Tag Archives: Stonewall Jackson

Even the Kids Think Gods and Generals is a Little Strange

In this final week of my Civil War Memory course I am showing sections of some of my favorite and not so favorite CW movies.  Today we watched the first part of “Gods and Generals” up to First Manassas.  I was curious as to how they would respond given the course content.  Within about ten minutes they understood that much of it is straight-ahead Lost Cause.  Virginia is depicted as pretty much pro-secession and pro-Confederate and slaves are shown as obedient servants.  Given what they know about “Stonewall” Jackson they thought the movie did a pretty good job of capturing his religious zeal, but they couldn’t stop laughing at the overly-dramatic dialog and music.  It is pretty funny.  One of my students asked if the movie spends as much time on how white northerners viewed the war as it does on the white south.  Good question.  Another student noticed that the first time you even see a “Yankee” is on the Manassas battlefield, which reinforces the notion that they were invaders set to destroy Virginia rather than fighting to preserve the Union.

Here is one of the segments we viewed this morning.  I particularly love the parlor scene.  The ladies just happened to finish stitching the flag for the two boys just as the song is finished.  The mother’s address which follows is a bit too long-winded, but the doozy is the kiss goodbye from the house servant.  Mort Kunstler could paint any of the scenes in this movie.  Gotta love it.

Tomorrow I am going to show some scenes from the movie, “Ride With the Devil”, which does a much better job of capturing some of the complexity and confusion of war in Missouri.  We will also have a chance to talk about how race is dealt with in the movie.

“Stonewall’s Bust”

No, I am not trying to insult some of you by suggesting that Stonewall Jackson was really a woman or, more exotically, transgendered.  It’s simply the title of playwright John Morogiello’s latest production, which will appear this summer in Pittsburgh.  The story is as follows:

Set in the South, the farce is about a man named Paul (Robert Rokicki) from New York who visits the family of his debutante girlfriend, Nancy
(Seana Hollingsworth), for the first time. Nancy’s mother owns a confederate heritage museum where Paul accidentally breaks a priceless
statue of Stonewall Jackson. What follows is a series of cover ups, larger lies, misunderstandings and an exorcism on live television. “There are other colorful characters. Others have secrets. There are a lot of mishaps between all the couples, as well,” says Hollingsworth. In the end, Paul must make a decision between the woman he loves and his personal safety.

That’s pretty funny.

Stonewall Jackson Continues to Educate in Alabama

How many of you have ever heard of the Stonewall Jackson Memorial Fund of Alabama?  The 3-member panel created by Alabama lawmakers in 1955 and headed by state archives officials offers $1,000 scholarships to college-bound students for essays on the Confederate general.  Apparently they have awarded 53 interest-free scholarships since 1989.  What kind of essay are we talking about here?

There is hereby created and established the Alabama Stonewall Jackson Memorial Fund, which fund is to be composed of the money hereinafter appropriated in this chapter, together with any accruals from the income from the fund or repayments thereto.  The purpose of this fund is to memorialize that great American and Confederate general, “Stonewall” Jackson, through a program of education initiated by Stonewall Jackson Memorial, Incorporated, including both essay contests and scholarships. The benefits of this fund shall accrue only to Alabamians.

Mississippi also enacted a similar program before it was “abolished” in 1990:

(1) There is hereby created the Mississippi Stonewall Jackson Memorial Board, which shall have as its purpose the memorializing of that great American and Confederate General, Stonewall Jackson, through a program of education initiated by Stonewall Jackson Memorial, Inc. The Mississippi Stonewall Jackson Memorial Board shall be governed by a board of trustees, who shall serve without compensation. The board of
trustees shall be composed of three (3) members, the Mississippi State Superintendent of Public Education, the Director of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History, and the President of Stonewall Jackson Memorial, Inc. The board of trustees shall be vested with the power to administer this section in its entirety and to establish the Mississippi Stonewall Jackson Memorial Fund.

(2) From and after March 13, 1990, the Stonewall Jackson Memorial Board shall be abolished by operation of law, and any monies appropriated or donated to or deposited in the Stonewall Jackson Memorial Fund shall be received, invested and administered by the Board of Trustees of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History as it deems advisable in line with sound business procedure. The Board of Trustees of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History may spend the interest derived from the Mississippi Stonewall Jackson Memorial Fund to support the programs and activities of the Junior Historical Society of Mississippi and thereby promote the study of Mississippi history. No part of the principal of such fund shall be disbursed for any purpose, and all grants to the Junior Historical Society shall be taken from the interest derived from investments only.

It’s pretty clear as to the types of articles that must be written to qualify for a Jackson loan.  There seems to be little room for any kind of critical analysis of some aspect of Jackson’s life.  I would love to know how many black students have chosen to submit essays on this topic.  So, why is this in the news?  Well, you guessed it, some lawmakers in Alabama want to end the program.  The arguments both for ending and continuing the program are pretty straightforward and follow the arguments related to just about every controversy related to our public memory of the Civil War.

What I find interesting, and which is not referenced at all, is the fact that Alabama’s program was started in 1955.  The landmark Supreme Court case of Brown v. Board of Education had been decided just months earlier.  To what extent was this carried out in response to a perceived threat to a central pillar of southern life by the federal government?

There would be no issue if this were a private endowment, but this program is state funded and lawmakers have the right and responsibility to challenge appropriations.  As for my own view of this issue it seems to be much to do about nothing.  I lived and taught in Alabama for two years so I am well aware of the state of public education there.  If it takes a goofy 1,500-word essay to earn a $1,000 scholarship for college than so be it.  Black students can write about what Jackson teaches us about being a friendly slaveowner.

Why Did Stonewall Jackson Join the Presbyterian Church?

Yesterday I briefly referenced the latest issue of the VMHB which contains a wonderful essay on Stonewall Jackson by Christopher R. Lawton.  I finished reading the essay this morning and it has left me with a great deal to think about.  Lawton provides both a gendered and generational analysis of the evolution of Jackson’s public and private life between his admission to West Point and his arrival in Lexington, Virginia.  Along the way Lawton challenges the analytical frameworks of Wilbur J. Cash and Bertram Wyatt-Brown who imagine white Southern men as yearning to live the life of the slaveholding elite and practicing a set of values revolving around a strict code of honor.

Central to this recent historiography is that the myth of the emotionally-driven antebellum southerner must be replaced with a new sense that many southern men were far closer to the stereotype of the rational northerner than to the honor and violence models of Cash and Wyatt-Brown.  An account of Thomas Jackson’s carefully plotted ascension into privileged white manhood is thus far less radical than it might initially seem.  Jackson was not an exception among white, middle-class southern men, but rather a fairly typical model.  His strategic development of self was directed by the belief that the role of “gentlemen,” to which he and so many of his contemporaries aspired, was not a preexisting condition but a position that one created in the act of playing the part. (p. 9)

This emphasis on performatives, according to Lawton, was shaped by Jackson’s careful reading of popular texts such as Parson Weems’s biography of Washington and John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress, his training at West Point which emphasized the importance of putting into practice moral precepts that would bring about a “Gentlemen of manners, of politeness & of education,” and in his generation’s reverence for the Founding Fathers.  Finally, there were the countless books of maxims that Jackson carefully studied – the most famous being, “You may be whatever you resolve to be” which was pulled verbatim from the Rev. Joel Hawes’s Letters to Young Men on the Formation of Character &c.  Jackson utilized these resources as a means to becoming a soldier, citizen, and gentlemen.  What I like about this article is that it implicitly challenges the assumption that Jackson’s life is impenetrable; we see the same thing when it comes to R.E. Lee.  Somehow in the process of turning these men into gods we distance ourselves from their humanity and desires.  Such is the case when it comes to Jackson and religion.

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