(August 23, 2018) Although retired Lieutenant-Colonel Ralph Peters is best known as a contemporary military intelligence contributor for CNN, he has also authored many Civil War novels. The sixty-six year old Pennsylvania native says that the Civil War has haunted him from childhood. He regards it as a nearly inexhaustible source of stories.
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He marked the Sesquicentennial of the end of the war three years ago by writing an article for Armchair General to comment upon the myths and realities of the era. Like most modern historians he concludes that slavery caused the war, but he also feels that the typical Rebel solider merits respect.
The myth of Johnny Reb, the greatest of infantrymen, happens to be true. Not only the courage and combat skill, but the sheer endurance of the Confederate foot soldier may have been equaled in a few other armies over the millennia, but none could claim the least superiority. Especially (but not only) in the Army of Northern Virginia, the physical toughness, fighting ability and raw determination of those men remains astonishing. Billy Yank showed plenty of courage, too, and yes, the Southern armies had their share of shirkers and deserters, but the fact that most Johnnies fought on against crushing odds, hungry, louse-infested and flea-bitten, clothed in rags and exposed to the elements, often sick and usually emaciated . . . the more I study those men, the more I admire them.
The Confederate battle flag is a symbol of bravery, not slavery. I’m a Yankee, born and bred, and my personal sympathies lie with the Northern cause (although, in writing, I strive to be even-handed). To me, though, that red flag with the blue St. Andrews cross strewn with white stars does not symbolize slavery—that’s nonsense—but the stunning bravery of those who fought beneath it. I object to flying the flag of the Confederate States of America, but not to displaying that battle flag. Let me be clear: I don’t believe the battle flag should be prostituted to politics or misused for bigotry. But its legacy is one of heroism, not hatred, and deserving of respect.
His most significant point, however, is one that too many modern historians ignore or suppress: “There’s always another side to the story.”