[H/T to W.D. Carlson, who emailed this video with the subject line: "God Bless Lee and Jackson and God Bless Dixie"]
I am ashamed to admit that in my ten years as a resident of Charlottesville, Virginia I never made the time to attend a Lee-Jackson Day parade. Lexington is a beautiful city with an incredibly rich history and it certainly looks like everyone had a good time this past Saturday. If you didn’t have a chance to travel to take part this is is the next best thing. One question: Where is everyone? The place looks deserted. It also looks like there was no shortage of Confederate flags. I say, it looks like there was no shortage of Confederate flags. Which leads one to wonder why there was a need to file a lawsuit.
Whether or not Washington and Lee’s Law School closes in recognition of the national holiday in honor of Martin Luther King’s contributions to the advancement of social, political, and legal justice is entirely in the hands of the school community. The university already does quite a bit to honor the slain civil rights leader, but hopefully the administration will listen carefully to their students, who believe the closing of the school next year will send a clear message that brings home the significance of this national holiday.
And given the importance attached to their former president’s moral character, perhaps it would be helpful to ask what Robert E. Lee would do.
Early on in my Mahone research I was intrigued by a letter that J. Horace Lacy wrote to the general at some point during the post-Readjuster years. Lacy shared a conversation he had with Robert E. Lee at a commencement dinner at Washington College in which the general revealed that in the event of his death or inability to lead the army he had Mahone in mind as a replacement.
Gen’l Hampton sat on the right and I as an orator of day on left of Lee. Turning to Hampton Gen’l Lee said something in a low tone, I leaned back as I thought it was possible it might be something confidential. Laying his hand upon my knee he said lean over Major I only wish Hampton and yourself to hear. Then Gen’l Hampton in the dark days which preceded the fall of the Confederacy, for a good while I was almost hopeless, and you know I did not spare this poor life, for I thought it became me to fall on one of those fields of glory. My artillery was handled well, the cavalry was in the very hands, after the death of Stuart that I preferred to any other. But I often thought if a stray ball should carry me off who could best command the incomparable Infantry of the Army of Northern Virginia. Of course I could not nominate a successor that whole matter was in the hands of the President. But among the younger men I thought William Mahone had developed the highest quality for organization and command.
The words were written down by me that evening and are in my desk at Ellwood. I write them now hastily in a public room. But I know they are accurate. We drifted so far apart politically and I so entirely condemned your policy and methods that I would not give them to the world. Now I cheerfully write them and as far as I am concerned this may be an open letter to the world.
It’s a great story and I don’t mind admitting that back in 2004 I was seduced by it. Mahone was my guy and I was going to rescue him from historical oblivion. In fact, in my first public talks about Mahone I used the well known 1907 print, Lee and His Generals, by George Bagby Matthews to make my point. I was still thinking through issues related to how to handle certain kinds of evidence as well as questions surrounding historical memory. More importantly, at the time I still didn’t have as solid a grasp of just how divisive Mahone’s postwar politics were and my understanding of the Confederate high command was also lacking.
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.