This review by Florence King appears in the October issue of The American Spectator. To subscribe, click here.p> strong> Dixie Betrayed: How the South Really Lost the Civil War br> by David J. Eicher br> (Little, Brown, 338 pages, $27.95) /strong> /p>
IF I KNOW ANYTHING ABOUT ARGUING with publishers it’s a safe bet that the title of this book was not the author’s idea. Dixie Betrayed: How the South Really Lost the Civil War is guaranteed to turn on the grassy-knoll set, making it a “selling title,” something that fills publishers with glee and authors with despair.
The grassy-knollers will be disappointed at finding no murky conspiracy theories herein, but readers with an appreciation of the human comedy and a taste for irony and paradox will relish this energetically argued and engagingly written examination of the politics of self-destruction that should have been entitled Dixie in Denial: How the Confederacy Became Its Own Worst Enemy.
“The Confederacy was born sick,” writes David Eicher, and placed in the waiting arms of history’s finest Catch-22: Having seceded from a strong, centralized government, the South had to construct a strong, centralized government of its own if it wanted to be powerful enough to guarantee the sacred principle of States Rights. To free itself from one Union, it had to submit to another.
Leaders with a philosophical bent might have worked through this conundrum, but there weren’t any. The Southern statesmen who dominated the Secession apparatus were the type Wilbur J. Cash called “beaux sabreurs,” swaggering aristocrats or aristocratic wannabes who considered violent explosions of temper to be a gentleman’s calling much like horsemanship or fencing, and who, moreover, lacked all conception of irony and paradox and believed introspection was for sissies. The only shade of gray they knew was the Confederate uniform.$tChief among them was Texas Sen. Louis T. Wigfall, a South Carolina planter by birth, who “explained” the South to a British journalist thusly: “We’re a peculiar people, sir. You don’t understand us, and you can’t understand us…. We have no cities — we don’t want them. We have no literature — we don’t need any.” With a sense of honor perpetually on hair trigger and antennae tuned to pick up the merest hint of a slight, Wigfall racked up, in the course of five months, two duels, several near-challenges, a fistfight, and a shooting affray, all abetted by his two-fisted drinking — he was three sheets to the wind most of the time.
In 1859 he had seriously considered kidnapping President James Buchanan so that Vice President John Breckinridge, a Southerner, could succeed him. After seven states seceded following Lincoln’s election, Wigfall rose on the Senate floor and declaimed, “We have dissolved the Union; mend it if you can; cement it with blood.” The speech got him expelled from the Senate. In a bellicose frenzy, he rushed to Charleston to see if the bombardment had started. It hadn’t, so Wigfall got drunk, rowed out to Fort Sumter alone, and demanded that the Yankees surrender to him personally. This act of derring-do made him the hero of the Southern press and won him the accolade of “fire-eating.”
It kicked off a more-fire-eating-than-thou contest among rabid Secessionists who gathered in Montgomery, Alabama, to draft the Confederate Constitution. They included William Lowndes Yancey of Alabama, who killed his wife’s uncle in a fight. Robert Barnwell Rhett of South Carolina, dubbed the “father of Secession,” who cultivated a “stark, savage stare” and lashed out at the North for trying to destroy the “Southern Way of Life.” Robert Augustus Toombs of Georgia, whose obscene vocabulary marked him as a textbook case of scatological mania, who lost a bid to be President of the Confederacy because-in this gang, mind you — he drank too much.
And finally, there was Lawrence Keitt of South Carolina, whose brother was murdered by slaves. Keitt had accompanied Rep. Preston Brooks as a kind of dueller’s second when Brooks caned and nearly killed the abolitionist Sen. Charles Sumner of Massachusetts. Keitt had made a career as a despiser of government — any government — and, writes Eicher, “he couldn’t stop; it was simply a way of life; his seething anti-government feelings couldn’t screech to a halt, even in Montgomery. They would have to be redirected — if not at Lincoln, then perhaps toward Davis.”
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
The debacle of this president’s administration is both a cause and a symptom of the decline of American values. Unless Congress impeaches him, that decline will go on unchecked. An eminent jurist surveys the damage and assesses the chances for the recovery of our culture.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
The American Christmas, like the songs that celebrate it, makes room for everybody under the rainbow. Is that why so many people seem to be hostile to it?
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?