Tuesday, April 12, 2011

A Troubled House: Charleston lectures

Over the past few days, the Fort Sumter-Fort Moultrie Historical Trust has sponsored thought-provoking talks on "why they fought."

"A Troubled House" at First (Scots) Presbyterian on Meeting Street in Charleston featured two prominent historians.

Edward L. Ayers, president of the University of Richmond, explored the logic of secession.

Key points for the South are cotton, slavery, moral and religious superiority and a scorn for Abraham Lincoln, who they believe to be a regional president, Ayers (above) told the crowded church.

"The Confederaocy is going to be a nation in the world."

He explored why and how Virginia's debate on secession was much more prolonged and contentious.

Republicans in the North wrongly thought non-slaveholders would oppose secession, said Ayers, author of many books on the war.

Despite their thoughts on secession, those in favor took a terrible path, Ayer argued.

The University of Georgia's Emory Thomas lectured on the "The Dogs of War: 1861," the title of his latest book.

"Slavery and race provoked secession," the history prof repeated several times. "Secession doesn't necessarily provoke war."

Both North and South wrongly believed the war would last only weeks or months. They also underestimated the ferocity of combat and the ghastly effective of rifles and newer weapons, Thomas said.

Each thought the other's soldiers were inferior. Lincoln never truly understood Southerners, Thomas said, and Davis tried several approaches to warfare, but none were ultimately successful, he added.

No one expected prisoners, and Blue and Gray each preached a refrain: God is on our side.

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