From John Hennessy:
We re-post this from last year…
It seems to me that in the aftermath of national trauma, we as a nation (consciously or unconsciously) have accorded the rights of memory to a certain group or groups. We have seen that most vividly in our lifetime with 9/11. Virtually every collective commemorative or interpretive expression made toward 9/11 is subject to the explicit or tacit approval of survivors, rescue workers, or the family members of victims. I think we understand that, and if past be prelude, it will be that way for quite some time. The focus on public interpretation of 9/11 is squarely on the experience and suffering of victims and survivors.
Much the same thing happened after the Civil War. In the aftermath of the Civil War, we accorded the rights to the memory of the conflict to the veterans on both sides. They in turn fostered a swift but incomplete reconciliation—one that pasted over but did not extinguish lingering bitterness, one that was based on selective history and the desire to celebrate common virtues and suffering. The focus of reconciliation—and the focus of America as it viewed its Civil War—became the shared courage and sacrifice of soldiers blue and gray on the battlefields.
A unique aspect of this as it relates to the Civil War is that the ownership of the war’s memory was bequeathed to subsequent generations, and in many instances the descendants have battled to protect and advocate for the memory of their ancestors every bit as vigorously as their ancestors did. Continue reading →
From John Hennessy:
It’s one of the standard tales of First Manassas: that the widow Judith Carter Henry’s death during the fighting on her farm on July 21, 1861, helped outrage the South, embitter the war. The presumption has always been that in the post-battle hunt for atrocities both sides undertook (avidly), the death of Mrs. Henry at the hands of Ricketts’s guns that afternoon ranks near the top.
Union artilleryman Captain James Ricketts later admitted that he “thoroughly riddled” Mrs. Henry’s house. This is how it appeared soon after the battle.
I can find no evidence of that. Mrs. Henry’s name rarely appears in newspapers North or South in the weeks and months following the battle. Rather, her death seems simply to have been accepted as an inevitable outcome of battle (no one then could know how uncommon civilian deaths in battle would really be during the Civil War). So far as I can see, no one trotted out her sad fate as evidence of Yankee perfidy, even though the press worked feverishly to document supposed Union barbarities.
The status of Mrs. Henry as lamented public martyr seems to me to be another one of those misplaced presumptions that morph into myth.
The ruins of the Henry House, after being dismantled by the Confederates for souvenirs and building material the winter following the battle.