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In his article, “‘For Something beyond the Battlefield’: Frederick Douglass and the Struggle for the memory of the Civil War,” David Blight describes Frederick Douglass’s efforts to promote equality for African Americans through remembrance of the Civil War. Douglass felt that remembering the war and the war’s true meaning (the abolishment of slavery in his eyes) would help end white racism. As Blight points out, the South achieved greater remembrance of the war and romanticized its heroes. Growing up in the South, I can attest to this type of thinking. Throughout Virginia, public schools are named after Confederate generals (Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, etc.) and many of these generals are revered for their service to their great state. This thinking completely counters the beliefs of Douglass and Albion Tourgee. Both figures do not believe the South fought an honest battle, and therefore, does not deserve unification with the heroic North. During the period, their thinking was colored with emotion. I cannot argue with the emotional scars of being a former slave and the resentment carried by these former slaves for the South. I can, however, say that Douglass’s and Tourgee’s assertions are sweeping generalizations. Not all Confederates were fighting to maintain the institution of slavery. Robert E. Lee, for example, fought for his state’s rights (I don’t think he owned slaves) against his personal desire for the country to remain intact. Although Lincoln asked Lee to fight for his nation, Lee chose to fight for Virginia. Douglass neglects to remember the honor in fighting against your own personal beliefs because of your loyalty. Furthermore, Douglass’s hatred for Lee is seemingly unwarranted. Lee was not “the soldier who kills the most men in battle,” that Douglass painted him to be. Instead, Lee was a gentleman who surrendered his troops before a planned insurrection occurred in the North. The South was radical, but Lee is remembered so fondly for a reason. Following the war, he supported reconstruction and became president of Washington & Lee University (formerly Washington College until Lee served as president).
Benny (not Johnny) Hartshorn makes a pretty good point about contextualizing Douglass’s arguments. I, too, believe that Douglass felt his actions were going to be remembered, and this belief probably shaped his writing. He wanted to be remembered as the man who fought for African American equality and was unforgiving of the South so other African Americans might follow in his footsteps. Concurring with Ben, Douglass was more concerned with the lasting effects of the war as opposed to the actual battles. He failed, however. Often, the Civil War is portrayed as the war against brothers and often divided families. I think since slaves were emancipated (due to a military strategy, not moral beliefs) in 1863 instead of at the start of the war, takes a backseat to the dividing aspect of the war.