Obsessed With The Accidental War For The Freedom Of Black People


This blog will be focusing a good deal of attention on the Civil War for a while. As you can see below, we'll still have plenty to say about Sarah Palin, the NFL, Warcraft and black folks in general. But the Civil War is now an official obsession of mine.

To wit, I have several mini-thoughts I'd offer up from some of my latest readings. Some of these are questions, and some of them are observations. Civil War buffs, and non-Civil War buffs, are welcome to chime in.

--Was the Union really as poorly led as it seems? I've been doing a lot of reading about The Siege of Petersburg, and The Crater, in particular. Apparently, two of the generals in the fight, stayed behind the lines, drinking themselves silly, while Union soldiers were slaughtered.

--It's fascinating to think about my own expectations for black soldiers in the War. There's a temptation to search for a kind of blaxploitation figure who grabs a Gatling Gun and starts mowing down the Secesh. There are heroes everywhere. But there is also so much tragedy. It's really hard to read about Forrest. But you have to acknowledge that he was Scourge to black soldiers in Tennessee. And he got away with it. It's just true. I've been thinking about the Ving Rhames character in Rosewood. Black history as suffering is wrong. But so is black history as a revenge flick.

--One of my favorite quotes comes from Andre Cailloux, a hero of the Native Guard, one of the first black regiments put in the field. He dies heroically at Port Hudson. His soldiers, grieving over his death, hold a seance and summon his spirit. Calloux reaches back from the grave and tells his troops, "They thought they had killed me, but they made me live." They made me live. Such a great motto for the slave turned soldier.

--Speaking of quotes, I've come across some great ones. The great Confederate cavalryman, Jeb Stuart is pissed off that his father-in-law has sided with the Union. Just before facing him in battle, Stuart remarks upon his father-in-law, "He'll regret it but once," Stuart vows. "And that will be continuously."

--Here is a thorough meditation on Glory and Gods and Generals from National Review.

--I recently saw Glory again, by the way. I liked it. But it was really, really clean. I don't mean that the battle wasn't gory enough--some dude's head got blown off. But everyone seemed to be wearing makeup, and there was no real sense of how much disease affected people's lives. It's amazing to think people died of diarrhea in those days. I thought the film should have had a more macabre feel. Also the House Nigger vs. Field Nigger thing felt really 20th century.

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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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