More Counterfactual Civil War History


Last week I drove through rural Virginia between Richmond and Washington DC on two different back roads. Both roads were suffused, permeated with the Confederacy and the Civil War. Every few miles or less there was an historical marker or a battlefield or other public reminder. Lots of Confederate battle flag front license plates. Every town and city seems to have named its streets for Lee, Jackson, Hill, Longstreet, Pickett, Mosby, Davis and other prominent Confederates.

Driving north to MA I saw few or no corresponding street names or historical reminders of the Civil War in Pennsylvania and beyond, except in somber Gettysburg, which is only 5 miles from the Maryland border, and which is the only site I know of that had a significant Civil War engagement outside the Confederate states and Maryland (Antietam).

Had the Confederacy survived, we’d be like North and South Korea, or India and Pakistan, or West and East Germany. We’d have stopped labeling the secessionists as traitors; rather, they’d be the ones who identified with and stayed with the new country, which remained a country and not just a battlefield for a lost cause. Not to say the Confederate cause was noble, only to say that it had millions of adherents – and it still does.

If we wipe out public evidence of the Confederacy there’ll be not much left along those Virginia roads. Just like the Pennsylvania and New York and Massachusetts roads, no evidence of the great divide.

I just now read Mitch Landrieu’s speech. Truly fine, excellent, uplifting.

Words of a great man, a great soul.



What an interesting report. Blue and gray soldiers fought many battles in Virginia and especially between Washington and Richmond. Richmond is famous for its statues to Confederate leaders. You are also correct about the many streets, parks, schools, and other civic institutions throughout the former Confederate states that bear the names of Confederate heroes. What do you think it is like for today’s southern black children to attend one of the schools named for Nathan Bedford Forrest, a notorious slave-owner, slave trader, and general?

As for monuments and historical reminders of the Civil War, you missed the many honors to Union soldiers and leaders in Washington, DC. Sheridan and Thomas Circles. Farragut Square. Many others. Amazingly, Virginia honors Robert E Lee and Mississippi honors Jefferson Davis in the U. S. Capital with statues. Florida honors General Kirby Smith there. He was a high-ranking officer who ended the war commanding the western theater, although through some unusual breath of sanity, a legislative committee is considering replacing him. Ft. Bragg honors Confederate General Bragg! Don’t forget Grant’s Tomb in New York City. Visiting Saratoga Springs, New York, I saw that town’s monument to a regiment formed there during the Civil War. In Boston, there is a famous monument to the Massachusetts 54th regiment, formed from black men and featured in the movie Glory. (A good movie too.)

Here are some interesting facts about these monuments that you can find with a few moments Googling. Kentucky was a slave state that stayed in the Union. While the western part of the state was suitable for plantation agriculture with slaves, the mountainous eastern part was not. More than three times as many Kentucky men fought in Union Armies than fought in Confederate ones, but there are 30 times as many monuments to Confederate soldiers in Kentucky than to Union soldiers. Something like 90 to 3!

Missouri was another slave state that remained in the Union (as did Maryland and Delaware). There were battles there as Southerners invaded and tried to pry Missouri from the Union. In addition to invading Maryland and Pennsylvania, as you note, Confederate Armies also invaded Kentucky.

Antietam, said to be the bloodiest single day in American military history, was the most important battle fought in Maryland. In a famous ride, Confederate General Jubal Early led his cavalrymen around Washington, DC, and marching into the city’s outskirts. They fought a skirmish there at Ft. Stevens, parts of which still existed when I was growing up nearby. Abraham Lincoln went to see, and, according to the story, the young Oliver Wendell Holmes, then a young Union officer shouted at him, “Get down, you fool!” before noticing just who it was who was standing beside him.

San Diego, a growing town in the 1870s, has streets named for Union Generals Meade and Rosecrans.

As you say, those monuments to Southern heroes shows that their cause still has millions of adherents. Put that way, it puts the lie to those adherents who assert that they only wish to honor the memory of their brave ancestors but not the cause for which they undertook to attack the United States. That cause was the preservation and spread of black slavery, as white Southerners were proud to state in 1861. Here’s the key relevant clause of the Confederate Constitution, from Section 9, clause 4 about powers of the Confederate legislature:

No bill of attainder, ex post facto law, or law denying or impairing the right of property in negro slaves shall be passed.

Mostly the Confederate Constitution is the same as the United States Constitution, with minor changes, such as using the word slave instead of euphemisms such as persons held in bondage. But they added the clause I’ve marked in yellow.

You propose an interesting question of counterfactual history: what would the political situation be today if the white Southerners had succeeded? You point to three divided nations. You say that those who remained in the North would have stopped thinking of white Southerners as traitors, but I think not. Assuming a peace treaty ended the war, they would have recognized them as citizens of a separate country, whose ancestors were traitors to the United States. Indeed, when I moved from San Diego to Tampa, I’d have been emigrating!

Modern historians (as far as I know as an amateur) believe that the secession movement, led by wealthy and politically powerful plantation owners to preserve and increase their wealth, produced the opposite of their goal. Indeed, the secession movement and armed rebellion against the United States government produced a disaster for Southern white people and the opposite of their aims. Slaves were freed, and black men could vote. The economy was ruined by war and freeing slaves. Historians believe that if Southern whites had not attempted an armed rebellion in response to election results they didn’t like that slavery would have continued for many years. Republicans generally, and Abraham Lincoln, believed that the Constitution protected slavery where it existed and prohibited Congress from abolishing it by legislation. Their professed interest was to stop slavery’s spread to new territories. If the southern white people had not withdrawn their Senators and Representatives from Congress, the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments to the Constitution would never have passed.

During the War many people, Democrats for the most part, sought peace, but the only terms acceptable to the rebels was that their secession should be accepted and the only terms acceptable to the United States were than the southern states should remain in the Union, no agreement was possible.

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