Lee-Jackson Day: Who Is It Good For?

lee-stonewall-jackson-graveI’ve enjoyed reading the comments attached to my last post, which featured Governor Terry McAullife’s first Lee-Jackson Day Proclamation. As readers have noted it contains a couple questionable references, but what I find interesting is just how hollow it sounds. What could you possibly learn about these two men from reading this proclamation if you had no prior knowledge? I would say, next to nothing and yet this is a state holiday.

As it stands the proclamation avoids anything that smacks of controversy. It’s an innocent reminder of a time long past when there was something at stake for a large number of white Virginians in acknowledging the two Confederate warriors and, more importantly, the Lost Cause for which they fought. For most Virginians today who are impacted by the holiday it is little more than a day off from work. With each generation our distance from the war itself grows and the emotional cords fewer. We are likely seeing the last hurrah from a generation that grew up or came of age during the Civil War centennial.

Looking ahead fifty years, I would be very surprised if Virginia and other Southern states continue to acknowledge Lee-Jackson Day.

Gov. Terry McAullife’s Lee-Jackson Day Proclamation

The new Virginia governor’s Lee-Jackson Day Proclamation is quite telling for both its brevity and especially for what it leaves out. Lee and Jackson are respectively remembered for their contributions to education in the Commonwealth and for their roles as military leaders, but no mention is made of the nation who benefited from that battlefield prowess.

WHEREAS, Generals Robert E. Lee and Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson were native Virginians, having served our great nation and Commonwealth as educators, leaders, and military strategists; and

WHEREAS, Lee served in the United States Army for more than three decades until he left his position to serve as Commander in Chief of Virginia’s military forces and as Commander of the Army of northern Virginia; and

WHEREAS, Jackson taught philosophy and military tactics as a professor at the Virginia Military Institute in Lexington for nearly a decade before serving briefly in the United States Army and later joining the Confederate Army to fight for his native Virginia; and

WHEREAS, Lee dedicated his life after the Civil War to reforming higher education in the South by serving as President of Washington College, now Washington & Lee University, in Lexington, Virginia, where he helped to greatly increase the school’s funding and expanding the curriculum to create an atmosphere most conductive to learning for young men of both Southern and Northern heritage; and

WHEREAS, Jackson’s leadership and bravery enabled him to rally his troops to several improbable victories against opposition forces much larger than his own, and Jackson’s inspired “Stonewall Brigade” fought alongside General Lee’s troops toward another victory even after their leader was fatally wounded on the second day of the Battle of Chancellorsville; and

WHEREAS, it is fitting to recognize Generals Lee and Jackson as two of our nation’s most notable military strategists, as beloved leaders among their troops, as pioneers in the field of higher education and as faithful and dedicated Virginians;

NOW, THEREFORE, I, Terence R. McAuliffe, do hereby recognize January 17, 2014; as LEE-JACKSON DAY in the COMMONWEALTH OF VIRGINIA and call this observance to attention for all our citizens.

Perhaps this proclamation falls in line with previous years, but it seems to me to be an exercise in saying as little about the cause for which they fought as possible.

“Our Focus is Educating People Today”

Bonus: Seems to me the Virginia Flaggers should be protesting the Virginia Military Institute over this decision. Let’s see if they do anything.

Everett-B-D-Julio_XX_The-Last-Meeting-Of-Lee-And-Jackson-1864_XX_Museum-Of-The-Confederacy-Richmond-VirginiaTomorrow is the annual gathering in Lexington, Virginia to mark Lee-Jackson Day, but you don’t get the sense that the diehards are very excited. Yes, the Virginia Flaggers will be there protesting a ban on their beloved flag on city light posts by marching in the streets with their Confederate flags. This remains one of the most ludicrous heritage protests of recent years as you are still permitted to wave as many flags in Lexington’s public places as your heart desires. You just can’t do so on public light poles.

You don’t get the sense from Brandon Dorsey, who organized the event, that he expects a large crowd. Continue reading ““Our Focus is Educating People Today””

Mark Twain: Lost Cause Art Critic

Everett-B-D-Julio_XX_The-Last-Meeting-Of-Lee-And-Jackson-1864_XX_Museum-Of-The-Confederacy-Richmond-VirginiaWith the help of my book credits earned through Amazon’s affiliate program I recently purchased The Civil War and American Art. It’s incredible.  While I enjoy looking at art, I don’t spend nearly enough time reading about it. In the introduction I came across Everett B.D. Fabrino Julio’s The Last Meeting of Lee and Jackson, which as many of you know is located at the Museum of the Confederacy. I did not know that Julio initially offered the painting to Lee himself as a gift, who politely refused. I mean, where would you put it given the painting’s dimensions.

For a time it was on public display in New Orleans, which is where Mark Twain viewed it. Here is his colorful review.

[I]n the Washington Artillery building…we saw…a fine oil-painting representing Stonewall Jackson’s last interview with General Lee. Both men are on horseback. Jackson has just ridden up, and is accosting Lee. The picture is very valuable, on account of the portraits, which are authentic. But like many another historical picture, it means nothing without its label. And one label will fit it as well as another:

First Interview between Lee and Jackson.

Last Interview between Lee and Jackson.

Jackson introducing himself to Lee.

Jackson Accepting Lee’s Invitation to Dinner.

Jackson Declining Lee’s Invitation to Dinner–with Thanks.

Jackson Apologizing for a Heavy Defeat.

Jackson Reporting a Great Victory.

Jackson Asking Lee for a Match.

It tells one story, and a sufficient one; for it says quite plainly and satisfactorily, “Here are Lee and Jackson together.” The artist would have made it tell that this is Lee and Jackson’s last interview if he could have done it. But he couldn’t, for there wasn’t any way to do it. A good legible label is usually worth, for information, a ton of significant attitude and expression in a historical picture.

Clearly, Twain’s brief stint in Confederate ranks did little for his respect for the Lost Cause. And for that we thank him.

Is There a Difference Between Longstreet’s July 2 and Jackson’s May 2?

Still making my way through Allen Guelzo’s Gettysburg: The Last Invasion. Here is how Guelzo sums up Confederate assaults on July 2 led by James Longstreet and Jubal Early.

So much of the fighting ended in agonizingly near misses for the Army of Northern Virginia–the within-an-inch failure to capture Little Round Top…the last-minute blunting of Barksdale and Wilcox by George Willard’s “Cowards” and the charge of the 1st Minnesota…Ambrose Wright’s bitter moment of abandonment, just shy of Cemetery Ridge..Harry Hays’ Tigers having victory (not to mention captured Federal artillery) snatched from their hands by Samuel Carroll’s helter-skelter counterattack by the Evergreen Cemetery gatehouse and left without support by Rodes’ intertia…and finally the failure to overrun just one Union brigade on Culp’s Hill–that it has become almost a matter of habit to speak of Longstreet’s attack or Early’s assault on east Cemetery Hill purely in the mordant tones of failure. This is not really true. In the first place, although James Longstreet’s corps failed to turn Dan Sickles’ collapse into a complete rout, this was no more of a failure than Stonewall Jackson’s famous flank attack at Chancellorsville on May 2nd. Jackson, like Longstreet, achieved a great initial success; but Jackson’s attack also like Longstreet’s, fell far short of dislodging the entire Federal army (that work had to be completed by Lee on May 3rd).  Jackson, like Longstreet, had begun his attack so late that darkness forced him to halt substantially short of their goal. Yet no one has ever suggested that Jackson’s descent on the Union right flank at Chancellorsville was a failure–or at least not in the way Longstreet’s descent on the Union left at Gettysburg would be described. (p. 351)

First, do you agree with Guelzo’s comparison of Longstreet’s assault with that of Jackson’s at Chancellorsville?  To the extent that you do agree, does this make it more difficult to talk in counterfactual terms about what Jackson would have done had he been at Gettysburg? In other words, if Longstreet did everything that Jackson accomplished at Chancellorsville than why do we need to imagine his presence at Gettysburg?