Looking at my Southern calendar this morning, I realized, once again, life was too busy for me to remember it was no longer February. However, as I turned the page to a new month, I had to take a minute to enjoy the March painting I had missed. What was it's title? "We Still Love You, General Lee". And, what was it commemorating??? Today's date, April 9! However, the date of the picture was from 1865, portraying General Lee, mounted on Traveler - his glorious steed - as Lee departed the Court House from the village of Appomattox. Why, 144 years later, would we still be crying out, "We still love you, General Lee"??? Much as Chris described in his poignant tribute to "Decoration’s", this picture represents the celebration of death. This, indeed, was a far greater death than few outside Southern borders could imagine, at the time. Southern ideological "Chapters" of individuals have sprung up around the Country, in recent years. Increasing numbers have come to realize that the death that occurred, in that Southern Courthouse, over a century ago, was, in reality, the death of an ideal.
Growing up in Southern fringes, I came close to despising my roots. After all, I was well taught that Southerners should be ashamed. How dare we assume the notion that we had any right to determine our own destiny, in protecting property, and rights, we thought we were guaranteed to, in our founding documents? After all, it was our cross-town rivals, whose mascot was the "Rebels", who deserved to be jeered, and booed. Why did I not understand that a war's losers never get to write the history? Why didn't responsible adults feel the urgency to pass down through the generations the truth their ancestors had died for? What was it that Lee, and his men, were so willing to sacrifice everything for, that they might protect it, much as their fathers, and grandfathers had been willing to do, just a couple of generations before?? And, why was it, a couple of States farther North, that the descendants, there, willingly followed their leaders to their death? Was it just about men being held against their wills, and being forced to take on tasks that Southern land owners could not do by themselves? Was it really that five year period of death, destruction, and desolation that called an end to human ownership? And, did it REALLY bring an end to human ownership, or was it the "Great Excuse"?
As our initial premise, can we all admit that, if not we, at least many, many Americans hold a great fondness for the memory of General Lee? If that is true, which I believe it's obvious that it is, then our curiosity should be aroused as to WHY? Will any of us be remembered with any semblance of the love and respect that Robert E. Lee receives? I think not. Yet, we're at a point in this country, where we may be called on to make the same kinds of choices that Lee and his men were required to make. Choices that may involve standing on things we’ve forgotten - like chivalry, conscience, and children. Choices that may involve great losses - losses like occupations, property, reputations, and……life. Like Lee, will we be able to make those choices? When faced with enemies that want to inflict as much pain on us, as humanly possible, will we capitulate, or choose death? How could Southerners make those choices? How could ANYONE make those choices???
First, we have to understand the mindset of the South, at the time, as well as the mindset of the North. In recent years, I’ve been made aware that my family is descended from a young man that left England, sailing on a creaky, wooden vessel for weeks, across a treacherous body of water, with no knowledge of hidden dangers that could sink them. This was at a time when the imaginations of young men and women led to unimaginable courage, from dreams of experiencing a new land with new promises of achievements they couldn’t fathom in their current surroundings. In 1650, America’s first colony, Jamestown, had only been functional for 43 years. When I remember back, 43 years of my own life, I looked forward to chasing my wife around the playground at recess! What a short time ago, it was…. Yet, this was the time it took for heroic tales to cross the Atlantic, and set our ancestors on a path that would lead to our future as Americans. Probably an indentured servant, Joseph Curling boarded that ship, sailing from the Isle of Thanet, to land in the Norfolk area of Virginia, some 359 years ago. What he brought with him, in the form of his personal treasures, were the same things that many others his age, had brought. Treasures that were not material, in nature, but ideological, and theological. Yes, my ancestors were Christians, as were the vast majority of ancestors of everyone that came to the Eastern shores of America, at that time. They gradually migrated into North Carolina, followed by Tennessee, bringing their strong, Baptist beliefs with them. Some of them fought for our Country, in it’s war of independence, with one of them singling himself out as the man who killed British Captain Fordyce, at the Battle of Great Bridge. The Captain’s sword that was given to him after the battle, was stolen by Union troops that invaded his home, almost a hundred years later. This ancestor, and three of his sons participated in the North Carolina Constitutional Convention. Later, descendants from some of these same ancestors defended their Southern land in a similar war for independence that ended with far more tragic results. Regrettably, other ancestors had sentiments that aligned themselves with their Union invaders.
What was it that caused some of my Southern fathers to associate themselves with secession, and others to follow those that sought destruction of their homeland? I believe it’s the same thing that continues to divide our Country, today. I’ve always been one to look for the root of problems. As a healthcare practitioner, I’ve been trained to listen to an individual’s symptoms, while trying to piece all the clinical evidence together to arrive at a diagnosis. A diagnosis that is consistent with the greater issue of how their symptoms emanated from a greater problem that may have begun, years before. I’m conditioned to do the same thing, now, when I encounter symptomatic developments, outside the realm of healthcare. Whether the problems exist within the walls of a family, or a church, or society, at large, there have to be initial, negative choices that were made, that have influenced successive generations of problematic developments. In the breakdown of all of these relationships, the initial negative choice is usually one of the rejection of their Creator. Our Creator wants us to be happy, and He gave us rules to live by that would allow our happiness. However, those rules go contrary to our natures, and we think we know better. We reason that to make ourselves happy, we should please ourselves. It makes no sense to us that we make ourselves happy, by loving others - serving others - more than we do ourselves. However, our Country’s Founding Fathers understood this. And, our South’s Fathers understood this. They were willing to lay their lives down, for the good of others. They well knew the book their Creator gave them, and understood the principles, therein.
This life is all about human relationships. And, to make them work, we have to understand God’s two greatest commandments - to love the Lord our God, with all our hearts, strength, souls, and minds, and to love our neighbors as ourselves. We can’t do the first, if we won’t do the second. Many people that know this passage, don’t understand that there is no way to opt out, if they desire happiness. These are not suggestions, but commandments, which, consequently, imply that we all have the strength to comply with them. Our Country used to understand this. General Lee understood this. Whether we are discussing familial relationships, or societal, the underlying issue is always selfishness. When a spouse decides they will love themselves, more than they will love their spouse, divorce is usually the ultimate result - even if it’s year’s later - and much unhappiness ensues. When our Founding Fathers were faced with the love of their families, and the Country that represented their love of their families, versus the love of their wealth, and possessions, thankfully, those men laid their lives down. A great, godly Country arose from the ashes.
However, it didn’t take long for human nature to creep back in. The Founding Fathers implemented some amazingly brilliant checks, and balances that would allow this new, societal relationship to continue to thrive, if the principles were abided by. How does this apply to our Southern Fathers? As I implied, they KNEW Scripture. The South has always been a stronghold for Christianity, as evidenced by the moniker “Bible-belt” that it has been labeled with. Stonewall Jackson was known as a very studied man of God, who was seldom seen without his accompanying Scripture. AND, these men KNEW our Country’s founding documents, as their fathers, and grandfathers had written them!! The majority of those men who signed that document that declared our independence from Britain, were SOUTHERNERS! Many people refuse to acknowledge, or admit that Virginia was a Southern State. Many of those signers, and the inspiration for many of those foundational concepts, came from Virginia. Therefore, when the South’s security, and independence was threatened by a greedy North, these descendants of the Founding Fathers knew, and understood their Constitutional right to declare their independence - just as their Country had done from a greedy Britain, some 80+ years, before. Abe Lincoln defended the right of Texas to secede just 15 years before he assumed the presidency. He knew the Southern States had a right to secede, but his desire for a large, imperialistic Federal Government, and his greedy desire for the wealth the South had accumulated, led to his actions that produced the destruction of his own people, and the destruction of foundational rights given to States by the developers of our Constitution. THIS is where the breakdown in our society became official, not today. We are just now seeing the final results from these initial, very poor human choices.
The war was never over slavery. Southern men knew that God never forbid slavery, only the poor treatment of slaves. And, very few owners treated slaves poorly. Slaves were expensive tools, similar to costly farm implements, today, and no farmer who wants to be profitable mistreats his equipment. Additionally, Lincoln only ended slavery in the South. The emancipation never ended slavery in the North. Slavery would have ended, on it’s own, from economic pressures brought on by technology, like the cotton gin. Everyone who has studied the war should know well that slavery only became an issue, several years into the war, at the Gettysburg Address. And, the same mentality of men who screamed for freedom for slaves, 150 years ago, are silent when discussing the freedom for female slavery around the world, today. It is said that there are many more slaves around the world, today, than existed in 1850. And, it is a far worse form of slavery, where children are stolen, drugged, beaten, and raped into submission, multiple times a day, even in our own country. Where are the men screaming for their freedom?? They lied to us, then, and they are lying to us, today. The war was over greed, and power. The North wanted the wealth of the South, and the ability to enforce immoral decisions on a State of people, regardless of that State‘s desires. In 1860, Mississippi was the richest state in the Country. Today, it’s the poorest.
Yes, this is an important anniversary, today. As mentioned, earlier, it’s an anniversary of death. April 9, 1865 signified the death of the ideals that men like my ancestor, Joseph Curling, left the safety of their homes, and loved ones, to pursue. These were the ideals that culminated in our declaration for independence, and the subsequent Constitution, and Bill of Rights that followed, not long after. Although it has taken several generations to see the symptoms in our society of the erosion of independence of the States - symptoms like no regard for human life, or the sanctity of the male/female relationship in marriage - the foundational crack in this independence occurred in the violation of the South, by an imperialistic North. The crack in the foundation that has led to a disbelief in God, was the imagination of a supposed reason not to believe, given by the man named Darwin. And, the resulting cracks from that disbelief are remembered, today, from the signing of surrender at Appomattox.
We still love you, General Lee.
Jim H. Curlin III, DDS