Posted by: The staff | August 7, 2011

Bull Run Reconciliation? Not…

From John Hennessy [update: see the comment from Robert Moore for a couple of links to items that elaborate on this theme.]

In July 1891, Virginians took the 30th anniversary of the First Battle of Manassas to memorialize Stonewall Jackson anew–by reinterring him beneath and dedicating a new statue in the cemetery in Lexington, Virginia. The event attracted tens of thousands, including a brigades-worth of veteran of Lee’s army. It was, and remains, one of the most vivid expressions of Lost Cause nostalgia.

The monument over Jackson's grave, dedicated July 21, 1891.

By 1891, such events were an accepted part of the American landscape, as the spirit of reconciliation was in full national bloom. By any measure, the reconciliation that America undertook is astonishing when compared to the common fate of rebels and rebellions in other parts of the world. Part of the ostensible deal: former Confederates could have their glory too. Indeed, Confederate glory would, over time, be amalgamated into American culture.

Across the nation, Americans joined the chorus that surrounded Stonewall Jackson’s reinterment, or at least witnessed it in silence. But, not everyone proclaimed the accepted theme of reconciliation. While we sometimes like to see our history in simple terms, there was in fact a strong undercurrent of unhappiness and bitterness that flowed both ways (North and South).

As evidence: this editorial from a Michigan newspaper, the Jackson Citizen Patriot, written in response to the ceremonies in Lexington on the 30th anniversary of Manassas. (Jackson, MI is claimed by some to be the birthplace of the Republican party, and  it was almost certainly the birthplace of the Ritz cracker, though that’s less relevant here.) In noting the ceremonies in Lexington, the Michigan editorialist foreshadowed his dark take by noting that the “remains of the heroic traitor” had been buried beneath the new statue. He conceded that Jackson was “scarcely second to Lee as their military hero” and that “no one need object to that,” except, he said, “that no public monument should ever be permitted in this nation in memory of a man who violated his oath of allegiance and sought to destroy the government he was educated and trained to defend.”

On that Bull Run anniversary in Lexington, the keynote was given by former Unionist turned Southern patriot Jubal Early. As the unhappy Michigan editor wrote, “Gen. Early closed his oration with the following words, which ought to be memorized by every union soldier for the purpose of denouncing them:

‘If I should ever apologize for any part or action taken by me in the war, may the lightning of a righteous heaven blast me from earth, and may I be considered as spawn of the earth by all honest men.'”

The thousands in attendance cheered Early’s words, to the utter annoyance of our editor in Michigan.

Mourners at Jackson's "first" grave. The site is still preserved, though now empty.

Yet those men claim to be loyal to the government and many of them did apologise for the part they took when, in order to hold office under the government, they subscribed to the ironclad oath of allegiance after the war. Were they sincere then, or are they loyal now? The Union soldiers who fought at Bull Run and for four years on scores of Virginia battlefields believe that Gen. Early ought to apologize for the part he took, and it is such speeches as his that cause public distrust of the loyalty of all who applaud them. It is an evidence that the same spirit of hatred to the union cause exists to-day as it did at the battle of Bull Run in 1861, but covered up by circumstances, only to break out when occasion is given like that of unveiling a statue of a rebel chief. The nation is now strong enough to be magnanimous, but it is not an encouragement of patriotism to permit such a demonstration as attended the Stonewall Jackson celebration at Lexington.

A far cry from the simple, happy, hands-across-the-wall image we prefer of post-Civil War America.

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Responses

  1. Excellent post, John. I find the opinion of the Michigan editor particularly interesting, as it is not unlike that of another. Take a look at William Hewitt’s (12th West Virginia Infantry) thoughts on the event (see here and here).

  2. Robert. Very good stuff on an important topic. I think here we see again the distinction between national purpose (reconciliation) and personal viewpoints and motivations, which often conflicted with the larger purpose. As many years as I have been in this business, I am constantly astounded at the power of sectional reconciliation as a cultural phenomenon–clearly it succeeded as a national imperative and purposed. But it’s also clear not everyone joined in, and beneath the happy facade of national brotherhood were bitter fractures that would heal only with the death of participants (well, at least the Yankee participants–Confederate descendants sometimes seem to pay the bitterness forward). John H.

  3. “a man who violated his oath of allegiance and sought to destroy the government he was educated and trained to defend.”

    For the record, Jackson resigned his U.S. Army commission in 1852, and from 1851 until his death was a commissioned officer in the state forces of Virginia. It goes back to the concept of “states’ rights,” but Jackson was essentially released from his obligation to the U.S. national authorities by his resignation and release from duty in 1852, but was still beholden to his state government, which he did loyally serve. It would be hard to charge that as treason, save as a label which was (and is) freely thrown around at former Confederates.

    • You realize I hope that the purpose here is not to assert the historical rightness of the Michigan editor, but simply to point out that rancor and resentment did exist, in fairly large amounts…. John H.


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