Browsing "Southern Heroism"
Aug 10, 2018 - American Military Genius, Southern Culture Laid Bare, Southern Heroism, Southern Patriots    Comments Off on The True Test of Civilization

The True Test of Civilization

The True Test of Civilization

“Outwardly, Jackson was not a stone wall, for it was not in his nature to be stationary and defensive but vigorously active. He was like an avalanche coming from an unexpected quarter, like a thunderbolt from a clear sky. And yet he was in character and will more like a stone wall than any man I have known.

On the field his judgment seemed instinctive. No one of his staff ever knew him to change his mind in battle. There was a short, quick utterance, like the flash of the will from an inspired intelligence, and the command was imperative and final.

He was remarkable for as a commander for the care of his troops and had daily knowledge of the work of all the staff departments – supply, medical, ordnance. His ten minutes rest in the hour was like the law of Medes and Persians, and some of his generals were in frequent trouble for their neglect of it.

Of such things he was careful, until the hour of action arrived, and then, no matter how many were left behind, he must reach the point of attack with as large a force as possible. He must push the battle to the bitter end and never pause until he had reaped the fruits of victory. Over and over again he rode among his advancing troops, with his hand uplifted, crying, “Forward men, forward; press forward!”

He well understood that it was a volunteer and patriot soldiery with which he had to do, not with an army of regulars, disciplined and drilled and fought as a machine. Contented and happy in camp, in the field they asked only the will of their commander, and went into the fire of battle with a moral power that was irresistible.

It was not for the defense of slavery that these men left their homes and suffered privation and faced the peril of battle. Bred in whatever school of American politics, these men believed, to a man, in the integrity and sovereignty of the commonwealth, and, men like Robert E. Lee, they laid down everything and came to the borders to resist invasion at the call of the Mother. The troops that Stonewall Jackson led were like him, largely, in principle and in aim, and he rode among them as one of themselves – a war genius of their own breeding.

“The true test of civilization,” says Emerson, “is not the census, nor the size of the cities, nor the crops; no, but the kind of men the country turns out.”

(Some Elements of Stonewall Jackson’s Character, James Power Smith; Southern Historical Society Papers, Volume XLIII, September 1920, Broadfoot Publishing (1991), excerpts pp. 61-62)

Jul 3, 2018 - Antebellum Realities, Lost Cultures, Southern Conservatives, Southern Culture Laid Bare, Southern Heroism, Southern Patriots, Southern Women    Comments Off on “There Are Some Things Worse than Death”

“There Are Some Things Worse than Death”

The world of the Old South was deeply rooted in Greek civilization, and saw the glory of warriors as did Xenophon: “And when their fated end comes, they do not lie forgotten and without honor, but they are remembered and flourish eternally in men’s praises.” It was said then of family attachment that “one’s kin were indistinguishable from oneself” – the defense of the kin-related community was the brave man’s obligation.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.org

 

“There are Worse Things than Death”

“Among the attitudes brought from the Old World was the ancient system for determining who belonged among the worthy and who did not. The first signs of an archaic honor appeared in the forests – not where Hawthorne’s story opens, but in regions beyond the Alps, before Christ, before Rome. The ethic of honor had Indo-European origins.

From the wilderness of central Europe and Asia a succession of conquering tribes had come into prehistoric Greece, then, a millennia later, into Roman Gaul, Spain, Italy, and Great Britain, and finally, in the last upheaval, by sea from Scandinavia into parts of the once Roman world.

These peoples shared a number of ideas about how men and women should behave. They had thoughts in common about the nature of the human body, the mind, the soul, the meaning of life, time, natural order, and death. Myths, rituals, oaths, grave sites, artifacts, and most especially word roots all indicate a common fund of human perceptions that lasted in popular thought from antique to recent ages.

The overriding principle for these generations of human beings was an ethic almost entirely external in nature. It was easily comprehended and was considered physically demonstrable without resort to abstraction, without ambivalence or ambiguity. Differentiation of what belonged in the public or private realm were very imprecise [and evaluations] depended upon appearances, not upon cold logic. Southern whites retained something of that emphasis.

As Walker Percy, the contemporary novelist, once remarked about the South of not long ago, there was an “absence of a truly public zone” completely separate from the interior life of the family, so that the latter “came to coincide with the actual public space which it inhabited.” Family values differed not at all from public ones.

Intimately related to brave conduct . . . was family protectiveness. [When] the Civil War began, Samuel David Sanders of Georgia mused about Confederate enlistment, “I would be disgraced if I staid at home, and unworthy of my revolutionary ancestors.” Moreover, these strictures kept the armies in the field.

Said a kinswoman of Mary Chestnut in 1865: “Are you like Aunt Mary? Would you be happier if all the men in the family were killed? To our amazement, quiet Miss C took up the cudgels – nobly. “Yes, if their life disgraced them. There are worse things than death.”

(Southern Honor, Ethics & Behavior in the Old South, Bertram Wyatt Brown, Oxford University Press, 1982, excerpts pp. 33-35)

Jul 1, 2018 - Carnage, Lincoln's Grand Army, Myth of Saving the Union, Southern Heroism, Southern Patriots    Comments Off on Giving the Federal Army a Shock at Gettysburg

Giving the Federal Army a Shock at Gettysburg

In a letter to his wife from the Georgia legislature on November 16, 1860, State Senator Clement Evans (1833-1911) wrote: “There is no need of alarm when the Union dissolves. It will be a peaceful death of a decrepit old man, and the North shall take the body, and we will be the disenthralled soul.” Wound five times, twice severely, Evans commanded the Thirty-first Georgia Regiment, the Bartow Guards, which reached York, Pennsylvania, the farthest advance of any Confederate unit. His regiment was the last to leave Pennsylvania after Gettysburg.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.org

 

Giving the Federal Army a Shock at Gettysburg

“[General Lee was not sure exactly what Gettysburg had meant, nor did General Meade assess the battle’s full significance. Both President Lincoln and President Davis were disappointed. In fact, nobody fully evaluated the events at the time of the [battle]. Only years later did historians, in retrospect, dub it the “high tide of the Confederacy.” However, Colonel Evans’ contemporary view of what the battle meant is scarcely to be improved upon as he closes his diary]:

“Thus ended for the time being the Pennsylvania Campaign. The success of the movement was not as great as was to be desired – Had our wishes been gratified the Yankee Army would have been demolished & Washington captured, but I doubt if either was expected – We remained in the enemy’s territory as long as it was possible to subsist the army there.

Short rations will always compel short campaigns of invasion, unless we could invade where railroad and water communications could be kept up. The general results of the last 40 days however are not at all unsatisfactory.

The Federal army of the Potomac had been forced out of Virginia – The enemy have learned to their cost what invasion is, and have one great battlefield with all its horrors on their own soil to contemplate.

We have given the Federal army a shock at Gettysburg in the loss of over 40,000 killed, wounded & prisoners from which it will not recover. We have drawn from the enemy subsistence stores for the whole army for two months. We have furnished our trains, cavalry & artillery with new & good horses – We have supplied ourselves with quite a few thousand new wagons. The capture of ordnance & ordnance stores have been abundant.

We have possession of the Valley of Virginia with its abundant crop of grain & hay – Our loss during the 40 days will reach 20,000. That of the enemy will not fall short of 60,000.”

(Intrepid Warrior, Clement Anselm Evans, Confederate General from Georgia. Life, Letters and Diaries of the War Years; Robert Grier Stephens, Jr., editor, Morningside House, Inc., 1992, excerpts pp. 238-239)

Chiseled Sentinels of the Confederacy

 

“Whom shall we consecrate and set apart as one of our sacred men? Sacred, that all men may see him, be reminded of him, and, by new example added to the old perpetual precept, be taught what is real worth in man. Whom do you wish to resemble? Whom do you set on a high column, that all men looking at it, may be continually apprised of the duty you expect from them?” Charles Francis Adams, 1907.

The following is excerpted from Hodding Carter’s essay “Statues in the Squares” from Robert West Howard’s “This is the South,” published in 1959.

“[The] statues in the [town] squares [across the South] are more than symbols of gallantry in defeat, or the defeat of gallantry. They are also reminders of, and, in an unstated way, a kind of recompense for the inexcusable aftermath of military subjugation; for they supplanted the plunderers of Reconstruction, whose memory still brought in my boyhood ready curses from the aging veterans of whom we were so proud and not a little afraid.

And it was these old men and their ancient womenfolk, unreconstructed and unforgiving, who passed on to sons and grandsons the truth and legends of wrongs which, in the commission and the remembering, make up the saddest of our nation’s multiple legacies.

And statues are reminders, lastly, of the true nature of the Southern past and of the South’s folk heritage; for beneath the romantic overlay so greatly inspired by a Scots novelist’s tales of knightly derring-do was a frontier land, the stamping ground of Davy Crockett and Mike Fink, of Andy Jackson and Sam Houston, of Nolichucky Jack Sevier and Oglethorpe’s paupers and the unsubdued sons of clansmen who fought at Culloden.

The warriors in marble bespeak that frontier whose hallmarks are the ready rifle and the white-hot temper, the violent workings of a code of honor, a mistrust of the intruder, and the feudal unity of a people whose fields were bounded all around by wilderness.

Because this is so, because the chiseled sentinels of the Confederacy evoke the frontier as surely as they recall a war and a defeat and a needless, consequential humiliation, I would choose first as their companion figures the likenesses of men whose abilities the frontiersmen respect above all others, or whom they would identify with themselves.

It is understandable, since the vanquished always remember the longest, that the South should have so lavishly memorialized her Confederate dead. They died in a war that their survivors lost. Above their graves a nation in being was pounded to nothingness. Understandable, and sad.

For before and after them were other Southerners who fought in other wars. While some of these have been remembered, few of them have been honored enough. Where are the statues to Jeff Davis’ Mississippians and those other soldiers of the Deep South who principally fought the Mexican War?

Lastly, I would erect somewhere in the South, preferably deep in the lower Mississippi Valley, another statue, as anonymous and as representative as the graven Confederates of the courthouse squares, but, unlike these, neither armed, or uniformed.

The figure would be clad in the work clothes of a farmer or the rough garb of a riverman or the unstylish everyday suit of a small-town citizen. His face would reflect the toil, the frustrations, and the sufferings of a people who have passed through a succession of ordeals such as no other Americans region has known: the ordeals of flood and of decimation by malaria and yellow fever; the ordeals of military defeat and of political grinding-down and agricultural ruin and long poverty.

The eyes of this unknown and unsoldierly warrior would be fixed upon the far horizon of the frontiersman; and in the set of his shoulders a sensitive observer would perceive the glory of an indestructible people whose struggle for their rightful place in the sun is all but ended.”

(This is the South, Robert West Howard, editor, Rand McNally, 1959, excerpts pp. 239-241; 245)

The Importance of a Good Death

Southern historian Shelby Foote explained that “the best historical reading is the source material . . . written by people who saw it.” And he recognized that the people who made up the Confederacy, especially the yeoman farmers, were fiercely independent. “He was not only convinced that he was as good as you were, but if you questioned it, he would shoot you off your horse.” Men like these made for a fearless army few wanted to contend with.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.org

 

The Importance of a Good Death

“You don’t want to overlook something that the [South] did have and that was tremendous courage. I’ve studied and studied hard the charge at Gettysburg, the charge at Franklin, the charge at Gaines Mill, or the Northern charge at Fredericksburg, wave after wave, and I do not know of any force on God’s earth that would have got me in any one of those charges.

It absolutely called for you to go out there and face certain death, practically. Now, I will do any kind of thing like that under the influence of elation and the adrenalin popping; it’s just inconceivable to us nowadays that men would try tactics that were fifty years behind the weapons.

They thought that to mass your fire, you had to mass your men, so they suffered casualties. Some battles ran as high as 30 percent. Now that’s just unbelievable, because 4 or 5 percent is very heavy casualties nowadays. You go into a battle and suffer 30 percent . . . at Pickett’s charge, they suffered 60 percent and it’s inconceivable to us . . . the stupidity of it, again.

Originally, the South had a big advantage. They were used to the castes of society and did not take it as an affront that a man had certain privileges. They didn’t think it made him any better than they were. But those privileges came his way, and they were perfectly willing for him to have them as long he didn’t think he was any better than they were.

But the Northern soldiers, they weren’t putting up with any privileges. A Massachusetts outfit spent its first night in the field and damn near had a revolution because the officers wanted to put their bedrolls out of the line. Well, the Southerners never had that problem. It seemed to them sensible that the officers should be over here, and the men there.

Of course, 99.9 percent of that war was fought by home folks. The fighting men were of very high quality, too. You see, those units were together for four years, many of them, and they became superb fighting machines.

You take an outfit like the Twenty-third Virginia: after four years and large numbers of casualties great battles, it becomes a very skillful military instrument. They never went home. Very few furloughs were given – some during the winter months to a few people.

The Civil War was an interesting time. It was very important to make what was called a “good death.” When you are dying, the doctor says you are dying, he [says] you will die about 9 o’clock tonight. You assemble your family around you and sing hymns, and you are brave and stalwart and tell the little woman that she has been good to you and not to cry. And you tell your children to be good and mind their mother. Daddy’s fixing to go away.

That was called a good death, and it was important. It was of tremendous importance.”

(Conversations with Shelby Foote, William C. Carter, editor, University Press of Mississippi, 1989, excerpts pp. 29-31)

A Legendary American Sea Captain

There is a particular irony in a famed Confederate sea captain, who, in the immediate prewar times, was celebrated as a liberator of Africans taken from their home aboard New England slave ships, captained by New Englanders. In late 1865, John Newland Maffitt’s daughter Florie married Wilmingtonian and Lieutenant Joshua Grainger Wright of the First North Carolina Infantry, a veteran of Boonsboro, Sharpsburg, Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville before being seriously wounded. Wright was a postwar member of the United Confederate Veterans as well as the historic Cape Fear Club; he was buried on the last day of the nineteenth century, with Colonels John Lucas Cantwell and John Douglas Taylor among his pallbearers.

Lt. Joshua Grainger Wright was also one of the University of North Carolina’s “Class of ’61,” and who are honored by the “Silent Sam” monument on the Chapel Hill campus for their patriotism and service to the Old North State.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

A Legendary American Sea Captain

“In 1858, Maffitt took command of the [USS] Dolphin and received orders from President [James] Buchanan to capture slave ships in the Bahama Channel, the Straits of Florida, the northwest coast of Cuba, and the Gulf of Mexico.

During his command of the Dolphin and, later, the Crusader, Captain Maffitt captured four slave ships. From one ship alone, he freed 500 naked blacks and treated in such a way that he won praise in the islands and in the States.

“The courtesy and commiseration of Captain Maffitt and the officers of the Crusader toward the captured Africans were a theme of particular commendation at Key West and Havana. In the course of this [antislavery] crusade, he had captured more slave ships and set free more enslaved Africans than any other officer of the United States Navy, or of any Navy.”

In 1861, after resigning from the United States Navy, he joined the Confederate forces as a lieutenant. His initial duty was as Engineering Officer to General Robert E. Lee [and by] 1862, Maffitt was running the blockade. He pierced the blockade many times with ships like the Florida, the Owl, the Lillian and the Florie, which was named for his “beautiful daughter,” Florence Maffitt.

Captain Maffitt . . . was promoted to Commander on April 29, 1863 “for gallant and meritorious conduct in running the blockade in and out of Mobile against an overwhelming force of the enemy and under his fire, and since in actively cruising against and destroying the enemy’s commerce.”

On the night Fort Fisher fell [January 15, 1865], Captain Maffitt was close to shore when fireworks began to go off all around him. Maffitt, seeing that the parties were aboard Union ships, quickly began to steal back unnoticed through the celebrating blockade; out to sea and then to the islands.”

(The Wrights of Wilmington, Susan Taylor Block, Wilmington Printing Company, 1992, excerpts pp. 96-100)

Lee the Specimen of True Manhood

The greatest of American military men, indeed a “cavalier, soldier and citizen, Robert E. Lee “effaced self, refused gifts and high place, overcame the bufferings of fate, and in defeat was as calm as in victory.” The author Robert Winston relates a story of a young girl whose father was a diplomat in Rome during the second reign of Grover Cleveland. After seeing a portrait of Lee on her father’s office wall, she asked why a picture of a rebel was so prominently displayed. “Ah, my child,” the father replied, “you are yet too young to understand but someday you will – and so will the world.”

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Lee the Specimen of True Manhood

“During his imprisonment Jefferson Davis became a martyr for [the South] . . . Southerners saw in his imprisonment and the manacles and the other indignities a Christ-like figure suffering for their sins, and in the long years after his release. Davis’s struggle to regain his personal and financial fortunes mirrored those of all.

In 1870, when Lee died, [former vice president John] Breckinridge broke his resolution not to speak in public again by delivering a eulogy during memorial services in Louisville. “He failed,” the Kentuckian said of Lee. “The result is in the future. It may be better or for worse. We hope for the better.”

But failure alone did not define a man, or for that matter a cause. Lesser men often met with great worldly success, “but it is disaster alone that reveals the qualities of true greatness.”

While the world applauded those who erected memorials to their achievements, he thought there was another kind of triumph that went beyond the material and transient triumphs of men.

“Is not that man successful also who by his valor, moderation and courage, with all their associate virtues, presents to the world such a specimen of true manhood as his children and his children’s children will be proud to imitate?” he asked.

“In this sense he was not a failure.”

(An Honorable Defeat, the Last Days of the Confederate Government, William C. Davis, Harcourt, Inc., 2001, excerpt, pp. 396-397)

A Symbol of Heroism to Both North and South

Though indicted for treason, Jefferson Davis’s enemies feared his trial as they recognized him as one of the ablest constitutional scholars in America.  After his death in 1889, his wife Varina could not maintain their home in Mississippi and moved to New York to earn a living as a writer. There she wrote a lengthy biography of her husband, and Davis admirer Joseph Pulitzer gave her a weekly column in the New York Sunday World with an annual salary of $1500. When she passed in 1906, Varina Howell Davis was given a heroine’s military funeral and placed beside her husband in Richmond’s Hollywood Cemetery.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

A Symbol of Heroism to Both North and South

“The saddest lot of all was that of the symbol of the Confederacy, Jefferson Davis. Benjamin, Mason and Slidell were hateful to the North, but they were beyond the law’s long arm. Davis had to bear the brunt of Yankee wrath – which included becoming the scapegoat for the assassination of Lincoln. The popular song with the refrain “We’ll hang Jeff Davis from a sour apple tree” was almost euphemistic; the most horrible forms of Oriental torture were what the South’s enemies had in mind.

The indignities began when Davis was captured by federal troops . . . [and] the humiliation was no worse than the physical rigors that followed. The Davises were thrown into a dark prison van. Their belongings, from gold to baby clothes, were looted and Northern troops snatched away food intended for the Davis children. The soldiers exposed themselves to Varina Davis.

En route to prison, the Davises received one touching gesture while locked in a hotel room in Savannah. The black waiter who brought their food tray hid, under the cover, a bunch of beautiful red roses and tearfully expressed his sorrow at what had happened to the Davises and to the South.

While the family remained in the hotel, Davis was taken incommunicado to Fort Monroe in Virginia, a stronghold known as the Gibralter of the Chesapeake. Not wanting to take any chances, the federal commander there surrounded Davis with an entire garrison of troops and locked him in heavy chains in a viewless, tiny cell.

His only furniture was an iron cot, his only utensil a wooden spoon, his only rations unchewable boiled beef, stale bread, and water. Squeaky-shoed soldiers marched around him twenty-four hours a day; we was never allowed a private moment. Guards even stood around him when he used the portable toilet that was brought into his cell. Davis’s only company was a mouse he made his pet.

Davis, always a sick man, nearly wasted away. He had been indicted for treason, but was never brought to trial. Habeas corpus and all other basic rights were denied, and he was left to languish in the darkness.

Davis was the only Confederate leader who remained incarcerated – he was doing penance for the entire South. In 1868, after even Northern sentiment was outraged at his unusual punishment, he was freed and reunited with his family. For his dignity under the most horrid of conditions, he won a martyr’s reputation throughout the South, giving inspiration to the thousands suffering through the abject poverty of the postbellum period; any stigma of having lost the war was lost.

Their sons all died, the first in an accidental fall from a balcony, another of diphtheria, and the third of yellow fever. Their daughter, Varina Anne, or “Winnie,” had been crowned by Southern war veterans as the “daughter of the Confederacy.” However, she alienated the entire South when she fell in love with a Harvard-trained Syracuse attorney whose grandfather had been a prominent abolitionist. The affair killed her father in 1889, and nearly 15,000 thronged to his funeral. Davis had outlived nearly all his enemies and had become a symbol of heroism to both North and South.

Out of respect, Winnie called the marriage off and never wed.”

(A Class By Themselves; the Untold Story of the Great Southern Families, William Stadiem, Crown Publishers, 1980, excerpts, pp. 130-132)

Aug 6, 2017 - American Military Genius, Southern Heroism, Southern Patriots    Comments Off on Seeking to Seriously Wound Sherman

Seeking to Seriously Wound Sherman

Though Gen. Robert E. Lee trusted Joseph E. Johnston in command of all Southern forces in North Carolina in early 1865, his continued retreat in front of Sherman greatly alarmed Lee in Virginia, who wrote: “Should you be forced back in this direction [Richmond] both armies would certainly starve. You must judge what the probabilities will be of arresting Sherman by battle. A bold and unexpected attack might relieve us.”  The gallant stand of Gen. William J. Hardee’s former garrison troops at Averasboro in mid-March stopped Sherman’s advance for the first time since Atlanta, and renewed confidence in Southern arms followed.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Seeking to Seriously Wound Sherman

“Sherman came on irresistibly – like Lord Cornwallis – North Carolinians were reminded. The feeling of dread, of terror, may have been comparable to the folk tales of their grandparents, but not the speed, the destructive power, the calamitous results. Compared to Sherman’s, Cornwallis’s invasion during the Revolution was child’s play.

Columbia, the capital of South Carolina, fell on February 17; Charleston, the following morning; Wilmington, on the twenty-second. Richmond had looked to Gen. Pierre G.T. Beauregard to coordinate defensive efforts and obstruct Sherman’s advance . . . [though he resorted] to heady 1861 rhetoric; concentrate 35,000 Confederates at Salisbury, North Carolina and fight Sherman there, “crush him, then to concentrate all forces against Grant, and then to march on Washington to dictate a peace.”

[Once Robert E. Lee was appointed] commander-in-chief of all Confederate armies . . . Lee turned to President Jefferson Davis and asked that Joseph E. Johnston be retrieved from oblivion. With greatest reluctance, Davis acquiesced [though concerned that the] General will not risk a battle unless he has all the chances in his favor.” Lee wired Johnston on February 22. “Concentrate all available forces and drive back Sherman.”

The controversial Johnston had worked a miracle before – when he gathered fragments of two defeated Confederate armies at Dalton, Georgia, in early 1864, and fashioned them into an effective fighting force that proceeded to frustrate Sherman’s heavier numbers and resources for three months.

Sherman’s strategy by the last week of February 1865 was becoming clear to the Confederates. He would continue to push through the Carolinas, up into Virginia, and there unite with Grant against Lee. Lee doubted that Sherman would move northwest via Charlotte . . . rather, Lee expected him to turn toward Goldsboro and the coast – to snap the vital [Wilmington &] Weldon railroad and unite with Schofield.

On February 24, Johnston went to Charlotte, assumed command from Beauregard, and immediately held a review. [The troops cheered the General] and this feeling of confidence in Johnston and enthusiasm over his return to command swept through the ranks and the officer’s corps of the Army of Tennessee. They loved the man. He could redeem them. They knew it.

Once [Johnston combined his disparate forces into one, he] would possess a sizable fore, admittedly less than half of Sherman’s numbers but sufficient to cause mischief, perhaps even to wound his adversary seriously. If Sherman’s army could be caught divided and fought in fractions, certainly before he united with [his other wing], there might be hope of checking, perhaps defeating, part of his force – an isolated column perhaps. Once this had been accomplished, other positive opportunities would present themselves.”

(Bentonville, The Final Battle of Sherman & Johnston, Nathaniel C. Hughes, Jr., UNC Press, 1996, pp. 21-24)

Heroes for All Americans

The mid-1970s pardons of Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis were only symbolic gestures that had little impact beyond political posturing, though the outpouring of respect and veneration of these great American leaders showed an America still exhibiting historical perspective. This was the same era that historian Emil Eisenschiml revisited the long-overlooked plot of Edwin Stanton’s Radical Republican’s plotting Lincoln’s death.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Heroes for All Americans

“In August 1975, President Gerald Ford signed Senate Joint Resolution 23 restoring full citizenship rights to Robert E. Lee. Three years later, President Jimmy Carter approved congressional action extending similar amnesty to Jefferson Davis.

A generation following Appomattox, “Marse Robert” had eclipsed all other Confederate rivals, becoming the region’s most celebrated hero. Theodore Roosevelt praised the Confederacy’s greatest general as a hero for all Americans. In the mid-1920s Congress heartily endorsed the refurbishing of the Custis-Lee mansion, naming the home a national shrine. Author Douglas Hall] Freeman painted a portrait of Lee as an individual beyond reproach in all respects of his public and private life.

After World War II . . . A host of symbolic measures indicated his status as a national hero: Virginia’s placement of a statue of the general in the Capitol building; the hanging of Lee’s portrait in the main reading room of the West Point Library; the christening of the nuclear-powered submarine the Robert E. Lee; and the opening of America’s centennial celebration of the Civil War with separate ceremonies at Grant’s and Lee’s tombs.

[The] intensity with which the general was venerated, especially in the South, made any criticism of him risky business. President Dwight Eisenhower learned this fact the hard way. In May, 1957, Ike visited the Gettysburg battlefield in the company of Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery. After their tour, the World War II heroes told reporters that both Meade and Lee deserved to be sacked for the errors they had committed at Gettysburg.

Senator Olin Johnson of South Carolina indignantly responded to Ike’s blasphemy” “It is offensive to my people to listen to a general who had at his disposal in his day the most wealth, men, materials of war, and the largest army, navy and air force in history, and hear him criticize a great Confederate general who, despite poverty, starvation, a ragged army, and practically no navy or munitions, managed to hold off and even invade the territory of the industrialized, wealthy, well-fed Yankees.”

Senator Harry Byrd, Sr. of Virginia . . . observed that “Lee needs no defense . . . his glorious record, his noble character, and his moral leadership give him a place in world history that no one can impair.” An editorial in the Washington Evening Star called the president’s post-tour comments a major setback for Republican efforts to woo votes in Dixie . . . “

[Senator Hubert] Humphrey of Minnesota melodramatically seconded a pardon: “I know I am what one would call a Yankee, but I am more than that: I am an American. One great American was Robert E. Lee.”

Shortly after Carter’s election, Senator Mark Hatfield [of Oregon] introduced in the Senate a bill “to restore Posthumously Citizenship to Jefferson F. Davis.” In lengthy remarks, Hatfield [stated that] the Confederate leader was “an honest public servant of principle the like of which is all too rare in these days when expedience is more ardently practiced than conviction defended.” Hatfield claimed that his resolution would “correct a grave injustice inflicted upon Davis by a vindictive conqueror.”

(Reconstruction in the Wake of Vietnam; The Pardoning of Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis, Francis MacDonnell, Civil War History, Vol. XL, 1994, Kent State University Press, excerpts, pp. 127-130)

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