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The South Was Right by Samuel Augusta Hawkins Steel

The South Was Right, pp. 7-9
S. A. Steele
(Samuel Augusta Hawkins Steel)

In 1861 eleven States of the American Union withdrew and formed themselves into the Confederate States of America. They did so under the due forms of law without revoluntionary violence, and with the most peaceable intention. The United States resolved to compel these seceded States to return into the Union by force of arms. The South resolved to defend her liberties. The war between them lasted for four years. Nearly four million men were under arms on both sides from first to last; about two thousand battles, engagements and skirmishes were fought; nearly half a million lives were lost; thousands more were maimed for life; billions of dollars' worth of property was destroyed; and no estimate can be made of the suffering inflicted on the women and children of the country, or words be found adequate to express the sorrow they endured, the loss they sustained in being deprived of educational opportunities and the means of social culture, and the universal demoralization that ensued. It was one of the most gigantic conflicts of history, and one of unparalleled bitterness. As both sides were in mortal earnest, there was no way to stop it until one of the contestants was exhausted.

After four year’s of heroic struggle, the South fell. To quote the language of General R. E. Lee, in his farewell address to his army at Appomattox, it was “compelled to yield to over-whelming numbers and resources.” After a time the seceded States were readmitted into the Union. The people of the South, ruined by four years of strife in their territory and the destruction of their whole system of life, with all but honor lost, indulged in no idle repinings, uttered no unmanly regrets, bore with marvelous patience the horrible injustice of the “Reconstruction,” made their appeal “to Time,” went earnestly to work, and left their vindication to the impartial judgment of History, Who was responsible for that awful war? As in the case of Carthage, so with the South, the victors have told the story to suit their own ends. The result is a very one-sided and misleading account. Much of what the North has written about the war is on a par with the testimony of a darky witness in court. “Mose,” said the lawyer, “do you understand that you have sworn to tell the truth?” “Yas, sir.” “Well, then, have you told the jury the truth about this matter.” “Yas, sir, boss, and a leetle the rise of the truth.” One writer says that the North won, not because it “out-fought the South, but because it out-thought the South,” that it was a victory of mind more than force. I can not agree with this. If we must keep the alliteration of the phrase, I would say that the North won, not because it could outfight the South, but because it did outwrite the South. But a vast deal of what they wrote was not true. It was pure fiction, like, for example, Whittier’s poem about Barbara Fritchie, and Mrs. Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin. It v/as false, but it accomplished its purpose of hostility to the South. There arc gratifying indications now that the motives of the South are beginning to be understood.

Still we frequently hear it said now that the Southerners “believed they were right.” But it is nearly always said in a connection which makes it mean: Of course they were wrong, but since they believed they were right, they are entitled to the respect due to sincerity. This condescending courtesy can never satisfy honorable men. As a modus vivendi it may be accepted, and afford a diplomatic ground of meeting, where the sentimental “fraternity” of a superficial and emotional patriotism may disport itself in iridescent oratory. I believe in fraternity, and have tried to contribute to its establishment between the North and South; but if it must be obtained at the cost of truth, the price is too high. I have respect for the honest Northern man who was willing to lay his life on the altar of the Union, and this sentiment is perfectly consistent with a deep conviction that the South was right in the essential thing for which it fought, the right of self-government. The North has told its side; let us tell ours. We are not afraid to take the question into the high court of History.

Samuel Augusta Steel, The South Was Right (Columbia, S. C.: The R. L. Bryan Company, 1914), 7-9.

The South Was Right, pp. 12-14
S. A. Steele
(Samuel Augusta Hawkins Steel)

Alexander H. Stephens called it "The War Between the States," and I am sorry to see that this name has been recommended as the proper name by the Legislative Committee on the revision of the Constitution of North Carolina. This name conveys a wrong idea of the war. It was not a war between the States, but between the United States and the Confederate States, each acting as a nation. It is glaringly inaccurate and misleading. 

By some it is called "The War Between the Sections." The objection to this name is that it is too vague, and gives no idea of what the war was about. It is not a name, only a label.

By some it has been called "The War of Secession." The objection to this name is that it implies that the South was responsible for the war, and this is not true. The North was the aggressor from first to last. For years before the war, it began and carried on an agitation hostile to the South, and when the South sought to protect itself by peaceable withdrawal, it invaded the South with fire and sword. That name is misleading.

The name most generally used, and which Congress has decided shall be the official name, is the "Civil War." I can not agree with Congress. A civil war is a war between two factions contending for the control of the same government, like the war between Caesar and Pompey in Roman history, or the war between the Houses of Lancaster and York in English history. It is evident that this was not the character of our war. If the Southern States had fought in the Union it would have been a "civil war;" but they withdrew from the Union, and organized a separate government. Whether they had the right to do this does not affect the case; the fact is they did it, and that fact makes the phrase "civil war" untrue when applied to our struggle. It was a war between two nations. For the four years that it lasted, the Confederate States was a real government, possessing all the attributes and exercising all the powers of government. It was acknowledged and supported and defended by its citizens ; it issued money, levied taxes, waged war, and was recognized as having belligerent rights. I can understand how this name is satisfactory to the North, for it concedes all they have claimed about the war. The plain logic of it makes it a war of "rebellion," the Southerners "rebels," Davis and Lee and Jackson "traitors," who escaped the usual fate of traitors only through the clemency of their conquerors. But I can not understand how such a name can meet the approval of intelligent Southerners. It can be justified only on the basis of Napoleon's sarcastic definition of history as "Fiction agreed upon." I never use it, and I teach my children not to use it. Its brevity may pass it with people who are in too big a hurry to tell the tinith ; but I have passed that point. I prefer to take a little more time and be right.

None of these names fit the facts in the case. Then what is the proper name for the war? It is this: THE WAR FOR THE UNION. That name states the truth about it. The North declared this to be the purpose of the war; it was begun, continued, and finished to preserve the Union; President Lincoln repeatedly asserted that this was the paramount issue, to which all others were subordinate; to "save the Union" he deliberately went outside of the Constitution in the exercise of arbitrary power; and if you had asked the men in blue what they were fighting for, nine out of ten of them would have said "to save the Union." 

Moreover, this name expresses the result of the war; for it not only brought back into the Union the States that had gone out, but it made a new and different Union from, the one we had before. It puts the responsibility, too, where it belongs, on the North—a responsibility which they are proud to accept, and which we ought to be perfectly willing to concede to them. The South acted from first to last on the defensive; the North was the aggressor. It is all now far back in the past, and the clouds of passion have floated away, so let us be brave enough to be fair and do each other the justice to admit the truth. We will never do that when we call the war "the civil war," for that indicts the whole South. Whatever Congress may say, I shall call the great struggle the War for the Union.

Samuel Augusta Steel, The South Was Right (Columbia, S. C.: The R. L. Bryan Company, 1914), 12-14.


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