Wednesday, May 31, 2017

So What Was That All About?

(Source)
I read, a lot. The Missus Herself often complains that if I buy any more books we'll have no place to put them. And no, piling them on the floor is not an option. Believe me, I tried. At any rate, occasionally I'll bring home a number of books (they run in packs dontcha know) and the new books will be "installed" in a pile on the floor. From time to time, that pile on the floor will migrate. Especially when The Missus Herself has grown tired of my less than stellar house keeping abilities. Books in the pile will migrate to wherever my better half has decided is more aesthetically pleasing.

Her "system," such as it is, will oft times leave me wondering if I had completed reading all of the books from that vanished pile. Many is the time when I have gone wandering through the book shelves in search of something to read and from time to time I will find a volume which I have not read yet. For it isn't unknown for the pile o' books to migrate prior to my finishing all of the books in the pile.

Battle Cry of Freedom - The Civil War Era by James McPherson is one such book. I pulled it off the shelf a week or so ago and realized, after leafing through it, that I had not read it yet. So I dug in.

First off, it's not an easy read, you really need to pay attention. While there isn't a quiz at the end of each section and chapter, each subsequent part of the book builds on what has gone before. In other words, this is a serious book. (But it's well written and the author tells the tale well, no boring academic this, droning on for page after page and never quite getting to the point.) This isn't a book you'll get through in a couple of days, nor is it a book which you keep turning the page to see what comes next. (Though there are chapters like that.)

This is a book which makes you think. So every now and then, you need to put it down and let what you just read digest a bit before moving on to the next part. If that makes any sense.

I'm currently up to the election of 1860 and, if you think the election of 2016 was contentious, you ain't seen nothing! A major portion of the book looks at what caused the war, no cannon have been fired yet, but you can see it coming.

It's all about power and who has it. Make no mistake, the South did not like the idea of being dominated by the rapidly growing population in the North. They foresaw their influence and power in the Federal government waning and they didn't like it. The North and the South were two vastly different cultures. The book makes that pretty clear.

Was the war about slavery? That's a big question. The book digs into that, a lot. While I have my own opinions on the subject, skewed no doubt by my upbringing, there are two sides to every story. While many in the North bemoaned the fate of the black slaves in the South, they, for the most part, didn't see the black man as an equal. Far from it. (Some did, however most emphatically did not.)

While the concept of freeing the slaves was seen as "a good thing," having those freed slaves move North and take the jobs of white men was not. A bit of hypocrisy amongst the Yankees? You betcha. (The way the Irish were treated up north was pretty bad as well.)

At any rate, the beginning of the book, the chapters I've read so far, point squarely to slavery as the key factor in sundering the Union. The perception by Southern politicians that new states entering the Union should be equally divided between slave and "free" states was a major cause of dissension.

Another group for whom ample blame for the war can be laid at their doorstep was the media of the day. Both North and South. The raging and calling for blood by some fat bastard of an editor, who knew full well that he'd never be called on the shoulder a musket, was appalling. At least to me.

While there was plenty of blame to go around for the bloody events of 1861 to 1865, politicians on both sides then, just like now, were too concerned with their local issues and refused to see the bigger picture.

I see far too many parallels between then and now to be comfortable with the current State of the Union. We shall see.

Enough said about that. Keep your eyes peeled and your powder dry. Who knows what sort of mess the idiot politicians will lead us into next...

Albert Bierstadt - The coming storm (Source)




20 comments:

  1. Agreed, but, I believe still, States rights, as a cover for the cause. The States had thru the whiskey rebellion, been taught the Fed government was supreme. It would absorb your malitias, and ignore the will of the people. Unless you were large in green and greedy for more. The locals never had a choice, they were told by their local politicians, all is good, as the political took another handful of cash from the panderers. Hmm? Does sound familiar

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    1. It all sounds so frighteningly familiar.

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  2. A most excellent post Sarge. And I needed to download a road trip book!

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    1. It's heavy going in spots, but worth the time.

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  3. My opinion, for what it's worth, is that Slavery was the catalyst and States Rights vs Federal Powers was the issue. JB makes the point that the Whiskey Rebellion taught the States "the Fed government was supreme." While true on the Whiskey tax question, there's that pesky 10th Amendment thingy. "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people." The question of Slavery and method of abolition was neither delegated to the United States, nor prohibited to the States so "should have been reserved to the States respectively, or to the people". Had Lincoln strictly followed the Constitution, he'd have proposed an amendment and placed it in front of the States/People to decide.
    And, fast forward about 167 years, and we're still arguing over the same issue, which is a point that I think Sarge intended when he said "...frighteningly familiar."

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    1. Bingo.

      The idea that a Constitutional amendment would be needed to remove a people from bondage vexes me. It should have vexed the Founders as well, but that's a post for another time.

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    2. It does me also. While stationed at the Puzzle Palace, we took a trip down to Monticello. That was a very enlightening trip, and I gained a deeper understanding of just what was involved with abolishing slavery. It wasn't as simple as just saying "You're free" because the next statement would have been "and what do I do now?" Little to no education, little to no skills other than agriculture, they'd have to work in agriculture in order to survive. However, the people that had land had no cash with which to pay them. So they'd have to work for room and board, which was what they were doing before. Not justifying slavery at all, just pointing out that the way out was not as easy and straight forward as some modern day revisionists insist.

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    3. Which is why sharecropping became the answer for many freed blacks. While the landowner didn't own them anymore, they were still beholden to them. (As they still owned the land.) On the upside, they could leave if they wanted to (if they didn't mind starving), their spouses and kids couldn't be sold away, and, in theory, they got to keep part of the crop. Usually a small part. The other answer was to move North and work in a factory, as if there were no prejudice up there.

      Things are never as easy as revisionists would like us to believe.

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    4. True--sharecropping was pretty good for the landowners, and only an industrious & frugal sharecropper could ever manage to save enough pennies to amount to anything. That's not only true for black folks (& I'm not accusing you of saying nor thinking so, Sarge); I'm about 90% white, & my father grew up a sharecropper's son in East Texas. Yes, my Daddy picked cotton, too. That was a powerful motivator to get the hell out & do better.
      My grandfather (and by necessity, Dad helped) was also a bootlegger, which may be how he got enough money to get out of sharecropping.
      One gentle correction: "The North and the South were two vastly different cultures." Make that "were" into "are". Less so now, true, but it's still there. I have a good many Yankee friends, but they don't think the way we do down here, at a very basic level.
      --Tennessee Budd

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    5. I stand corrected. I've spent some fair amount of time below the Mason-Dixon line and had a number of southern friends in the service, they are two different cultures. Of course, even in the South (and the North) the cultures vary. Virginia seems different from Texas, which is different from Arkansas, etc, etc. And Nebraska is very different from New England. Even parts of New England have different cultures.

      As to the sharecropping, yup, a lotta white folks did that as well. I knew a couple of guys who's grandparents and parents did that. (Probably why they went into the service as well!)

      Good stuff Budd.

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  4. You have definitely piqued my curiosity. Even though all my bookshelves are stacked double deep and a certain lady will complain, I will have to visit Abe Books for this one.

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  5. There is also the economic factor of the North trying to continue to force the South to be only an exporter of raw materials, while keeping manufacturing firmly under the northerners' powers.

    Similar to what jolly olde England wanted from the Colonies before the American Revolution. Just think how much easier the AmRev would have been if we had had the manufacturing capability of just 30 years later. Cannon, which we were always desperately short of during the Rev war, muskets (the Colonies (and the South) imported vast numbers of weapons), powder and shot and all the fiddly bits of a military, like shoes.

    Economics as warfare. Often overlooked, but often one of the chief causes. It is one of those things that sits in the back of one's mind and pushes other causes forward. Freedom of thought and religion sounds much sexier than freedom of economics.

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    1. It was very remunerative for the South to grow cotton. I'm not sure the North tried to "force" the South to only export raw materials, but I don't have enough data on that topic. Also when one considers the prototypical Southern gentleman, I can't picture him being all that keen to engage in manufacturing.

      Much of the world depended on cotton grown in the South prior to the war. One argument that the pro-secessionists advanced was that the need for Southern cotton would drive the New England textile mill owners to their knees and force England and France to recognize the Confederacy. There are reasons why the South bought into the concept of "King Cotton." With the money from the sale of cotton, the South could buy whatever they needed without the need to manufacture it.

      At least that's the way I understood things to be. I'd have to dig deeper into the tariffs of the time to fully understand how the North might have been able to force the South to stay out of manufacturing. But at the present time, I don't give much credence to that concept. If you can buy what you need from the sale of cotton, why make it yourself? Remember, most Southerners did not think war would come when they seceded. And if it did, why one Southern boy was worth ten Yankees. Or so they thought.

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  6. Sounds like an interesting read. I need to stock up as I'm headed to the beach in a few weeks.

    And I hear you about the book piles. Yes, I have (multiple) book cases which are stuffed full, and yes I have a stack by the bed, and some in boxes still from moving. Which is why I am getting more and more books on my e-readers. I can borrow from the library on my e-reader, I can take them on the plane if I travel and bring a bunch of books with me, so when I get an unplanned long lay-over, it's no big deal. I have found that digital books store very compactly, and in the evening when my eyes are tired, I can change the font size to larger so I can keep reading even without my glasses. And when I moved, it was easy to pack and move. No lugging lots of boxes. I just need to feed the e-readers electrons every so often. So pretty low maintenance. But it is tough to donate my old digital books I don't want any more.

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    1. Suz, I'm in agreement. My iPad has almost 3 hundred books in it, allowing me to find/read whatever interests me at the moment. On the other hand, I'm in agreement with Sarge, there's nothing that quite equals the sensory satisfaction of an actual book. Visual, olfactory, tactile, a book is more satisfying. So....I use the Kindle to find books that I like, and then use Amazon to buy the ones I want to re-read multiple times. But...that's just me. YMMV

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    2. Suz, I'll warn you advance, it's not light reading but (IMHO) it's well worth the effort. The book made me think, a lot.

      As to digital books, when I traveled on business they were a godsend. Finish one, order another. Convenient. But as Juvat said, there's something about bound paper. The heft, the smell, and the feel. Perhaps it's in my blood?

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    3. Juvat - I do have a Nook, though it's an older one without a lot of the modern stuff that Suz talks of. My biggest problem with the Nook was reading military history, the maps were just impossible on the Nook. Hard to see, hard to get back to when you wanted to reference something. Perhaps the newer models handle that better.

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    4. No, I agree, maps are nigh on to worthless on my Kindle as well as the Kindle App on my iPad. And the ability to stick a finger in one section of a book and refer back to it later is better than the electronic method that the readers purport to have, but which I have been unable to master.

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    5. I should have known you would understand.

      :)

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Just be polite... that's all I ask. (For Buck)