Tuesday, July 22, 2008

"Those People"

Has anyone noticed that Robert E. Lee always refers to Union forces in conversation as "those people"? He never refers to them as "those Yankees" or "those Northerners." It's always "those people." Is it just an idiosyncracy, or was it some southern thing? Is it meant to be demeaning? I've always found it jarring.

I spotted this tendency some time ago, but I've never cataloged it. Well, you've got to start somewhere. Brian Burton has a chapter title that incorporates the phrase: "How Are We to Get at Those People?" Let's start there. Here's the scene:
On June 16, [1862,] after [Lee] told Stonewall Jackson to bring the Valley veterans to Richmond, he rode to the Chickahominy River with his military secretary, Col. Armistead L. Long. Lee, looking over the northern bank of the river, mused, "Now, Colonel Long. how are we to get at those people?" Long kept quiet, for he knew Lee well enough to know that the question was rhetorical.

I couldn't resist the illustration, even though its relevance is slight. It's entitled "Grant turning Lee's flank." Nineteenth Century humor often doesn't translate well, but that's just wonderful.

1 comment:

  1. That is a wonderful illustration!


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