Coming Clean About Robert E. Lee, the Civil War, and the Deep South

Ty Seidule has written a book that immediately and unequivocally transforms him into a turncoat in the eyes of many southerners. Robert E. Lee and Me: A Southerner’s Reckoning with the Myth of the Lost Cause (St. Martin’s Press, 2021) is not the first book to challenge Confederacy sympathizers, but it offers a unique perspective from an author who has made the journey from apologist to critic and is completely forthright about a subject that is still extremely sensitive for so many Americans.

I am about the same age as the author, and I was raised in Georgia, the state where he spent many of his formative years. I know the landscape. I understand the vocabulary. I am keenly aware of how a horrible war that the rebellious Confederacy lost over 150 years ago left wounds that in many circles have yet to heal. I have seen the battle flag of that failed insurrection flying in the bed of pickup trucks, hung in windows of trailers and houses, proudly displayed on government property, and waved through the halls of the U.S. Capitol by modern-day insurrectionists. I have seen the long, dark shadow cast by the iconic and mythical leader of those Confederate forces – a man who is still revered and memorialized all over the South with language usually reserved for Biblical characters described in Sunday School lessons and from pulpits.

Confederate Response to Juneteenth in Graham
Confederate Response to Juneteenth in Graham Anthony Crider, CC BY 2.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

It takes amazing courage for a southerner who is also a decorated officer of the U.S. Army and a retired history professor at West Point to openly and very publicly admit that Robert E. Lee committed treason and should be viewed as a traitor to his country. And that’s exactly what Ty Seidule has done. I applaud his bravery and the extensive research he has completed to make that claim. This is a damn fine book, not because it covers new ground or reveals any real hidden truths, but because someone in a position of authority and respect is making a form of confession that deserves serious consideration.

Seidule has heard every excuse in the book for why the Civil War wasn’t about slavery, for why the Confederacy didn’t really lose the war, and for why Robert E. Lee was such an honorable man. For the first twenty years of his life, he believed the excuses too. He probably doesn’t give quite enough credit to his wife for finally helping him escape the vortex of Confederate mythology. She forced him to question what it means to be a “Christian Southern Gentleman,” something he had aspired to from childhood through his graduation from Washington and Lee University, an institution that has been responsible more than any other place for perpetuating the cult of Robert E. Lee. His thoughts about what it means to be a Christian and a gentleman have drastically changed through the years, and his perception of the South is much clearer than it was when he was a young man.

Robert E Lee Memorial, Richmond, VA
Robert E Lee Memorial, Richmond, VA Hal Jespersen at en.wikipedia, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

This book should be required reading in just about every college and university in the South, and even in many other parts of the country where the Civil War is still romanticized beyond recognition for what it truly was: a rebellious uprising against the United States of America. Seidule spends a lot of time talking about the impact of the novel and movie “Gone with the Wind,” which is appropriate; however, I wish he had given some attention to the earlier movie, “Birth of a Nation,” especially in his discussions of the Ku Klux Klan. One of the most striking arguments he makes concerns the inaccurate terminology that has been used for generations to describe the Civil War, including the ridiculous names for the conflict itself, from “the recent unpleasantness” to “the war of northern aggression.”

Seidule also makes a convincing point about how using the term “Union” is an inappropriate way to describe the U.S. Armed Forces while they fought against the Confederacy, as if the Union were some entity separate from the United States. That distinction brings us back to the problem with Robert E. Lee, who abandoned his commission as an officer of the U.S. Army and chose to side with a rebellious confederacy of states – a domestic enemy against whom Lee had sworn to protect his country. In the end, Lee was more loyal to the State of Virginia and the other southern states than he was to the United States, and that makes him a traitor. And it’s about time southerners and the rest of the nation came to terms with that stinging but absolutely honest indictment.

Robert E. Lee and Me by Ty Seidule (book cover)
Robert E. Lee and Me by Ty Seidule (book cover)

Southern Word of the Day (Part 4)

Here is the latest installment of my favorite Southern words, and perhaps Jeff Foxworthy has used these too.  No plagiarism is intended here; I can only plead ignorance, which for me is not a stretch at all.

Ratified.  Usage: “I could have killed that ratified had my pistol with me in the kitchen.”

Fertilize.  Usage: “Earl’s gonna pay dearly fertilize he’s been telling about Billy Bob and Charlene.”

Barn.  Usage: “Times have been tough lately, and we’ve been barn money from my parents just to make payments on the truck.”

Bayou.  Usage: “Do you mind if I sit bayou at Thanksgiving dinner?”

Canopy.  Usage: “I know we’re in a hurry, but canopy before we go?”

Nominee.  Usage: “I fell off the four-wheeler and nominee is swollen and hurts something awful.”

Doctorate.  Usage: “Billy Bob cut his hand, and Charlene needs to doctorate before it gets infected.”

Commodious.  Usage: “Quick! Somebody run in there and tell Billy Bob that the commodious on is clogged up!”

Shawls.  Usage: “This casserole dish left from homecoming at the church last Sunday isn’t ours, so I guess its shawls.”

Automated.  Usage: “It’s almost midnight. Billy Bob and Charlene automated home by now.”

Benefited.  Usage: “Billy Bob’s already benefited for his tux, and he’s a-getting real excited about being the best man at my wedding.”

Coffin.  Usage: “This summer cold has got me coffin up a storm!”

Southern Word of the Day (Part 3)
Southern Word of the Day (Part 2)
Southern Word of the Day (Part 1)

Southern Word of the Day (Part 3)

Here is the latest installment of my favorite Southern words, and perhaps Jeff Foxworthy has used these too.  No plagiarism is intended here; I can only plead ignorance, which for me is not a stretch at all.

Iota.  Usage: “Just heard from the accountant that iota IRS some more money for 2015.”

Fawn.  Usage: “I never woulda believed it could happen, but I think Billy Bob is fawn in love with Charlene.”

Defensive.  Usage: “The deer ain’t able to jump defensive you make it high enough.”

Napkin.  Usage: “If I get drowsy after lunch, taking a quick napkin usually get me through the rest of the day.”

Conjure.  Usage: “Billy Bob, I can’t believe you conjure way out of going shopping with Charlene this weekend. What kinda story did you make up this time?”

Urinal.  Usage:  “Charlene heard about us going out last night, Billy Bob, and now urinal lot of trouble dude.”

Foamy.  Usage: “It’s gettin’ cold in here.  How about shuttin’ that door foamy.”

Avenue.  Usage: “I heard they avenue ride at the fair this year that’s making everybody puke!”

Southern Word of the Day (Part 2)
Southern Word of the Day (Part 1)

Southern Word of the Day (Part 2)

This is the second installment of Southern words.  For the last couple of years, I have been entertaining myself (not difficult) and my Facebook Friends with posts that I have coined “The Southern Word of the Day.”  Obviously, this gig is a direct rip-off of the comedian Jeff Foxworthy’s redneck words, and there is certainly some overlap.  However, I have imposed some rules on myself that Foxworthy didn’t always follow. For instance, I only use legitimate English-language words, which includes the occasional place name but mostly just regular words.  So I would never use Foxworthy’s “widgedidga” because it isn’t a legitimate word, even though it clearly is a phonetically-correct Southern word that translates to “with you did you.”  So Foxworthy’s word “mayonnaise” as a substitute for “man there is” serves as a good example of my method.  I also try to stay away from the simple two-syllable rip-offs like aster = asked her, or cider = beside her, or otter = ought to, or stark = it’s dark.

I have decided to put together a list of my favorite Southern words that I have posted, and perhaps Jeff Foxworthy has used these too.  No plagiarism is intended here; I can only plead ignorance, which for me is not a stretch at all.

Memberships.  Usage: “Back in the day when we was bar hoppin’ on River Street in Savannah, I memberships used to come by on the river so close you thought you could reach out and touch ’em.”

Artichoke.  Usage: “As cold as it’s been lately, you really artichoke that lawnmower engine before you try to crank it.”

Classified.  Usage: “I’d have been early to classified been able to find a parking place on campus.”

Tortoise.  Usage: “It scared me when I saw Billy Bob coming tortoise with that chain saw in his hands.”

Animator.  Usage: “The hamburger would be so much better if you’d put some bacon animator on it.”

Diversity.  Usage: “Earl did a good job singing, but I don’t think I’ve ever heard diversity was singing on that song at the Uncle Ned’s funeral.”

Mariner.  Usage: “I heard Billy Bob was dating Charlene; then the next thing I know he was mariner.  I wonder if she’s in trouble?”

Hibachi.  Usage: “How can you say Billy Bob don’t love you when hibachi that brand new set of steak knives just last month?”

Southern Word of the Day (Part 1)

Southern Word of the Day

For the last couple of years, I have been entertaining myself (not difficult) and my Facebook Friends with posts that I have coined “The Southern Word of the Day.”  Obviously, this gig is a direct rip-off of the comedian Jeff Foxworthy’s redneck words, and there is certainly some overlap.  However, I have imposed some rules on myself that Foxworthy didn’t always follow. For instance, I only use legitimate English-language words, which includes the occasional place name but mostly just regular words.  So I would never use Foxworthy’s “widgedidga” because it isn’t a legitimate word, even though it clearly is a phonetically-correct Southern word that translates to “with you did you.”  So Foxworthy’s word “mayonnaise” as a substitute for “man there is” serves as a good example of my method.  I also try to stay away from the simple two-syllable rip-offs like aster = asked her, or cider = beside her, or otter = ought to, or stark = it’s dark.

I have decided to put together a list of my favorite Southern words that I have posted, and perhaps Jeff Foxworthy has used these too.  No plagiarism is intended here; I can only plead ignorance, which for me is not a stretch at all.

Fornication.  Usage: “Charlene’s dress is perfect fornication like tonight.”

Covetous.  Usage: “It was so cold that Momma pulled out a blanket and covetous up with it.”

Quesadilla.  Usage: “You need to have your brights on in quesadilla runs out in front of us.”

Spectators.  Usage: “Broccoli is fine, but I spectators would taste a whole lot better with that steak.”

Anemone.  Usage: “I was running just fine anemone started hurting, and I had to stop.”

Ammonia.  Usage: “Would you come open the door?  Ammonia front porch!”

Motif.  Usage: “Billy Bob would smile more if he just had motif.”

Enema.  Usage: “My mother-in-law is always sticking her nose enema business.”

Pasteurize.  Usage: “I walked right pasteurize, and you didn’t even see me!”

September.  Usage: “We have grown everything on that 40 acres you can imagine September.”

Annuity.  Usage: “He was having trouble getting it out, but annuity was trying to say.”

Annihilator.  Usage: “We got stuck in traffic and ended up getting there annihilator than we thought we would.”