Thursday, February 08, 2007

More Lies Across America, Civil War category

About one year ago, I posted some comments on James W. Loewen's sequel to Lies My Teacher Told Me (see that post here).

I've got Appomattox on my mind a lot lately, as I finalize plans for a visit there in six weeks. This tripfor the 11th Civil War Forum reunionwill be my first visit to the scene of Lee's surrender. Loewen has an entry on Appomattox, the opening paragraph of which reads:

At Appomattox cemetery, where the Civil War for the Army of Northern Virginia ended, the United Daughters of the Confederacy put up a marker with the words, "Here on Sunday, April 9, 1865 after four years of heroic struggle in defense of principles believed fundamental to the existence of our government Lee surrendered 9,000 men, the remnant of an army still unconquered in spirit, to 118,000 men under Grant." The marker gets the date right, and the Confederacy did put up "four years of heroic struggle." Otherwise, like most markers and monuments put up by the Daughters, it cannot be relied on for accuracy.

The title of that particular chapter is "Getting Even the Numbers Wrong," but if you've read other Civil War-related entries in Loewen's books, you can guess his immediate complaint here. It is about the "principles believed fundamental to the existence of our government." I'll pass on that CSA skewering for now, but highlight something that rings silly to anyone with more than passing familiarity with events following Lee's abandonment of his Petersburg and Richmond lines, and his westward retreat.

The opposed by overwhelming numbers argument as a rationalization for Lee's defeat has a basis
in fact, but is in full bloom, and exaggerated, with the Daughter's marker. Lee's army had become dramatically reduced by this time, but something like three times the 9,000 marker figure received paroles. And while Grant did have an army of nearly 120,000 investing Petersburg, and Richmond, only about half that number were in the vicinity of Appomattox in the lead up to the surrender. Lee was outnumbered, to be sure, but not by 13-1.

COMING SOON, Patrick Schroeder, NPS historian at Appomattox Court House National Historic Park, author of a book on the cemetery there, and on myths related to the surrender, weighs in on some of the issues I've raised here.

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