“As the fella once said…”

“Ain’t that a kick in the head!”

 — Dean Martin/Frank Sinatra

OK, by now, those of you have read this blog know that I am what I call a “reformed Confederate apologist.” Over the last year, at various times, I have blogged my journey as I have come to grips with my perceptions of the Confederacy and the cast of generals and politicians that led the South throughout the conflict.

Now, thanks to Victoria Bynum, a professor at Texas State University, and her website and blog, Renegade South, I find out there’s more to my consternation as a Southerner than just my penchant for historical research and inquiry, but that I cannot legitimately continue to adhere to the memory of the Civil War I’d come to accept. I had already begun to question that memory and my perceptions, but I was still having some misgivings, at times appearing to be “tempted by the dark side” as fellow blogger Kevin Levin asked about me the other day when I posted a comment on his site.

Thanks to Professor Bynum, I have now found out my ancestors are part of what she labels, via a recent e-mail exchange, as “the best known Unionist uprising in the South” — the Free State of Jones and the Knight Company along the Leaf River in southern Mississippi. All the Collins boys in Newt Knight’s band are my maternal grandmother’s people. But, as my granduncle, O. L. Collins, said to me the other night, “You call them Unionists. They were just Americans.”

Family roots run deep for me and have influenced my research into and teaching of history. I can trace my paternal roots back seven generations in Texas. My family still lives on land granted to one James Rowe when he migrated to Texas and became a Mexican citizen prior to the Texas Revolution. He fought at San Jacinto when Texans under Sam Houston defeated Santa Anna’s forces. To say my heritage is important to me is something of an understatement. I teach Texas history and share this with my students.

My love of Civil War history may have solidified in adulthood, but probably has roots in my knowledge of my maternal grandfather’s family. My great-great grandfather was John Franklin Jones, a Confederate “recruiter.” This is perhaps where I first started questioning some things as I began my unique journey of discovery a year ago. Confederate “recruiting” during the Civil War, particularly after 1862, was less “recruitment” and more “coercion.” So, that probably would have made Grandpa Jones a conscription officer, but since his daughter, Alice, my great grandmother, was a member of the UDC, nobody asked many serious questions when she was alive. And, from what I know about her, I would probably be asked to leave her home were she still living and I asked about it!

Robert Moore, on his blog, often discusses Southern heritage. I have always agreed with his perspective that the SCV and UDC do not own Southern heritage. As I have begun to research the scholarship into the Civil War, I have become more convinced that many perspectives must be considered when the topic of Southern heritage is discussed. What about slaves, free blacks, Unionists, Mexicans and Germans in Texas, Native Americans? Is the perception that all Southern women supported the “Cause” (see Gods and Generals) really based in fact?

I have always been one to be like Tom Cruise in A Few Good Men. “I want the truth!” But, history, sometimes, has a way of being Jack Nicholson. “You want the truth? You can’t handle the truth!”

Am I in just a little bit of shock? Heck, yeah! Will I get over it? Sure. Am I proud of my ancestors? Dang straight! Will I continue to study my family history and academic history? Stopping now would be the dumbest move I could make. The way I see it, I’ve just added a whole new layer to my teaching and research that give them more breadth and depth.

And to think, a year ago I was a “Confederate apologist.” Now what do I refer to myself as?

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5 Responses to “As the fella once said…”

  1. cenantua says:

    Uh oh, a grandpappy who was a Confederate recruiter!? Have you seen my post in the Chronicles about conscript hunters? http://southernunionistschronicles.wordpress.com/2009/02/03/confederate-conscript-hunters/

    But seriously, I think you are right on the money, Greg. I also think that some folks just don’t get it; that we can look at the Civil War South and appreciate it for ALL that it was, not just a part (and that doesn’t mean we can’t still look at our Confederate ancestors and have an appreciation for all that they experienced and may have felt at various times… whether willing or unwilling participants). It doesn’t make us any less Southern. In the end, I think when it comes to truly “honoring” our ancestors, whether true dyed-in-the-gray Confederates, or Southern Unionists, it is in our efforts to more accurately understand who they were and not assuming so incredibly much just to show that we are “good Southerners” descended from “good Confederate bloodlines.”

    I need to start reading your blog more often.

    • That will be the real interesting part of teaching my Civil War course next year — presenting the various sides, both South and North. Sure, I want them to walk away with a basic knowledge of events, which is what they really need, but I hope I can send my students on their own jouney of self-discovery at an early age rather than letting misconceptions become ingrained into their thinking.

  2. cenantua says:

    Right, and that the war wasn’t just the North vs. the South, but included a lot more that has gone blotted out of cultureal memory, disregarded, and/or forgotten over the ages; such as was the case with the “internal disagreements” with the Confederacy felt by Southern Unionists, disillusioned, and disaffected Confederates.

  3. Hi Greg. Like Robert (Cenantua), I am also enjoying your blog very much. as a historian, I just love being able to “surprise” people with the news–good news as I see it!–about their heritage. It’s nice to know you.

    Vikki
    http://www.renegadesouth.com

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