You had to know that Brandon Dorsey, the local Confederate Heritage™ guy in Lexington, would be all over the Washington and Lee flag business, calling for the university to “return the mausoleum to the ownership of the Lee Memorial Association.” I’m not sure who Dorsey is talking about, as the Lee Memorial Association that originally funded the mausoleum appears to have furled its banner decades ago. There’s a present-day Robert E. Lee Memorial Association that operates Stratford Hall, that was begun in New York state and adopted its current name when it moved to Virginia in the 1970s, but that’s (1) clearly not the same group as in the 1880s, and (2) is one that has no claim, legal or otherwise, to the site at W&L.
Dorsey, who calls W&L President Ken Ruscio “the nations [sic.] most notorious grave robber,” has a pretty abysmal track record as a coordinator of protests going back to the Lexington flag ordinance in 2011. That ordinance passed easily, despite Dorsey’s efforts to bring in dozens of people from out of town to tell the Lexington City Council how to run their little city; his campaign to oust Mayor Mimi Elrod, that also relied heavily on people not actually from Lexington, came to naught in 2012 when Elrod won re-election by a wider margin than before; the lawsuit against the city he encouraged in federal court was a complete bust, and his ongoing boycott of the city has had no observable effect on the local tourist economy.
He did successfully coordinate the installation of a fiberglass statue of Stonewall Jackson with a sword in one hand and a golden cross in the other, by the same sculptor who did the dinosaurs-eating-Yankees amusement park, so there’s that.
Interestingly, in making his call for W&L to turn over the mausoleum to a private organization that appears not to exist, Dorsey cites the wording of the original 1882 agreement transferring the mausoleum to the school:
That upon the completion of the mausoleum and its inauguration under the auspices of this Association the title to, and the care and custody of, both the mausoleum and the marble statue of General Lee shall be vested in the corporation of Washington and Lee University, upon the sacred trust that the mausoleum shall be preserved as a perpetual place of sepulture for the remains of Gen. R. E. Lee, and of Mrs. Lee, and of such other members of their family as it maybe the pleasure of the family to have interred there, and that the building and statue shall receive from the authorities of the University such care and attention from time to time as shall be needful for their preservation; and upon the further trust that neither the mausoleum, nor the ground upon which it is erected, nor the statue and appurtenances of the mausoleum, shall ever be in any way, or to any extent, liable for any claim against, or debt of said University, or be charged with any mortgage, deed of trust, or other encumbrance.
Dorsey doesn’t explain why this particular passage is important, perhaps because it isn’t. Nothing Washington and Lee has done violates this agreement. They haven’t mortgaged the mausoleum, or put it up as collateral, or interfered with the interments of Lee and his family. They removed decorative flags that wouldn’t be added for almost another fifty years, as is their prerogative as owners of the Washington and Lee Chapel.
Everything I’ve read about Lee suggests to me that he abhorred flashy showmanship, and was more than a little uncomfortable with the fame and renown he achieved during his lifetime. As I said last week, he didn’t use his five years as president of Washington College to turn the school into the Confederate shrine some people today want it to be, and I genuinely believe he would be embarrassed by the desire by some to make his and his family’s resting place a shrine of quasi-religious veneration, a sort of Confederate Lourdes or a Dixified version of the Kaaba. I certainly don’t believe he would have any patience with the hair-on-fire shriekers who use his memory as an excuse to engage in the most vile sort of threats, name-calling and accusation in defense of Confederate Heritage. The real, live Robert Edward Lee, a Virginia patrician first and last, wouldn’t have had those people in his front parlor.
I’ll be visiting the Texas Civil War Museum in Fort Worth with some of the crew from CW Talk and signing copies of the blockade running and Buffalo Bayou books from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday,
March July 26. The museum is located at 760 North Jim Wright Freeway. I haven’t visited before, but I’ve heard lots of great things about its collection. Hope to see you there!
. . . but I missed an important sesquicentennial Wednesday, the 150th anniversary of the Admiralty Order in Council that established the White Ensign as the sole preserve of the Royal Navy. Prior to 1864, British warships might display any of three different ensigns, based on an archaic system dating back to the Restoration. (Really, don’t ask.)
So while the famous White Ensign had been around for a couple of hundred years before that in one form or another, we’re going to call July 9 the White Ensign’s 150th birthday.
Andrew Wagenhoffer at Civil War Books and Authors has a review of the blockade running book. Money quote:
Civil War Blockade Running on the Texas Coast occupies a place among the better quality titles attached to the publisher’s expansive catalog of popular Civil War subject overviews. Along with the content highlights already noted, it is well stocked with area maps, photographs and other illustrations, including many graphical renderings of the ships mentioned. Though a bibliography is absent, sources used can be traced through Hall’s endnotes. An exhaustive scholarly history of West Gulf Blockading Squadron operations authored by one of the premier Civil War naval historians will be available later this year, but many readers with a particular interest in Galveston’s central place in those events will be well satisfied with Hall’s popular account.
__________h/t to my colleague Mark Jenkins for flagging this one.
Here is GNMP Ranger Bill Hewitt discussing the 26th North Carolina Infantry on the third day at Gettysburg. A Confederate Battle Flag believed to be that of the 26th North Carolina, designated “No. 62″ by the U.S. War Department, will be the first original flag exhibited at the Lee Chapel Museum at Washington and Lee University under the plan announced earlier this week.
___________h/t Mike Kendra of CW Talk
My colleague Kevin Levin has the rundown on the official response by Washington and Lee University over the presence of Confederate flags in the Lee Chapel. It’s a positive move, I think, that the current replica flags — how many visitors understood they are modern reproductions, dating only from 1995, I wonder? — that had no identification or explanation, will be replaced with actual historic flags, displayed in rotation in correct environmental conditions and with appropriate labeling.
One common whinge that we’ve heard for a while now is the W&L has somehow turned its back on the legacy of Robert E. Lee. That’s funny, since anyone with the slightest knowledge of the school knows otherwise. As it happens, my household has been fairly inundated lately with university recruiting materials, including multiple mailings from W&L. One of them is a short brochure called “Traditions of Honor.” When you open it, the very first lines begin,
In 1865, a young man from Tennessee approached his school’s president, Robert E. Lee, to ask for a copy of the rules. “We have no printed rules,” Lee replied kindly. “We have but one rule here, and it is that every student must be a gentleman.” More than a century later, the essence of that simple statement still holds true.
Robert E. Lee not only figures prominently in the school’s public image, but present-day Washington and Lee considers him and his reputation to be an effective recruiting tool.
Everything I’ve read about Robert E. Lee’s five-year tenure in Lexington — a longer period, it should be noted, than he wore a Confederate gray uniform — indicates that he gave everything he had to Washington College, with the intent of making it the best possible school he could. He did not, as far as I know, intend for it to become Confederate Candyland or a reliquary to the Lost Cause, as some seem to want it to be. The focus of the present-day Washington and Lee University is exactly where it should be, on Lee’s contributions and legacy to the school. I have no doubt whatever that, were he here today, like Jefferson before him Lee would be more proud of the university he helped build than anything else he did in his public life.
Small stories that don’t warrant full posts:
- CW buffs who use Google Earth may have noticed that Richmond was recently upgraded with LIDAR data (above), that includes individually-textured buildings, trees and even some road vehicles.
- The USS Monitor Center’s wet lab reopened in May, based on a verbal agreement by all parties. The contracts still need to be sorted out.
- As part of the previously-announced plan for establishment of the American Civil War Museum in Richmond, the Museum of the Confederacy will begin transferring stewardship (but not ownership) of its archival materials to the Virginia Historical Society, where they will be scanned, indexed and made available to the public digitally.
- Saturday was the 213th birthday of David Glasgow Farragut.
- Robert M. Browning’s long-awaited volume on the Union blockade in the Gulf of Mexico, Lincoln’s Trident, will be released on January 15. It ain’t cheap, so start looking for loose change in the couch cushions now.
- The History Detectives had a show on the other day about the Sultana Disaster. Kinda interesting, but it’s almost all ground covered by Jerry Potter years ago.
- A tip for summer — after a long day at the beach, be sure to empty the hot coals out of your barbecue grill before loading it in the pickup for the drive home.
- Keith Harris has some observations about Shelby Foote as a storyteller, and as an historian. Hint: they’re not the same thing.
- And last, congratulations to my former Denbigh Project colleague Eric VanVelzen, who was recently promoted to Lieutenant Commander in the U.S. Coast Guard. Van is a former Marine and a Desert Storm veteran.
Got anything else? Put it in the comments below.
I see from Brooks’ blog that Billy Bearden, who not long ago said he would “hope and pray” for the gang rape of a federal judge whose decision he disagreed with, is at it once again. Then we have Carl “Amanda Buncle” Roden, Josephine “Shoot Up Your Kid’s School” Bass — all active voices in the Confederate Heritage™ movement whose violent fantasies bubble up to the surface every now and then.
Also, mark your calendars, it’s just 25 more days before James Montgomery-Ryan says he’s going to make sure “that the yankees [sic.] will be wiped from the earth,” through exile (to where, exactly?) or by firing squad.
It’s easy to point and laugh at silly people like John Hall, who a few months ago worked up the courage to stand for “Dixy” by stabbing a sheet of paper when no one else was around, but underneath it all runs a culture that rewards angry rhetoric and fosters a pathology of violent fantasy, actively abetted by their friends who ignore, defend or explain it away.
These are the Defenders of Southron Honour. Know them for who they are.
It’s an old saw that the citizenry of Vicksburg, Mississippi, did not celebrate the Fourth of July until well into the 20th century. While it’s certainly true that the anniversary of the fall of that city to Grant in 1863 continued to resonate with Vicksburg residents down through the years, in fact the date was observed by plenty of local residents, white and black, even if the celebration was unofficial and somewhat more muted there than elsewhere. And they were celebrating it even when the war itself was a recent memory. From the Vicksburg Daily Commercial, July 3, 1877:
To-morrow being the anniversary of our Nations independence, all patriotic citizens of this great Republic are expected to observe it as a holiday. We desire to be reckoned among this class of patriotic citizens, consequently no paper will be issued from this office to-morrow. The glorious Fourth happens to come in hot weather this year, and we are glad to be able to observe it ‘neath the shade of country forests.
And a follow-up, on July 5:
The people of Vicksburg came nearer celebrating the glorious Fourth yesterday than they have done for several years. True, there was no general suspension of business, as indicated by closed doors, but so far as the profits of trade were concerned doors might as well have been closed, for the salesrooms were deserted almost entirely. Everybody was out of town, apparently, enjoying the holiday in some way. Several hundred people attended the Hibernian picnic at Newman’s Grove, and not withstanding the extreme heat, all seemed to enjoy the festivities of the day. The colored population turned out in large force, fully one thousand men of them going down the river on excursion boats to picnic-grounds, yet there were enough of them left in the city to form a very respectable procession of colored Masons, and a very large audience to listen to the oration of Judge J. S. Morris, and to assist in laying the corner-stone of King Solomon’s Church. There was no prolific display of fire-works on the streets, but occasional reports from fire-crackers and large torpedoes could be heard, accompanied now and then by a patriotic cry, “rah for the Fourth of July!” We do not wonder at the lack of patriotic enthusiasm displayed on our streets. No amount of patriotism could have induced any sane man to exert himself very considerably on such a day when the thermometer registered very nearly 100° Farenheit [sic.] in the shade. However, the observance of Independence Day yesterday, slight as some may have thought it, was yet sufficient to indicate the prevalence of a broader National sentiment and a determination to at least partially forget the past which renders the Fourth of July especially distasteful to Vicksburgers, and make it in future “The Day We Celebrate” as much as any other National holiday.
To be sure, the Fourth of July remained a bitter date for many Vicksburg citizens, for a long time. Undoubtedly there are some who still reject the date as one for celebration. But in this, as in so much else about the legacy of the war, the reality is more complex than some would have us believe.
_____________A version of this post originally appeared here on July 4, 2011.
Great old song, performed here by Ed Miller. The audio isn’t great, but he adds some lines I’d never heard before.