"Unsurpassed Valor, Courage, and devotion to liberty" www.ncwbts150.com
"The Official Website of the North Carolina War Between the States Sesquicentennial Commission"
A Conversation with Sesquicentennial Commission Chairman, Bernhard Thuersam of Wilmington
Q: This is the last full year of the Sesquicentennial Observance, what new efforts and activities will we see in North Carolina in 2014?
A: Being a volunteer and private-donation based organization we are planning and doing what our many supporters and researchers suggest and participate in – and this should be a very active year. More pertinent and informative topics presented on the website, and some interesting living histories touring the State and featuring "Generals in Conversation.'
Q: By the war, your organization is the War Between the States Sesquicentennial Commission, not the North Carolina Civil War Sesquicentennial, is this correct?
A: Yes, the civil war-titled group is with the State government. They seem to do a good job with a chronological listing of battles and such during the war while www.ncwbts150.com is a view of that conflict from a North Carolinian perspective, and I think we take a deeper and more philosophical approach to the sectional war, why it occurred and why it was not avoided.
Q: Why avoid the common "Civil War" moniker? Is this not the most accurate name?
A: We are historians and see nothing admirable in continuing to use an incorrect and confusing term for the war, and prefer what North Carolinians called the conflict in the postwar. "Civil war" is a Northern term which followed the previous incorrect term referring to the war as one of rebellion. North Carolina was not involved in gaining control of the Washington government in 1861 and hence no "civil war"; nor did it "rebel" against anything. It voluntarily withdrew from the 1787 union as it had withdrawn from the Articles of Confederation; remember the State voluntarily joined the 1787 union and had no withdrawal been mentioned then, there would have been no union. One has to use language accurately.
Q: Do you see the war as a Lost Cause on the part of the South, and North Carolina?
A: Of course. Keep in mind the cause that was lost was of maintaining constitutional government against usurpation of power. In that sense it was lost, and recall Lord Acton's grieving more about what was lost at Appomattox than what was gained at Waterloo. We lost the 1787 republic of the Founders' and still live in a consolidated union that was never intended.
Also, there is a fixation on the part of some revisionist historians today on a so-called "Myth of the Lost Cause" and how Southerners in the postwar had the nerve to rationalize their defeat and commemorate their losses and dead heroes. These limited-vision scholars need to take a look at what the North did in the same period in their towns and cities as they erected a Myth of Saving the Union. It is an easy task to reveal this mythology and that the Founders' union was destroyed beyond recognition.
Q: Your topics run the gamut and highlight what seem to be overlooked questions. The very impressive bibliography directs your visitors to further investigation of the topics.
A: Indeed, and most of our topics have been suggested by our Commission members who I am proud to say are private citizens, and many of them fine historians in their own right. As a Commission we wanted to tell the story of North Carolinians in this tragic conflict, why they fought, what they did, and what they thought of what they were doing – and through the eyes of them then – not our assumptions or often mistaken views of today. We highly recommend books written on the war before the 1960s cultural revolution in this country, though there are many recent ones that we recommend.
I believe, and we have gotten many good comments about this, that the varied topics of the website make people think about the many issues swirling about when it comes to that war. There of course was no single issue which caused the war and those who read through our webpages will gain a wide-ranging view of not just how the war came about and how North Carolina responded, but also causes them to think very deeply about why the war came about in the first place – and why was it not avoided.
Q: Many books on the war say that Sherman did not devastate this State as he did others. Was he easier on North Carolina?
A: This is hard to understand as there is much literature regarding his harsh treatment after crossing into North Carolina. One of our most recent pages is Sherman and Total War – it is not only a compilation of his brutality and writings regarding his view of total war, but also scholarly reflection on what this man had unleashed upon the American people in the South, and how it opened the way for more cruelty in Cuba, and the two World Wars. As to Sherman in North Carolina, see: http://www.ncwbts150.com/WomenandChildrenFacetheInvader.php
This I think is one of the most productive ways to understand the human condition and recourse to war and its brutality, and better understand this WBTS and its effect upon America after 1865. Well-known author Tom DiLorenzo recently wrote on the question of Hitler being deeply influenced by Sherman's treatment of Americans in the South, and the Plains Indians after the war. I have also found a young Spanish attaché with Sherman during his march, Valeriano Weyler, who eventually rose to general by the mid-1890s and was sent to Cuba where he brutally suppressed the independence-minded revolutionaries. The obvious question is where did he learn his scorched-earth strategy and war against noncombatants?
Q: Interesting. You indicated a new page discussing a "Myth of Saving the Union." The common knowledge is that Lincoln did save the Union, so how is this a myth?
A: Right, that is the common knowledge but is it true? That is the question we explore, the mythology erected by the North during and after the war – and it of course continues to this day. Dr. Clyde Wilson has spoke often about the greatly untilled ground of Northern history, and that we need a serious and unbiased inquiry into that section's history – warts and all – leading up to the war and afterward. What was saved was a territorial union of States held together by force, and this new reality was not lost on Northerners who then realized the trap they were in as well. They now had to accept unconditionally any dictates from Washington which now had the large standing army the Founders' feared so greatly.
It is a mistake as well to assume that the conqueror, in this case, can devastate, desolate and depopulate the Southern section of the country, replace their elected governments with military despotisms and political opportunists from the North, and expect those subjugated to be now-loyal citizens of the republic of Washington and Jefferson. There was no saving the union – it is pure mythology. See: http://www.ncwbts150.com/TheMythoftheLostCause.php
Q: The website contains several references to New England actually being responsible for slavery in this country, as well as its perpetuation. Can you elaborate?
A: What is hard to believe is that this has been suppressed for so long. In fact, Providence, Rhode Island was the slave-trading capital of North America by 1750, with Liverpool firms complaining to the Crown about their inability to find qualified shipwrights locally due to Providence companies luring them overseas for higher pay.
What we also find is not only a strong involvement in the African slave trade and keeping slaves themselves in New England, but also the near extermination of the Pequot Tribe violently resisting Puritan encroachment into their territory and the enslavement of the Pequot survivors – who were then sent to the West Indies as chattel.
Southerners would then rightly wonder about the New Englander's past actions of supplying the South with slaves and demanding slave-produced cotton for their busy mills in Massachusetts; then theses New Englanders rediscover their moral compass in the 1830s and embrace radical abolitionism with the demand of immediate freedom of those they themselves had enslaved. Another irony and sad fact is that these New Englanders never advanced a practical and peaceful solution to the slavery they seemed to abhor, and which could have avoided the war we are talking about.
Q: We are familiar with one or two conferences in which peace between North and South were discussed. This certainly would have saved lives. You cover this on your site?
A: Yes, we already have the "Washington Peace Conference" page online and a more extensive "Peace Conferences to End the War" page is coming. This is derived from a Powerpoint program I have presented across the State during the Sesquicentennial. There were at least six peace conferences before and during the war, the first being the Crittenden Compromise debates which, had the Republicans been compromise-minded, would have avoided war.
What emerges from our research is a strong and unmistakable pattern of outright obfuscation and refusal by Northern politicians and leaders to effect any and all compromise with legitimate Southern grievances. This of course increased the possibility of political secession as Southern leaders saw no manner in which they could continue in a fraternal political union with those who would only have their way. Up to the last conference at Hampton Roads, Lincoln would entertain no peaceful solution that did not include the unconditional surrender of the American Confederacy, and renouncing all that they had embraced toward self-government. Lincoln and the Republicans wanted all – and after Appomattox the South received subjugation, something that was probable if they had accepted Northern-dictated peace in 183 or 1864. The Republican party was intent on war and would have no compromise.
Imagine if there was negotiation, compromise and . . . the same that allowed the American political union to exist in the first place – and war was avoided – thus saving the lives of a million people, a South not devastated by war, ruin and desolation, and the Constitution intact. This brings to the forefront James Buchanan's last days in office and an obvious question as to why this former minister to England and skilled diplomat did not forcefully promote negotiation and settle the controversy peacefully. Our website visitors are left with many "whys," and reasons to investigate these topics further on their own. See: http://www.ncwbts150.com/PeaceCongress.php
Q: What seems to be a very sensitive topic on your site is about treason against North Carolina.
A: Yes, it is sensitive for some reason but we tackled it nonetheless since it reverberates today. Before the War the US Constitution addressed treason against the "United States," meaning against the individual States, and this continued under the Confederate States Constitution, and North Carolina amended its own Constitution in 1861 by addressing treason against the State. Remember that John Brown was tried on a charge of treason against Virginia, found guilty, and was hung for the crime. That said, we look critically at those who went over to the enemy by spying or fighting against our State, what that meant then, and perhaps we can better understand what that means today in light of Al-Qaeda and Homeland Security. Please see: http://www.ncwbts150.com/ActsofTreasonAgainstNorthCarolina.php
Q: Thank you for speaking with us today, it seems the past can teach us much about ourselves and our country today.
A: You are very welcome; I look forward to more discussion like these. Please continue to visit www.ncwbts150.com as we continually update.