"When dawn spreads its paintbrush on the plain, spilling purple... ," Songs of the Pioneers song from TV show "Wagon Train." Dawn on the mythic Santa Fe Trail, New Mexico, looking toward Raton from Cimarron. -- Clarkphoto. A curmudgeon's old-fashioned newspaper column, cross-breeding metaphors and journalism and art, for readers in 150 countries.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

150 years ago...A Southerner's thoughts

Tom Lovell's painting  from Alfred Waud's sketch of Lee surrendering at Appomattox--look at the drama in Grant and others
When you grow up a Southerner, one event seems to overshadow all else. Travel through the South today and you can still see it, in the statues at the courthouses, in the scattered cemeteries, in the famed battlefield monuments, in the genealogical records, in the Confederate gray air and humidity.
There is a romance about it, of the "Lost Cause," of fighting against overwhelming odds, of the small tinges of fate that sealed the fate of brave Americans fighting and dying.
But there is much we were not taught...about  the cruelty of slavery, about the inequality of rich landowners using the blood of poor whites to sustain their economy, about the terrible cost of America's most deadly war, about the ensuing "reconstruction,"  the KKK, Jim Crow and discrimination for 100+ years.
I am disturbed. I'm saddened that racists have turned the Confederate battle flag into a racist symbol.  But I understand that it certainly has become that. I always nobly thought that my ancestors were the non-slaveholders, but research of federal census counts by my oldest son Vance has shown that my great grandfather Batte Peterson Clark Sr. probably owned at least nine slaves. That is very disturbing and upsetting. And I certainly know the War ended for the best for all people and America as a whole.
Appomattox Courthouse
But I'm still proud to be a Southerner--it's ingrained deeply. In many ways I am a Confederate--a rebel against an overwhelming establishment, and also proud of my heritage.  When you've been defeated, invaded and occupied, it's natural to hate or resent victors. It's easy to be a romantic when young, surrounded by history like "Lee's Lieutenants," or reading Bruce Catton's history of the war. Watch the movie "Gettysburg" and it brings tears for the brave men in both blue and gray. More tears followed in the great movie "Lincoln," both for a great president, and for the reality of Appomattox.
Confederate grave at Purcell, OK
Walk through a Civil War cemetery, at Gettysburg, Vicksburg, (which I have) anywhere, or find the graves of Southern solders at various graveyards here in Oklahoma and elsewhere. Consider the costs of a nation ripping itself apart--more than 600,000 lives in four years.
Read again, "A Stillness at Appomattox," by Catton, and if you don't tear up, I'm sorry. You're missing something so American. There is honor, but not much glory.
Appomattox, Palm Sunday, April 9, 1865, 150 years ago. Salute.

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