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.