Hi, I’m Eric. Thank you for dropping by. Let me tell you a bit about myself.
I’ve had a love and interest in all things Civil War from even before I can remember. Growing up in central Pennsylvania, my parents would regularly take me to Gettysburg, Antietam and Manassas. I’d tramp the battlefields and buy Confederate kepis, toy muskets, Rebel flags, and tin cups. My fascination for the war grew along with me until the movie Glory came about.
Never before had the battles been so horrifically depicted! The point of the movie – free black men literally fighting against slavery – was lost on me. Slavery, my middle school-aged mind knew, was bad, but figured it was just something that fizzled out as time went on. Thankfully, Glory‘s depictions of it were easily forgotten – unlike those awesome battle scenes.
I had been to reenactments before, but now with elevated interest in the war, they became more of my focus. Reenactments weren’t about politics or even the day-to-day lives of the soldiers (and certainly not about slaves), but battles. Everyone watched the 2pm battle, but basically nobody walked through the farby encampments where old bearded guys sat on hay bails and drank canteens full of Mountain Dew.
Many reenactors I met at the time felt the need to address the treatment of black people in movies such as Glory. “They were never treated like that,” said one bearded guy dressed in the typical wear-something-blue sort of Union garb. “They were never called the N word – nobody said that.”
This was exactly what I needed to hear. For some reason, I had fallen in love with the Southern side of the conflict. Maybe it was my youthful adoration to the Dukes of Hazzard every Friday night at 9pm, maybe I was just a good ol’ rebel at heart. And sure, I knew that slavery was wrong, but if it wasn’t so bad, then maybe it wasn’t as wrong as everyone said it was.
And then Gettysburg was released. I was in college and actually skipped a few classes to drive to a showing in the town itself. Once again my fears were put to rest. Confederates “ain’t fighting for no darkies one way or the other” – they were fightin’ for their rights (or “rats” as the scruffy fellow put it). Sure, young Tom was reprimanded by brother Lawrence for calling black people “darkies,” but that was about as progressive as the movie got.
With those ideas firmly in mind, the concept of black Confederate soldiers blew up all around the Civil War community. Actually, this first started bubbling up in the late 1970s, but really got going in response, I assume, to Glory. But whenever it came about, I latched onto this around 1995, at the age of twenty.
For the next decade and a half, I delved into this ideology. I wasn’t a Southerner, of course, but that didn’t stop me from identifying myself as a Neo-Confederate. The Kennedys’ books like The South Was Right and Myths of American Slavery were basically my Bibles. A slew of other books on Black Confederates began to weigh down my shelves. I even had a novel about black Confederates called (and I’m totally not kidding) Brothers in Grey. Granted, the battles, especially Gettysburg and Antietam, were still my primary focus, but I saw all of that through the lens of the South simply being right.
The war, I thought, wasn’t about slavery. The South seceded because they were a different culture, a different people who deserved their own country. If they had been left alone, slavery, which I then believed to be in drastic decline by the end of the 1850s, would have gone away and black people would have gotten along with white people like nothing bad had ever happened.
I believed this possible because I also believed that there were legions of black Confederates. I thought Lincoln a tyrant, and his Emancipation Proclamation meaningless. I held that while some slaves were treated poorly, that many more were not in such bad conditions as our history books tell us. And many, I thought, fought for the South – so how could the war have been about slavery?
Then, as the 150th anniversary of the Civil War came about, I decided it would be quite a learning experience to blog about the daily events across those four and a half years. This became the Civil War Daily Gazette. From the beginning, I wanted to be perceived as fair and balanced, even though I believed the South to be in the right. With that in mind, I gathered as many books about the start of the war and Lincoln’s election to give me a good foundation with which to begin.
Books like William Freehling’s The Road to Disunion and Elizabeth R. Varon’s Disunion! The Coming of the American Civil War were like nothing I had seen before. They were both written by actual historians – not just fellow Neo-Confederates preaching to other Neo-Confederates. Both books, and others I read at the time, leaned heavily on primary sources – all proper histories do (not just the ones about battles). This convinced me that I needed to do the same. Everything I wrote would have to come from contemporary sources or secondary sources which used them. My opinion that the South was right began to matter less and less. It was, I found, replaced simply with the desire to learn what happened.
Sure, I still even called myself a Neo-Confederate, but what I believed simply wasn’t the point of history. History didn’t care about what I wanted to have happened. It didn’t care about my heritage or culture, my Northern or Southern ancestors. My opinion on slavery didn’t matter even a little. All that mattered was what happened. And though it bummed me out a bit that I wouldn’t be able to work in how much a tyrant Lincoln was as often as I would have liked, I decided to stick to the facts as I found them.
Even from the start, I saw my bias getting in the way. I hardly covered the reasons for secession, especially those written and published by actual seceding Confederates in 1860-61. I knew what was there, and just didn’t want to deal with it. But as time went on and I sat down each day to research and write the events which happened 150 years prior, I came to see that what I believed not only didn’t matter, but that what I believed was simply fantasy. I had bought into a sham – a Confederate fan fiction as old as the war itself.
Less than a year into the writing, my opinions had changed. They had to. I had been presented with evidence and my hypothesis was found wanting and utterly untenable. While it was infinitely more comfortable to believe that black people were revered by Confederates and even fought side-by-side with them in racial harmony, it simply wasn’t true, and no amount of heritage could make it so.
When the previous project ended, along with the sesquicentennial, I wasn’t really sure what to do next. But as the Confederate battle flag heated up the news, and I heard scads of people who sounded exactly like I did five years before, I decided to start this blog so that I might explore such issues, digging into them as I did when writing the Civil War Daily Gazette. Teaching myself as I learn from others, and sharing what I’ve discovered.
The CWDG was a blog read by many across the political spectrum. I suspect this blog will not be so widely accepted. The CWDG’s two biggest spikes in visitation were due to mentions by Karl Rove and Newt Gingrich. I sincerely doubt that either will be directing people to This Cruel War.