Review of Charles Lunsford's Video The South Speaks Out

Michael T. Griffith

2003

@All Rights Reserved

Third Edition

Charles Lunsford's video, The South Speaks Out, is popular among Southern heritage defense groups. In the video Lunsford gives a valuable, entertaining presentation on the South's side of the Civil War. He makes a number of valid points, but he also makes some mistakes. Let's start with the mistakes.

Perhaps Lunsford misspeaks, but in discussing secession, he says no one questioned the South's right to secede. Obviously, this is incorrect. Certainly Abraham Lincoln and many others in the Republican Party argued that the South did not have the right to secede. Lincoln denied the legality of secession in his first inaugural address.

Lunsford claims Lincoln's election had "nothing" to do with the South's secession and that the reason the South seceded was that so many Republican members of Congress endorsed Hinton Helper's book The Impending Crisis of the South, which was published in 1857. There is no doubt that Helper's book and the Republican Party's approval of it, even though the book endorsed the idea of a violent slave revolt, were factors that led to secession. However, there's also no doubt that Lincoln's election was the critical event that triggered secession. For the states of the Deep South, it was the straw that broke the camel's back. In February of 1860, well before the election, the Alabama legislature passed a resolution that said the state should secede if a Republican were elected president. The Alabama ordinance of secession cites Lincoln's election as one of the reasons for the state's decision to secede. Prior to the election, other Southern leaders expressed the position that their states should secede if Lincoln were elected. A few days after Lincoln won the election, South Carolina's legislature ordered the selection of delegates for a convention to decide the state's future. A short time later, on December 29, that convention voted unanimously for secession. Less than six weeks after that, six other Southern states seceded.

In his comments on slavery, Lunsford puts the percentage of Southerners who did not own slaves at 90 percent. Most experts put the percentage at 75-80 percent, which is still a substantial majority. One expert who disagrees with this conclusion is John Niven, who argues that "less than 10 percent of the white population held slaves" (Niven, The Coming of the Civil War: 1837-1861, Arlington Heights, Illinois: Harlan Davidson, Inc., 1990, p. 34). The 1860 census says 31 percent of families in the South owned slaves. It is likely that most of those families consisted of at least two adults. If so, that would put the percentage of slave-owning adults at around 16 percent. If this estimate is correct, then approximately 84 percent of adults in the South did not own slaves. This percentage of non-slaveowners could be lower if a substantial minority of the slave-owning families included only one adult. However, it could also be higher if a significant portion of the families included more than one adult. Lunsford's figure of 90 percent would appear to be off by about 6 percent.

Lunsford opines that most slaves did not leave their owners during the American Revolutionary War. In point of fact, slaves ran away in large numbers during the Revolutionary War. Thomas Jefferson estimated that in 1778 alone more than 30,000 Virginia slaves ran away. Between 1775 and 1783 the state of South Carolina lost about 25,000 slaves. And it has been estimated that Georgia lost about 75 percent of its slaves during the Revolutionary War years.

Lunsford says Southern states didn't try to prohibit slaves from learning to read until the appearance of Helper's book The Impending Crisis of the South. This is incorrect. Helper's book appeared in 1857. Some Southern states had laws against teaching slaves to read prior to the publication of Helper's book (see Niven, The Coming of the Civil War, p. 25). (It should be mentioned that some Southerners ignored these laws and taught slaves how to read.)

I think Lunsford overstates the degree to which slaves remained subservient while their masters were away during the war. Lunsford is correct in saying the slaves could have devastated the South if they had risen up in violent revolt while their masters were away, and it's true that this didn't happen. However, many slaves did in fact leave their plantations when they had the chance, especially when they knew Union soldiers were nearby, and Southern wartime diaries and letters are full of complaints about insubordination among slaves (see, for example, Emory Thomas, The Confederacy as a Revolutionary Experience, University of South Carolina Press, 1971, pp. 121-127).

Concerning the treatment of Union prisoners at the Confederate prison camp at Andersonville, Georgia, Lunsford's essential point is correct, but two of the arguments he makes in support of that point are in error. Lunsford says that General William Tecumseh Sherman made no effort to liberate those prisoners, and that the death rate among the prisoners was the same as the death rate among the guards. Both claims are incorrect. Sherman did in fact send a Union division to liberate the prisoners at Andersonville, but a Confederate force intercepted the division, and the death rate among the prisoners was five times higher than it was among the guards (James McPherson, The Battle Cry of Freedom, New York: Ballantine Books, 1988, pp. 755, 802). However, Lunsford is correct in arguing that the North's attempt to blame Confederate officials for the high death rate at Andersonville was unfair and unfounded.

While discussing the Fort Sumter incident, Lunsford makes the comment that Lincoln "knew" he had no right to keep federal troops at federal forts that were in Confederate territory. If Lincoln knew this, he certainly never said anything along this line. In fact, Lincoln expressed the opposite view in his first inaugural address.

Lunsford does get a number of things right. I think he makes valid points concerning:

* Lincoln's provocative handling of the dispute over Fort Sumter

* Social injustices in the North that were nearly as bad as plantation slavery and the hypocrisy of the North's attacks on the evil of slavery

* The sovereignty of the states when they ratified the Articles of Confederation and later the Constitution

* The right of secession as a moral and legal right

* The cruel and vicious conduct of most of the Union forces in the South

* The incomplete and biased nature of most textbooks on the Civil War

* The harsh nature of Reconstruction

* The North's role as the aggressor and its refusal to consider peaceful coexistence

In summary, Lunsford's video contains some errors, but it also contains numerous valid points. On balance, it is accurate and well done, albeit not flawless. It's definitely worth watching if you want to see a good 80-minute defense of the Confederacy. You'll certainly learn some history that isn't taught in most textbooks.

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Michael T. Griffith holds a Masterís degree in Theology from The Catholic Distance University, a Graduate Certificate in Ancient and Classical History from American Military University, a Bachelor of Science degree in Liberal Arts from Excelsior College, two Associate in Applied Science degrees from the Community College of the Air Force, and an Advanced Certificate of Civil War Studies and a Certificate of Civil War Studies from Carroll College. He is a two-time graduate in Arabic and Hebrew of the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, California, and of the U.S. Air Force Technical Training School in San Angelo, Texas. He is the author of four books on Mormonism and ancient texts, and of one book on the John F. Kennedy assassination. He has completed advanced Hebrew programs at Haifa University in Israel and at the Spiro Institute in London, England.

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