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HIST 150: Unlearning US History (Fall 2022)

The Civil War Remembered (in my town)

In the early 90s, I read this 1957 novel in school. It's about a young boy who, through various adventures, ends up fighting for the North and then South.

Cover of book shows young boy in Civil War uniform. The coloring in such you can't tell if its Grey or Blue.

It's not too surprising that, even in the 90s, my teachers assigned a novel that sought to humanize the southern causes.

Our town claimed a proud tradition of being in the Confederacy, our firetrucks (all 2!) had the Confederate flag on the sides until 2010.

There are secession plaques throughout my town.

Plaque declaring the town left the union in 1861

 

Two oddities:

  1. The town claimed to have no rejoined the until until Jan 1946
  2. The town is in Western NY, about 30 miles from the city of Buffalo.

shows location of town in WNY

 

Town Fire Dept patch proudly declare's the towns former membership in the Confederacy

 

Seal of the town declares the townsfolk "the last confederates"

 

Did this really happen?

Well, no.

There are no historic records of this happening, and the first documentation is from 1948 when a local newspaper ran a story about the town. The only source was oral tradition. One recently history.com article does give a citation for a 1861 news article. I ordered the newspaper on microfilm -- there is no mention.

 

Why does this matter for our class?

Depictions of historical events & historical memory matter.

Why does a town in upstate NY proudly claim - without evidence - to have been in the confederacy?

Perhaps it's because kids are exposed books like Rifles for Watie at a young age.

Why would the town cling to and promote this myth beginning in the 1940s?

Perhaps because of demographics changes in the region due to the  postwar growth of Buffalo, or perhaps because of the romance of the past.