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Front Porch It must have been about the time of the Fort Sumter Centennial that a bunch of us boys found shelter from the Carolina summer and began to struggle with the problem of southern identity. As was likely to happen with ten- and elevenyear -olds in that time and place, our hazy recollections of martial valor and the challenges of impending manhood led to the subject of the "late unpleasantness." Our neighborhood's military expert started us off. "America always wins," he announced with pride. "We've won every war we've ever had." That sounded good, but the rest of us decided to check him out. World War II? That was easy. Our daddies had fought that one. Korea? Nobody knew much about it, but we guessed so. World War I? No problem there, though most of us had barely heard of it. "What about the Civil War?" somebody finally remembered. "America won that too I bet." We paused to figure. "Nuh-uh," came from a skeptic. "We lost that one." Slowly the seminar broke up in confusion. "You're supposed to call it 'The War Between the States,' our purist insisted, but nobody knew why. Changing the name didn't seem to help much. America always wins, so did "we" win the Civil War or not? We'd heard pieces of the story, but none of us had a firm answer. As kids, we obviously lacked a lot of factual information, but age and ignorance were not our only sources of confusion. Instead, as Americans and white southerners both, we couldn't be entirely sure who "we" were. It was certainly not the first time, or the last, that white southerners have struggled with the problem of the Civil War. And they aren't the only ones. Despite the milestone of legal emancipation, even black southerners have had occasion to ask who really won the Civil War. If the soul of John Brown goes marching on, as the song says, we all know that the gray ghosts of the Confederacy are right in step beside him, pacing down 160Southern Cultures the years since Appomattox with all flags flying, and continuing to color living memory and southerners' notions of themselves. If this was true for suburban pre-teens on the cusp of the Civil War Centennial and the dawning Civil Rights movement, it has been even more true for others, including the Confederate veterans themselves in the 1890s, and some white folks of the 1990s, for whom the Confederate battle flag has become a symbol of collective pride and resistance to "political correctness." But while the Confederate experience has had an enormous influence on cultures and consciousness in the South, the authors in this issue make it clear that the content of that influence has varied widely over time, place, and circumstances. To begin with in this issue of Southern Cultures, historian Peter A. Coclanis asks how much the South's Confederate heritage really did cost. Measured in hard dollars, what was the price of the Civil War? It turns out that nobody knows how to add up the full cost of the Confederacy's memorable adventures, despite long decades of effort and professional disagreement from economists and historians alike. Coclanis gives us his best shot, so to speak, and reports a figure of $14.7 billion in 1860 dollars for the full cost of the Civil War, including the indirect costs of lost lives and foregone opportunities in North and South alike. Reporting the observations of a couple of economists, Coclanis passes on their sobering conclusion that the war's direct costs alone were "enough to buy the freedom of all the slaves (at 1860 market value), present each slave family with a 40-acre farm and a mule, and still leave $3.5 billion for reparations payments in lieu of 100 years of back wages." Coclanis also reports that econometricians disagree about whether the war really sparked an industrial revolution in the North, or whether the cost of all that blood and iron just held everybody back. Obviously, if the folks in green eye shades can't agree on how to add up the "real" cost...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1534-1488
Print ISSN
1068-8218
Pages
pp. 159-161
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-04
Open Access
No
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