By Pamela S. Thibodeaux
I’ll admit I am not a history buff. Facts, figures, dates and events surrounding wars have never been my cup of tea. And, let’s face it, that’s pretty much all history is about. I firmly believe we should honor and respect the past but leave it where it belongs — in the past — and focus on a better world for the generations to come.
That’s my opinion, but my boss, Tommy Curtis, has a totally different take on the history of our country, specifically the Civil War era.
When asked when he first became interested in this period, Curtis said as far back as he can remember, he’s always had an ‘intuition’ about the ‘Silver War,’ as he deemed it until his mother gently corrected his pronunciation.
Coming from a long line of veterans who served in the Revolutionary War, War of 1812, and World Wars I and II, as well as the Civil War, Curtis says he didn’t know much more than that about his ancestors, but he knew he was an American and very proud to be one.
“Back then, our vision of America was heroic,” he says. “Our heroes were those that we knew and those we were kin to. Television programs were very different when I was a young boy. They shaped our characters as Americans by extolling the virtues of bravery, patriotism, courage, etc.”
And, when he started school in 1960, WWII veterans were still very young. “People weren’t trashing the country, the history or their heritage back when I was growing up,” Curtis says. “We were raised and encouraged to respect the past.”
When he found out we (the South) actually lost the Civil War, Curtis says it was a huge shock to him because part of the heroic vision he’d always adhered to was, ‘America was always the good guys and America always won.’
Years later Curtis saw the movie Patton and heard Patton (George C. Scott) say, “Americans have never lost and will never lose a war because the very thought of losing is hateful to Americans!”
Yet, Patton knew very well of defeat as his grandfather and great uncles were Confederate officers. While in combat as a young field officer in WWI, and during his entire military career (1909-1945), Patton often drew upon their soldierly examples of courage for inspiration.
With the excellent example of Patton’s honor of his Confederate forbearers and television programs and movies that often showed southerners in an honorable light, Curtis developed a natural identity and deeply-felt connection with his own people, their unique and even tragic history, and the honor of their heroes.
Like Patton, Curtis understood there is no inconsistency in fidelity, patriotism and love of America in being proud of his Confederate ancestors and in honoring their service to the CSA (Confederate States of America) as he honored the service of his grandfather and father to the USA in WWI and WWII.
What really fueled his passion for the Civil War was not who won or lost, but the cause. “Most people are familiar with one cause of the war.” Curtis says. “However I have found that there were many issues, but only one that could have actually brought about war, and that is Secession.”
It was the very issue of secession itself — states leaving the Union — that precipitated war. Had these states not seceded, war would never have come. Slavery, while a major issue and agitation, was constitutionally protected and untouchable where it existed. Lincoln was firmly committed to this position and offered to support the constitutional adoption of the Corwin Amendment which would have removed any authority by Congress to ever interfere with domestic institutions, thereby making slavery perpetual and forever untouchable in every state that sanctioned it.
“Why had I not heard of this?” Curtis wondered. “And why, then, did the southern states not accept this offer, but secede anyway? What were they truly fighting for?”
What the South was fighting for was the same thing our forefathers fought for – freedom from centralization, consolidation of government and for state sovereignty, not a central government to rule over everything and everyone.
“We didn’t, and don’t, want a monarch or a king. Never have. Which is exactly why the United States fought for independence from Great Britain.”
What Curtis learned, and what most folks don’t know, is that there was dissension between the North and South for 30 years before the North invaded the seceding states. Nor are they aware that the governors of Virginia and Missouri reprimanded President Lincoln when he called for volunteers to invade, saying his call to arms was “illegal, immoral and unconstitutional.”
“Any attempt to romanticize as simply morality on one side and evil on another, or to simplify such a complexity of causes, differing views of the role of government, and all of the other intricate reasons behind this war does no honor to the memory, hardships, sacrifices, victories and defeats of participants and players on either side in this bloodiest of American tragedies.”
During his years of study, Curtis saw an advertisement that the Sons of Confederate Veterans were holding a living history event at the Prien Lake Mall. He’d never heard of the organization but joined immediately upon attending the event.
“Many people who hear of our organization have no idea that the purpose behind it is to defend the Confederate soldiers’ good names, to be the guardianship of the Confederacy’s history, the emulation of its virtues, to hold dear those things which he cherished and to understand and defend the reasons why he went to war.”
Pat Buchanan, Harry Truman, Waylon Jennings, Trace Atkins and former Gov. Foster are just a few of the more prominent people who are, or were, members of this organization.
Curtis’s fascination with the Civil War has led him not only to collect artifacts and memorabilia from that era — he has two 1853 Enfield rifle muskets, spent bullets (Union have three rings, Confederate two rings), bridles, curry combs and belt buckles — but also to participate in reenactments of some of the battles around the state as well as large ones in Tennessee (Shiloh and Murfreesboro) and Pennsylvania (Gettysburg) that involve many thousands of re-enactors.
Curtis has participated in headstone dedications of Confederate veterans and reburials around the country, one of the largest in Charleston, SC for the burial of the Confederate crew of the Hunley — the first submarine to sink an enemy vessel. This event drew an estimated 80,000 people and was broadcast on statewide television in South Carolina. Curtis was also cast as a “background artist” and acted in three movies about the Civil War: Gettysburg (1994), Andersonville (1996) and Gods and Generals (2003).
As enamored as he is with the entire Civil War era, Curtis’s emotions tend to get riled when it comes to the Reconstruction period. “Reconstruction is a misnomer,” he says. “Reconstruction was a time of plunder, theft and scandal.”
Although there was much rebuilding going on, in truth this was meant to be an effort to reprogram, reeducate and reconstruct the mind of southerners by teaching New England’s view of the war and the sins of their region.
“History is what it is,” Curtis says. “I’m not a fan of war but I am in favor of being correct about what occurred and learning from it. This is not a hobby,” he maintains. “But a worldview that is informed by looking closely and clearly through the lens of history. One cannot do this seriously and not be deeply affected by it, as it informs the way you see everything — historically, politically, culturally and religiously.”
Although he has been and still is very proud to be a southerner, he wasn’t always a defender of the heritage. However, now that he knows the truth and the causes behind the Civil War, Curtis is staunchly a Son of Confederate Veterans.
Want to learn more of the truth surrounding the Civil War?
Listen to lectures offered by Thomas Fleming, Editor of Chronicles Magazine, or read the following books:
— The Confederate Constitution of 1961 – A Study in American Constitutionalism by Marshall L. DeRosa
— North versus South — The American Iliad by Ludwell Johnson, professor of history at William and Mary University in Maryland
— A Constitutional History of Secession and Blood Money: The Civil War and Federal Reserve by John Remington Graham
— Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era and What They Fought For by James M. McPherson
The Southern Tradition at Bay: A History of Postbellum Thought by Richard M. Weaver
— Jefferson Davis, American by William J. Cooper
— Lee by Clifford Dowdey
— The South During Reconstruction 1865-1877 by E. Merton Coulter
A good fiction read set around the Battle of Mansfield here in Louisiana is Beloved in Another Time, Another Place by Annabelle Blythe.