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I came across a playful, but thoughtful comment this morning from one of Ta-Nahesi Coates’s readers, who goes by the name, Alabama_Girl. Here is an excerpt from the comment:
The other day I went through the last books left on the shelves of my parents home and there was one about Stonewall Jackson. Now, as a child I loved that story. Shot by mistake, the brilliant soldier whose death might have turned things? I found it fascinating as a child, not yet delving into the cause of the battle or his beliefs. And Southerners know how to spin a
tell[tale]. There’s a reason those live while tales of Grant languish. As an adult, I have to look at the cause he was fighting for, so was his death a sad thing, or thank you Baby Jesus that the dude died.
I love the way her story transitions from the child’s fascination with a key element of the Lost Cause narrative to a more mature reflection that acknowledges that the war was about something and that it mattered who was victorious. Substitute any high level Confederate officer and you arrive at what I take to be her conclusion: “thank you Baby Jesus that the dude died.” It’s not about celebrating any one individual’s death, but it is a simple acknowledgment that ‘death happens’ in war and that it matters who dies. In the case of Jackson’s death it reflects the obvious point that the right side won the Civil War given the consequences of a Confederate victory.
Scene set at Blandford Church Hill, Headquarters, Army of Northern Virginia, 1:45pm – July 30, 1864 in The Battle of the Crater by Newt Gingrich and William Forstchen
“Finish it,” Lee said, looking at [William] Mahone. “For heaven’s sake, they are cornered. Bag the lot, and finish it. If we wait until dark they will escape. For that matter, I am stunned they have not yet brought up reserves to strengthen their line and perhaps threaten another section to draw us off. I want it finished now, before they can launch another attack and stretch us too thin to hold.”
“Is it true a colored division was in the assault?”
Lee stepped closer to Mahone and in an uncharacteristic gesture put a fatherly hand on his solider. “I want the full honor of war observed. Those who surrender are to be treated as proper prisoners, with respect, their wounded tended to, their officers shown the respect due their rank.”
Mahone looked at him, as if to reply.
“I know what our President has said, but in this army, sir, my orders on this day carry full weight. We are Christian soldiers, sir. Do you understand me? Passions must not rule, even in the heat of battle. If I hear of any atrocities, I will ensure that those involved shall face court-martial and the full penalty of military law.”
He drew Mahone a bit closer. “Do we understand each other, sir”?
There was only one answer Mahone could possibly give to such a man. “Yes, sir.” [pp. 281-82]
Of course, there is no evidence that such a conversation ever took place and there is no evidence to suggest that Lee did not know or disapprove of the slaughter of black soldiers after the battle. This is nothing less than a gross distortion of the battle even for a work of historical fiction. Why this scene is necessary for their narrative will be the subject of my review.
I am really sorry to have missed last weekend’s “Years of Anguish” event in Fredericksburg organized by John Hennessy and including Gary Gallagher, Peter Carmichael, and Jeff McClurken. Apparently, at some point during his presentation Gallagher commented on Lee’s views on slavery and emancipation with a reference to his January 10, 1863 message to James Seddon:
Here is another story concerning the public display of the Confederate flag, this time in the former capital of the Confederacy of Richmond, Virginia. A small, but dedicated group is protesting the removal of a Confederate flag from the grounds of the Confederate War Memorial Chapel, which sits on ground owned by the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. The chapel was at one point part of a camp for Confederate veterans, known as Robert E. Lee Camp No. 1, also known as the “Old Soldiers’ Home.” In 1993 permission was given to the Sons of Confederate Veterans by the VMFA to lease the building, which is when, as I understand it, the Confederate flag first went up. In 2010 the lease was renewed with the stipulation that the flag be removed on the grounds of research done by museum staff showing that the flag had never been displayed when the building was in use by Confederate veterans. The following local report adds some context: