Friday, October 10, 2008

this is supposed to be NON-revisionist history?!?

    I told you I would be visiting the Confederate Museum, and I made good on that promise today.  I couldn't find anybody to go with me, so I went by my little old self.  

   My, ah, little old Northern self.  

    Going to a very Southern Museum.  I mean, look at the sign...
   Isn't it quaint?  
    Anyway, when I looked up the website, I found this mission statement:

     This museum is dedicated to an accurate portrayal of the history of one of the most tragic periods in America's past: 1861-1865. We show the events as they were, without embellishment or revisionism.

  Well, good. Sounds fair, right?

  So, I walk up the stairs to the museum, between many different confederate flags--most pretty offensive, considering the issue of slavery, but well it's a confederate museum, what did I expect?  The Union Jack flying high? Not likely.   
    So, I try to keep an open mind walking into this place. I mean, maybe to a lot of these guys the confederate flag stands for something much less offensive, something like state's rights.  

   As in a state's right to secede.  Wait, that is still kind of offensive...

   When I walk in, a very elderly man quickly walks over to me (I'm guessing they don't see a ton of younger adults in this place) and excitedly asks me to sign their guest book.  I quickly scan the other signatures and notice that mine is the only one from Delaware; heck, mine is the only one from the North.  

   The man is standing right behind me, anxious to fill me in on his version of non-revisionary history.  I ask him his name, he replies, Jim. Jim Oakman. That's O-A-K-M-A-N (I guess not to be confused with all the many other spellings of Oakman that are running around nowadays). 

   I notice that someone on the guest ledger is from Anderson, so I immediately think of the notoriously renowned Southern POW prison, Andersonville.  I ask Jim if Andersonville is nearby.  Turns out Andersonville is somewhere in Georgia (it's me, remember? the girl who just doesn't get geography so well, so why are you surprised?).  My question seems to put Jim on the defensive, though, and rather than talking about Andersonville at all, he immediately deflects by saying, Well, have you heard about the Yankee prison, Elmira? Or what about Point Lookout in Maryland?  You think Andersonville was bad, uh-uh, no ma'am, it was nothin' compared to those yankee prisons! Why, I had a cousin who flat-out died in Elmira, just cause no Yankee officer would give him a blanket. Froze to death, my poor cousin...

   Well, either this man is at least 175 years old, or his cousin did not freeze to death in a Yankee prison.  I called him on it, very politely, as I said in exaggerated astonishment, Your cousin?!?

   A distant relative, he amended.

   Yeah, that makes more sense. 
   Once Jim found out I was from Delaware, a true Northerner, he shepherded me over to a glass case with a long rifle in it.  He told me that he loved to show this to the Northerners, and waited excitedly as I read this caption:
  "Upon finding his men cowering for protection behind their artillery, he addressed his men thus: "They couldn't hit an elephant at this distance." That very moment he was struck in the head by a Confederate Sharpshooter's bullet and fell from his horse." 

  He got a good long cackle in once it dawned on me that I was reading about the death of a Union General.
  I just stared.

  I also saw a good amount of references to the Civil War as being simply, "Mr Lincoln's War:"
   As if everything would have been just fine if Lincoln hadn't decided to break up the sweet little tea party everyone had been having just a moment before and start a full-on war!   

  Jim had quite a few little gems to share about President Lincoln, as well, the foremost being that Lincoln "sure did break the constitution left and right. Why, he had folks arrested just for disagreein' with him!"

   Not so sure about that one, Jim.

   He also walked me over to a picture of John Wilkes Booth, as well as a replica of the pistol he used to assassinate the President of the United States. He looked at me and said, When people ask me who my favorite actor is...Well, I don't pay much mind to the tv, I just always tell them John Wilkes Booth!!!

   Again, he laughed and laughed while I just stared.

   Another few anecdotes from Jim:

   Now, once Reconstruction set in--and that wasn't somethin' done with hammers and nails, ya know (Oh really? I had no idea...), it was more to do with politics--the North started settin' ex-slaves and other scalawags and men of low repute to bein' govnors and statesmen. They started takin' our land, breakin' up plantations and givin' it to these characters, till finally, the white people decided it was time to take South Carolina back.  Now back then there was no way to figure if a person already voted or not, so we came up with a plan.  We spread the word for every able man to ride hard, from one county to the next, and vote as much as possible.  Well, we won that vote.  We took back our land.

  He said all of this very proudly.  And then went on to say,

   Now if America goes down this course that it looks like it could go, there might well have to be another revolution, hate to say it, but it's a fact.

   What course might you be referring to, Jim?  The possibility of an African-American president?  Assassins not being revered?  The Union, in general?!?!

    Jim Oakman was definitely a proud Son of the Confederacy.  Both of his great-grandfathers fought in the war, along with a ton of great uncles, and of course, the cousin-turned-distant-relative who died in Elmira for want of a blanket.  The Oakmans, it seems, have a quite a legacy, having been in or around Greenville since 1740. And the brothers and sisters in the Oakmans kept marryin' the sisters and brothers in the Harrids that lived across the way, in Cherokee County, Jim told me.

 Wow, that is impressive.  I have no idea when my ancestors got here, let alone what county their respective spouses came from!  

  Concerning the facts of the Civil War, or rather that silly Lincoln's War, Jim did tell me that I may have heard things differently, simply because, as he put it,

   The North did win the war, and whoever wins gets to write the history. 

   Yes, I have heard things differently.  It astounds me to meet someone who shares a country with me and views the world so very differently.  Jim seems to still be grieving the South's lost Cause, which only makes sense since his daddy heard it from his daddy, and his daddy actually fought the battles.  And lost the war.

  However, meeting Jim makes me grateful anew that the South did not win the war.  The idea as simple and startling as equality--or at the least giving it a fighting chance--is too precious a commodity to risk, simply because a way of life was built around the necessity of slaves.  The idea of sticking together, even when we disagree--especially when we disagree!--is too important to simply let a state say I'm leaving, or else! Cause, simply put, you don't walk away from family.  You just don't. 

  But this is not to say that there weren't some amazing Southerners that fought, defending their homes, and fearing a federal Gov't that had gotten too big for its britches, or could if given the chance.

  It was complicated and sad, prejudiced, noble, and hot-headed.

   Kind of like Jim.

   I begged Jim to take a picture with me, but he begged off saying that he didn't want to break my camera.  He insisted he take a photo of just me, with a nice backdrop of them rifles, there, so here it is:
   Amazing, right? Amazing and a little scary...Oh, and when I say amazing and a little scary I am referencing my trip to the Confederate Museum, in general, not the picture of me...


jason said...

Such a cool experience! I'm jealous.

And by the way, I actually think this:

Jim had quite a few little gems to share about President Lincoln, as well, the foremost being that Lincoln "sure did break the constitution left and right. Why, he had folks arrested just for disagreein' with him!"

Is true. Lincoln did suspend habaes corpus (which was unconstitutional) and arrested people who dissented about the war.... I remember it from Ken Burns' Civil War doc.

Ah... here's a reference:

kathiek said...

I am glad you decided to go, even if it was by yourself. I would have gone with you, Jess. I have always been interested in the Civil War...all my vacations (as a kid) were to Civil War battlefields.

Mom said...

Wow! This kind of confirms an idea I have had since Obama began running in the primary: his life is in danger. No matter what our political opinions are, we as Christians should care that there are people still very prejudice and willing to be crazy "revengers" and thinking absolutely they are doing the right thing. Scary.

Jessica Latshaw said...

Interesting, Jase; I stand corrected.

Turns out Jim was right about Lincoln breaking the constitution...

Sorry about that, Jim! I guess that proves that no matter what side you stand, politically, the OTHER side is almost never all wrong, it's just not usually that simple. Unless, of course, the other side is Hitler or something.

And mom, yes, I do worry for Obama, considering there are so many people who are very prejudiced in this world!

Lindsay said...

This post was so interesting, Jessica. I remember when I lived in Tennessee for a semester that I had severe culture shock...the worst culture shock that I've ever had, actually. There was something about being in my own country and hearing these views that were so incongruent with what I want America to really represent. For me, that was so much more difficult than being immersed in another country's values and customs.

jason said...

"I guess that proves that no matter what side you stand, politically, the OTHER side is almost never all wrong, it's just not usually that simple."

I think that's particularly true in the American Civil War.

jason said...

Jessica, too bad you didn't have your resource with you when you were talking to Jim, you could have known he was right about Lincoln.

Jonathan Latshaw said...

So funny but Jayson Jazz was just complaining about Lincoln and his abuse of the constitution! Weird.

Jayson Jazz is a self-proclaimed "deep south" man - all the way from lower Delaware!

Jessica Latshaw said...

yeah, I guess lower DE is kind of southern--there is certainly quite a divide in which side of DE you come from, that's for sure!

And how strange that Jason Jazz was just mentioned Lincoln's disregard for the constitution; Jim would have appreciated the sentiment.

christine said...

I had anticipated this post after our conversation and it did not disappoint as usual : )

History Buff said...

Just goes to show Jessica that there are two sides to every story - the politically correct one that they teach in school and the one that you wouldn't have known about had you not tried to look at it from another point of view. While exploring Southern history, and since you are from Delaware, stop by the Marvel Museum, South Bedford Street in Georgetown in Southern Delaware and check out the Confederate soldier's monument, built to commemorate the sacrifice of over 2,000 Delawareans who fought for the CSA. History has shown Delaware to be Northern or Union state, but people with a different point of view did some investigating and revealed it not to be the case.

Archie said...

Wow, hadn't checked your blog for a few days, wow, what a post and what a bizarre/scary experience! It's these little bastions of culture, always forgotten or irreverent, that give us a glimpse into another America. They remind us simultaneously of where we were and why most of us moved on. I completely agree with your conclusions as well. I'm glad history turned out the way it did and I'm glad America is a place where we can agree to disagree and still be fellow Americans...
Even if you're not Russian

jessica said...

History Buff, thanks for the tip! It is interesting to me that some delawareans consider themselves Southern; I am originally from PA and lived there most of my life, so I am a true northerner...

And Archie, nicely worded (and I'm not just saying that cause you agreed with me). Though I strongly disagree with most of Jim's sentiment, and frankly some of it scares me, I think it is very important to listen to those who disagree with us.

kathiek said...

Jess, I didn't know about the place in Delaware that History Buff mentioned, but there is also evidence of the Underground Railroad in Delaware (now, if I could only remember where...). And at a certain point in Delaware you are south of the Mason-Dixon line, if I am not mistaken.

Jessica Latshaw said...

I have heard about the Underground Railroad in DE--so amazing! I'd to see some of the sights!