Saturday, August 17, 2013

The Name is All That They Wanted

Northern animosity against Charleston in general as the "hotbed of secession" and against Fort Sumter in particular was intense. "Doom hangs over wicked Charleston," wrote the New York Tribune, "If there is any city deserving of holocaustic infamy, it is Charleston."  Fort Sumter's garrison never surrendered to Northern forces, it was occupied only after evacuation in February 1865.

Bernhard Thuersam, Chairman

North Carolina War Between the States Sesquicentennial Commission

"Unsurpassed Valor, Courage and Devotion to Liberty"

"The Official Website of the North Carolina WBTS Sesquicentennial"

The Name is All That They Wanted

"We want it for the name of the thing," are the significant words of the correspondent of a Northern journal," as he            closes a long list of reasons for the reduction of Fort Sumter.  "We want it for the name of the thing."  That is the keynote of the great charivari, the monster cat-concert, which the North has kept up with increasing spirit from the days of the First Revolution down to the present time.

"Going to war for an idea" is an unfortunate expression of the Emperor of the French, an expression for which he has to encounter no little ridicule or unmeasured obloquy . . . "Going to war for a name" is a "Yankee notion" worthy of a people worthy of a people unrivaled for emptiness and impudence.  There has never been a period in their history when a catchword was not a great reality . . . To them a nickname is a nugget, a phrase of fortune, and the happy turn of a period of far more importance than a happy turn of events.

Every general has his sobriquet; every State has its flash name; every political creed has a condensed confession of faith compressed into a single sentence.  Once stigmatized with the names of Butternut and Rebels, the Southrons were disposed of in the Yankee mind, and it is only now and then in their rare "flashes of silence" that they reflect for a moment how hard these Butternuts are to crack, how difficult these Rebels to quell.

It was for the name of the thing that they unfurled the stars and stripes in every State of the "so-called" Confederacy; for the name of the thing that they took every little village on the Florida coast; for the name of the thing that they opened the Mississippi; for the name of the thing that erected a new State of West Virginia; confirmed Maryland in her loyalty by the mild agency of Hicks and Schenck, and held elections in Alexandria, Norfolk and the Eastern Shore.

No one was deceived by these names of things – nobody supposed that every rebellious State was subjugated, that Florida was completely under Yankee control, that the Mississippi was actually free to traffic, that the new State of West Virginia was anything but a territorial sham, that Maryland was heart and soul with the North, that those sections of Eastern Virginia, which are occupied by the Federal armies, had returned their allegiance.

But the Yankees cared nothing for the reality.  The name is all that they wanted, a paragraph for the situation article in the New York Herald, a period for their President's message, a point for the orations of Lincoln's stump-speakers.

But at one or two points we have been absolutely rude. They doubtless want Richmond merely for the name of the thing, but we have repelled their advances with the utmost coolness, or with the utmost warmth – And now they want Charleston, for the name of the thing, and we will not let them have it.  "How unkind," they say . . . "the city, half consumed by one conflagration, will soon be wholly consumed by our Greek fire.  Give it up. You do not want it.  We do.  [We] could make capital and capitals out of the capture. Think of it. Tremendous Triumph of the Union Unicorn! Crushing the Cradle of Secession! Charleston Chewed Up! The Rebels Radically Routed! . . . "

Alas, they speak to deaf ears.  It is not merely for the name of the thing that the "heroic garrison" of Fort Sumter – now no idle appellation – hold the trust committed to their charge. They care as little for paragraphs as they care for projectiles, and they stand firm, have stood firm thus far, because duty and honor require it."

But the Yankees, if foiled here, will get up some other excitement "for the name of the thing," and continue the invention of sensational lies to the end of time, or until their national life is exhausted, and over their worn-out carcass is written the worn-out quotation, "Nominis Umbra."

(Soldier and Scholar, Basil L. Gildersleeve and the Civil War, Ward W. Briggs, editor, University Press of Virginia,            1998, pp 146- 151)