8 thoughts on “Richmond Virginia History

  1. While visiting sweet Virginia be sure to monkeywrench the Civil War monuments, Duck. Rogues, gamblers, perps commanded the armies on both sides, tho’ granted Jeff. Davis and RE Lee were slightly “more sinister” than Grant Sherman et al. Maybe. After reading a bit ’bout Uncle Billy’s march….some might wonder who was fighting for the Good. At any rate, they should smash up Davis’s monument, IMHE–figuratively speaking– as much for his bungling as for his politics.

    • Not clear to me that Davis was all that popular then or now. I noticed that it’s RE Lee rather than Jefferson Davis who seems to maintain a shiny reputation, even among war buffs in the North who still admire his strategic brilliance as a general. However for me the more I learn about the Civil War the less convinced I am that it was a just or rational war for either side. I would argue that Lincoln failed – dramatically – to bring clever diplomacy to bear while the South hot-headedly chose to fight a losing cause, mostly in support of a profoundly immoral economic system based partly on slavery. Virginia initially voted strongly NOT to secede.

      Seems to me Lincoln could have taken advantage of this ambivalance and either allowed the deep south states to secede or simply waited for what would have been a meek military response without Virginia. Rather, Lincoln quickly mustered northern troops to attack, bringing Lee and other Virginians into the battle, many of whom were the masterminds behind the South’s early successes.

      Technology and tradition and law were in the process of making slavery obsolete, so I remain confused why so many academics seem to insist that the war was all about slavery when it’s very clear that Lincoln would have rejected a bargain where Slavery was abolished in exchange for secession. He didn’t even emancipate northern slaves! IMO the war is best described as caused by Lincoln’s obsession with keeping the union intact. I’m going to study this in more depth, but it seems to me we are in a period of odd and revisionist Civil War history where academics are sort of “cleaning up” after Lincoln’s incompetent handling of the war and national affairs, focusing on the importance of unification and ignoring the human and economic costs – among the greatest ever paid by any nation or group in all of history.

      One could make a case that the benefits of getting abolition a few years earlier than otherwise outweigh the huge human and economic costs of the Civil War, but this argument needs to show freedom brought significant benefits to former slaves and to already free African Americans and to broader US interests. It’s hard to ever know if that is the case and if those benefits were greater than the massive costs of reconstruction, of 625,000 dead, and all the other ravages of a huge war. By contrast about 25,000 died in the Revolutionary War.

      • You are correct that Virginia had many mugwumps, and they were not all pro-secession. It should be recalled, however, that Lincoln did not just want to end slavery (though he even waffled on that)–he wanted to seize the properties of slave owners (at least the large plantations). That was the rallying cry for the secessionist leaders, such as Breckinridge: they’re not just freeing the slaves; they’re coming for your land, livelihood, etc. So that probably motivated RE Lee and the rest.

        Im sure Virginians still revere “Granny” Lee–not sure of the rest of the South. And a Jefferson Davis monument remains in Richmond, doesn’t it? Even southern boys should detest that mountebank–that was my point. Reading the fine print of the CW (instead of the nostalgic memories), one soon notes it was mostly about materiel– and the South’s lack thereof (rifles, ammo, rations, etc). Davis made all sorts of of bogus claims he could not back up. They had some artillery, but were way outgunned (excepting the springfields they stole from union dead). Once the Union had their repeater-rifles (Henry’s IIRC–early Winchesters, more or less ) and big guns it was a turkey shoot–except maybe when the South fought rebel style.

      • Horatiox right you are that there’s a Jefferson Davis memorial on Monument Boulevard in Richmond, here’s my picture of it: http://www.flickr.com/photos/joeduck/5952669841/in/set-72157627104543199

        Also agree that Davis is probably one of those most responsible for convincing folks that the South could win a war against very long odds. Civil War historian Shelby Foote notes that the North never even brought their entire resource base to bear against the South, arguing that it was pretty much a lost cause from the beginning.

        I’ve just finished watching Ken Burns “The Civil War” and I think I’d argue a very unusual position in terms of what the North and South “should” have done given the massive cost in lives and prosperity and pride. It seems to me that:

        The South was reckless to secede. They should have realized they had little or no chance of winning a war, and even if they’d won they would have been a weak and poor new country even if the North had agreed to trade with them which was a questionable proposition. Slavery was a morally bankrupt institution.

        Lincoln was irresponsible to prosecute the war so early. After Fort Sumpter Lincoln should have pressured Virginia (or at least the West Point Graduates) to stay neutral rather than immediately calling for a massive army, an act that clearly pushed many Virginians toward secession. Without Virginia’s wealth, military, and brilliant commanders like Jackson, Lee, Forest, Stuart, and more the war would have been over very quickly with far fewer dead and far less destruction. Reconstruction would have worked rather than ushered in a long era of exploitation and corruption.

        Lincoln should have considered a “no war / no recognition” policy. He would have allowed the deep south to go about their secessionist ways, but would have enacted laws and policies to thwart their success such as no trade, no return of escaped slaves and active support of the underground railroad. This would have undermined their efforts without the massive destruction of their infrastructure via Sherman’s march, and probably led to an eventual return of those states to the union when the economic challenges of secession started to bring greater and greater hardships to the people.

        There seems to be a prevailing view in history circles that the war was justified because it preserved the union and ended slavery. Slavery was so diabolical you can make a case that no cost was too high to bear to end it, but I think it could have been ended at a much lower cost both then and in terms of future fights for civil rights. Innovation and industrialization combined with the growing moral outrage and demands of poor immigrants (who didn’t want to compete with slaves) would likely have eventually ended slavery soon even in the deep south.

        In terms of preserving the union, I think the case for Lincoln’s approach to the Civil War is extremely weak – in fact very irrational. You cannot make a reasonable case that the cost of the Civil War – 625,000 dead, millions disabled, South destroyed and demoralized – justified simply keeping the deep South states in the union. “A House Divided Against Itself” did not stand – one side crushed the other with consequences that lasted until today. A cost benefit analysis of the Civil War would show it was not worth fighting.

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