‘A dark and buried chapter’ of history revived at Confederates Rest

The great American tragedy is that half of what Grant gained at Appomattox was lost when he left office in 1877. Perhaps not even Lincoln could have reconciled Southern whites with their former slaves

In the midst of Gorbachev’s glasnost, Russians would say, “never before has our history been so unpredictable.”

Never mind fake news, fear fake history.

A recent visitor to the Stately Manor tracked in some doggy-doo about there being no Ku Klux Klan in the decade after the Civil War. That would give the lie to Ron Chernow’s account of U.S. Grant in his most recent book. If it is source material you want, we submit the Federal Grand Jury Report on the Ku Klux Klan, 42nd Congress, second session, House Report Number 22, 1871:

The jury has been appalled as much at the number of outrages as at their character, it appearing that 11 murders and over 600 whipping have been committed in York County [South Carolina] alone.

Imagine that being repeated throughout the South. “In Mississippi [in March 1871] … black churches and schools were burned without prosecutions,”  Chernow writes. When two freed slaves were tried for delivering “incendiary speeches,” the judge and two defendants were murdered. “The violence spilled over into gruesome riots in which 30 blacks were gunned down. … During the first three months of that sanguinary year, 63 blacks were murdered in Mississippi and nobody served a day for those crimes.”

51ea8dhkrl-_ac_us218_Similar riots and thousands more solitary, isolated outrages occurred throughout the South during Reconstruction — a period that has dropped into the national memory hole. When it was thought about at all, it was colored by Gone With the Wind and southern “Lost Cause” historians who disparaged Grant. When Rhett Butler and comrades return late one night to tell Scarlet O’Hara that her feckless husband has been killed, it is never stated that they have just returned from a Klan run hotly pursued by federal troops.

The Union won the Civil War but lost the peace

We used to believe that America avoided a prolonged guerrilla war after Appomattox, thanks to Grant’s generous peace terms. Now we realize that guerrilla warfare was conducted and that it lasted almost a century.

So, a belated thanks to Paul Soglin for, at least, reawakening Madison to a fascinating period of history that has slumbered too long. In addition to Chernow’s book, historians have responded with A Just and Lasting Peace (2013) by John David Smith and, just out from the Library of America, Reconstruction: Voices from America’s First Great Struggle for Racial Equality.

As we know, Reconstruction ended with the contested election of Rutherford Hayes in 1876 and Republicans’ tacit deal with Southern white Democrats. By that time, even the North was tiring of the effort. Chernow weeps for the coming 90 more years of apartheid when he writes:

Americans today know little about the terrorism that engulfed the South during Grant’s presidency. It has been suppressed by a strange national amnesia. The Klan’s ruthless reign is a dark, buried chapter in American history. The Civil War is far better known than its brutal aftermath. For Grant, Reconstruction amounted to a tremendous missed opportunity.

“There has never been a moment since Lee surrendered that I would not have gone more than halfway to meet the Southern people in a spirit of conciliation. They they have never responded to it. …”

Could even Lincoln have appeased the white South while simultaneously protecting its black population? It seem unlikely.

Chernow attempts to resurrect Grant’s reputation, declaring that his presidency “deserves an honored place in American history, second only to Lincoln, for what he did for the freed slaves.”

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Confederate Rest in 1898, one year after death of Alice Whiting Waterman. Before the low stone fence, before the monument that would be placed at center front, before the individual tombstones. The grave markers in this photo are wooden boards.

So UW historic and cultural resources manager Daniel Einstein was correct when told last week’s city hearing (01-30-18) on the fate of the Confederate Rest monuments that history is always being rewritten. Even if he was wrong about removing the monument.

So, too, is the WI State Journal. They propose moving it off to one side because it appears to be sitting atop four graves. (“Move monument to respect war dead.”) However, the gravestones you see today were placed after the monument and, likely, arbitrarily over what is probably a mass grave. In any event, could anyone more respect the war dead than their descendants or the soldiers who survived those battles (and were still living in 1906)?

Blaska’s Bottom Line: Yes, the name of the Confederate Daughters is prominent on the stone. They paid for it. The daughters, and that 111-year-old stone, are part of history, too. Leave the monument where the Daughters and the reverent Union veterans placed and consecrated it. (“Union soldiers helped dedicate …“)

The Daughters are hardly the KKK. The stone is respectful in tone. It expresses appreciation for the work of a Madison resident, Alice Whiting Waterman, who encouraged this northern city to honor the enemy dead. It rewrites no history.

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About David Blaska

Madison WI
This entry was posted in Madison city government and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to ‘A dark and buried chapter’ of history revived at Confederates Rest

  1. lrk2015 says:

    Well done Dave.

    Like

  2. AnonyBob says:

    Nice piece.

    Like

  3. madisonexpat says:

    The Democrat KKK terrorized blacks to prevent them voting Republican. Thus began the hegira to northern big cities. Ironically it deprived the agrarian South of its labor and the Klan condemned themselves to poverty for several generations to come.

    Like

  4. Patrick M O'Loughlin says:

    Wondering which is worse, being a non-slave owner who fought for the Confederacy, or being an actual slave owner like James Madison.I believe he owned more slaves than there are Confederate soldiers buried in Madison.

    Liked by 1 person

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