In recent Lima News columns, both Thomas Lucente and Neil Winget write about the Civil War in ways that deemphasize slavery while glorifying Confederate leaders as fighting for a “noble” cause. These columnists engage with an interpretation of the Civil War which downplays the overwhelming evidence showing that the war was first-and-foremost a conflict about the maintenance of slavery in the South.
Both columnists would have us believe that Robert E. Lee and other Confederate officers were honorable, well-meaning men — just products of their time. Yet these generals fought a war to uphold a system that enslaved human beings.
On Aug. 27th, Lucente writes that Lee “had more honor and character than any leftist calling for dismantling his monuments.” By suggesting Lee had more dignity and character than those protesting contemporary injustice, Lucente ignores Lee’s role as slaveowner. While he cites Lee’s own moral dilemma about slavery, Lucente fails to mention that Lee and his family owned slaves and, as leading Civil War historian Eric Foner noted in a recent New York Times article, Lee did not support civil rights for newly freed slaves after the war.
Similarly, on Aug. 26th, Neil Winget suggested that Lee and other Confederate leaders were not “evil,” but instead “misguided.” Like Lucente, Winget fails to consider the evilness of slavery and Lee’s complicity within this system of forced labor and exploitation.
Both columnists cling to outdated interpretations of the Lee and the Civil War, ones that have been refuted by historians not over the past year, but since the mid-twentieth century onward.
Brian Campbell, Lima