Vol. IV, No. 4, Spring 1991 / Vol. V, No. 1, Summer 1991

"Union History" and "Confederate History"

The following letters between Editor Flanders and Jerry Ponder bear on the significant question of Union vs Confederate viewpoints in the writing of Civil War history. They are reprinted for our readers with Mr. Ponder's permission.

Flanders to Ponder, December 10, 1990

John Bradbury has just sent me copies of the exchange of letters between the two of you dated November 27 and December 2 ....

I note in your letter the statement "as with any Confederate history in this area, 'tradition' has to be used for much of the research." The Southern orientation of your work was forecast at the beginning of one article where you alluded to the "defense of Ripley County."

Perhaps [you might] explain to our readers what "Confederate history" is...and why, more than a century and a quarter after the event, it is necessary or desirable to continue to write "Confederate history" or "Union history...." Certain it is, after the re-arousal of national interest (and the re-arousal of some sectional feeling) following the Civil War on PBS a couple of months ago, that people need to continue to sort out the issues of that long ago, dreadful affair. Perhaps we can, through the publication of your work, aid in that process among our own readers.

Ponder to Flanders, December 17, 1990

Thank you for your letter of December 10, 1990, and the comments on "Confederate history."

...My thoughts are not unique concerning the western border areas during the war. Many feel that neither side actually won our Civil War, but the people of Southern Missouri and Northern Arkansas did definitely lose the war. In Ripley County the population in 1860 was only 3,750. Several hundred...fought for the South and many tried to remain neutral. Only 14 have been identified as being in the Union army and several of those only for a few months at the end of the war. It seems as if those that enlisted in the Confederate Army did so to protect their homes, not to invade the North or to fight away from their home territory. Even General Sterling Price's Missouri troops, almost deserted the Confederacy when they were moved east of the Mississippi River and Confederate authorities found it necessary to transfer General Price and most of his forces back to the Trans-Mississippi District.

After the war ended, many books were written, most by "Northern" writers. The "Confederate" writers wrote more of the big battles, most in the east, ignoring the more remote areas. Even before the war ended, Union soldiers were used to locate and document burial locations of all Northern soldiers, but it was many years after the war ended before any attempt was made to officially identify Confederate soldiers killed in battle very often resulting in a grave marked only "Unidentified Confederate Soldier." As a result, what references that are available for research in the more remote areas of the Trans-Mississippi District are [only] as factual as Union Army commanders or writers wanted them to be, and, often, many important facts were left out.

Examples of this can be found in practically every action. [In the case of] the burning of Doniphan, all Union reports failed to mention that Doniphan was burned by Union soldiers and there was certainly no mention that specific orders were given by superior commanders that the town be burned. It was not until 1903, over forty years after the fact, that a Union participant in the action, William Nevin, admitted that the soldiers did burn the town.

Another example may be seen in the Wilson Massacre. In Ripley County it has always been known that many women and children were shot and killed by Union soldiers on Christmas Day, 1863, as part of the action in Battleground Hollow, but, nowhere is that fact included in a Union report.

Confederate history is a second point of view--often a second set of facts. It is necessary to present these facts, both sides, in our great country. The same as with our two-party system where each person decides and casts a personal vote, Democracy demands that all facts, both "Yankee" and "Rebel," be presented, then each reader make conclusions of their own, comparing "Confederate history" with "Union history." That process has been made possible by descendants of both sides in the Civil War as well as later immigrants, fighting side-by-side in later wars to further preserve our country. Certainly presentation of the two sides is not a renewal of the Civil War, but a means to insure that no such war is ever again fought.


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