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The Greatest Virginians: Some Suggestions

Yesterday’s post inquiring into the greatest Virginians of the last four centuries has resulted in quite an interesting list.  And to think that I was anticipating the typical ahistorical nonsense of Lee, Jackson, and Stuart as somehow embodying all that is good in the universe.  I should never have questioned the sophistication of my readers (LOL).  Here are the suggestions, but feel free to contribute to the discussion.

George C. Marshall, Nat Turner, Douglas Southall Freeman, Glenn McMullen (invented jump shot), the Carter Family, Thomas Jefferson, John Smith, John Rolfe, Nathaniel Bacon, Emanuel Driggus, Woodrow Wilson

I love Rebecca Goetz’s suggestions, which include Netoaka, Wahunsonacock, Opechancanough, and Sir William Berkeley.  Rebecca has posted some thoughts over at Cliopatria where additional thoughts from readers are no doubt forthcoming.  My survey class in American history is beginning the year with the book Love and Hate in Jamestown by David A. Price.  One of the reasons I like the book is that it gives full agency to Virginia’s Native Americans.  In fact, it is is impossible to understand the actions taken by John Smith and the rest of the gang without understanding the motivations and initiative taken by Powhatan and others during those early years. 

One of my readers asked if I was planning to nominate William Mahone.   Is there anyone more important to postwar Virginia?  Mahone’s disappearance from Virginia’s political and racial history is evidence enough of his importance. 

The Greatest Virginians

Today I was asked to take part in a survey by the Library of Virginia and Richmond Times-Dispatch of the most famous Virginians of the last 400 years.  Here are the guidelines:

For each century – the 17th, 18th, 19th, 20th – we would like you to name and write a short explanatory paragraph (about 200 words) for (1) a most influential Virginian and (2) a greatest Virginian. Please do not name the same person twice, and do not feel that the most influential Virginian necessarily left a 100-percent positive legacy. Fill in names only for the centuries your knowledge and comfort-level support. If you choose to focus on only one or two centuries, please feel free to do so – we expect it.

And if you would like to include a name and paragraph for a most important Virginian the public doesn’t know about, or a Virginian with the most destructive legacy, please feel free to do that as well. Be creative. The Times-Dispatch likely will publish a number of these, and we look forward to reading what our jury has to say.

The survey defines a Virginian as "someone who is identified with the commonwealth because of birth, residency, or circumstance."  I have a few ideas for the 19th century, but haven’t thought much beyond that. 

So, what do you think?

Chicken Soup for the Civil War Soul

SofterHave you ever noticed that the further you move away from mainstream/scholarly publishers the more emotional the titles become.  Consider Thomas Forehand’s Robert E. Lee’s Softer Side:

A collection of anecdotes and quotes displaying Lee’s tender side. Though at times he was known to have a "fierce and violent temper," Lee nonetheless had a heart that editor Thomas Forehand contests was "as soft as velvet."

Through letters, diary excerpts, and touching stories, Forehand demonstrates that in his personal life Lee was indeed a peacemaker, full of a surprisingly sensitive and gentle nature that his family and others recorded. One cadet’s mother wrote in her diary that Lee was "very human, kind, and calm," and Lee’s letters home to his wife and children illuminate the man behind the legend.

The book is published by Pelican Press which seems to have a knack for the colorful titles.  If you look closely it almost seems as if someone altered the image of Lee to give him an even "softer"Cisco  look.  On the flip side we have Walter Brian Cisco’s War Crimes Against Southern Civilians with its bold letters and bright red and black cover.  Here is a brief excerpt from the jacket:

Women and children, black and white, were robbed, brutalized, and left homeless in Sherman’s infamous raid through Georgia. Torture and rape were not uncommon. In South Carolina, homes, farms, churches, and whole towns disappeared in flames. Civilians received no mercy at the hands of the Union invaders. Earrings were ripped from bleeding ears, graves were robbed, and towns were pillaged. Wherever Federal troops encountered Southern Blacks, whether free or slave, they were robbed, brutalized, belittled, kidnapped, threatened, tortured, and sometimes raped or killed by their blue-clad "liberators."

Lincoln_2Perhaps you won’t be surprised to find that Amazon offers a package deal that includes Cicsco’s book along with Thomas J. DiLorenzo’s Lincoln Unmasked: What Your Not Supposed to Know About Honest Abe (Crown Publishers). 

Don’t get me wrong as I have no problem with using the title to attract the attention of the customer, but there is something disingenuous when the language used is overly inflammatory.  Neither the author nor the publisher is being honest with the customer.  The readers who purchase such a book is not really interested in scholarship, rather they are interested in having certain assumptions reinforced.  The goal is to maintain or achieve a certain emotion rather than understanding.  I’ve said it before that the Civil War has a very strong anti-intellectual streak in it.  Publishers such as Cumberland, Pelican, Crown, and others would not be possible but for that fact.