Alabama Scene

You can’t erase an event the caused over 600,000 American deaths



This month we do not celebrate the 150th anniversary of the War Between the States; we commemorate it. I refuse to call it the Civil War. There was nothing civil about it to celebrate. It pitted neighbor against neighbor, one section of our nation against another, and sometimes brother against brother. It was a tragic nightmare, causing the death of an estimated 620,000 people and resulting in several hundred thousand being wounded.

Some say it was about slavery. That was, no doubt, the most significant issue, but there were many more issues on the table … sectionalism, nationalism and pride, states’ rights, the free soil issue, tariffs imposed on the Southern states, the election of Abe Lincoln, and the attack by the government on Fort Sumter, which brought Virginia, Tennessee, North Carolina, and Arkansas into the Confederate fold.

It was on Feb. 4, 1861, that representatives from Alabama, Georgia, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas, and South Carolina met at the Alabama Capitol to discuss the matter of secession and formation of the Confederate States of America. On Feb. 18, Jefferson Davis resigned from the United States Senate and was named provisional president of the new confederation, even though he had argued against secession in his home state of Mississippi. On that same day he took the oath of office on the steps of the Alabama State Capitol, which served until May of 1861 as the capitol of the newly created country.

Upon the secession of Virginia from the union, the capital of the Confederate states was moved to Richmond. Later that year, in November, Davis was elected to a six-year term as president. He had never served a full term in any elective office, and that would turn out to be the case on this occasion as well. He was inaugurated on Feb. 22, 1862.

On Oct. 13, 1861, my great-grandfather, William John Martin of Marion County, enlisted at Tuscumbia. He served as an officer in Edward O’Neal’s 26th Alabama Infantry for the duration of the war. O’Neal, of Florence, would later serve as governor of Alabama. The soldiers of the 26th fought at Gettysburg and points in between including Chancellorsville where they captured three batteries of federal troops. My great-grandfather was captured at the battle of Nashville/Franklin on Dec. 16, 1864, but escaped. Two of my grandmother’s uncles and the eldest son of my great-grandfather also served. None of my relatives owned slaves. I don’t know but would like to think their service was simply because their government called and they answered the call. A growing sentiment to ignore, even erase, the war

There seems to be a growing sentiment or fear not to commemorate this sad event in a nation which has mostly fought wars to defend human rights and, instead, to place it on the last pages of the history books. Last week the Montgomery Advertiser spoke in glaring headlines that the school problems Montgomery has today are “Haunted by History,” obviously inferring a history of segregation traced from the sins of 150 years ago to the commemoration of the War Between the States this month.

To butress the argument that we should collectively just wipe out the memory of all the actions of the past we find difficult to discuss, a writer in the same newspaper, who usually makes good sense, penned a column titled “It’s time to just let the Confederacy go.” If we’re going to erase our own history, why not add Nazi Germany, Communist China, or Hirohito’s Japan to the list?

It is impossible to change the past, but the future can be changed. The people of Alabama are changing the future of this state in many ways, including civil rights. But those who want to honor the history of their ancestors who served their country from 1861-65 are due the same respect as those in the Union states who wish to do likewise. Go on the web. You’ll find constant collaboration among the ancestors of both sides in searching for the history of that terrible war.

I’m proud my ancestors made it through those difficult times and lived a long life. I have a photo of the battle flag of the 26th Alabama alongside a photo of my great-grandfather because it is a part of our history, but I despise that flag being used as a symbol of defiance to the laws of our country. I’m proud our state capital city has a slogan that puts the issue pretty much in the context of how it should be viewed: “The Capital of the Confederacy and the Birthplace of Civil Rights.” We shouldn’t be trying to change history or the right of citizens to celebrate their beliefs, but we can change our attitudes about each other. That’s more important.

Bob Martin is editor and publisher of The Montgomery Independent. E-mail him at: