Happy Lee-Jackson Day

intro_leemonlgFrom the Richmond Planet, June 7, 1890:

The negro was in the Northern processions on Decoration Day and in the Southern ones, if only to carry buckets of ice-water.  He put up the Lee monument, and should the time come, will be there to take it down.  He’s black and sometimes greasy, but who could do without the Negro….

You may say what you will the Negro is here to stay.  Nothing goes on without him.  He was in the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, the Mexican War, the War of the Rebellion, and will be in every one that will take place in this country….

An old colored man after seeing the mammoth parade of the ex-Confederates on May 29th and gazing at the rebel flags, exclaimed “The Southern white folks is on top–the Southern white folks is on top!”  After thinking a moment, a smile lit up his countenance as he chuckled with evident satisfaction, “But we’s got the government!  We’s got the government!”  Yes, our party has the cations, the most people will allow them to keep.


Read Gov. Tim Kaine’s official proclamation acknowledging the day and notice the choice of words.  I have no doubt that Lee and Jackson are rolling over in their graves in anticipation of Tuesday’s inaugural event. 🙂

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30 comments… add one
  • Carlton King Sep 3, 2011 @ 20:57

    The old black man was right when he said “we’s got the government.” Couldn’t have said it better myself.

  • Will Keene Jan 21, 2009 @ 10:22

    Those are about the numbers I come up with. With the numeric edge he had, the battle results seem unexceptional to me — there is a classic saying about victory going to the bigger battalions and in almost all these battles that was the case. The exception would be Cross Keyes, however Jackson had no role in that battle. So we are left with the issue of movements, theater-wide dispositions and strategy. Jackson did face superior numbers during the March-April time frame and the result was that he was forced to retreat every time the enemy advanced until he had given up the valley to seek shelter in a pass of the blue ridge. Jackson’s opportunity in May came when his opponent’s strength and mission were substantially cut and his own strength was substantially increased (Ewell). During the last week of May and first week of June Jackson should have faced heavy odds as opposing forces were rushed to get him and he had to retreat, but Shields and Fremont couldn’t get it together such that Jackson was able to hold them off.

    – Will

  • Robert Moore Jan 20, 2009 @ 18:44

    This is a good exchange, Will. I have to say, since it has been a number of years since I have actually looked at the numbers, you might be setting me up to lose some “mythology” that may yet linger in me 🙂

    So, since this exchange has forced me to go back and look at the numbers, I agree that, yes, Jackson (combined with Edward Johnson) outnumbered Milroy & Schenk at McDowell by better than 2-1; Jackson at Front Royal, I imagine, wasn’t even funny from the perspective of the Federals present (17-1?!); Jackson at Winchester (I might be fuzzy on this one (better than 2-1); Jackson at … well, at Cross Keys, Ewell had battlefield command, but Jackson was still overall commander. Nonetheless, Fremont held the advantage there with better than 2-1 odds; and Jackson, at Port Republic (with some back-up from Taylor’s Brigade from Ewell) had Fed forces on the field outnumbered, but not to the point of 2-1 odds. Is this also about the same you came up with? I know there has been some back and forth over numbers over the years, from Freeman to Tanner to different works leading up the present, but I think these might be about right.

    Now, on the other hand, Jackson did face the potential of what might be perceived as improbable odds, but the Federals could never get the act together, so the battles, you are correct, were never really improbable. Cross Keys might have been considered a tough one, but not improbable. 40K from Irvin McDowell could certainly have tipped the scale in May (so, this could be perceived as improbable odds that were a factor but never became a reality on the battlefield). In fact, several thousands that were present in the Page Valley in early May (part of which Ewell tangled with in the high-end running skirmish that was Somerville Heights on May 7), and then left via Front Royal to join McDowell at Fredericksburg sometime just before Jackson slipped down the Valley on the way to Front Royal, could have played a factor (but they didn’t in the end). Surely, the potential was there for the Federals and the odds could have easily tipped. Incidentally, Port Republic might have been a better day had Shields used all four of the brigades at his disposal, vice the two that he actually used, but that’s open for speculation.

    Kernstown was the only battle in the Valley in which Jackson, as a battlefield commander, faced his worst odds (not quite 2-1)… and he lost.

    Bottom line, you are correct Will… poor choice of words in the proclamation,and quite possibly reflective of either a poor understanding of the history or myth & memory.

    Best, Robert

  • Will Keene Jan 20, 2009 @ 9:52


    I was referring to the specific sentence of the resolution that you quoted. The claim is that there were (1) several victories; (2) these victories were improbable; (3) these victories were against forces much larger than his; and (4) these victories were achieved because Jackson used his leadership and bravery to rally his troops.

    In the Valley campaign, Jackson has 4 victories to his credit: McDowell, Front Royal, Winchester, and Port Republic (Kernstown was a loss and Ewell was in command at Cross Keyes). In none of these victories was the opponent larger than him – Jackson outnumbered his enemy considerably in each case. Improbable is a subjective label, so opinions may vary, but I see nothing improbable about these victories, especially considering the previous point about his numeric advantage. And, as you noted, crediting these victories to him rallying his troops doesn’t really fit events.

    I don’t see any stretching at all in what I have said. Dissecting the wording of the proclamation is precisely the point. Words choice is important. You claim that the first thing you thought about was the 1862 Valley Campaign but that “it is not because of mythology”. I respectfully disagree. The Valley campaign was a great success for Jackson but the nature of that success has been distorted in the service of legend. For example it is quite common for people to think that he won battles in which he was outnumbered. But he didn’t. That’s what I am referring to as the mythology of Jackson.

    – Will

  • Robert Moore Jan 20, 2009 @ 7:11


    As a follow-up, while I think you’re application of “mythology” on Jackson’s success in the 62 Valley Campaign is more than a stretch, because you forced me to disect the wording of the proclamation, I’m beginning to look at this another way (the link, incidentally is to the one issued in 2008, but 2009 reads the same, I think). It would be nice to know who the author is, and exactly what the author’s level of knowledge is regarding both Lee and Jackson. The manner in which some of the facts are linked may be a reflection of the author’s incomplete understanding of the facts, or simply a poor choice of words (words used to make the proclamation sound better, yet carefully selected not to go down a particular path that may be relatively neutral in presentation, perhaps).

    When I read that one portion about “… several improbable victories…” the first thing to come to mind was the 1862 Valley Campaign, and it is not because of mythology. However, the addition of the word “rally” into this is rather silly and I’m really thinking it is a reflection of someone who does not have a grasp on the facts, but simply made a poor choice of words.

    We need to consider that there may well be other things at work here than historical memory and it might simply be a poor grasp/understanding of history.

  • Robert Moore Jan 20, 2009 @ 6:34


    “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;”

    I assume you are refering to this one portion of the resolution specifically?

    Regarding Jackson’s victories in the Shenandoah Valley in 1862, I respectfully disagree. His leadership, though questioned by some of his own officers in the campaign (and resulting in some outright problems between Jackson and some of his commanders), did shine through with incredible success in the Valley Campaign, although I do find the word “rally” a bit out of place as far as historical accuracy.

    There is no mythology in pulling off what a number of historians would deem “improbable victories against opposition forces much larger than his own” in the Valley.

    Despite the loss at Kernstown, Jackson was able to do a great deal beginning with McDowell, and followed up by victories from Front Royal to Winchester, and then on to Cross Keys and Port Republic. Of course, it’s also impossible to deny the fact that he was able to move his little army rather ably between all of these engagements in a short amount of time. The rapid marches alone between the engagements was incredible. Those last two battles, I believe, proved to his abilities as a leader. Furthermore, this allowed him to finally break away from the Shenandoah to join Lee around Richmond.

    In lieu of mythology it must be something quite to the contrary considering the fact that Marines, during officer training, come out year after year to study Jackson’s success here in the Valley.

  • Will Keene Jan 19, 2009 @ 19:42


    I agree that the description of Jackson’s military service is not ‘unusual’; I still find it interesting since it appears to me to be written to apply a certain spin. Also Jackson’s victories in the Sheandoah don’t fit the description in the proclamation. No actual battles fit. Its not fact-based; instead its part of the mythology of Jackson.

    – Will

  • Robert Moore Jan 19, 2009 @ 15:53


    I looked back into my blog and found the post (http://cenantua.wordpress.com/2008/12/23/historical-memory/) in which we exchanged comments. From the exchange, I thought we might be on to two different views of what historical memory is, maybe?

  • Robert Moore Jan 19, 2009 @ 15:45


    I’d agree with you on that.

  • Kevin Levin Jan 19, 2009 @ 13:38


    Perhaps you will have to refresh my memory. Sorry about that, but I am not quite sure what you are asking. In terms of the resolution I am not saying much beyond the fact that the choice of words tells us what aspects of their public lives and character are worth acknowledging by the state of Virginia. Hope that helps.

  • Robert Moore Jan 19, 2009 @ 13:31


    From previous exchanges, didn’t we established that we have two different interpretations of what Civil War memory is? I really think that’s really interesting. In your response to Will, how are you interpreting the resolution through your interpretation?

  • Robert Moore Jan 19, 2009 @ 13:22


    Actually, the description of Jackson’s service first to Virginia is not unusual. I would have to check, but I’m not sure when his commission transitioned to P.A.C.S. (Provisional Army of the Confederate States) from the Commonwealth of Virginia, but it was first with Va. Also, his improbable victories most certainly are those he had in the Shenandoah Valley from May-June 1862.

    I see the resolution as written “on the surface” or structured based on simple facts about the leaders, without going too deep into the subjects mentioned. By skirting this, I think, as Kevin indicates, certain things are avoided.

  • Will Keene Jan 19, 2009 @ 10:40

    Is the resolution fact-based and, as Robert Moore commented, “with no imposed modern memory”?

    I find the ambiguity of the term “our great nation” to be interesting.

    I find it interesting that several of Lee’s Confederate positions are left off.

    I find it interesting that Jackson is said to have joined the Confederate Army “to fight for his native Virginia”, rather than to fight for the CSA in general. The description of Jackson also seems to imply that he was in the US army after teaching at VMI when actually it was the other way around. I also wonder what “improbable victories” Governor Kaine had in mind.

    • Kevin Levin Jan 19, 2009 @ 10:50


      The resolution is so obviously crafted to avoid certain questions and debates. It is itself a wonderful example of Civil War memory.

  • Will Keene Jan 19, 2009 @ 10:16

    I think it is bizarre that Virginia does this.

    I also find it interesting that the Virginia.gov listing of state governors includes John Letcher’s full term (1860-1864) and William Smith (1864-65) and only lists Pierpont as Provisional governor from 1865 – 1868. Thus Pierpont’s selection by the loyalist legislaure in 1861 and reelection in 1864 is buried and the confederate government is legitimized as the true lineage of the current Virginia government.

  • Kevin Levin Jan 18, 2009 @ 4:26

    Phil, — I will report some time next year as to how it went. 🙂

    Crystal, — Thanks for the thoughtful comment. I think it is important to keep Jackson’s views and actions within proper context. Remember that slaveowners encouraged their slaves to embrace Christianity going back to the colonial period. In fact, some of the first laws passed by the legislature, in an effort to draw a sharper distinction between the races, overturned practices that freed slaves following their conversion.

    In addition, Jackson’s Sunday school fit into a wide range of antebellum practices of social uplift; however, these should not be interpreted as implying in any way the notion of racial equality or as a step toward emancipation. They were viewed as obligations based on their position in society based on white supremacy. I recently read and highly recommend Charles Irons’s The Origins of Proslavery Christianity: White and Black Evangelicals in Colonial and Antebellum Virginia (UNC Press, 2008). It is a fascinating study of how race and religion became infused by the Civil War.

  • Phil LeDuc Jan 16, 2009 @ 16:33

    Kevin –
    So you got your Burlingame Christmas present! I had it on my list, but no dice. My daughters did get me an IPod though. I guess the 21st century trumped the 19th.
    I’ll have to get the Burlingame volumes myself, and – rats! – the price went up again on Amazon.com.

  • Crystal Marshall Jan 16, 2009 @ 13:25

    Having completed a college research paper on General “Stonewall” Jackson and his relationships with slaves, I have to respectfully question your assumption that “Lee and Jackson are rolling over in their graves in anticipation of Tuesday’s inaugural event”. Having done no substantial research on Lee, I can’t speak in regards to his views, but for Jackson I don’t believe that he would have been quite as appalled about an African-American president as you think he would be. Jackson started and ran a Sunday school for slaves in Lexington before the Civil War, and continued with it despite being threatened with prosecution for it. By doing so he demonstrated a certain love and respect for the intellectual and moral abilities of the slaves (there is some evidence he may have taught the slaves in his class to read, in violation of Virginia law at the time). Certainly his views on slavery and African-Americans are not shared by the majority of Americans today, but in Jackson’s time his words and actions were in some respects quite forward-thinking, as illustrated by a quote from the biography written by his wife, Mary Anna Jackson:

    “It has been said that General Jackson “fought for slavery and the Southern Confederacy with the unshaken conviction that both were to endure.” This statement is true with regard to the latter, but I am very confident that he would never have fought for the sole object of perpetuating slavery. It was for her constitutional rights that the South resisted the North, and slavery was only comprehended among those rights. He found the institution a…troublesome one, and I have heard him say that he would prefer to see the negroes free, but he believed that the Bible taught that slavery was sanctioned by the Creator himself,
    who maketh men to differ, and instituted laws for the bond and the free. He therefore accepted slavery, as it existed in the Southern States, not as a thing desirable in itself, but as allowed by God for ends which it was not his business to determine. At the same time, the negroes had no truer friend, no greater benefactor. Those who were servants in his own house he treated with the greatest kindness, and never was more happy or devoted to any work than that of teaching the colored children of his Sunday-school.”

    Once again some of his views regarding slavery and African-Americans seem out-of-touch with our views today, but it’s important to keep Jackson’s beliefs in context of the time and culture in which he lived. And in fact some of his beliefs and actions were counter-cultural, as evidenced by his work with the Lexington Sunday school for slaves.

  • Robert Moore Jan 16, 2009 @ 10:56

    This is an interesting addition to this discussion…


  • TF Smith Jan 16, 2009 @ 9:25

    Kevin –

    Thanks for the post; from the perspective of being a Westerner (my home state was “all quiet on the Pacific Slope” for much of 1861-65) I am actually very surprised that a Democratic governor of a historically “border” state would acknowledge this in 2009. Truly amazing.

    Is there a Scott-Thomas Day, as well?

    • Kevin Levin Jan 16, 2009 @ 9:30

      You can’t have a Scott-Thomas day if you hope to preserve the mystique of Lee and his inevitable decision to resign his commission in the U.S. Army in 1861. Check out Richard Williams’s post, which beautifully captures this narrative strand. Ask your self where Thomas and Scott fit into Williams’s narrative: http://oldvirginiablog.blogspot.com/2009/01/robert-e-lee-quintessential-american.html I’ve noted over and over that even a cursory analysis of Virginia West Point graduates blows the idea of Lee’s inevitable resignation right out of the water. In 1861 a significant minority of southern West Point graduates maintained their allegiance to the Union and if you look at Virginians who graduated West Point through 1831 more chose to stay with the Union than resign come 1861.

      Keep in mind that Lee-Jackson Day has a history: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lee-Jackson-King_Day

    • Robert Moore Jan 16, 2009 @ 9:55

      While I don’t see a Scott-Thomas Day in the future for Virginia, I am waiting to see if Gov. Kaine offers a proclamation for Lincoln’s Birthday, especially considering one of the first events of the 200th anniversary of the birth year is in Virginia.


      • Kevin Levin Jan 16, 2009 @ 9:58

        I am also interested to see if any acknowledgment by the governor is forthcoming. I’ve been slowly making my way through Burlingame’s massive biography and he does an excellent job of reminding the reader that Lincoln’s roots were in the South. Of course, his family moved to Kentucky from Virginia which could be used as one bookend along with his visit to Richmond in April 1865 as the other.

        • Robert Moore Jan 16, 2009 @ 10:29

          Not all of them went to Ky. Some stayed here in the Valley, and some of the descendants from those who remained wore “the gray” from 61-65. Nonetheless, Abraham Lincoln’s grandfather, “Virginia John,” is buried in the family cemetery near Broadway, Rockingham Co., Va. There is also a Lincoln family slave (or is it two?)who is buried in the cemetery.

          • Kevin Levin Jan 16, 2009 @ 10:31

            Oops, thanks for clarifying what I should have said originally. No doubt, you just reinforced the case for Lincoln’s importance to Virginia.

  • Bob Pollock Jan 16, 2009 @ 8:50

    Gov. Kaine’s proclamation may be simple and fact based, but it certainly cherry-picks the lives of these two men. I have a feeling Frederick Douglass would be appalled to know that they are still being lauded in the 21st century. As Blight wrote in Race and Reunion, “[Douglass] denounced the ‘bombastic laudation of the rebel chief’ and lamented that he could ‘scarcely take up a newspaper…that is not filled with nauseating flatteries of the late Robert E. Lee…It would seem that the soldier who killed the most men in battle, even in a bad cause, is the greatest Christian, and entitled to the highest place in heaven.'”

  • Paul Reber Jan 16, 2009 @ 8:49


    Thanks for your always engaging posts.

    I was especially interested in your assertion that Lee and Jackson would be “rolling in their graves” over this Tuesday’s events.

    It is dangerous to speculate on how historic figures would react to current events. Some historians have made a cottage industry out of it: “What would the Founders do?” Since they aren’t here to tell us, it’s all worthless speculation.

    I do suspect, however, that Lee and Jackson’s reaction would have been shared by most northerners.

    I think the people that are really doing the rolling are those that created “Lee Jackson Day” in the first place and the c. 1890 editor of the Richmond Planet.

    Sorry you can’t be with us for the Symposium next week. We will make sure you get a full report.

    • Kevin Levin Jan 16, 2009 @ 8:55

      Hi Paul,

      Nice to hear from you and good luck with the Lee symposium next week. It promises to be an educational experience for all who attend. You can’t beat your line-up. As for my little comment…well of course I agree with you that it is idle speculation. I don’t mean much by it other than to bring these two days into sharper focus. You are absolutely correct to point out that Lee’s and Jackson’s disgust surrounding Tuesdays inauguration would have been shared by most Americans regardless of region.

  • Robert Moore Jan 16, 2009 @ 7:49

    I have to say, Gov. Kaine kept it short, simple, fact-based, and with no imposed modern “memory.”

    • Kevin Levin Jan 16, 2009 @ 8:04

      I thought it was interesting to suggest that Lee “left” his position in the U.S. army for service in Virginia and the Confederacy.

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