Why the South Won (by John Kuehn)

John Kuehn briefly opines on how the South lost the “conventional military context from 1861-1865” but turned that defeat into a cultural victory.

Just as I was wondering what I might write about next, the recent “Confederate Generals Statues” controversy reared its long-neglected head in the wake of the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia. How about that for a polemic start?

This hand-grenade, as so many do, wrote itself. First, some historiography. There are a number of books, a civil war hands and others know, entitled similarly to the title of this month’s hand-grenade, let us review them.

_Why the North Won_ an anthology of essays explaining why the North won the Civil War. The essays were by T. Harry Williams, Norman Graebner, David M. Potter, and Richard N. Current, first published 1960 by Louisiana State University Press.

Next up: _Why the North Won: A Military History of the Civil War_ by Archer Jones and Herman Hattaway, 1983 University of Illinois Press.

And from a different perspective, another collection of essays. _Why the South Lost_by Archer Jones, Herman Hattaway, Richard Beringer, and William Still, Jr. 1986, University of Georgia Press.

Full disclosure, I first read these three anthologies while a student at the School for Advanced Military Studies, Fort Leavenworth Kansas in 1997-1998 (among other things). Of the three books, perhaps the most dated is the first, but all offer explanations as to why the Confederate States of America lost its bid for independence in the conventional military contest from 1861-1865. However, none of the three discusses much about how the South then converted military defeat into cultural victory. My use of the term “conventional military context from 1861-1865” is deliberate. Here is the problem, these anthologies summarize a larger narrative of “the South” losing the Civil War, when in fact a narrative emerged, but was under appreciated, that proposes the South did not lose so much as rearrange the deck chairs of chattel slavery and economic bondage into the system of American Apartheid that we find at the advent of World War II, a system known as “Jim Crow.” This system went far beyond the original disenfranchisement of African-Americans near the end of reconstruction (1877) and saw that of Asian Americans also relegated by various laws in places like California in the 1910s, and 1920s into a similar system of “separate but [not] equal.”

But for years the narrative that Americans received, and are now only really challenging in the popular culture on a broad basis, was that the “South lost.” A more honest narrative, “the rest of the story” if you will, reveals that the South did indeed “Rise again” using a series of actions and narratives, one of which is that she lost the war but won peace, that remained hidden for a number of years until the Civil Rights movement began to address it after World War II. In the area of reconstruction studies, we finally find some broad social-political and even military histories of this successful cultural insurgency…and it resonates in our own day as the manifestations, the icons, of that insurgency are finally being challenged for what they really represent. But ask a typical American about their knowledge of “reconstruction studies” and you might get some quotations from “Gone with the Wind.”

My solution? Erect statues next to those already out there, do not remove or destroy them. But have them sited in shadows of statues of Frederick Douglass, Abraham Lincoln, US Grant, and Martin Luther King.

Vr, John T. Kuehn
*T stands for Trost, the last name of my Union great-great-grandfather, Hermann Trost, who served, respectively, in Buell’s, Rosecrans, and then Sherman’s commands. He was from Kentucky.

John is the Chair of Historical Research at the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College and formerly a naval flight officer. Posted here with his permission with minor edits for readability.