Virginians Who Fought to End the Confederacy

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April 8, 2010 by Daniel Stack

The news of war, and the possibility of Negroes enlisting as soldiers was truly a step closer to the answering of their prayers for freedom. Upon hearing of this good news Grandy joined a few of the others in this break for freedom. One night, he and a close friend packed a small quantity of food in a cloth and set out about midnight to join the northern army. Traveling at night most of the time, they were constantly confronted with the danger of being recaptured. Successfully including their followers, they reached Portsmouth after many narrow escapes. From Portsmouth they moved to Norfolk.

Arriving in Norfolk, Grandy and his friend decided to take different roads of travel. Several days and nights found him wandering about the outskirts of Norfolk, feeding on wild berries, etc. While picking berries along a ditch bank, he was hailed by a Yankee soldier, who having come in contact with run away slaves before, greeted him friendly, and questioned him of his home and of his knowledge of work. He was taken to camp and assigned as cook. At first, he was not very successful in his job, but gradually improvement was shown. He was asked what wages he would accept. It was such a pleasure to know that he had escaped the clutches of slavery, he did not ask for wages; but instead, he was willing to work for anything they would give him, no matter how small, as long as he didn’t have to return to slavery.

Within a short period he was given a uniform and gun; was fully enlisted as a soldier, in the 19th regiment of Wisconsin, Company E. Here he remained in service until November, 1862, after which time he returned to Norfolk to spend some time with his mother, who was still living. While sitting in the doorway one day, with his Mother, he was again confronted with the proposition of reenlisting. He agreed to do so for one year, to serve as guard at Fortress Monroe. He remained there until the close of the War, offering brave and faithful services.

– Born in Slavery: Slave Narratives from the Federal Writers’ Project, 1936-1938 Virginia Narratives, Volume XVII, Interview of Mr. Charles Grandy, pp. 22-23

WHEREAS, April is the month in which the people of Virginia joined the Confederate States of America in a four year war between the states for independence that concluded at Appomattox Courthouse; and

WHEREAS, Virginia has long recognized her Confederate history, the numerous civil war battlefields that mark every region of the state, the leaders and individuals in the Army, Navy and at home who fought for their homes and communities and Commonwealth in a time very different than ours today; and

WHEREAS, it is important for all Virginians to reflect upon our Commonwealth’s shared history, to understand the sacrifices of the Confederate leaders, soldiers and citizens during the period of the Civil War, and to recognize how our history has led to our present; and …

– Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell’s original Confederate History Month Proclamation (excerpt) (Source: Washington Post Online , Wednesday April 7, 2010, retrieved April 8, 2010)

I’ve been told as a northerner I can’t understand how important the Confederacy is to southerners. While I’m proud of the heritage of Massachusets, I’m proud of my entire nation. Some of my favorite trips have been to Williamsburg, Virginia – my older daughter’s first airplane trip was to Richmond for a visit to Colonial Williamsburg.  I love Virginia’s history.

I don’t think there’s a person, state, or nation who can claim an unblemished history though. So I’m somewhat baffled by the whitewashing of Confederate history being given by Governor McDonnell. His initial statement did not even acknowledge the institution of slavery. And the fact of a Confederate History Month denies the fact that for many Virginians, black and white, the Confederacy was something to be defeated.

Yes, many of the whites fighting for the Confederacy were fighting for their home and fought bravely. But that is true of soldiers who fought in every war. My wife’s maternal grandfather died fighting for Germany in World War II. Japan wrestles with honoring its war dead from World War II. There were many loyalist families during the American Revolution, some of whose descendants can still be found in the United States. It is possible to honor the sacrifices of the dead while acknowledging the problems of what they fought for.

Nothing in the world will convince me the cause of the Confederacy was just. Yes, there were many causes of the Civil War. There is an argument that there were many causes to the war — changing economics, states’ rights, etc. But when you come down to it all of these came down to slavery. The economy of the South was based on slavery. There was one primary states’ right the South was concerned with preserving, that of slavery.

The people of the North were not saints. They were not inherently more moral than those of the South. Many in the north profited from slavery, whether directly or indirectly. While Lincoln did not approve of slavery, he also made it clear he was not willing to fight a war for the sole purpose of abolishing it. If slavery had proven profitable in the North it is unlikely slavery would have been abolished there as early as it had been.

That said, the Confederacy was fighting for the preservation of slavery, the Union was not. And by the end of the war the Union was indeed fighting for the abolition of slavery. That may not have been the cause in most soldiers’ mind, but it is nonetheless true. And the idea that a human can be considered property is rightly considered abhorrent.

Governor McDonnell says his main purpose in issuing this declaration was to help with Virginian tourism. If that were indeed the case, it would have made far more sense to have declared a “Civil War History Month”. This would have allowed a less loaded perspective of the war. One could examine the motivations of the soldiers. Acknowledge those Virginians who fought for both sides. Examine the economic status of the soldiers. See what they had in common and what divided them. Talk about what motivated individual soldiers.


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