Sons of Confederate Veterans Hope to Purchase Mahone’s Tavern

The members of the Urquhart-Gillette Camp No. 1471, Sons of Confederate Veterans in Southampton County, Virginia hope to raise enough money to purchase the boyhood home of William Mahone, which is currently on the market.  Mahone’s family moved into the home following “Turner’s Rebellion” in 1831 and established a tavern a fairly successful tavern.  While I applaud the SCV for taking on this cause there is something just slightly humorous about their decision to utilize Mahone’s home for your standard SCV/UDC events:

The group holds monthly meetings in a private restaurant room in Franklin, and [Tommy] Simmons said Mahone’s Tavern would provide a meeting place and activity center for the local SCV camp, as well as for the local chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy and other
community historic and civic groups.

As many of you know I’ve spent considerable time reading and writing about William Mahone’s postwar career, and while he was involved in various kinds of commemorative events his goal was almost always to further his business and political interests.  Mahone led a veterans organization made up of men from his Virginia brigade and he authorized biographies as a means to attract interest in his plan for railroad consolidation.  His forays into the past usually resulted in controversy owing to his abrasive personality and political convictions.  The point is that Mahone did not languish in the Lost Cause or weep over the death of the Confederacy; rather, he was optimistic about the future and confident that he could bring Virginia into the modern age.  Such a goal stands in sharp contrast to our memory of white Southerners in the postwar period who stood up defiantly against the modernizing tendencies that they so valiantly fought against for four years.

Most interesting, of course, is Mahone’s politics and position on issues of race.  One has to wonder what Mr. Simmons has envisioned when he references using the home as a “meeting place and activity center.”  How many members of this particular chapter of the SCV are aware of Mahone’s leadership of the Readjuster Party from 1879 to 1883 which was the most successful bi-racial third party in the postwar South?  Do they know that Mahone was considered to be a “Judas” by much of the state and even the men he led into battle for bringing about a political coalition with black Virginians that led to important advances within the public sphere?  Black Virginians attended public schools in the largest numbers and served in local governments around the state, while Mahone served as senator in Washington and voted with the Republican Party:

In 1858 occurred the raid of John Brown and the raid of Mahone and the Readjusters in 1879, though less bloody was more dangerous than that of John Brown.  Both raids occurred in Va, and the negro was in both cases the instrument relied on to destroy the old order of things. [George Bagby’s pamphlet, John Brown and William Mahone: An Historical Parallel, Foreshadowing Civil Trouble]

The Revolution gave us but one Arnold, during the whole seven years of its course, while the Confederate war failed to yield a single one on either side until after it had been fought out.”  Though many of Virginia’s native sons “held out long and well. . . at last some of them succumbed, and are now found, Arnold-like, leading their old enemy against their old friends and associates. [The Richmond State, 1881]

Reconstruction came late to Virginia and it came not at the hands of so-called “Carpetbaggers” but at the hands of one of the most successful Confederate generals.  As a result, white Virginians consciously erased Mahone and the Readjusters from their public memory well into the twentieth century.

Again, I wish the SCV all the best in raising the necessary funds to purchase the property, but I am not at all confident that Mahone would want them in his home.

6 comments… add one

  • matthew mckeon May 11, 2008

    Maybe by learning about Malone’s postwar career building political bridges between blacks and whites, and his striving to modernize Virginia, his forward looking optimism, the SCV will be transformed, reaching out to black Southerners, not as bogus “black Confederates” but as part of the rich, turbulent history that can inform their views of society today, then…oh never mind.

  • Kevin Levin May 11, 2008

    Very cute Matthew. I gave a talk to an SCV chapter from that area during the research for my M.A. thesis on the Crater and Mahone. We met at a restaurant where the talk was held. Overall, the talk went well, but a few people in the audience were visibly upset and most of the rest just wanted to discuss his performance on one of the battlefields. The fried chicken was pretty tasty.

  • Lisa May 11, 2008

    It’s funny how these guys are always remembered for their “courage and bravery” on the battlefield but never for their actions after the war. My favorite part of Blight’s Race and Reunion had to be the section on J. S. Mosby. I was incredibly suprised and amused at his quotes on slavery and the war, especially for a man who has such a reputation as a Confederate hero and even had a tv show based on him. I’ve heard of SCV Camps being named after him too. Wonder what they have to say about his post-war career?

    I’ve always wondered exactly when this kind of information began to disappear from memory and why. It had to have been well on into the 1900s. Why not just forget the guy all together instead of just forgetting his post-war actions? I have my own ideas but would be interested to know what others think. Most of the books I’ve read end the Lost Cause movement way too early to address this.

  • Kevin Levin May 11, 2008

    Lisa, — Thanks for the comments. There are a couple of books that I recommend if you are interested in further reading:

    Paul Ashdown and Edward Caudill, _The Mosby Myth: A Confederate Hero in Life and Legend_ (SR Books, 2002).

    James A. Ramage, _The Life of Col. John Singleton Mosby_ (University of Kentucky Press, 1999).

    You might also want to read the following books which do an excellent job of explaining how certain Lost Cause stories evolved during the post-war period.

    Paul C. Anderson, _Blood Image: Turner Ashby in the Civil War and the Southern Mind_ (LSU Press, 2002).

    Lesley J. Gordon, _General George E. Pickett in Life and Legend_ (UNC Press, 1998).

  • Lisa May 11, 2008

    Kevin,

    Thanks for the recommendations. I’ll definitely put them on my reading list, especially the two on Mosby. I’m interested to know what his men thought of his transformation.

  • Kevin Levin May 12, 2008

    My guess is that like Mahone and Longstreet you will find a split within the ranks. In the case of Mahone the result was a 3-year battle in the Petersburg-Richmond newspapers not only about his character, but about his performance on various battlefields – most notably the Crater in July 1864. Much more research needs to be done in this area. Our tendency is assume broad agreement by white Southerners over who and under what conditions one could claim a legitimate connection to the Confederate past. In short, I’ve found that there was a great deal of disagreement amongst ex-Confederates.

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