The blogger over at Pinstripe Press takes issue in an open letter to the Southern Legal Resource Center with "attacks" against those who wish to celebrate the virtues of Southern Christian warriors such as "Stonewall" Jackson and J.E.B. Stuart. The blogger who has also authored biographies of these two figures argues that, "For years, liberal scholars have referred to the Confederate States of America as a “hypocrisy” and questioned how a country fighting for independence could also deny that same freedom and liberty to it’s own citizens held in bondage." The writer goes on to say:
My first two books, “Onward Christian Soldier: The Spiritual Journey of Stonewall” and “Christian Cavalier: The Spiritual Legacy of J.E.B. Stuart” were written and published as a testament to the Christian character and patriotism of these two men. I firmly believe that we can learn by their example, as it was these traits that ultimately gave them the strength to perform on the battlefield with such courage and conviction.
Let me start by suggesting that unless specific examples can be raised in support of the first point re: "liberal scholars" than it should be seen as a strawman argument. I have a pretty good grasp of the secondary literature and I’ve never come across a claim of "hypocrisy." What I have read, however, is a concerted effort to reintroduce the way that slavery both shaped the Antebellum South, the secession debates, and the course of the war. As anyone who has studied Civil War historiography knows such a focus has been lacking within academic circles through the 1950’s and within more popular circles to this day.
I find the claims that Jackson, Stuart and the rest of the boys constituted some kind of Christian Warrior society to be much more interesting. First, it seems reasonable to ask whether the author believes that one can be considered "Christian" and a slaveowner in today’s world. Does the ownership of another human being contradict the teachings of the Bible? We know that Jackson owned slaves and there is evidence to suggest that he sold at least two slaves for financial reasons after marrying for the second time. I should say that I understand that this was not necessarily a contradiction in the mid-19th Century South, but that is a different point altogether. In thinking critically about the past we should try to the best of our ability as historians not to engage in presentism. That said, the author seems much more interested in judging these individuals outside any historical context. As a historian I have to admit that I am simply not interested in these questions. As I suggested in an earlier post I don’t really understand Jackson’s behavior or his religious world view. I’ve read both James I. Robertson’s biography of Jackson and Emory Thomas’s study of Stuart and I have to admit little success in penetrating the psychological surface. Of course, that’s the challenge of doing and thinking critically about the past. Jackson’s attitude towards Federal prisoners and his unshaken belief in the righteousness of the cause seem to have much in common with our popular perceptions of religious extremists in other parts of the world today. It is also extremely difficult to peel back the layers of postwar storytelling that came to shape our popular perceptions of Jackson and others.
I would also like to know from the author why he makes no mention of Northern Christian warriors. On his view, is it possible to be a Christian warrior from the North who fought to end slavery on religious grounds? And what happens if we take one from each side and stick them in a room together. If we are to judge them simply on moral grounds (we’ve taken off our historian’s hat for a moment) how should we proceed and what should our conclusions be given that for most reasonable christians today slavery is viewed as a contradiction of Biblical teachings.
I agree with the author that it is important to preserve our history for future generations. After all, that’s my job as a historian and as a teacher. That said, I am not necessarily interested in steering my students to praise or blame anyone from the past. My job is to give them the tools and the foundation for which to make those decisions on their own.
Note: The SLRC is also using H.K. Edgerton who was mentioned in yesterday’s post. He is definitely making the rounds. If you are interested in reading more about the role of religion during the Civil War you may want to look at The Civil War as a Theological Crisis by Mark Noll, Upon the Altar of the Nation: A Moral History of the Civil War by Harry S. Stout, and ed. Richard M. Miller et.al., Religion and the American Civil War