Rants and Raves

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Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Why no durn Yankee peckerhead is ever going to make me ashamed of the South

In my posts on Rewriting History: This Lincoln Garbage, I outlined why I thought the "New Confederate" Civil War revisionism was nonsense. And in my series on Western Civilization and its Discontents I acknowledged my debt to Lincoln intellectually, so I guess it's no secret that I admire Lincoln as a man, a thinker and a leader.

I also pointed out that the South had legitimate and realistic fears about universal manumission. But in the end, it was their refusal to deal with and plan for eventual abolition of slavery and instead attempt to perpetuate and expand it, that made the war inevitable.

(In Europe I've actually been asked seriously which side I was on. In the Old World a civil war of that magnitude would still be an issue after only a century and a half.)

Now that being said, I'm going to explain why no durn Yankee peckerhead is ever going to make me ashamed of the South.

In 1864 when the South was on the ropes, they tried a new secret weapon to break the blockade of Charleston harbor, a submarine.

They figured if they could break the blockade, they could get vital military supplies from England, whose elites desperately wanted the United States to fail as a nation.

The CSS Hunley was a cigar-shaped iron tube fitted with bow planes and hand pumped ballast tanks for diving and an iron keel that, theoretically, could be dis-attached and dropped from inside to lighten the boat enough to float.

It was powered by eight men turning a hand crank.

While being towed in an early trial, the boat went down with six of her crew. On a later attempt, she went down with the full crew, including her designer Horace Hunley.

When I was a boy, I saw an episode about the Hunley on the American history series, The Great Adventure. I can still recall the chills that went down my spine when I saw the opening scene.

Winches are drawing the boat to the surface. A Confederate officer (played by Jackie Cooper) jumps on deck and opens the hatch. A voice says,

"This is the Confederate States submarine, the Hunley."

The officer reaches into the hatch, and lifts an arm, then lets it drop.

"And this is the body of the man who invented her."

That officer, Lt. George E. Dixon, then raises another crew and attempts yet again to sink a Yankee blockade ship.

At first they tried towing a floating mine. The idea being to dive below a ship and tow the mine into her. That proved unsatisfactory for the reason that the mine tended to drift toward the boat faster than they could crank away from it.

So what they tried next was a bomb mounted on a harpoon on the bow of the boat. The idea was to ram a Yankee ship below the waterline, then back away. A long lanyard would unreel and pull the detonator.

Does this sound insane to you? It ought to.

Consider, in 1864 when any damn fool could plainly see the war was lost, they found another eight men who would climb into a contraption that had already killed its crew and its designer, on the off chance that they could sink a Yankee blockade ship.

When the Hunley was found on the bottom of Charleston harbor in 1995 I was teaching in Warsaw. I tried to explain to my classes how moved I was by the discovery.

One of my students asked how a 19th century submarine was powered. When I told him, his jaw dropped and he said, "I don't believe you."

On the night of February 17, Lt. Dixon and his crew, most of whose histories are unknown to this day, set out into the harbor.

Observers on shore heard an explosion and saw the 1800-ton steam sloop USS Housatonic sink. But the Hunley never came back. She was the first submarine in history to sink a capital ship.

On August 8, 2000, the boat was raised, and on April 17, 2004, the Hunley's crewmen were interred in Charleston's Magnolia Cemetery, with full military honors.

I find it hard to understand how any American, northern or southern, could think of this without being overwhelmed with grief and pride.

And if anyone thinks I should be ashamed of these men because of the cause for which they fought, I'd invite him to kiss my Rebel ass.

Note: There is a pretty good movie about the Hunley, starring Armand Asante as Lt. Dixon. See: The Hunley http://imdb.com/title/tt0162897/


  • At 6:46 PM, Blogger Saint in Exile said…

    I can relate. I actually sat down and had chicken and rice with an Iraqi Colonel in 2005. He and I fought on opposite sides of the war in 2003, during the invasion. I don't know if my unit ever encountered his - not likely, since he was alive. But he did recount losing over half of his men in less than 30 minutes and having to retreat, knowing then that he was fighting a lost cause. Perhaps it was easier for me, since none of my men were killed, but I felt no hostility or disrespect towards him and I did not sense any from him. There was mutual respect for one another for having fought for the sides that we had chosen.

  • At 5:11 AM, Blogger Steve Browne said…

    There's a story I heard once (can anybody verify?) that decades after the Battle of Gettysburg there was a reunion of sorts, of old vets from both sides.

    Story had it that they were lining up in the positions they took at the beggining of the battle, when suddenly everyone started weeping and the two sides rushed to embrace each other.

    Anybody remember that Johhny Horton classic, "You Fought All the Way Johnny Reb"?


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