Why I Couldn’t Agree With Bruce Catton

by Al Benson Jr.

Member, Board of Directors, Confederate Society of America

Over the years I have read a bit of “Civil War” history from a lot of authors with divergent opinions on many things. Somehow, though, Bruce Catton’s view of the War was just not one I could get comfortable with. It was sort of like James M. McPherson’s view of the War, and you all know who he was. If you ever read anything I wrote about the War you will recall I couldn’t get comfortable with McPherson’s worldview regarding the War and the reasons for it either. And while McPherson’s books have often been cited on the World Socialist Website in the past, I couldn’t find anything in that regard about Bruce Catton.

However, McPherson’s and Catton’s views appear quite similar when it comes to the notorious Forty-Eighters that Donnie Kennedy and I wrote about in Lincoln’s Marxists.

A friend in New Jersey recently sent me a paragraph out of Catton’s The Army of the Potomac: Glory Road, from page 172 of the book. This is one I had not read, and it probably explains why I am glad I did not make the effort. Even when you research history,  there are times when you can only stand so much propaganda and, though he probably did not intend to do it, that’s exactly what Mr. Catton gave us in this instance. I will comment here on some of what he said in this paragraph.

He started out with: The nation inherited something rich and strange when the German revolutionary movement broke up in blood and proscription lists,  with the best men of a dozen German states hastening to America.   The 1848 revolts in Germany and several other European countries were socialist revolts. That being the case, it would seem that Catton is trying to tell us that the “best men” from a dozen German states were all socialists or communists, because that’s what took part in this revolution. Catton may not be aware of this–in which case you might do well to ask just what else he is unaware of. Either that or his worldview has no problem with socialists. I can’t say definitively either way.

He continues: These Germans were deadly serious about words which Americans took blithely for granted, words like liberty and like freedom and democracy.  It seems as if Catton is totally unaware of the fact that these words do not mean the same things to socialists and communists that they mean to us. When they use such terms they are not saying  what we say when we use them. Lots of ignorant people who eulogize the Forty-Eighters make this grave error. They do not understand how the Leftists use language to confuse their adversaries–and if we are not Leftists, then we are all their adversaries.

Catton says: They (the Forty-Eighters) made up a substantial part of the ground which the free-soil men had cultivated in the 1850s and when the war came they had seen the Union cause as their own cause, with freedom for the black man as one of its sure ultimate goals. This is yet another confirmation that the socialists/communists  saw the Union cause as their own. As for “freeing the slaves” their motives were hardly humanitarian no matter what they said. They were every bit as “racist” as those Southern folks they accused of “racism.” They felt that “freeing” the slaves would uproot the South and cause major problems for the Confederacy and so they endorsed it. The South was the part of the country that was the most Christian and conservative and the most opposed to the socialist designs of both the Establishment in Washington, New York and London.

As Catton wound down in this paragraph he stated:  Their leaders were men who had lost their fortunes and risked their necks, taking up arms for liberty in a land of kings who resisted change, and these leaders called the Germans to the colors as soon as Fort Sumter was bombarded.  Almost sounds as if Sumter was their signal to be up and moving!

What Catton seemed unable to grasp here is that the socialists/communists in Germany, as well as in the rest of Europe, did not fight for liberty for the common man, as we know it. They fought to centralize all the German states into one collectivist entity–with their friends in control of it! The same held true for what they sought to do all over Europe. They fought for collectivization–not liberty. And that’s what they fought for here also. They knew, at least at the leadership levels, where Lincoln was coming from and they knew they had a shot at doing here what they had failed to do in Europe, because they had a leader in Washington that agreed with them!

Until we learn to get this history straight we will continue to make the same stupid errors that we have seen, purposely or otherwise, for the last 150 years. Unfortunately, authors like Mr. Catton who end up glorifying socialists and communists don’t help us much!