Commemorating Joseph Johnston In His Final Hour

A statue of Confederate General Joseph Johnston was dedicated today on private land as part of the 145th anniversary of the Battle of Bentonville.  The Smithfield Light Infantry, a local camp of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, asked the property owner to donate land for the memorial and launched a private fundraising effort to pay the $100,000 cost of the statue.  One of my readers was kind enough to share this photograph, which he took at the dedication.

Can someone tell me what Johnston is supposed to be pointing to?  Have some fun with it.

The statue depicts Johnston with his left arm raised. It’s a call for his troops to hold the line against Yankee forces, Booker said. “And,” he added, “to hold the line against political correctness.”  Political correctness, in Booker’s view, has recast Confederate symbols and distorted history. “These days, political correctness means a lot of things aren’t mentioned or aren’t defended in the proper way,” he said. “But that will not happen in this case, I assure you.” Booker pointed out that the plaque at the foot of the statue did not require anyone’s approval. It reads: “Defender of the Southland to the End.”John M. Booker, Lt. Commander, Smithfield Light Infantry, SCV

Descendants of Silas Chandler Speak Out (Part 2)

A few weeks ago I shared an email I received from a descendant of Silas Chandler, who is one of the most popular “black Confederates.”  I’ve been in contact with two descendants and am planning a telephone conversation, which I hope will lead to an announcement of some ideas I have to help bring a more complete story of this individual to the general public.  Yesterday I received an email from yet another descendant:

I am a direct descendent of Silas Chandler from California. Over the years, I have heard many versions of Silas’ story, from family, on the web, and from Confederate historical societies. Thank you to Ms. Sampson for shedding some light on the subject from a reliable, direct source.

I remember when my great, great, great grandfather Silas was awarded the Iron Cross posthumously, and some members of my family attended the ceremony. While I’ve always had mixed feelings about it, it has ultimately become [a] source of pride for me, not offense. I may never be exactly sure how it went down, but I know that I have Silas to thank for my freedom. Believe me, I have no love fort he Confederacy or its symbols… I’m just also no big fan of the Yankees, and have no illusions about why the Civil War was fought.

I also know that some of the greatest men in history end up being “honored” by their enemies. This would not be the first time that history has been rewritten to make folks look more sympathetic or benevolent (see the movie “Glory” and the mounds of misinformation that it contains).

Anyone that thinks that Silas joined the Confederate army out of some “love” for his master is naive at best, and stupid/racist at worst. That being said, there were many slaves that were dragged into the field to fight against their own self-interest. This happened in the Civil War, and in the Wars for centuries and millennia before.

Honestly, I just hope this discussion unearths as much truth as possible. Thank you again to the Chandler family for helping to set the record straight. I look forward to learning more

Andrew Foster Williams
Oakland, CA

I am featuring this comment for a couple of reasons.  Most importantly, it reflects a memory of the war that is much more complex than anything the Sons of Confederate Veterans or United Daughters of the Confederacy would have you believe about the legacy of the Civil War within the African-American community.  Both organizations reduce their narratives down to loyalty to master and cause and they do this by commemorating slaves as soldiers.  Their preferred narrative has nothing to do with understanding the story of black men in the army or helping families uncover their histories; rather, it is an attempt to dissociate the Confederate war effort from slavery as well as the Lost Cause myth that slavery was benign.  Unfortunately, both organizations have been successful in convincing black families to take part.

What I appreciate about Mr. Williams’s response is the extent to which his narrative fails to support or vindicate either a Lost Cause or Emancipationist view of the war.  It sits uncomfortably in the middle.  On the one hand Mr. Williams has little patience for stories of a loyal Silas Chandler, but he is also suspicious of the assumptions that reduce the United States to the moral cause of emancipation.

Mr. Williams’s comment may also tell us something about why African Americans have been absent from public commemorations of the Civil War and why they may stay away during the Civil War Sesquicentennial.  After all, much of our public remembrance and memory of the war is wrapped up in neat dichotomies of North v. South and Union v. Confederate.  Where does Mr. Williams’s memory of the war fit into all of this?  It’s not wonder that many African Americans are suspicious of Civil War Memory.

Use “War Between the States”

Today I received a letter for an essay contest sponsored by the local chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy here in Charlottesville.  I have to say that I got a kick out of it.  The contest offers students in three different grade levels the opportunity to compete for a prize of $50.  Students in grades 4-6 must write a 1,000 word essay on Commodore Matthew Fontaine Maury; students in grades 7-9 will write about the life of Judah P. Benjamin; and high school students in grades 10-12 get to explore the important contributions of Stand Waite.  Your guess is as good as mine as to why Stand Waite was chosen.

The guidelines are quite telling.  My favorite is the following:

Use “War Between the States” rather than “Civil War” unless quoting directly from a source.

The UDC also offers the following observation concerning sources:

The internet plays  such an important role in education today that books are no longer being used.  Please encourage students to use at least one book as a source for their information.

Guess what ladies, you can actually find books on this thing called the internet.

[Image: Mrs. Homer S. (Jane) Durden III, President General, 2008–2010]