In the 20th century, there was no doubt that that section of the country most patriotic, most “American” and most “Christian” in its moral values was the South. Also called “The Bible Belt,” the states of the South had more flags, more patriotic displays and more pride in America and its institutions than any other region in the nation. Percentage-wise, more Southerners served in the armed forces than did the sons and daughters of any other section. In short, when it came to support and promotion of the “good ole’ USA,” the South was, hands down, America’s greatest resource.

Of course, this was rather odd given the history of the nation, for the South had suffered under the yoke of the rest of the country almost from the beginning. Even before the so-called “Civil War” (and it was no such thing!) the States of the South provided the fiscal foundation for the rest of the Union even as that Union grew. Many do not know, but cotton – the fundamental “cash crop” of Dixie – was the “oil” of its day – the commodity on which all else depended. And when to the cotton crop was added tobacco, resin and turpentine, that section earned more income than the rest of the nation combined. It is pretty much accepted that by the 1860s the South provided around 75% of the federal revenues!

But this was not a good thing for the people of the South, for as more and more territories were accepted into the Union as states, the culture and way of life of the South had already been territorially restricted by the practice of chattel slavery! In other words, there weren’t going to be any more “Southern” states to even the playing field in the central federal government. When one such was accepted – Missouri – it required a “compromise” that involved the acceptance of another “free” state, Kansas. So whatever happened, the South found itself a permanent minority among its fellow states with none of the protection preventing the passage of laws taking advantage of that situation that were supposedly to be found in the “not-so-glorious” Constitution. And, of course, as individual states had equal influence whatever their size or contribution to the Union, the wealth of the states of the South provided nothing as far as political power was concerned while making them a huge economic target for the rest of the “republic.”

This situation was not unknown in the federal government even well before the crisis of 1861. Indeed in 1828, three decades before the Cotton States moved to escape political and financial servitude, speaking on the floor of the Senate, Missouri Senator Thomas H. Benton declared:

“Before the (American) revolution [the South] was the seat of wealth . . . Wealth has fled from the South, and settled in regions north of the Potomac: and this in the face of the fact, that the South … has exported produce, since the Revolution, to the value of eight hundred millions of dollars; and the North has exported comparatively nothing. Such an export would indicate unparalleled wealth, but what is the fact? … Under Federal legislation, the exports of the South have been the basis of the Federal revenue . . .Virginia, the two Carolinas, and Georgia, may be said to defray three-fourths of the annual expense of supporting the Federal Government; and of this great sum, annually furnished by them, nothing or next to nothing is returned to them, in the shape of Government expenditures. That expenditure flows northwardly, in one uniform, uninterrupted, and perennial stream. This is the reason why wealth disappears from the South and rises up in the North. Federal legislation does all this!”

There was also a little known meeting held in Washington in April of 1861 between newly elected President Abraham Lincoln and Colonel John B. Baldwin of Virginia regarding the secession of the Cotton States and the growing resistance of the other Southern States to the efforts by the federal government to force them back into the Union by arms. The two men talked at length about the issue. Lincoln tended to believe that Virginia would not “go out,” but Baldwin assured him that if Lincoln’s government continued to usurp the rights of the Sovereign States, he would lose the remaining States in the South. Baldwin spoke most earnestly regarding the matter and Lincoln, who seemed impressed with his solemnity asked “But what am I to do meantime with those men at Montgomery? Am I to let them go on?” “Yes, sir,” replied Baldwin, decisively, “until they can be peaceably brought back.” “And,” Lincoln went on, “open Charleston, &c., as ports of entry, with their ten per cent tariff? What, then, would become of MY tariff?” Baldwin then realized that “this last question he (Lincoln) announced with such emphasis, showed that in his view it decided the whole matter.” Lincoln then indicated that the interview was at an end, and dismissed Colonel Baldwin, without promising anything more definite. This interview makes plain that there never was a chance of peace save if the whole South accepted its economic and political slavery to the federal government and the rest of the Union. Here, in fact, was the true cause of the so-called “Civil War.”

That sanguinary war and its ugly aftermath was a great tragedy that maintained the bad feelings of Americans on both sides for decades after. Efforts were made after the war – again by Americans on both sides – to reconcile the nation, but it wasn’t until America’s next conflict, the Spanish American War (April 21st – July 17th, 1898) that then President, William McKinley, a Republican, determined to try to end the remaining ill-feelings within the country. On December 14th, 1898, the President  gave a speech in which he urged reconciliation based on the outstanding service of Southerners during the war with Spain. As a part of McKinley’s effort at conciliation, he had commissioned several former Confederate officers as generals including cavalry generals, Joseph Wheeler and Fitzhugh Lee. Having brought the Union’s former enemies into the Union’s army McKinley reasoned:

“…every soldier’s grave made during our unfortunate civil war [sic] is a tribute to American valor… And the time has now come… when in the spirit of fraternity, we should share in the care of the graves of the Confederate soldiers…The cordial feeling now happily existing between the North and South prompts this gracious act and if it needed further justification it is found in the gallant loyalty to the Union and the flag so conspicuously shown in the year just passed by the sons and grandsons of those heroic dead.”

The Congressional response to the President’s plea was magnanimous and resulted in the Appropriations Act, FY signed 1901 June 6th, 1900, regarding “Confederate cemeteries.” The act provided the amount of $2,500 that enabled the “Secretary of War to have reburied in some suitable spot in the national cemetery at Arlington, Virginia, and to place proper headstones at their graves, the bodies of about 128 Confederate soldiers now buried in the National Soldiers Home near Washington, D.C., and the bodies of about 136 Confederate soldiers now buried in the national cemetery at Arlington, Virginia.” It is interesting – and disturbing – to note that the current efforts to remove Confederate memorials and possibly even the bodies of the dead is a direct rejection of the legal acts of both the President and the Congress of the United States.  Neither does the passage of time change that situation. Laws and official acts don’t expire for reasons of age or of changing cultural and social views.

But this was not all. In further attempts to end sectional discord, The Congressional Act of March 9th, 1906 – We Honor Our Fallen Ancestors – ordered the return of Confederate Battle flags to their states of origin and the furnishing of headstones for the graves of those Confederates who had died in Union prison camps and were buried in Federal cemeteries (P.L. 38, 59th Congress, Chapter 631-34 Stat. 56). The act formally reaffirmed Confederate soldiers as military combatants with legal standing. It granted recognition to deceased Confederate soldiers commensurate with the status of deceased Union soldiers.

Two further notices were taken of the fallen Confederate dead: the first was U.S. Public Law 810, Approved by the 17th Congress on the 26th of February, 1929 (45 Stat 1307 – currently on the books as 38 U.S. Code, Sec. 2306). This law, passed by the U.S. Congress, authorized the “Secretary of War to erect headstones over the graves of soldiers who served in the Confederate Army and directed him to preserve in the records of the War Department the names and places of burial of all soldiers for whom such headstones shall have been erected.” This act broadened the scope of recognition further for all Confederate soldiers to receive burial benefits equivalent to Union soldiers. It authorized the use of U.S. government (public) funds to mark Confederate graves and record their locations.

And, finally, U.S. Public Law 85-425: Sec. 410 Approved on the 23rd of May 1958 that concerned the display of the Confederate Iron Cross: US Statutes at Large Volume 72, Part 1, Page 133-134 stated:

The Administrator shall pay to each person who served in the military or naval forces of the Confederate States of America during the Civil War a monthly pension in the same amounts and subject to the same conditions as would have been applicable to such person under the laws in effect on December 31, 1957, if his service in such forces had been service in the military or naval forces of the United States. Of course, by 1958, the chances of any such “person who served in the military or naval forces of the Confederate State of America during the Civil War” were non-existent, but that did not change either the meaning of the law or its intentions.

As earlier noted, in the 20th Century, the South stood as the most patriotic section of the country. More of their sons and daughters served in the military and defended the United States than did the sons and daughters of any other section. During the Civil War, a new medal was created, the Congressional Medal of Honor. Unfortunately, during that war, it was handed out without a great deal of care about the worthiness of its recipients. In the end, after almost a thousand of these medals had been recalled, the total number distributed in that war was 1,522! The total number distributed in all of America’s many wars – large and small – after the Civil War “rounds out” with a few variables at 1,935.

Now let us look at those soldiers awarded the medal from the eleven Confederate States. These figures are available for anyone to find if they so desire. The States are listed according to the number of medal winners, from the most to the least – but even the least numbers involved, are impressive: Texas, 81; Virginia, 52; North Carolina, 34; Alabama, 33; South Carolina, 32; Tennessee, 32; Mississippi, 26; Louisiana, 26; Georgia 25; Arkansas, 25 and Florida, 23. That is a total of 357 Medal of Honor winners from the eleven states of the original Confederacy out of a total number awarded after the Civil War of 1,935. In other words, the South won approximately 36% of the total number of medals awarded since that War! Making these results even more clear, dividing the entire total of medals – 1,395 – by five results is only 30 more medals than the total won by Southerners!  In other words, the men of the South won almost a fifth of the total number of Congressional Medals of Honor awarded since the Civil War. However there are many states in the Union that are far more populous than most Southern States, thus making the results even more impressive!

But it’s not just a matter of numbers. One can obtain an even better idea of the value of the Southern soldier by looking at two men who won their medals while exhibiting almost superhuman bravery! Indeed, so spectacular were their feats that they have become universally famous. The first recipient is Tennessee native, Sergeant Alvin York. York, born on December 13th, 1887 in Pell Mell, Tennessee, served in World War I. He was awarded the Medal of Honor while receiving similar honors from France and other Allied countries. York is forever enshrined in American popular culture by the film Sergeant York starring Gary Cooper. The second Southerner was the most decorated American soldier of World War II – no little war and therefore no little feat! – Audie Leon Murphy. Murphy was  born on June 20th, 1925, in Hunt County, Texas. He received every military combat award for valor available from the United States Army, as well as French and Belgian awards for heroism. He received the Medal of Honor when at the age of 19, he single-handedly held off a company of German soldiers for an hour at the Colmar Pocket in France in January 1945, before leading a successful counterattack while wounded and out of ammunition. Yet, both of these men would be considered by many today unworthy of being honored simply because they were born in the South!

In the face of all of this “history,” one wonders how any intelligent, rational person can accept what is going on today, that is the erasure of an entire people from the history of this country for reasons that have nothing to do with the cause they supported during their lives! The American Government has already committed to protect their memory and their monuments, their flags, their names and their bodies. These acts cannot logically or morally be undone to placate people who are acting either in ignorance or at the behest of an agenda that hates far more than the people of the South! For decent people – and especially those who bear the burden of “governing” this country and hence are in a position to prevent what should, indeed what must be prevented – to stand aside and let mindless vandals prevail will destroy far more than a few monuments! It will destroy what little is left of what was once a great nation. If that should happen, it won’t be the Confederate dead who will be disgraced but those of us alive today who hadn’t the heart or the fortitude to resist the twin tyrannies of ignorance and hate.


Valerie Protopapas

Valerie Protopapas is an independent historian and the former editor of The Southern Cavalry Review, the journal of The Stuart-Mosby Historical Society.

3 Comments

  • Tom Wiggins says:

    The victor writes the “his story”, and to the yanks it was a civil war.
    The honorable South let them have it all and left legally and peacefully.
    As a thanks for their kind gesture, they were invaded by a military of foreigners who had no business there, other than to pillage.
    Once Arlington was defiled and Richmond fell, General Lee was tired, sick and homeless. For him, it was all about Virginia. He choose to disobey President Davis’ orders to not surrender. So today, scores of displaced and disenfranchised descendants, are worse off than illegal immigrants. I’d wager that many Southern patriots who survived, envied their fallen comrades.
    Afterwards, while Lee was being revered as a hero and being immortalized, the real heroes were worse off than the slaves they never owned.

    • Baron says:

      I am of the opinion that God pulled out those like T.J. Jackson and J.E.B. Stuart so they wouldn’t have to live through the aftermath (that, and that they would contest the war longer; America had to fall)

  • Robert Caffery Sr says:

    I read somewhere that later in life Genl. Lee made the comment that, had he known what would follow, he would never have surrendered.

Leave a Reply