of the analysis and sympathetic understanding  given to issues that confronted blacks. Consequently, readers will likely fail to understand that most ex-Confederates were not involved in lynchings, terrorism, and Ku Klux Klan vigilantism. Instead they lived hardscrabble lives, attempting to restore a region devastated by war. The cover of Guelzo’s book alone emphasizes only the racial aspects of Reconstruction. Six of the seven images depict blacks in various activities empowering themselves such as voting and working as freedmen, or conversely being helplessly abused by Southern whites.

A third type of book mostly documented with secondary sources that the academy will publish are those authored by tenured professors. Dr. Michael Holt’s By One Vote: The Disputed Presidential Election of 1876 is a good example. The University Press of Kansas released the Virginia professor’s book in 2008 even though Holt admits in his preface, “I make no claim to have exhaustively researched primary sources.” Instead, his objective was to analyze the implications of generally known facts, not to discover new ones. And he succeeds.

Contrary to popular belief, for example, a number of factors gave Hayes the election over Tilden aside from Reconstruction compromise. Among them were monetary policy, civil service reform and Colorado statehood. Without the admission of Republican-controlled Colorado as a state, for example, no amount of vote-count compromise with Southerners in the disputed states of  Florida, Louisiana and South Carolina could have put Hayes in the White House. Not the least of pivotal election factors was the GOP’s re-emphasis on waving the bloody shirt to put the blame for Civil War casualties on the Democrats. Unlike Nolan’s, however, Holt’s analysis is not a deliberate character assassination designed to destroy a good man’s reputation in order to create a scapegoat for protracted racism.

Acid Test for True History

(December 25, 2018) In Michael Crichton’s science fiction novel Timeline a trio of anthropologists travel back to medieval France. After arriving they discover that some of their period research was erroneous. When an interviewer asked Crichton about this he replied:

 . . . all history is contemporary history. That is, every generation remakes the past into some form that suits the present time. But this means that all our understanding of history, like all our understanding of science, is provisional. It’s likely to change. It does change.

Consequently, after the civil rights movement of the 1960s the history of the Civil War and Reconstruction shifted toward a demonization of white Southerners. By extrapolating the interpretations of historians such as James McPherson and Eric Foner, today’s culture portrays Southern whites as obsessed with physically abusing slaves in the antebellum era and terrorizing the freedman for decades after Appomattox. While we cannot travel back in time to test such portrayals, we may get a more accurate picture by comparing the modern viewpoints to the narratives of earlier historians.

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Frustrated by the increasingly benevolent portrayals of Castro’s Cuba, for example, Yale professor Carlos Eire who escaped the regime as a boy in the early 1960s put it this way: “Show me history untouched by memoirs and you show me lies. . . Show me lies not based on memories and you show me the worst lies of all.” To be sure, all earlier narratives cannot be taken at face value. Biased authors are not restricted to any time period. However, respected historians of an earlier era worked in an environment where recollections of the War and Reconstruction were at least powerful echoes and sometimes even living memories.

Consider David Herbert Donald who was an emeritus history professor at Harvard until his death in 2009. Donald was born in Mississippi in 1920. As a boy he may have known some seniors who lived through the War and many more that could remember Reconstruction. He was undeniably aware of the state’s poverty that lasted at least a century after Appomattox.

Yet, by his own admission, Professor Donald was not biased in favor of the South.  He cited slavery as the main cause of the war and condemned the region’s protracted racism. He was unaware if he had any Confederate ancestors. His paternal grandfather moved to the state from Vermont after the War in order to teach school for the Freedmen’s Bureau. “Grandad was,” said Professor Donald, “a proud abolitionist” before and during the War.

Nonetheless, Donald perceptively criticized Eric Foner’s now dominant Reconstruction textbook when it was released thirty years ago. Foner’s text, he noted, “overidealized the black community.” Additionally, he correctly mentioned that Foner’s book was “so lacking in sympathy for all Southern whites that their problems receive[d] none of the thoughtful analysis and sympathetic understanding . . . [given] . . . to issues that confronted blacks.” Finally he observed that Foner’s “Readers will not understand that most ex-Confederates were not involved in lynchings, terrorism, and Ku Klux Klan vigilantism . . . to which [Foner] devotes so much attention. Instead they lived hardscrabble lives, attempting to restore a region devastated by war.”

Since Donald’s remarks don’t conform to the currently dominant viewpoints, readers may search Google in vain to find the quotes.* Moreover, our culture would likely label as racist anyone  with lesser status who might make similar points. Yet Donald’s opinions seem valid. Consider, for example, that only last moth the New York Times published an Op-Ed by two academic historians advocating a National Park Service Memorial to Reconstruction, which completely ignored the experience of white Southerners except as oppressors of freed blacks.

*Book Review Digest (Hackensack, N.J.: H. W. Wilson, 1988), 572

Fighting For Confederate Heritage

(December 24, 2018) Confederate heritage has been so demonized that its advocates are increasingly censored, at least culturally if not yet by official government interdiction. Thus, combating the demonizers might best be accomplished by supporting emerging media personalities that promote freedom of speech in a general sense. That might change the culture enough to remove the taboos on open discussion of Confederate heritage.

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Few, if any, such personalities are in the mainstream media. Free speech advocates are instead on the Internet where many are funded by public patrons who contribute small monthly amounts through a company named Patreon. Earlier this month, however, Patreon triggered a crisis when they banned podcaster Carl Benjamin (pseudonym: Sargon of Akkad) who they condemned for “hate speech.” Benjamin was earning $12,000 monthly in Patreon donations, which was almost his entire income.

While I have no opinion on Benjamin’s politics because I was unfamiliar with him until his recent ban, many of his donors rebelled by abandoning the Patreon platform. They felt that he was one of a number of legitimate free speech proponents that they were willing to back financially. Consequently, other advocates such as Scott Adams and Jordan Peterson immediately suffered collateral damage. Their donations also dropped. Peterson recently authored a New York Times best-selling book and Adams is the creator of the Dilbert cartoon strip.

In contrast to my non-opinion on Benjamin, I discovered that Patreon is an enemy of free speech. The Benjamin ban is only one of a number of earlier censorship incidents. This one, however, is costing Patreon money. Consequently, they are “reaching out” to other podcasters indirectly affected, which led me to discover Matt Christiansen.

Montana-based Christiansen appears to be in his late twenties or early thirties and was originally a Democrat. Presently, however, he is a champion of free speech. The YouTube video above is a good example of his speaking abilities. Furthermore, it includes his response to a phone call from Patreon seeking to keep him loyal to their platform.

Hopefully, the exodus of users from Patreon will create a viable competitor to support free speech proponents like Matt. Such an eventuality would also send a unmistakeable message to all consumer-facing tech platforms such as Google, YouTube, FaceBook, Amazon, Apple and Twitter, that censorship is contrary to their business interests.

The Immorality of Destroying Confederate Statues

(December 23, 2018) The destruction of Confederate statues and prohibitions on the display of her symbols is a type of censorship. Like all censors the perpetrators argue that they are abolishing an immorality. But the true target of censorship is always an inconvenient truth, not a falsehood.

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For the past forty years nearly all academic Civil War era historians have focused on the evils of slavery in order to condemn the South, and excuse the North, for the war and the stubborn racism that lingered long afterward. They feel duty-bound to debunk suggestions that Southerners could have had any moral reason to fight or resist Radical Republican Reconstruction. Contrary narratives are dismissed as unworthy of debate. Instead all are labeled “Lost Cause Mythology” that must be censored, by cultural condemnation if not yet by official government interdiction. Censorship is rationalized as a way to protect society from immorality.

Stone Mountain Georgia

The logical case against censorship is that it empowers a minority to deny everyone else the opportunity to think for ourselves. We are implicitly told that we are incapable of judging facts and interpretations that are contrary to the favored narrative. But if we are not permitted to think for ourselves, we cannot be logical.

Historians urge the banning of Confederate symbols by claiming the moral high ground against those they label as “Lost Cause Mythologists” or “Neo-Confederates.” Yet opponents should not yield that ground because what the historians are doing is itself basically immoral. They are restricting our freedom. They appoint themselves as the only qualified judges of morality and immorality. While the logical case is the foundational argument against censorship the moral case merits more emphasis in public discussion. Historians should not be allowed to dictate our thoughts. Moreover, censorship gags not only those wanting to express themselves but also everyone who might otherwise read, look at, or listen to them.

Silicon Valley’s Strange Civil War Legacy

(December 19, 2018) Except for Oregon, no state was more distant from Civil War battlefields than California. Yet despite the region’s current preoccupation with technological development, prime Silicon Valley real estate can trace its roots to the Civil War. It all began in 1859 when B. Tyler Henry signed a five year agreement with Oliver Winchester to manage the latter’s New Haven Arms Manufacturing Company in Connecticut.

Henry had invented a repeating rifle at a time when the U. S. Army’s standard shoulder arms were muzzleloaders capable of firing only a single shot before requiring the user to proceed through a multistep reloading process. As a result, a solider equipped with a muzzleloader could fire at best two or three shots per minute. In contrast, the Henry rifle had a tube of sixteen cartridges allowing the gun to be reloaded with a quick lever action enabling at least sixteen shots per minute. Tyler Henry was granted a patent on his rifle in October 1860, six months before the Civil War started.

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The Henry was undeniably the fastest-shooting shoulder arm of the Civil War, even surpassing the firing rate of the more numerous seven-shot Spencer repeaters. When defending a railroad redoubt at Georgia’s Battle of Allatoona Pass in 1864 some Union soldiers had Henrys. In describing the action Major William Ludlow wrote, “what saved us that day was the fact that we had a number of Henry rifles . . . This company of 16 shooters sprang to the parapet and poured out such a multiplied, rapid and deadly fire, that no men could stand in front of it and no serious effort was made thereafter to take [our] fort by assault.”

Despite its obvious superiority, few Henrys were deployed during the Civil War. Ordnance Chief James W. Ripley was skeptical of them despite favorable test reports. He refused to place orders that were large enough to enable the New Haven Arms Company to organize for high volume production. Nonetheless, the company could sell all it could make at its limited facilities into the private market. Unfortunately, even those production volumes were artificially restricted due to a compensation argument between Henry and Winchester. Henry wanted a salary plus a per-unit royalty whereas Winchester felt that Henry’s pay should be limited to that of a plant manager.

Consequently, after Henry’s contract term expired in 1864 Winchester recruited key New Haven employees and formed the Winchester Repeating Arms Company. The new company improved the Henry design by adding a  side-loading mechanism and a wooden stock for the barrel.  Tyler Henry became a faded memory while the Winchester emerged as the “gun that won the  West.”  The rifle remained in production until 1923.

Oliver Winchester died in 1880. He had a single son, William, and two daughters, one of whom died at an early age. William worked in the family business until he died from tuberculous only a year after his dad. William and his wife Sarah (Pardee) Winchester had only one daughter who died in infancy. Consequently, Sarah inherited her husband’s $20 million estate and half the Winchester Repeating Arms Company, which provided an income approximating $1,000 a day.

Sarah was born into a prominent Connecticut family, well educated and exposed to the culture of Free Masonry through her many male family members. She was one of the earliest proponents of the theory that William Shakespeare was a pen-name for Francis Bacon. After William’s death she travelled for two years looking for a place to resettle. There is no record of all the places she visited, but ultimately she decided to move to California’s Santa Clara Valley south of San Francisco.

Winchester House Stairs to Nowhere

In 1884 she purchased an unfinished farmhouse and began building a mansion, which is now within the San Jose city limits.  Carpenters worked on the house day and night until it became a seven-story structure. She did not use an architect and added on to the building in a haphazard fashion. Thus, the home contains numerous oddities such as doors and stairs that go nowhere and windows overlooking other rooms.

Before the 1906 earthquake the house had been seven stories high but today it is only four. It was built on a floating foundation that is believed to have saved it from total collapse in the 1906 earthquake and the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. That type of construction allows the home to shift freely, as it is not completely attached to its brick base.

There are over 160 rooms, including forty bedrooms and two ballrooms as well as forty-seven fireplaces and three elevators. The property originally encompassed over 160 acres but today rests on about five acres. Many of the home’s stained glass windows and other features are replete with symbolism involving the prime numbers seven, eleven, and thirteen as well as other mathematical or esoteric relationships.

In 1888 Sarah purchased 140 acres of what is now downtown Los Altos, which the Census Bureau ranks at America’s fifth wealthiest community. The average home lists for $2 million. Previous residents included Steve Jobs and former Intel CEO Andrew Grove. Present residents include Mark Zuckerberg, Google CEO Sundar Pichai, and Google founder Sergey Brin, among other Silicon Valley company CEOs and founders.    

After Sarah died in 1922 new owners converted the San Jose home into the tourist attraction it remains today at 525 South Winchester Boulevard. Sarah’s eccentricities gave birth legends that the home is haunted by the ghosts of those killed by Winchester firearms. Earlier this year Hollywood released a horror film about Sarah and her home titled Winchester.

The connection of Tyler Henry’s Civil War rifle to the Winchester Mystery House is one example of the unpredictable butterfly effect.

Combating Censorship and Political Correctness

(December 13, 2018) The biggest threat to objective history about the Civil War and Reconstruction is the censorship of facts that are contrary to the currently dominant, politically correct hostility toward the Confederacy and Southern whites of the era. Presently it is impossible to even say that Robert E. Lee was a good military commander without being condemned by the mainstream press.

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While no media figures regularly defend Southern heritage, an increasingly popular foursome is at least combating political correctness and fighting for freedom of speech in a general sense. Those are necessary first steps if truthful Southern history is to ever again have a chance to see the light of day.  But you won’t often find the four on TV or in major newspapers. They are instead on the college lecture circuit and at The Daily Wire Internet site where they provide video podcasts four days a week.

In rank order I rate them: Andrew Klavan, Michael Knowles, Ben Shapiro and Matt Walsh. The power behind the throne is Jeremy Boreing  who is the business manager but also a thoughtful commentator. All, save Klavan at age sixty-four, are under forty. All five readily discuss their religious viewpoints, particularly when questioned by audience members who send queries via email.

Andrew Kalvan is an accomplished author and screenwriter. Although he has written fiction and non-fiction he is best known for his detective novels. He was raised in a secular Jewish family in New York where his dad had a popular radio program. Drew later converted to Christianity which first attracted his interest when he was a teenager because of the religion’s prominence within the canon of western literature. He holds a degree in English from the University of California at Berkeley.

Michael J. Knowles is a twenty-eight year old actor. Last year he released an empty book titled Reasons to Vote for Democrats: A Comprehensive Guide. He has a history degree from Yale University where he won the Seymour L. Lustman Prize for contributions “to the artistic and cultural aspects of the life of the College.” Michael is a Roman Catholic.

At age thirty-four Ben Shapiro is the best known of the foursome. Last year The New York Times published a profile about him. Ben has authored a number of books and has been an invited talking head at CNN, Fox and other TV networks. He is an Orthodox Jew. Ben graduated summa cum laude from the University of California at Los Angeles before enrolling at Harvard Law School where he graduated cum laude.

Matt Walsh is the only Daily Wire contributor to live outside of the Los Angeles area. He is also the least known. Matt describes himself as an “extreme Christian,” which is a pretty accurate label.

While I more-than-occasionally disagree with their political viewpoints, I applaud the highest priorities of all four which are to combat censorship, political correctness and identity politics—three factors that make objective Southern history impossible.