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By Stanley Bowling, Supervisor, Content Operations
A very dear friend recently said she did not need to know anything about history since it did not impact her daily life. As much as I respect her, I would disagree with that statement. History impacts our lives everyday and the consequences of the past can bless or plague us today, and those that come after us. Having so much history preserved in the ProQuest databases helps to bring that truth out in bold ways that often easily relate to events today.
Take for example the events of November 6, 1865 along the Mersey River in Liverpool, England.
"The Confederate cruiser, Shenandoah, which, notwithstanding the close of the American war, has been committing great ravages upon shipping" as the Manchester Guardian reported. Captain James Waddell had just surrendered the final combatant from the Confederacy and brought to a close the hostilities in the American Civil War. While the actual event had no impact on the war, it does affect both the legacy of the Confederacy today and how some people choose to react to it.
The final lowering of the Confederate ensign began a path to the myth of "The Lost Cause" that grew in the American South in the 1870's and 1880's, especially as Reconstruction was underway. This was an effort to rewrite the history of the war and the causes that led to it.
Is it any wonder that such would start with the surrender of the Shenandoah when newspapers published conflicting reports?
Where The Guardian says the Shenandoah was inflicting "ravages upon shipping," The Scotsman, reporting on the same event, on the same day, published that the Shenandoah was "doing but little damage" and that it had waged war against "harmless whalers of the Arctic seas."
The Guardian expressed that "as she came up the river, the Shenandoah excited great attention" but The Scotsman said that her journey up the river created "little or no excitement." These obvious differences are similar to what we may read in a news report today.
Different perspectives on the same event can be meant to promote a specific feeling that the editor wants the reader to have, to support an agenda or can be the result of observing from a different angle. But, the glamorization of the "ravages upon shipping" helped create the illusion that the battle for the Southern cause continued.
The reality was that the Shenandoah was repeatedly told that the war was over, yet continued to raid American whalers (and not because they were protesting whaling, but for the prize of the capture). In other words, they were preying on their fellow citizens, with an action that was not very glamorous.
The Guardian said that upon being informed of the war's end, the captain "at once stowed away his guns and ammunition" and proceeded to port to surrender, seemingly implying that they did the honorable thing, but, as The Scotsman pointed out, the captain was "repeatedly told both by English and French skippers whom he met on the high seas that the war between the North and South had terminated, he refuses to believe them, and proceeds on his destructive errand."
In the South, Captain Waddell was seen as someone who pursued the cause of the Southern life even after the other warriors had stopped. The great cause was not "lost" as long as such men carried the torch! This was further exemplified in coming years as The Atlanta Constitution reported on May 12, 1899.
On the same day that the American Library Association was meeting in Atlanta, Georgia, the public was displaying Confederate battle flags. Roundly praising Wade Hampton and presenting him with a silk Confederate battle flag to show that the cause was still alive.
This former Confederate general was also a governor and senator for South Carolina after the war, and his strong opposition to any rights for former slaves made him a champion of "The Lost Cause."
He was recognized beyond measure of his battlefield exploits because of his hatred for African-Americans. His legacy of suppression and violence against them has lived on in the murderous acts of this past summer in Wade Hampton's home city of Charleston. The promotion of the values of the "Lost Cause" in the mind of the assailant as he killed, because of their race, the members of Emanuel AME church in Charleston were values Wade Hampton would have understood.
Was this a result of the lengthy fight of the Shenandoah? Was the "Lost Cause" created by the actions of that ship?
Certainly not, but it did become a part of the legacy of continuing to fight and hate after the war was over and that does impact our lives today.
It does not take much research to see the Confederate battle flag in the news, to hear the voices of hatred for those of a different race or to find that the "Lost Cause" is not lost, but is sadly still vibrant, even 150 years after the last surrender of the last Confederates.
If we do not remember the history and the lessons of the past, we are forever doomed to keep going in the same direction. By spending just a little time looking at history, a task made much easier by the ProQuest historical databases, we can get an understanding of the past, sift out its bad, hang onto the good and not let a "lost cause" dictate our actions.
One Hundred-Fifty years ago the South lost the war but it was nearly 100 more years before many African-Americans actually tasted that victory. Remembering and knowing our history may help inspire us to have more empathy and understanding for others, even after 150 years.
THE CONFEDERATE CRUISER SHENANDOAH IN THE MERSEY. The Manchester Guardian (1828-1900); Nov 7, 1865; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The Guardian and The Observer pg. 5
ARRIVAL AND SURRENDER OF THE SHENANDOAH IN THE MERSEY. Our Liverpool Correspondent. The Scotsman (1860-1920); Nov 7, 1865; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The Scotsman pg. 3
NAME OF WINNIE DAVIS HONORED: Assembled Veterans at Charleston Hold. The Atlanta Constitution (1881-1945); May 12, 1899; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The Atlanta Constitution pg. 1
THE SHENANDOAH: THE LAST ANGLO-REBEL PIRATE HER ARRIVAL AT LIVERPOOL. The New York Herald (1840-1865); Nov 21, 1865; ProQuest Civil War Era pg. 5