A review of The Last Words: The Farewell Addresses of Union and Confederate Commanders to Their Men at the End of the War Between the States by Michael R. Bradley (Charleston Athenaeum Press, 2022)
The idea for this book came when Mrs. Susan Harris asked Dr. Michael Bradley, “Is there a book about what officers said to their men when the war was over?” He replied, “No, but there will be.” The result is an excellent work, which looks at the words, and therefore, the thoughts, of men as they prepared to end their military service and return to civilian life. These words take on more importance when you consider that this was the last time many of these men would be together. Having passed through a defining moment in American history, the words they chose to describe their participation in that war have importance to those seeking answers to the question: Why war?
Gene Kizer, Jr., of Charleston Athenaeum Press, in an extensive prologue entitled Setting the Stage, champions the states’ rights view of events leading up to the war. He marshals a regiment of facts showing the cultural, economic and political differences between the North and the South. There is no doubt left that the “Slavery as the single cause of the war” viewpoint is a contrivance of modern academia, which has abandoned truth and facts for propaganda which fits their political agenda.
The body of the book picks up on this, showing that in the 19 addresses by leaders on both sides, there is virtually no mention of slavery as a cause of the fighting. What were the men fighting for? Of course the South was fighting because they were invaded, but their overwhelming view of causes centered on their view of a strict interpretation of the Constitution and the limited nature of the federal government. The South was more interested in free trade as that was of benefit to their economy. They also had the misfortune of being invaded, and therefore they had to defend hearth and home.
The North, alternatively, had a positive view of a strong federal government, and virtually ignored the 10th Amendment to the Constitution. They had abandoned the principles of the Founding Fathers, who overwhelmingly ratified the Constitution as a document limiting the federal government’s powers, but not the powers of the state governments. To the North, the federal government was supreme, and the American ideal of government by the consent of the governed, was left in the dust. The North overwhelmingly favored protective tariffs, which benefited their industry and commerce at the expense of Southern agriculture. They saw ‘union’ as a monolithic edifice, which one could enter voluntarily but never leave.
The addresses in the book follow these same general ideas. The North fought for union, which in their mind included even the seceded states. They also fought for control of the federal government, which they could use as a tool to benefit their commercial, industrial and banking interests…..always follow the money! In their mind, they were being patriotic. The addresses by Southern leaders also highlighted patriotism, but it was a patriotism centered on defending home and state. They saw their rights being diminished as their power in Congress had waned. Their fight was to preserve that States’ Rights view of the federal compact.
Both sides, as would be expected, went to great lengths to praise the soldiers’ patriotism, fortitude, privations endured, diligence in duty, bravery and honor. The compliments in these addresses were to go with these men as they made their way back home, back to civilian life, to a changed country which would need their contributions to recover. The commanders were taking a final moment to thank them and to encourage them.
The epilogue brings us back to the current state of affairs, where monuments, and history itself, are being destroyed for no other reason than ignorance. The fact that monuments were erected, North and South, at the same time, and for the same reasons, is explored. The monuments were to honor the valor, patriotism and sacrifice of the men of both armies. Monuments, North and South, were erected when racial attitudes were different than today. Yet, those attitudes were the same both North and South. The fact that Jim Crow laws originated in the North would be a surprise to most in academia today.
This book packs a lot of useful information into an easy read. The short biographies of the commanders and the histories of the service of the units add to our understanding of these farewell words. This book will give the reader some new points to make when defending the South, its heritage and the cause of Constitutional government. Dr. Bradley has made an important contribution to the literature surrounding the causes of the War for Southern Independence.