Following our trip to Virginia, Maryland, and Southern Pennsylvania, a trip that took us to Fredericksburg, Manassas, Gettysburg, and Antietam, we’ve been watching Ken Burns’ The Civil War. The documentary, which I failed to follow back in 1990, is somehow much more interesting now that I’ve seen the stone wall in Fredericksburg, the Bloody Lane at Antietam, and Little Round Top and the site of Pickett’s charge in Gettysburg.
One of the difficulties for me in watching the documentary, which focuses pretty tightly on the battles, is that it’s hard not to root for the South. I don’t mean that I’m rooting for slavery, God forbid! I mean that, army qua army, up until the last year of so of the War, the South was a plucky little fighter that, with fewer men and supplies, managed to do amazing fighting.
Moreover, in the War’s early years, while all generals were horribly profligate with their troops, the South’s generals had the virtue of being less wasteful with the men in their charge than the Union generals were. What General Burnside did at Fredericksburg was criminal — that it, it was criminal right up until Pickett and Lee did the exactly same thing at Gettysburg. Moreover, by 1863, Lee and Pickett had even less excuse to do what they did than Burnside, because they ought to have learned from Burnside’s own experience.
The fact is that, although the South was fighting dashingly and pluckily, it was doing so for a dreadful, completely immoral cause: