Sunday, June 05, 2011

Interesting Bits on the American Civil War

My Master's thesis was largely about the Anglican influence on the American South during the Civil War. To make a long thesis short, basically most of the power players in the American South were Episcopalians: many slave owners, the major generals like Robert E Lee, and other leaders like Confederate President Jefferson Davis.

As the 150th Anniversary of the War between the States gears up, there are some very interesting articles being floated. I have enjoyed reading many of them because I remain convinced the Civil War and its issues are still as hotly debated today and they were 150 years ago.

I have a somewhat unique perspective myself, being largely from a Gray family (as opposed to a Blue one). In fact, I even had relatives that were slave owners. But to counter that, I am also from East Tennessee, which was largely loyal to to the Union because in the mountains, there were no need of plantations, and a no plantation economy had few slaves, and thus slavery was largely not a hot bed issue as it was in other places dependent upon it.

The Knoxville News Sentinel has been running some interesting pieces on East Tennessee's involvement in the Civil war. Tennessee had a love/hate relationship with the whole issue of secession, and was not nearly as clear cut as other states, particularly in the Deep South. Tennessee as a state was the last to secede and the first to be re-admitted to the Union. The President who followed Lincoln, Andrew Johnson, was himself a Tennessean.

For those interested, there are a series of articles on the News Sentinel's website here.

There were basically two schools of thought in the Episcopal church in the South during the Civil War. One was a loyalist, one might say Tory, reaction, in the same way many Anglicans were loyal to Britain during the Revolution. The other branch was all in favor of Secession, often arguing (and in many cases drafting legislation) based on Henry VIII's break with Rome in the 1500s. Follow the logic of many Episcopal Confederate statesmen, and you will hear, often word for word, the wording of Henry VIII's Acts of Supremacy and other legislation.

One interesting bit is a tidbit here about a former Episcopal Priest who was rector of St. John's church in Knoxville (now St. John's Cathedral where I went when I was in college.) He refused to pray for the Confederacy when secession was announced and was forced to step down as rector. He later became President of ETSU and then the University of Tennessee during Reconstruction.

As in any Civil War, nothing is as clear cut as subsequent historians like to idealize. The Civil War, particularly in East Tennessee, was very much brother against brother and father against son.

Therein lies the tragedy.

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