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History Teaches Us to Hope

History Teaches Us to Hope: Reflections on the Civil War and Southern History

Charles P. Roland
Edited and With an Introduction by John David Smith
Copyright Date: 2007
Pages: 416
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  • Book Info
    History Teaches Us to Hope
    Book Description:

    Before his death in 1870, Robert E. Lee penned a letter to Col. Charles Marshall in which he argued that we must cast our eyes backward in times of turmoil and change, concluding that "it is history that teaches us to hope." Charles Pierce Roland, one of the nation's most distinguished and respected historians, has done exactly that, devoting his career to examining the South's tumultuous path in the years preceding and following the Civil War. History Teaches Us to Hope: Reflections on the Civil War and Southern History is an unprecedented compilation of works by the man the volume editor John David Smith calls a "dogged researcher, gifted stylist, and keen interpreter of historical questions."Throughout his career, Roland has published groundbreaking books, including The Confederacy (1960), The Improbable Era: The South since World War II (1976), and An American Iliad: The Story of the Civil War (1991). In addition, he has garnered acclaim for two biographical studies of Civil War leaders: Albert Sidney Johnston (1964), a life of the top field general in the Confederate army, and Reflections on Lee (1995), a revisionist assessment of a great but frequently misunderstood general. The first section of History Teaches Us to Hope, "The Man, The Soldier, The Historian," offers personal reflections by Roland and features his famous "GI Charlie" speech, "A Citizen Soldier Recalls World War II." Civil War--related writings appear in the following two sections, which include Roland's theories on the true causes of the war and four previously unpublished articles on Civil War leadership. The final section brings together Roland's writings on the evolution of southern history and identity, outlining his views on the persistence of a distinct southern culture and his belief in its durability. History Teaches Us to Hope is essential reading for those who desire a complete understanding of the Civil War and southern history. It offers a fascinating portrait of an extraordinary historian.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-2917-4
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. ix-x)
    Brandon H. Beck

    On April 23, 2006, a tour bus neared the General Albert Sidney Johnston Monument on the Shiloh Battlefield. For those aboard, a long-anticipated moment was at hand. The driver parked the bus, opened the door, and lowered the steps. It was raining and chilly, but no one thought of remaining on board. Quietly we followed the guides to the base of the monument. Then, as they moved aside, Dr. Charles P. Roland stepped onto the monument’s pediment, to stand squarely above the name “Johnston” emblazoned on the stone footing. The biographer of Albert Sidney Johnston had come to speak about...

  4. Introduction: Charles P. Roland, Historian of the Civil War and the American South
    (pp. 1-54)
    John David Smith

    Charles Pierce Roland, Alumni Professor Emeritus of History at the University of Kentucky, ranks as one of America’s most distinguished and respected historians of the Civil War and the American South. A Tennessee native, he studied history at Vanderbilt University (B.A., 1938) and, after distinguished service as a combat officer in World War II (Roland received a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star for meritorious service), he continued his training as a historian at Louisiana State University (M.A., 1948, Ph.D., 1951). At LSU Roland worked with three renowned historians of the South and the Civil War era—Bell Irvin Wiley,...

  5. Part One: The Man, The Soldier, The Historian

    • In the Beginning
      (pp. 57-74)

      I was born April 8, 1918, in the little town of Maury City in western Tennessee. The event occurred, as I was later informed, in a small wooden house that stood on a street so undistinguished that the townspeople called it simply “the lane.” Today, the street bears the name Park Avenue, an upgrading of nomenclature for which I am in no sense responsible.

      My ancestry was respectable but neither wealthy nor famous. I am under the impression that my forebears were largely of Scotch-Irish stock. Some of my kinspeople have traced certain of them back to the late colonial...

    • A Citizen Soldier Recalls World War II
      (pp. 75-88)

      In the early fall of 1944, my military unit, the 99th Infantry Division—a draftee division—was ordered overseas to the European theater of operations. I, having been drafted a few days after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and rushed through basic training and Officer Candidate School, was now a captain, serving as the operations officer of the 3rd Battalion, 394th Infantry Regiment. I was also a member of the advance party of the division. Our mission was to precede the main body of the unit to Europe and make arrangements for its arrival.

      To our delight, the advance...

    • In Retrospect
      (pp. 89-90)

      In looking back over my life, I believe I could not have chosen a more satisfying profession than that of teaching and scholarship. These activities have precisely suited my taste and personality. I was extremely fortunate in being the offspring of parents and grandparents who imbued me with a strong thirst for knowledge and the means of acquiring a sound formal education. I was equally fortunate in being able to study under mentors who imparted to me the most precious gift a teacher can bestow: the capability to teach myself. Finally, I have been blessed with a patient and loving...

  6. Part Two: Secession and the Civil War

    • Why the War Came
      (pp. 93-106)

      I am under the impression that the authorities of the National Park Service have issued instructions that, henceforth, the subject of slavery as a cause of the Civil War will be emphasized in the lectures given by Park Service personnel interpreting the battles that occurred on the various sites of the national military parks. Aside from an old-fashioned scholar’s natural aversion for history by directive or memo, I can see no reasonable objection to a lecture on the causes of the war, including slavery, although they may have had little or no direct connection to any battle being described. I...

    • Louisiana and Secession
      (pp. 107-116)

      This exercise is not addressed to the substantive causes of secession: that is, the southern belief, whether right or wrong, that slavery was vital to the region’s economic and social well-being; and the conviction, right or wrong, that Republican ascendancy posed a mortal threat to slavery. Instead, this essay is concerned with the unique course, and the paradox, of secession by Louisiana.

      Louisiana in 1860–61 was perhaps the unlikeliest state of the Deep South to attempt a break from the Union. Ten years earlier the state legislature had refused as much as the gesture of sending delegates to the...

    • The Resort to Arms
      (pp. 117-132)

      The nation’s response to secession was at first extremely uncertain. President Buchanan, who would remain in office until Lincoln’s inauguration on March 4, 1861, was by nature a conciliatory man. He also had strong sympathies for the South, and the makeup and attitude of his cabinet reflected this persuasion. Southerners held a number of positions in the cabinet: Howell Cobb of Georgia as secretary of the treasury, Jacob Thompson of Mississippi as secretary of the interior, and John Floyd of Virginia as secretary of war. Outside the cabinet, such prominent southern political leaders as Senator John Slidell of Louisiana and...

    • A Slaveowner’s Defense of Slavery
      (pp. 133-146)

      Live Oaks Plantation on Bayou Lafourche

      Post Office: Napoleonville, Louisiana

      January 20, 1861

      To: Mr. Frederick T. Darcy

      Postal Box 10

      Freeport, Illinois

      Dear Frederick:

      I take pen in hand to respond to your kind letter of the fourth instant. I fully share your expressed views as to the deplorable and tragic condition in which our beloved nation now finds itself. I fully share your expressed views also that this condition has been brought about by the work of dangerous fanatics both in the North and in the South. Would that all the southern fire-eaters and northern abolitionists be hurled...

    • Louisiana Sugar Planters and the Civil War
      (pp. 147-160)

      As Egypt was said to be the gift of the Nile, the Louisiana sugar country may be said to be the gift of its waterways. Bounded on the south by the Gulf of Mexico, it was traversed by the Mississippi River, Red River, Atchafalaya River, Bayou Lafourche, and Bayou Teche. A land of legendary fertility enhanced by spreading live oaks and blossoming magnolias and featuring broad fields of lush sugarcane ripening in the semitropical sun, it was a unique and colorful region embedded within the underside of the southern Cotton Kingdom.

      The population of the sugar country also represented a...

  7. Part Three: Civil War Leadership

    • Albert Sidney Johnston and the Defense of the Confederate West
      (pp. 163-174)

      According to family tradition, Confederate president Jefferson Davis lay ill in bed one day in late August 1861 when he heard familiar footsteps in the hallway below and said, “That is Albert Sidney Johnston. Bring him up.” A few moments later Johnston was ushered into the president’s room.

      This was doubtless an emotional occasion for both men. They had been friends since their cadet days together at West Point, where Johnston, who graduated in 1826, was two years ahead of Davis. Johnston held the coveted position of adjutant of the Corps, and Davis had admired him deeply. Years later they...

    • The Generalship of Robert E. Lee
      (pp. 175-206)

      Machiavelli wrote that victory is the final test of skill in war. “If a general wins a battle,” he said, “it cancels all other errors and miscarriages.” Conversely, one may infer, if a general loses a battle, it cancels all other brilliance and daring. Experience in two world wars, followed by a growing insecurity in the modern age, heightens the American sense of nationalism today. Supreme excellence in all things (whether economic, intellectual, or military) must come of our peculiar political and social institutions, Americans are accustomed to believe. Rudely upset in the field of science by Sputnik, Gagarin, and...

    • Robert E. Lee and the Leadership of Character
      (pp. 207-220)

      Robert E. Lee is America’s great tragic hero, in the classical use of the expression. He was a supremely gifted soldier and a fervently devoted patriot, yet he fought for the most unacceptable of American causes, secession and slavery, and he suffered the most un-American of experiences, defeat.

      Still, he holds a high place in the nation’s ranks of honor. Generations after his death, President Dwight D. Eisenhower would say of him that he was an inspiring leader of selfless dedication to duty, a man “unsullied, as I read the pages of our history.” Winston Churchill would say, “He was...

    • Alan Nolan Considered: or Lee in Caricature
      (pp. 221-234)

      Alan T. Nolan began his bookLee Considered: General Robert E. Lee and Civil War History,published in 1991, with a clever feint. He wrote in his preface, “I believe that . . . Lee was a great man—able, intelligent, well-motivated and moral, and much beloved by his army.” Then he wrote 210 pages dedicated to proving that Lee was a villain in his character and that he squandered any chance of Confederate victory by dashing his troops against the Federal army in a reckless and hopeless bloodbath of outmoded offensive tactics. He even hinted that Lee did this...

    • Lee and Jackson: An Indomitable Team
      (pp. 235-250)

      In all the annals of military history, few if any other command combinations have been as spectacular as that of General Robert E. Lee and his legendary wing commander, Lieutenant General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson. I would hazard the opinion that the vast majority of southerners, and a not inconsiderable number of non-southerners, have traditionally believed that had the Lee-Jackson team not been destroyed by Jackson’s death, the Confederacy might well have been victorious in the conflict.

      Southerners have paid homage to the two famed generals in various ways, including the publishing of biographies and essays, composition of songs and...

  8. Part Four: The South in Fact and in Myth

    • The South, America’s Will-o’-the-Wisp Eden
      (pp. 253-268)

      In an address to the leaders of the Democratic Party in New Orleans, Louisiana, during the 1964 presidential campaign, President Lyndon Johnson summoned a vision of a future Southland flowing with milk and honey. “I want us to put behind the problems of the past and turn toward the promise of the future,” he said. “For Louisiana, and for the South, the meaning of our victory [in the forthcoming presidential election] will be a fresh burst of progress, not a new spate of problems.” Calling upon the South to forget both the Mason-Dixon line and the color line in her...

    • The South of the Agrarians
      (pp. 269-284)

      The South of the 1920s, like the South at any other point in its long history, was something of an enigma. It was in the United States and of the United States, yet it was distinct from the rest of the United States. As late as 1941 Wilbur J. Cash would say the South was not quite a nation within a nation, but that it was the next thing to it.

      Southerners did not have to be taught from books that the South’s history was different from that of the nation as a whole. Everybody knew, however imperfectly, that the...

    • Happy Chandler
      (pp. 285-302)

      The 1935 Kentucky governor’s election had just ended. In the flood of congratulations to Albert Benjamin Chandler over his stunning victory, a former companion wrote: “Your biography up to the present would be more thrilling and sensational than the best of Horatio Alger’s works.” It was an apt comment. For Chandler is the very incarnation of the Horatio Alger tradition in American life—the tradition of rising from rags to riches through pluck, proper conduct, hard work, and unflinching determination. Nor was Chandler himself unaware of the parallel between his life and the lives of the young men in the...

    • Change and Tradition in Southern Society
      (pp. 303-318)

      Southern society after World War II underwent the most severe stress of its entire history. Despite the trials of the Civil War and the upheavals of Reconstruction, neither of these experiences had threatened the core of the traditional southern society with the force of the recent political, economic, and social changes. Yet countless landmarks of sectional distinctiveness remained. The changes themselves took place in a manner peculiar to the South. Moreover, the primary institutions and modes of conduct survived, even where drastically modified. Every study of southern behavior and attitudes in the 1960s and 1970s indicated the persistence of the...

    • The Ever-Vanishing South
      (pp. 319-336)

      Most observers of the modern South emphasize the so-called transformation of the region during the last few decades. What they mean by this expression is the disappearance of regional distinctiveness: the growing resemblance of the region to the rest of the nation: the merging of the South into the American mainstream.

      The prospect of a southern transformation is usually looked upon as being highly desirable, especially by the liberal journalists and college professors who do the bulk of the writing on the subject. The South has traditionally been regarded as the black sheep of the American community—a willful, delinquent...

  9. Copyrights and Permissions
    (pp. 337-338)
  10. Index
    (pp. 339-353)