The Blue, The Gray & The BlackSaturday, June 27, 2015
|Lunch on the deck of the U.S. Monitor - note black man on foreground right - Mathew Brady|
I am an Argentine born man of mixed heritage (English, Spanish, Chinese and Basque). All my life I attended American schools (elementary, high school and college) so I was subjected to a thorough immersion into American History. It was particularly soat St. Edward’s High School, a Catholic boarding school in Austin, where my history teacher was Brother Francis Barrett, C.S.C. a most liberal and intelligent member of the Congregation of Holy Cross. His explanations on what led to the American Civil War were as accurate as they could have been at the time in the mid 50s.
It was in the mid 50s that I went with my 9th grade class to Washington DC. I remember that all the outdoor stalls and curio shops carried merchandise that was evenly divided between the Confederate and Union army. Blue or gray hats and flags of both were on sale everywhere.
I have written many times here how as an 8-year-old (perhaps 9) I saw my first book with pictures of US Civil War soldiers at the Lincoln Library in Buenos Aires. I was struck by the contemporary and stark look of the soldiers who looked like men that with fewer beards might have been walking on the outside on Calle Florida. I was further startled in realizing that these men had been dead for at least 85 years. I became from that point most interested in anything I could find out about the war. I remember distinctly in the 8th grade in having written a book report on the role of U.S. Grant in the bloody battle of Shiloh. Since then I became a fan of the stories about the Civil War by Ambrose Bierce and I have read Stephen Crane's The Red Badge of Courage multiple times.
It is important that I note that while I might have harboured some sort of admiration for General Lee that my heart and interests where with the Union Army of Abraham Lincoln and his generals, in particular Ulysses S. Grant.
I was also attracted to the sound of the names of some of the battles such as Chickamauga, the Wilderness, Spotsylvania, Chancellorsville, Antietam and Shiloh. I know by rote all the place names at Gettysburg.
|Taylor - 78th U.S. Colored Troops part of General Ben Butler's Corps d'Afrique|
But I have to confess that even if Brother Francis was thorough in explaining about the origins of the war in relation to slavery somehow the Civil War had only two colours, blue and gray. There was no black anywhere.
And I must confess, further with some embarrassment that it was so until 1989 when Rosemary and I went to a fine little movie theatre in Port Townsend and saw Edward Zwick’s Glory with Denzel Washington (playing Private Silas Trip), Matthew Broderick (Col. Robert Gould Shaw) and Morgan Freeman as Sgt. Major John Rawlins. This film which finally showed intimations of Mathew Broderick being a really good actor, was about the role of the 54th Regiment Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry (all black) in the battle of Fort Wagner.
I am now a Canadian and as I see the turmoil behind the acceptance and rejection of the Confederate battle flag I am having a small but measurable internal issue with the idea of the removal of the name Robert E. Lee from schools and streets. I know that particularly because those Civil War photographs were in b+w they lacked the colour of blood and gore. Those battles seemed to me (until now?) to have been fought between armies that at heart were led by gentlemen. Just the protocol that Grant used in the surrender at Appomattox is a good example of what I am trying to convey here. Will re-reading that lovely novel, Richard Adams’s Traveller (Lee’s horse in retirement recounts his experience in war with a barn cat) be the same again? Would John Brown, now, be seen as sane man?
|Members of Company E., 4th U.S.Colored Troops formed in Baltimore in 1863|
Luckily I am not an American so I can disassociate myself a tad from all that guilt and historical revisionism.
But I am doing my part in making sure that at least my granddaughter Lauren, 13, will be aware of the true colours of the US Civil War. On Canada Day, July 1 after our backyard barbecue (complete with my famous iced tea) we will watch Glory.
Obama's swearing in and Lincoln
Richard Mosby & that very cool Barack Obama
|Desserted camp & wounded soldier in a Zouave uniform c. 1865 - Mathew Brady|