'That Civil War'


Gertrude Stein


So I went walking around Richmond and seeing the statues there are a great many of them, and I meditated as I always had meditated about the Civil War. It was one of the interesting wars in the world the Civil War, the French revolutionary fighting before Napoleon took charge of it had been the first one of one crowd against another crowd of people just that, and the Civil War was completely that. The 1914-1918 war was bigger and had different arms but eventually it added nothing to what had been imagined in the Civil War and naturally I always thought about that. And here I was in Richmond and I had always thought about General Lee and I did think about that. I had always thought about General Lee and I did think about that. I had always thought not thought but felt that Lee was a man who knew that the South could not win of course he knew that thing how could a man who was destined by General Scott to succeed him in command of the American armies who knew that war was dependent upon arms and resources and who knew all that how could he not know that the South could not win and he did know it of that I am completely certain, he did know it, he acted he always acted like a man leading a country in defeat, he always knew it but and that is why I think him a weak man he did not have the courage to say it, if he had had the courage to say it, if he had had that courage well perhaps there would have been not just then and so not likely later that Civil War but if there had not been would America have been as interesting. Very likely very not. But the man who could knowing it lead his people to defeat it well any way I could never feel that any one could make a hero of him. I could not. I said this one day down in Charleston, I was talking to some man who had a Southern wife and a Southern father-in-law, who was an important Southern newspaper editor and he said that is interesting because my father-in-law one day it was a rainy Sunday and some body said something about Lee and my father-in-law said yes he was a great man a great great man and we all love him and I sometimes think that if he had been here of a rainy Sunday well yes I would not want him here all day of a rainy Sunday.

No, leading his fellow citizens to defeat did not excite him it did not exalt him it did not depress him, he did it because he could not say no to it and that does not make him interesting all day of a rainy Sunday.

So I was interested in being in Richmond and in Virginia and I was interested in hearing what they were all saying and I was interested, after all there never will be anything more interesting in America that that Civil War never.

Everybody's Autobiography, 1937


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