Dead Confederates, A Civil War Era Blog

Stonewall Jackson Killed by His Own Troops (Again)

Posted in Media, Memory by Andy Hall on September 29, 2012

It’s been a little over a year since the Lexington, Virginia City Council voted to bar all but the U.S., Virginia and municipal flags from city-owned light poles in the town. The decision was met with protests then, but there have been relatively few developments since. There was a lawsuit, of course, that was tossed out by the judge in June, and if there have been any other major developments on the legal side of the dispute, I’m not aware of them.

So to keep stirring the pot, now local SCV Camp Commander Brandon Dorsey points to the closure and layoffs as a local tourist attraction the Theater at Lime Kiln. This, Dorsey, claims, is “thanks to Lexington City Council,” and somehow vaguely the result of political correctness. Dorsey doesn’t actually explain the connection, though, which is not really surprising, given that the attached news item about the closure makes no such inference. Indeed, the article makes it clear that the theater has been in dire straits financially for the better part of a decade:

When the theater launched the fund drive earlier this year, Russell said Lime Kiln “has been on life support for the past several seasons.”
He said the theater has managed with a staff of three doing the work of 10, but that there were no more expenses that could be cut, while the theater’s facility continued to deteriorate and consume what little cash reserves exist.
The theater has asked Lexington and Rockbridge County to make $200,000 in multiyear pledges by Dec. 31, in order to make needed repairs and build a new permanent rain structure. It also is seeking a $93,000 rural development loan from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
When it asked for that help earlier this year, Lime Kiln said it needed a total of $300,000 by the end of the year to do all the work it needed to do in order to present a 10-performance season in 2013. It hopes to grow to 15 performances in 2014 and to become self-supporting.
The theater closed for a while in 2005, and now says its signature production, “Stonewall Country,” seriously overstretched its ability to operate, because of its high cost.

My emphasis. For the record, 2005 is SIX YEARS before the Lexington City Council took action on the flag ordinance.

What we have here is, pretty obviously, a case where a long-standing business that’s been teetering on the precipice for years eventually succumbs to hard economic times and competition for visitors’ entertainment dollars. Although the theater’s signature production, “Stonewall Country” (above), focuses on the life of Stonewall Jackson, there’s nothing in the news story that suggests that show, in particular, was struggling due to lack of attendance or a general antipathy toward Confederate subjects.

Dorsey offers no evidence supporting his suggestion that Lexington Mayor Mimi Elrod and her PC minions are the root cause of this event, or why, exactly, they would want the closure of a cultural venue that brings visitors and their dollars to town. And of course the ordinance passed had no bearing on the theater or any other business in Lexington. Dorsey’s claim doesn’t even make sense, frankly. But while we’re busy making unsubstantiated accusations, I’ll toss in one of my own, that at least has some logic to it.

Gary Adams claims that the SCV/Virginia Flagger boycott of Lexington has cost local merchants $633,271 in lost revenue already. Where that number comes from, I have no idea — citing the source of material he posts is not a big priority for him — and I’m dubious that it’s even a real number than can be attributed to the boycott.

But just for the moment, let’s assume this is a real number, and the boycott has cost local visitor-oriented businesses well over half a million dollars. It’s not hard to see that under those circumstances the boycott, cheered on by folks like Dorsey, Billy Bearden and Susan Hathaway, may have played a very direct role the demise of the Theater at Lime Kiln. I remain dubious that the boycott has had much real effect at all, but if it has, as its backers claim, then their fingerprints are all over the pink slips handed out to theater employees last week.

Once again, Stonewall Jackson has been killed by his own troops. Well done, asshats.


Stonewall Jackson’s “Regiment of Free Negroes”

Posted in African Americans, Memory by Andy Hall on June 20, 2012

Within the smoke-and-mirrors, ignore-that-man-behind-the-curtain game that constitutes advocacy for black Confederate soldiers, one often comes across the claim that Stonewall Jackson commanded two battalions of African American troops. It pops up all over the place, including (briefly) in grade school textbooks in the Old Dominion. Remarkably, with 27 bazillion books published to date on the Civil War, and a fair number of those specifically about Ol’ Blue Light himself, no one’s ever bothered to name those two battalions by their official designation, identify their officers, or point them out on the order of battle for a specific engagement.

I’m not sure where the claim about these battalions originated, but it may be at least in part based on this news item from the front page of the Philadelphia Inquirer of November 27, 1861:

A letter from Darnestown, Md., dated to-day, says. . . .
Gen. JACKSON, who, as Colonel, formerly commanded at Harper’s Ferry, is engaged at Winchester in organizing, arming, and equipping a regiment of free negroes [sic.], said to number fully a thousand. The negroes are reported to be very enthusiastic in their new position.

Rumors and second-hand accounts of African American troops in Confederate service appeared frequently in Northern newspapers, especially during the early part of the war. We’ve seen how a single mention of black troops — from a source that seems dubious to start with — got rewritten and embellished and recycled, over and over, for weeks after the Battle of First Manassas. That one took in a lot of people, including (it seems likely) Frederick Douglass.

So now we’ve got a date (November 1861) and a location (Winchester, Virginia), for at least one (anonymous, second-hand) account of Jackson’s black troops. Anyone who has further details on this regiment — its commanding officer, its official designation, the actions in which it fought, or citations to it in Confederate sources, please drop it in the comments.

I have Fold3 open and waiting.


Q. How Old was General Hood at Gettysburg?

Posted in Media, Memory by Andy Hall on June 26, 2010

A. Thirty-two.

Hood as portrayed by (l. to r.) Patrick Gorman in Gettysburg (1993) and Gods and Generals (2003), Levon Helm in In the Electric Mist (2009) and himself in real life (c. 1865).

Picking up a thread of an idea from David Woodbury at Of Battlefields and Bibliophiles, I’ve been thinking about how film and television typically portrays Civil War figures. Most often they’re depicted substantially older than they really were. I’m not necessarily speaking of the actor’s actual age versus character’s (because actors routinely play much younger characters), but more generally his apparent age — how he’s made to look. It’s easy to see why this would be the case. When an actor portraying a Civil War figures actually is about the right age for the character, it’s often jarring for the viewer, to whom it doesn’t “feel” right even if, in fact, it is. Matthew Broderick was 25 or 26 when he shot Glory; his character, Robert Gould Shaw, was exactly that age at the time of the events depicted in the film. Nonetheless, although the actor and the role were perfectly matched for age, it still didn’t “look right” for a lot of people, and probably harmed the overall public reception of the movie. People just couldn’t see someone that young, in that role. (Being known at the time primarily for his role as as Ferris Bueller didn’t help.)

But this just highlights something that we might easily forget — the vast majority of these men, from private to general, were very young by modern standards. At the beginning of the war, Ulysses S. Grant was 39. George Meade was 45. George McClellan was 36. George Pickett was 36. James Longstreet was 40, as was John George Walker. Stonewall Jackson was 37. William Tecumseh Sherman was 41, and so on. Robert E. Lee was 54, the “old man,” not just because of the senior position he held, but because he was, by the standard of the day, objectively and factually old.

There are lots of exceptions, of course — Albert Sidney Johnston was nearly 60 when he got plinked at Shiloh — but still it amazes me how young these men were when so much rested on their shoulders.

Update: Argghh! Dimitri Rotov has stolen a march on me on this very topic over at Civil War Bookshelf.

I Was Praying for Intermission, Myself

Posted in Media, Memory, Uncategorized by Andy Hall on June 21, 2010

It doesn’t really bother me so much that the 2003 film Gods and Generals portrays Stonewall Jackson as a bit of a hyper-religious crank because, you know, he was.

What bothers me is that the film portrays this as a good thing.