Ain't Fergittin', But Don't Remind Me, or Here We Go Again.

The Lost Cause by Henry Mosler. 1869

Black History Month is over, but an article by Gerald Ensley in the Tallahassee Democrat on February 16th caught my attention, "Black-white partnership hopes to improve Natural Bridge re-enactment":

Blacks made up the majority of Union soldiers who fought in the Civil War Battle of Natural Bridge in southern Leon County. Yet blacks have never participated in the annual re-enactment of that battle. That may change one day, thanks to a partnership announced Tuesday between the Natural Bridge Historic Society and the Riley House Museum of black history. The two groups plan to recruit black re-enactors as well as promote more black spectators at the event...
The Battle of Natural Bridge occurred March 6, 1865. The Confederate troops scored a victory that allowed Tallahassee to be the only Confederate capital east of the Mississippi to not fall to the Union... Of the 148 soldiers killed or wounded at Natural Bridge, 100 of them were black.
In March, the Natural Bridge Historic Society will stage the 33rd re-enactment of the battle. All previous re-enactments attracted only white re-enactors and mostly white spectators.
For several years, the historic society has tried without success to recruit black re-enactors.
I am so grateful for the valuable contributions the Riley House has made to black history in Tallahassee, but I can understand why black Tallahasseans might be reluctant to afford the not inconsiderable outlay to kit themselves up as Federal troops, (uniforms, rifles), for the privilege of receiving an annual, ritual ass-kicking from white, piney-woods CW re-enactors.

CW re-enacting is a world unto itself.  Tony Horwitz has written a fine account of the phenomenon in his book, Confederates in the Attic: Dispatches from the Unfinished Civil War.  The appeal of CW re-enacting is such that many more men who are drawn to it want to be Confederates than Federals.  Often, some "Rebels" at these events are asked to act as "Yankees" just to even up the sides and make the re-enactment possible.

When my parents visited us here some years ago, I thought they might enjoy a tour of the restored buildings and grounds of Goodwood Plantation.  But as we walked through them, my father, an "unreconstructed" Alabama man, surprised me saying, more to himself than to my mother and me, "They should bring in bulldozers, and knock all this down".

It opened my eyes about him.  He was dead set against "race-mixing", but he had no nostalgia for the old, "Gone With The Wind", manorial South.  I was reminded of the foot soldier's gripe that the Civil War, for Southerners, was "a rich man's war and a poor man's fight".

My great-great-grandfather Enoch Castleberry and his brothers were yeoman farmers in the hills of Coosa County when the war broke out.

Lacey, (above), served at Vicksburg, Chattanooga and Dalton.

Joseph was killed at Chickamauga.

Jeremiah, ("Jerry"), fought on through the siege of Petersburg to the surrender at Appomattox, and left for Texas after the war, as many Southerners did.

Enoch, a blacksmith and a trooper in Wheeler's cavalry division, survived and, generations later, begot me.  Here is Enoch and his wife, Martha:

I picture Great-Great-Granddaddy Enoch scratching his head at these CW re-enactments.  "What do ye want to re-enact that dern war fer?", I hear him asking sternly, and expecting a serious answer.

Horwitz gives a clue as to why.  He is Jewish, and his family did not emigrate to the United States until long after the war.  His interest was sparked when his grandfather gave him a well-thumbed history of the war.  His grandfather had felt a need, in his effort to assimilate and become a true American, to understand the national childhood trauma that is the Civil War, to make the collective memory of it his own.

For my part, by the time Ken Burns's wonderful documentary about the war came along in 1990, "the most watched program ever to air on PBS", I had mixed feelings about revisiting the subject again, as much as I enjoyed seeing Shelby Foote.  Would we ever be able to just give it a rest?

Clearly, the answer is no.  It's not my own private memory, of course, nor even the legacy only of those, North and South, white and black, whose families paid the terrible price.  Generation after generation of Americans will continue to discover the Civil War, imagine it for themselves, and make their own sense out of it.

When I was a boy, I used sometimes to see front vanity plates on cars featuring a hard-bitten, gnomish  Confederate trooper holding a flag and a saber, with the words, "Hell No, I Ain't Fergittin!".  I also recall the saying, "Save your Confederate money boys, the South will rise again."  Looking back, it is plain to see that the South did rise again, both culturally and politically, in sometimes contradictory ways.

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