Letter: A Misreading of History

Letter: A Misreading of History

To the Editor:

That a few local schools are named for Confederate generals bothers Kiran Hampton [“Alarmed by School Names,” Connection, April 11-17, 2013]. The US Army and Navy have named forts and ships after Confederate heroes. The Veterans Administration provides headstones for Confederate graves. That wouldn’t have happened if they were traitors. No Confederates were convicted of treason. Hampton’s shame that Virginia fought with the Confederacy suggests a misreading of US history.

The 13 colonies seceded from the United Kingdom in 1776. Were our Founding Fathers traitors? The Confederate States of America (CSA) cited adherence to principles of that Revolution for opposing Lincoln. Treason is an attempt to overthrow one’s national government. The CSA never tried to overthrow the US government. It merely asked to be left in peace. The North answered by invading the South, hence use of the term “War of Northern Aggression” that Hampton calls ridiculous. The only thing ridiculous was the total war waged against Southerners. The ancestors of many of these same Yankee invaders were the traitors of 1814 at the Hartford Convention who promoted the secession of New England and a separate peace in the War of 1812 with America’s enemy, England.

In 1861, people saw themselves as citizens of their state first and Americans second. Union army units comprised almost exclusively and fought as state militia units; the US Army was small.

In November 1860, Abraham Lincoln was elected president, with under 40 percent of the popular vote in a four-man race. Virginia voted for moderate John Bell. Lincoln did all he could to provoke the Confederacy into war. He rejected reconciliation by Confederate emissaries and the Washington Peace Conference chaired by ex-President Tyler of Virginia. It took six additional months for the commonwealth to move from being pro-Union to supporting secession. Virginia pursued a very deliberate approach. Between November 1860 and May 23, 1861, the Old Dominion exhausted every avenue to prevent secession and war: citizen meetings, calling a peace conference of the states, creating a state convention to debate secession, and efforts to mediate between the Federal Government and the CSA. As with adoption of the US Constitution, the Confederate states held special conventions to approve secession. Texas, Tennessee and Virginia opted for a statewide referendum on secession. In that referendum, Fairfax County and Virginia voted reluctantly, but overwhelmingly for the ordinance of secession. On May 23, 76 percent of county voters endorsed secession, while statewide 80 percent favored secession. At 2 a.m. on May 24, Union soldiers crossed the Potomac. Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, and J.E.B. Stuart fought to deliver our commonwealth from an invasion that had nothing to do with freeing slaves, but rather maintaining the forced economic dependence of the South upon the North.

Michael Shumaker