Today I read E.L. Doctorow's, The March, another one of those historical novels that purports to be mostly the truth, just with a few personal details thrown in. It was too hot around here to do much besides read. You Southerners go ahead and make fun of me, but it was up to 98 degrees today. Hot, huh? Of course, it's cooled down to 70 right now, and will further cool down to the upper 50s before the night is over. But I'm not here to talk about the weather.
This is not Doctorow's best book. Ragtime and Billy Bathgate were both better. The March purports to give a perspective of Sherman's infamous (to Southerners) March to the Sea where he laid waste to much of the South in a determined effort to rob the Southern population of the will and resources to continue to wage their insurrection. It worked. So did the half-million troops put into the field by the United States, and the incredible wealth of the northern states.
Like most Southern children, I was taught about the myth of the Civil War, and being a romantic little queen, I imagined all of my family to be rich, noble, White, etc. While in most cases, it is the victor who writes history, that was reversed in the South following the Civil War.
It wasn't until I started studying genealogy that I discovered that not all Southerners embraced the Confederacy and its stupidity. On one hand, I was only two or three generations removed from people who fought in it. My great-grandfather, A.S. Droddy, Jr., and his brother, John G. Droddy, both either joined or were drafted into the Confederate Army in the Rapides Parish area of Louisiana, near Alexandria. No one in my family ever talked about papa or grandpa or great-grandpa's Civil War stories. When I was researching them for genealogical reasons, I discovered that they were both charged with desertion not long after they went in. Great-granduncle John, was also accused of being a Copperhead, a word used to describe Southerners who had deserted from the Confederacy and spent a few years dodging both Southern and Union forces as well as the dreaded Home Guard. It appeared to be a matter of survival. You know there had to be some good stories there.
On my maternal grandmother's side, her grandfather named a son Ulysses in 1867. Hello? That seems pretty obvious to me where his sympathies lay. Those two anecdotes are from my mother's side of the family. No hotbed of rebellism there. On my father's side, only one branch of the family bothered with the Civil War. The Bridges family were caught in the middle of the war in Georgia. I think it was pretty hard to hide from the war there. Still no stories about it from that branch of the family. They weren't too proud of their foolishness. My father's mother's father's family were another story altogether. The Willises hailed from Winn Parish, Louisiana. Winn Parish was a hot bed of anti-secessionist feelings in Louisiana.
What a rich and diverse history of the Civil War exists in my immediate family, yet when we were taught about the Civil War in school, we were all White, we were all for the war, we all had slaves but we were all good to our slaves who were like family to us. Yeah, right. I can only imagine the response I would have gotten in the 8th grade if I had suggested to my American history teacher that not everyone in the South wanted the South to win.
This is not just another one of my disjointed free association ramblings. Let's make a list of books about the Civil War that young Southerners should read. We can also add to that list books that most Southerners have read, even to their own detriment. We could start with Gone with the Wind in that particular category. Talk about Southern romanticism unchecked!
- Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier
- The March by E.L. Doctorow (well, I did just read it)
Without listing them, I would also include both Sandburg and Vidals biographies of Abraham Lincoln, but neither are exactly on point.
Actually when I started with this idea, I thought I would have dozens of titles dancing around my fingers. I think I've forgotten most of the real onerous, propaganda-type books I read in my youth. There were a bunch of books I read around the centennial of the Civil War, but none of them stand out in my mind. Mostly what I remember from that time of reading was how incredibly bloody the war was.
What books do you think Southerners should read to help them harmonize history and myth?