How is the Civil War taught in the south?

Spin-off of this thread about the Japanese narrative of WWII.

Basically, as the title - what does/did the education system in members of what was the Confederacy teach about the Civil War (the War Between the States I prefer to call it, I go right to Cromwell and King Charles I when ‘Civil War’ is mentioned)? Is there any of the ‘lost cause’ or ‘War of Northern Aggression’ nonsense still floating around or is it more or less the same as what’s been taught in the Union states?

I grew up in the Deep South. Southerners in general are deeply interested in the Civil War and schools spend much more time on it than they do in other regions (at least that is my impression). We were never taught that the South was truly evil like the Nazis even though that is the current and more recent meme. Instead, we spent lots of time going over the causes leading up to it and then specific battles and finally the reasons for defeat. We also went to the nearest Civil War battleground museums for field trips and had the option to attend very large scale full battle reenactments that required thousands of enthusiasts, period equipment and countless hours to pull off every year. Occasionally we would have historians come in and we got to fire Civil War period muskets one time when I was in high school. We probably saw all of Gone with the Wind at least 5 times between 7th grade and 12th grade in class.

My high school was about 50% white and 50% black so there was no glamorizing slavery or glossing over that part (almost all the black students were direct descendants of slaves and knew what area plantations their ancestors worked on; they also had the last names of their ancestor’s former owners). Believe it or not, it was just accepted as a simple reality by everyone whether they were black or white and nobody got upset about the subject matter. From what I see on my Facebook feed from the kids of both my black and white friends that still live there, it is largely the same today. Most black Southerners are just as proud of their heritage and deep roots as white Southerners and they don’t like outsiders taking swipes at the region either whether it is because of the Civil War or anything else.

I never really sat in on any classes (I was down the hall, teaching science), but I know many HS teachers downplay the slavery issue and instead say the war was all about state’s rights. At least that’s what I got from them at lunch.

I should add that we also spent a whole lot of time studying the post-Civil War occupation and reconstruction by the North. I went to high school in the late 80’s and that period was recent enough that both blacks and whites still had that period in shared family memory and it was mostly very bad. The blacks weren’t slaves anymore but that didn’t make things any better for most of them. They had to switch over to being illiterate sharecroppers which is even worse in some ways. A lot of the critical infrastructure in the region was destroyed so everyone was hurting and major control was exerted by the North in both government terms and by profiteers that saw a money-making opportunity in the wake of devastation (Carpetbaggers). Their legacy provided a common enemy for both Southern blacks and whites to hate.

Thanks for the detailed reply Shagnasty, as far as slavery goes is there much taught on the experience of slaves antebellum and during the war? Otherwise it sounds like it’s not too dissimilar from what someone would learn in a northern state, in terms of looking at causes, battlefields and what have you.

Well, there is a difference between acknowledging slavery existed and actually taking time to focus on the rape, torture, murder, beatings, mutilations, terror, splitting families and forcing Africans to accept a foreign religion that taught them that Jesus was their white master. There was a lot more involved than simply forced labor.

Admitting slavery existed is not quite the same as teaching about it.

**Shagnasty **says he was taught causes of the war, but neglects to say *which *causes. I went to a year of middle school in the Deep South. At that level and in that town, at least, there was much more focus on the “non-slavery” causes of the war, abstract focus on states rights and economic disparity (which in reality are just subsidiary issues of slavery). This is consistent with my reading of the split among historians between North and South. Folks like McPherson tend to emphasize the primacy of the expansion of slavery as the cause of the war, and Southern historians tend to downplay it.

The only time we learned about personal experiences about any common people were from historians when we went on field trips, Gone with the Wind (which some people may find laughable but everyone liked the days when we got to see it yet again) and by reading Uncle Tom’s Cabin in English class. The latter novel was based on a story not that far away from where I grew up in northern Louisiana.

Virtually all of the black students at my school were direct descendants of slaves from the area but most of the white students were not descended from slave owners. It was a poor area and their ancestors were mostly simple sustenance farmers themselves that got drafted into a war that they had no control over. For the record, my family was a very long line of slaveowners and everyone knew it but it was never brought up as something that I should feel guilty about personally.

No one expects you too.

You could, possibly, not be so blase about the subject, however.

It’s been a long time. But in TX, we were generally taught that while there were other reasons than slavery that led to the war, slavery was the big one. Additionally, we were taught that the south had no chance whatsoever in a long term conflict due to the industrialization of the north.

We didn’t delve deeply into the experience of the slave, but the trade was presented as nothing but inhuman.

I sound blase about lots of serious topics. It doesn’t mean that I don’t care about them. Quite to the contrary, I love studying the antebellum period and the experiences of everyone involved even today. I am just not a hand-wringer by nature and my personality leads people that are more emotionally inclined to think I am uncaring and detached. I promise you that isn’t the case fundamentally.

I’d say one of us is a lot more interested in the real and accurate “antebellum period” than the other…

I moved from the South to the Midwest in middle school (1990s) and did not notice any difference in how the Civil War was presented in my social studies classes. This doesn’t necessarily mean there wasn’t any, but if there was it was fairly subtle. Well, I guess there was one significant difference in that where I lived in the South there was a local Civil War fort we could visit on a field trip, but IIRC this was handled in a pretty dry, neutral educational manner. The only thing that really sticks in my mind about the museum there is actually a large portrait of abolitionist John Brown.

I never, ever, heard a teacher refer to the Civil War as the “War of Northern Aggression”, and can’t recall ever hearing anyone use that term seriously.

I am certainly not an activist but I have spent thousands of hours researching my own family’s participation is slavery in a sweeping arc ranging from Virginia to Louisiana over a 250 year period. My great-great-great grandfather was hacked to pieces by his own slave on his Mississippi plantation in the 1850’s. When I found that out, I figured he must have been a huge asshole. The slave that killed him knew he would be executed for it (and was) but it was worth it to him. Desparate acts like that make it clear that it wasn’t Song of the South on his plantation.

Just a couple of months ago, I bought a real Manila (a slave trading money bracelet) from an antiquities store not to be morbid but because it is so educational on its own. It was designed to be used as a metal wristband to facilitate slave trading in West Africa. The reason it is revealing is because it shows a human life may have only been worth a simple copper bracelet that was designed to be worn around the wrist but I can barely fit it on three fingers.

The link above also shows that African slavery wasn’t a phenomenon unique to the American South or even the U.S. in general in the least. Many European countries and all of the original colonies had it. A few Northern states including Delaware, Maryland and Missouri maintained slavery even during the Civil War. That makes the overall picture much more bleak but it discredits the claim that the American South was somehow unique in having the institution. It wasn’t and isn’t. It was simply one of the regions that maintained it slightly longer than many of its neighbors. Brazil got rid of it even later but, even today, true chattel slavery is still doing quite well in west Africa and many other regions of the world. If people are truly interested in doing something good, they would worry less about people that are long dead and actually do something concrete for the people still enslaved today.

I was already aware that slavery existed in other times and other places. I’m not really sure why you would spend so much time pointing that out if your intention was to criticize slavery in the southern states.

Dial it down. This thread isn’t about challenging someone else’s personal feelings about the war, and there’s really no reason for you to be on the attack, here.

I am not sure how you criticize slavery in any new and meaningful way. It is slavery. It sucks just like child molestation and murder yet lots of different groups have engaged in it and continue to do so. I don’t think there is a lot more for me to add to the atrocity files. I am not under any delusions that it was a good institution overall. I think that it is more interesting to study it from a more detached historical perspective that uses facts and nuance to try to understand what was driving everyone’s motivations.

I was in grade school in northern Virginia when Roots was released, and the school picked up on it to show the horror of slavery. Somewhere along the line we were assigned parts of the book to read and discuss.

Also taking American History in HS in Texas, (maybe at the same time scabpicker?) this is basically what we were taught. Slavery was/is awful. Though the biggest reason for the Civil War, it wasn’t the only reason. And that the winning of the war was b/c once the industrial North cut off the agricultural South from shipments of industrial supplies, it was a matter of time.

I’ve lived in Kentucky and Texas and I’ve never actually heard ANYONE use the phrase “War of Northern Aggression” except in movies and crazy people on tv. (And I worked for over 20 years at Wallyworld and I’ve met my share of keerazy racist nutballs.)

I did go to a pretty decent suburban school district in TX, so I have no idea how it might be taught in other places here.

Wait, “slavery is evil” is equivalent to a fleeting internet catchphrase now?