Another Cold War: Documenting America's Cold Civil War

Historians in the News
tags: Confederacy, Lost Cause

Last week, I mentioned French journalist Paul Guilhard’s last dispatch before he was killed at Ole Miss in the fall 1962  riots over James Meredith’s admission to the university. Almost a century after the official end of the American Civil War, Guilhard wrote, “The Civil War never came to an end.”

Almost 60 years after Guilard’s last dispatch, there is plenty of evidence the Civil War is still being waged. In fact, journalist and author Connor Towne O’Neill calls it America’s “cold” Civil War.

Barbara J. Fields was the first Black woman professor to earn tenure at Columbia University. A professor of American history, especially of the American South, she agrees with Guilhard and O’Neill that “the Civil War is still going on.” She goes a step further: She says, “It is still to be fought and, regrettably, to lose.”

In a 2020 book, Down Along with That Devil’s Bones: A Reckoning with Monuments, Memory, and the Legacy of White Supremacy, O’Neill documents the cold Civil War by following battles over monuments to Confederate Gen. Nathan Beford Forrest given to the fictional character Forrest Gump and to streets and counties all over the South, but especially in Forrest’s native Tennessee. There are controversial monuments to him in Memphis and Nashville, and despite protests, his name remains on Forrest Hall at Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro.


After Dylann Roof attempted to start a race war by murdering nine people at prayer in Charleston, South Carolina, in 2015, attacks on Confederate monuments intensified. By early 2017, campaigns to remove them had heated up. In New Orleans, when Gen. Robert E. Lee’s statue was removed from Lee Circle, Mayor Mitch Landrieu delivered a scathing speech that O’Neill quotes: “These monuments purposefully celebrate a fictionalized, sanitized Confederacy, ignoring the death, ignoring the enslavement, and the terror that it actually stood for.” Removing them was “making straight what was crooked, making right what was wrong.”

About the same time, New York-based journalist Ann Banks decided to retrieve from deep inside her office closet a foot-high pile of papers left to her by her father from his Alabama relatives. Banks knew she was a direct descendent of Alfred J. Pickett, planter and cousin to Gen. George Pickett of Pickett’s ill-fated Charge at Gettysburg and other prominent Confederates. She never had wanted to explore her ancestry. “For a long while I believed the Civil War was over,” she writes in an introductory essay on her website, Confederates in my Closet.

“There are many kinds of not knowing,” Banks goes on. “There is knowing and then forgetting. There is knowing but failing to imagine. And then there is just looking away. These were all ways I did not know the stories that make up my paternal family history, populated with slaveholders and Confederate generals.”


Editor's note: Ann Banks is continuing to document her investigation of her personal Confederate legacies in the context of the nation's reckoning with its past on her HNN blog, which launched this week. 

Read entire article at Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting

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