When we were teenagers, my “the South’s gonna do it again” younger brother bought into some weird conspiracy theory that Gen. Robert E. Lee didn’t really surrender at Appomattox Courthouse, Virginia. Lee supposedly thought he was merely handing his sword over to someone for cleaning. (The deniers who concocted the theory apparently also believed that Europeans never really landed in the New World but just filmed it out in the desert somewhere.)
I rush to get this into print because April 9 marks the 150th anniversary of Lee’s surrender, which for all intents and purposes ended the American Civil War.
One must be careful to specify “the American Civil War,” because civil wars remain a dime a dozen around the globe. Thank goodness we’ll never see another “brother against brother” conflict in this country. No, it would be “brother against sister trapped in a brother’s body” or “blue against gray trapped in a turquoise uniform” or...
*Ahem* Well, at least there’s no more chance of a full-blown War Between the States, with all its sacrifices and upheavals. Or is there? (“Please! We’ll wear rags on our feet and eat rat-on-a-stick! Just please ignore our neighbors and give our state that professional sports franchise!”)
The string of 150-year milestones over the past four years has given teachers an opportunity to excite students about history. Many young scholars have had a lot to learn. (“That marching song ‘Eatin’ Goober Peas’ - it goes all the way back to Hootie and the Blowfish, doesn’t it?”)
Yes, students have learned to pay rapt attention to descriptions of the horrors of war. (“Yeah, yeah - amputated legs, shrapnel in the eyes...we want to hear about the coping mechanisms of the poor soldiers who had their texting thumbs amputated!”)
People from all parts of the country have been interested in the Civil War sesquicentennial, but Southerners have probably been more passionate. A disturbing number of Yankees just can’t fathom lingering southern pride and animosity. (“Why can’t they just get over it? Hey, is that Benny Dinglewicz coming out in his front yard? That *&%$# scratched my snowplow back in ‘93. He’s dead to me, I tell you - DEAD!”)
After sesquicentennial festivities die down, we’ll hear less and less about regiments, blockades, ironclads, raids, massacres, charges, campaigns and the like. People suffering from vicarious combat fatigue will welcome the change, but others will suffer withdrawal. (“It was nice to hear about a few ‘campaigns’ that the Koch Brothers didn’t have any money in!”)
Civil War reenactors will find slimmer pickings, but the more dedicated ones will still pour their hearts into their hobby. Maybe drifting public attention will at least weed out some of the ones who didn’t really belong. I mean, if you think “secession” was how your new niece entered the world, you probably shouldn’t be a Civil War reenactor!!!
In a perfect world, interest in the Civil War would now segue smoothly into widespread acknowledgment of the sesquicentennial of various Reconstruction milestones; but I don’t see that happening. It’s a shame. Reconstruction lasted 12 years, cost millions and produced uneven results. (“TELL me about it,” lamented one aging actress.)
Go out and celebrate heroism and peace on April 9. But be careful about handing over your keys to a valet parking attendant. It could be a trick! (“The South did it again! D’oh!”)
Danny welcomes email responses at firstname.lastname@example.org and visits to his Facebook fan page “Tyree’s Tyrades”