Civil War stories: Book features writings of the Confederacy
The News & Advance, Lynchburg, Va.
Bo Traywick's Civil War may not be your Civil War, and that's OK with him.
Actually, it's Bo Traywick Jr., the second consecutive H.V. Traywick to own that nickname. His great-grandfather was The Rev. Joseph Traywick, a Confederate prisoner during the war and Methodist minister afterward.
Bo Jr. recently published "Empire of the Owls," a collection of writings from people associated with the Confederacy or commenting on it. Some are real-time accounts of battles; others have the principles in those battles looking back with hindsight.
"I decided that they could tell their stories better than I could," Traywick said, "so I just got out of the way and let them tell it."
Among those quoted are Gen. Jubal Early, hero of the Battle of Lynchburg and post-war Lynchburg resident; Hill City attorney John Warwick Daniel, badly wounded during the war and subject of a statue on Park Avenue; and several officers who served under Robert E. Lee and provided a poignant portrait of him.
While Traywick's unabashed purpose is to tell the Confederate side, he is not a battle-flag-waving, unreconstructed rebel. His research is meticulous, and his sources include philosophers and pundits on several continents.
"I would never say that slavery was a good system," he said. "If nothing else, it wasn't good economically. When you own slaves, you wind up having to support their whole family, and that's just not practical. Plus, if people aren't given their freedom, they eventually take it."
Furthermore, Traywick believes the blame can be spread around beyond just the South — the New England slave ships, the African tribal leaders who provided them with human cargo, the northern factories using cotton picked by slaves on plantations.
Unlike most of us, however, he doesn't think slavery was the root cause of the Civil War. To him, economics was.
"The North needed the South," the Richmond resident said during a recent visit to his native Lynchburg, "not the other way around. The South was providing much of the raw materials that went into northern factories."
Through Traywick's lens, then, the North was willing to keep the South in the Union by force, if necessary. His Exhibit A is the firing on Fort Sumter.
"What you read is that the North had to send ships down to Charleston to resupply Fort Sumter," he said, "but Maj. Anderson, the Union commander there, actually had an open bill with any grocery store in Charleston for supplies.
"When the fort was fired upon, the Union fleet just sat beyond the harbor and never fired a shot in defense of it. To me, that showed that it was just a provocation."
Otherwise, Traywick argues, why would the yeoman farmer with a small plot of tobacco and no slaves feel compelled to risk his life in defense of a wealthy neighbor with whom he had little in common?
In his own life, Traywick has proven himself something of a maverick. A graduate of E.C. Glass High School, he studied engineering at the Virginia Military Institute and served a term in Vietnam when that war was at its hottest ("We spent our time building bridges and blowing up other bridges," he said).
After his discharge, he was on his way to a career as a successful engineer when a disquieting thought intruded.
"I realized that I hated engineering," he said. "I took every engineering course twice at VMI, which I guess should have made me twice as smart as the average engineer, but it just wasn't what I wanted to do the rest of my life."
A chance encounter put him on a sailboat as a crew member. Later, he worked his way up to tug boat captain, a post he still occupies on an occasional basis.
"It has to be something fairly close now," he said. "I'm not going to take a long trip just to bump a few barges around and come home."
Traywick was doing some research on his great-grandfather in order to write a brief description of his life for his family.
"I found some letters he had written," he recalled, "and when I told people about that, a lot of them had letters from Civil War ancestors, too, and the thing just sort of grew."
The title comes from British writer Thomas Carlyle: "Like owls they say, 'Barabbas will do; ... the Right Honorable Minimus is well enough; he shall be our Maximus, under him it will be handy to catch mice, and Owldom shall continue a flourishing empire."
This, to Traywick, seemed a serviceable metaphor for Reconstruction.
"I'm not one of those people who say the South would have won the war if this or that had come out differently," he said. "My point is, the war should never have happened."