July 26, 2012

The main thing I’ve learned, though, is what a terrific political athlete Abraham Lincoln was”€”not an easy thing to believe of a man so physically ungainly. His schmoozing of the key border states during the war’s first two years was masterly. It culminated in the Emancipation Proclamation, which Prof. Gallagher tells me was not a manifesto of the Higher Morality, but a military document issued under Lincoln’s authority as Commander in Chief. It did not, I now know, free slaves in the four slave states that had stayed in the Union. There would have been no military point.

Lincoln’s actual preference was for gradual emancipation, with compensation to slave-owners, followed by “colonization””€”sending the freed slaves to new colonies in Africa, the Caribbean, and Central America. Outside the ranks of extreme abolitionists, practically no white American seems to have believed that free blacks and free whites could live in harmony together.

I have learned also that there was an answer, sort of, to Harry Flashman’s question: If it was OK for the thirteen colonies to secede from the British Empire, why was it not OK for the eleven Confederate states to secede from the Union? Many Confederate propagandists argued that the South was continuing the true revolutionary tradition”€”that both secessions were perfectly justified.

(Prof. Gallagher has a sly little aside on the lesser secession of West Virginia from Virginia: “Some kinds of secession were just fine, even with Unionists….”)

I now know who’s who among Doughfaces, Fire-Eaters, and Copperheads. I think I can distinguish between Confederate generals A. S. Johnston and J. E. Johnston. I know the context of Lincoln telling Congress that “The Father of Waters again goes unvexed to the sea.” I have new respect for the movie Gone With the Wind (never read the book), which seems to have gotten most things right. Scarlett O’Hara’s first husband’s death from measles, for instance, was highly realistic. Soldiers in camp, especially soldiers from country districts early in the war, died in droves from childhood diseases.

Friends had warned me that the Civil War is something you get hooked on. They were right: I’m hooked. When I’ve finished this second listen-through of Prof. Gallagher’s lectures I shall tackle the literature. Shelby Foote and Bruce Catton are the authors most recommended to me. I”€™ll welcome Taki’s Mag commenters adding other books to my reading list.

Then”€”the battlefields! Unfortunately there will be some traveling there, as they are all several states away. Mrs. Derb could become a Civil War-buff widow unless I can get her interested, which is not probable.

Beyond even that, there are reenactment societies to join. I’m up for it so long as I don’t have to eat a Civil War soldier’s rations, which Prof. Gallagher says were terrible.

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