31 October 2006

Stonewall Jackson Event

This coming Thursday, my family and I will be heading to Jackson's Mill, West Virginia for a Stonewall Jackson Symposium. I will be speaking at the Supper on Saturday evening. My topic will be "Stonewall Jackson & the Impact of Friendships." In attendance will be many members of a family whose oral history claims that they are descended from one of Stonewall Jackson's slaves. A portion of the proceeds and book sales will go toward the restoration of a one-room schoolhouse where Jackson taught as a young man. Sunday morning, we hope to worship in Broad Run Baptist Church - one of the churches Jackson attended as a boy. More filming will also be going on for the documentary based on my latest book.

27 October 2006

Museum of the Nondescript

There are some organizations and individuals arguing that the Museum of the Confederacy should change its name by dropping any reference to the "Confederacy." (!?!?!?!) Uhh . . . say again? Yes, its true. George Orwell was most certainly a prophet. Those who claim to be marketing experts, and who further believe that anything associated with the Confederacy is just "too offensive", are beating the drum for the name change. We are definitely living in strange times. After all, isn't it in fact the Museum of the "Confederacy"?! Perhaps Southern Living should change it's name to Not-Northern Living, as another recent study suggested The University of the South - Sewanee, should downplay the "south thing" as it was potentially "offensive." Unless you haven't figured it out by now, these silly ideas are fueled by concerns over political correctness. But, since visitors and revenue have been falling for a number of years at the MOC, there has to be some reason. One article cites parents from public schools concerns over "racism" associated with the name of the museum. Anyone who has ever visited the MOC knows that the museum goes out of its way to present a balanced, non-partisan view of the Civil War and that any charge of racism is totally unfounded and uninformed. (Personally, if I had a child in a public school, I'd be more concerned about the violence prone kid in the trench coat that "the system" can't do anything with, than I would about some innocuous name of a museum but, that's another subject.)

I have been a member and vocal supporter of the MOC for a number of years, and will continue to be (unless, of course they change the name). They have a collection that most museums would drool over and their staff is nothing less than suberb. But the simple fact is that the MOC's problem has been their location and MCV's never-ending construction that makes the museum difficult and troublesome to find. Also, I believe the MOC could have done a better job marketing what they have to offer. I hate to be critical of an organization that needs help and which seems to be taking it on the chin from all sides, but changing the name of the MOC is an utterly ridiculous idea and one that reveals the extent to which political correctness and "historical presentism" has infected our Nation's study of history. With the continued and growing interest in the Civil War, along with the upcoming Sesquicentennial, there is no reason that the MOC should not be flourishing. Furthermore, the MOC should be on the front line battling political correctness' assault on the study of our Nation's history, not kowtowing to pc's suppression of historical truth. Not that the MOC has given any indication that they will "kowtow", but a strong frown from those who see history being suppressed by pc concerns might be a good idea. Count me a frowner.

26 October 2006

Historic Roots

I recently stumbled across a very interesting website. For someone who loves history (especially Virginia history), and the wonders and beauty of Creation, this site is particularly fascinating. Virginia Tech has embarked (no pun intended) upon a very worthy project - discovering the most "remarkable trees" in Virginia. With 7 categories ranging from "historic" to "old" to "unique", citizens are invited to nominate their choice for VT's "Remarkable Trees of Virginia Project." (Hurry, deadline is October 31st!) Yesterday, I nominated two. (One is pictured above left). This is Stonewall Jackson's "prayer oak" and is located about 30 minutes North of my home near Grottoes, Virginia. Tradition has it that Jackson "stopped each morning after breakfast at a nearby house to pray under this oak tree while his army was encamped nearby in June of 1862." One of what is known as The Civil War Witness Trees, this old oak provided shade as Jackson petitioned God for victory over the "yankee invaders." The other tree I nominated is the giant ancient oak that looks over those who rest in the Jackson Memorial Cemetery in Lexington, Virginia. Jackson's statue guards those who have slept in this old cemetery since the 1700's. Jackson’s silent watch is aided by the land he loved, as he wrote his wife: “Here the mountains keep watch and guard around the home and the tombs of those who were dearest to me on earth.” Beneath the canopy of ancient oaks, in the centuries-old Lexington cemetery, these dead in Christ patiently await the resurrection.

(You can actually purchase the offspring of some of these living timepieces here.)

25 October 2006

Scots-Irish Capital of America

This map of my home county, and where I've lived all my life, was published in 1867 by Stonewall Jackson's mapmaker, Jedediah Hotchkiss. When Robert E. Lee died in October of 1870, it was the only image that hung on the wall of Lee's office in the basement of Lee Chapel in Lexington. It hangs there today, just as General Lee left it. Click on the link above for the history of the Scots-Irish capital of America.

23 October 2006

The Cradle of Black Capitalism

Born into slavery in Habersham, Georgia on October 20th, 1849, William Washington Browne would one day become one of the most influential and successful entrepreneurs in America. Though relatively unknown, his Christian legacy lives on today in what should be known as “The Cradle of Black Capitalism” – ironically, in the old Confederate Capitol of Richmond, Virginia. Browne’s early childhood was spent working as a house servant in Georgia. He became good friends with the young son of his master. Working as a house servant and becoming good friends with the white boy gave the young Browne some insights into the economic workings of 19th century America—insights that would later serve him well.

After his first owner died, Browne was sold to a man in Tennessee. Separated from his family, William Browne learned how to adapt to unfamiliar surroundings. This experience, though hard for the young man, would steel his resolve to make something of his life. As is so often the case, God uses unjust and difficult trials to make us strong so that we may better serve Him. William Browne would use his strength to become a dedicated servant of his God and of his race.

When Federal forces marched into Memphis during the War Between the States, Browne was sent south to Mississippi. From there he escaped and sought refuge among the Union army. Dismayed to learn that escaped slaves were being surrendered by the Federals, he made his way to Cairo, Illinois and found employment in a saloon. Browne detested what he saw in the saloon; men and women lowered to base conduct by the influence of alcohol. Through this providential encounter, Browne acquired a life-long hatred of liquor that would one day lead him to become involved in the temperance movement. The desire to see his race lift themselves from liquor’s own form of slavery and poverty would also motivate him to improve his race’s economic standing. Browne left the saloon and enlisted as a private in the Union Army at the age of fifteen. He would serve in the Army until 1866. After working as a farmhand after the war, Browne, now a free young man of twenty, returned to Georgia to see his mother. There, after hearing several sermons by a fire and brimstone preacher, Browne discovered another kind of freedom— the freedom of salvation in Christ. Browne’s experience with God would prove to be of great benefit to the many individuals that would cross his path. But that benefit would be not only in the spiritual realm, but in the economic as well.

After studying briefly for the ministry in Atlanta, Browne earned his living as a school teacher first in Georgia, then in Alabama. There Browne met and married Mary Graham in 1873 and three years later was ordained as a Methodist minister. Browne’s disdain for alcohol and what it was doing to his people prompted his involvement in the growing temperance movement. According to a 1998 article by Anita Willis, “He [Browne] worried that many Alabama blacks were disenfranchised because they had been convicted for drunkenness and also wasted money that poor people could not afford. ‘All the masses of our Race own is [a grave of] three by six feet of earth.’” With God’s help, Browne was going to make sure that changed. Browne wanted blacks to join the Good Templars, an influential temperance organization. But the group resisted the idea that blacks should form their own lodges. So Browne moved to Richmond, Virginia and established the Order of True Reformers.

While Browne was, in the best sense of the word, a true “reformer,” he was also a realist. Browne was a product of the Reconstruction and Post-Reconstruction period in the South and, while promoting black progress, he maintained an “innate caution” towards whites. As Anita Willis describes Browne, “He tried to appease the whites who controlled government and business because he knew he needed sympathetic white judges, legislators, and bankers.” Willis also noted that, “Browne preached a gospel of money, morality, education and family, racial solidarity and self-help. While whites were quarreling over the Negro problem, Browne urged his fellow blacks, ‘Let us work it out ourselves.’"

From the Order of True Reformers would spring Browne’s financial self-help organization, The Grand Fountain of the United Order of True Reformers (GFUOTR). Author Elvatrice Parker Belsches writes that, “This benevolent society, which began as a temperance society, grew to become one of the largest African-American business enterprises in America at the turn of the 20th century.” The organization’s goals were multi-faceted as stated in their documents:

· To unite fraternally all colored persons of sound bodily health and good moral character, and who are socially and otherwise acceptable to each other. And to give all moral and material aid in its power to its members and those dependent upon them.

· To educate its members socially, morally and intellectually.

· To establish a fund for the relief of sick and distressed members, or for such other purposes as the Association may determine.

· To establish a benefit fund, from which on satisfactory evidence of the death of a member, who has compiled a sum with all its lawful requirements, a sum not exceeding five thousand dollars shall be paid to the family, heirs, blood relatives, affianced husband, affianced wife, or to persons dependent upon aid member as the member may direct.

· To secure for its members such other advantage as are, from time to time, designated by the Constitution and Laws of the Association.

This organization, under Browne’s influence, was instrumental in promoting black self-reliance in the South. Browne’s faith was the motivating factor as he was fully aware that God’s laws of sowing and reaping applied to all races, not just whites. He knew that God would bless hard work, thrift, and patience and he made sure these principles were foremost in the organization’s mission.

The organization was made up of “fountains” (chapters or lodges). Why fountains? The Reformers explained: “A fountain is always running; it sends forth its waters, pure and clear at all times. A fountain cleanses itself, but a pond becomes stale and stagnant, and has to be ditched off or it will make everyone sick who lives near or by it.” These “fountains”, through the sacrifices of their members, would combine their money and purchase land. This voluntary pooling of assets was a way that poor blacks could multiply their meager resources into increased purchasing power. Browne knew that there was strength in their numbers and applied this powerful economic tool to help fellow blacks pull themselves up by their bootstraps: “Let us stop playing, trifling and wasting our time and talents, and scattering our little mites to the four winds of the earth, and let us unite ourselves in a solid band.” While the national headquarters was located in Richmond, Browne could boast of branches in twenty states by 1894.

In 1885, a department was formed to teach and care for children. Known as the Rosebud Department, their mission was to: “…discipline the young, to train them to practice thrift and economy, and to give lessons early in the business methods of life, to establish a fund for the relief of sick members and a mortuary fund from which, on satisfactory proof of death, of a benefited member a sum not exceeding thirty-seven dollars shall be paid to parents or guardians.” The Rosebud Department and their “mortuary fund” would eventually lead to the formation of a bank and an insurance association.

In March of 1888, the GFUOTR was granted a charter from the Commonwealth of Virginia to open a bank. Known as “The Savings Bank of the United Order of True Reformers,” it became the first bank chartered by African Americans in America and by 1907 had deposits of one million dollars. Browne’s leadership abilities and faith enabled the Reformers to grow quite an impressive business empire which eventually included “a weekly newspaper, an industrial and mercantile division, a hotel, a home for the elderly, and real estate in several states. The organization would grow to have tens of thousands of members.” The group also owned three farms and fifteen meeting halls. The Reformers’ enterprises were first rate and Booker T. Washington once remarked that The Hotel Reformer was “one of the finest African-American hotels in the South.” The hotel was in Richmond and could house one hundred guests.

Though the bank would fail in 1910 (due to mismanagement after Browne’s death in 1897), the GFUOTR continued operation as a fraternal order and insurance operation until it folded during the Great Depression. But by then, the organization that Browne had started had become “a model for banking and insurance enterprises throughout the South.” Inspired by a hatred for alcohol and a love for Christ, the Reverend William Washington Browne had shown his race, along with the rest of the United States, that the black man could succeed in America and even overcome prejudices and injustice in a quest for spiritual and economic freedom. His life story is worthy of the study of every business professional and student in America.


Black America SeriesRichmond, Virginia by Elvatrice Parker Belsches, Arcadia Publishing, Charleston, SC, 2002.
The Official History of Freemasonry Among Colored People in North America, New York: Negro Universities Press, 1969.
Article by Anita Willis, The Founder of the Order of True Reformers: The Story of William Washington Browne, 1998-1999.
Twenty-five Years History of the Grand Fountain of the United Order of True Reformers, by W. P. Burrell and D. E. Johnson Sr., 1909.

20 October 2006

The National Civil War Chaplain’s Research Center and Museum

Please consider supporting a most unique new Civil War Museum. The religious aspect of the War Between the States has been, until very recently, largely overlooked by historians and scholars. But with James Robertson's biography of Stonewall Jackson--which explored Jackson's faith in detail--Steven Woodworth's While God is Marchin On, and Faith in the Fight - Civil War Chaplains (by William C. Davis, James Roberston, John Brinsfield, and Benedict Maryniak), along with the great work being done by small publishers like Sprinkle Publications in reprinting old biographies and theological works from the period; this is changing. It is quite impossible to understand the American Civil War without understanding the dynamic faith that impacted the lives of the men who fought, especially those in the South. This new museum, which will be located at Liberty University in Lynchburg, VA, will go a long way in telling this story.

19 October 2006

Human Events Reviews Jackson Book

Human Events, a national conservative weekly, reviews Stonewall Jackson - The Black Man's Friend. Click link above to read full review.

16 October 2006

Praise for Stonewall Jackson - The Black Man's Friend

Dr. Steven E. Woodworth, professor of history at Texas Christian University and prolific Civil War author, recently sent me his thoughts about Stonewall Jackson - The Black Man's Friend:

"I like the way the book brings out the strong Christian faith of the bulk of Americans during the nineteenth century. It is inspiring to read of Jackson’s faith, in particular, and of how that led him to show kindness to those around him, including the slaves. His zeal for the Gospel is an example to us all." - Steven E. Woodworth, Ph.D, author, While God is Marching On: The Religious World of Civil War Soldiers

Order your autographed copy today!

14 October 2006

Virginia Loses A Gentleman

I recently learned that Dr. Marshall W. Fishwick passed away this past May. I only discovered Professor Fishwick’s writings a few years ago, but had grown to love his style, keen insight into popular culture and history, and his ability to cut through the noise of our age and see and explain things as they really are. I first learned of him when I read his wonderful book, Gentlemen of Virginia. I recently purchased, and am now reading, Lee After the War. Some giants are quiet. Few people today know who Marshall Fishwick is, but his impact on America will linger for many years. A brilliant scholar and writer, he taught the legendary journalist and novelist, Tom Wolfe, at Washington & Lee University and was instrumental in getting Wolfe admitted to Yale.

The author of more than 20 books, Fishwick also founded the journal International Popular Culture, and was co-founder of the Popular Culture Association. Dr. Fishwick was one of a dying breed: a true Virginia Gentleman and scholar who was never infected with political correctness, though he made his living in academia. Coming from a family that has produced missionaries, adventurers, and other "manly" men, Fishwick is one of the few men to have lived in the 21st century who would have felt comfortable in the presence of fellow Episcopalian, Robert E. Lee. One of Fishwick's admirers wrote of him:

“I cherish my ‘Marshall files.’ I marvel at the energy of this man, his enthusiasm, his generosity of spirit, his joie de vivre. I can’t imagine his life contained many dull moments. He was too busy writing, teaching, conversing, LIVING! He touched my life in a special way and I counted him as a friend, albeit one I never met in person. Marshall was a Virginian, an old-school, Southern gentleman akin to his heroes Robert E. Lee and Thomas Jefferson, and as a World War II veteran, a member of The Greatest Generation. Marshall, I am sure, is in his new world conversing with Bobby Lee and Tom Jefferson, but most of all with his pop culture icon and namesake, Marshall McLuhan, and who knows? Maybe even Cicero.”

Dr. Fishwick was professor emeritus in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences at Virginia Tech and retired in 2003. I highly recommend his writings and books. For a sample of his intellect and perspective, click here.

13 October 2006

The Crozet Tunnel

(Top image was taken in 1944, the bottom about 2005)
As a 16 year-old boy I, like my father before me, embarked upon the adventure of hiking through the abandoned Crozet train tunnel in the Blue Ridge Mountains near my home. I, along with my two adventurous companions, did this illegally - twice. (I hope the statute of limitations has expired! :) I recall it was extremely hot and humid that summer day, but as we approached the hauntingly beautiful entrance of the tunnel, we felt a rush of cool air as it flowed continuously out of the side of the mountain. Though it was bright and sunny, an eeire layer of fog greeted us as we approached the tunnel's western entrance.

Water could be heard as it dripped and echoed off the moss-covered rock walls. We seemed to have been transported back in time. The scene was surreal and akin to something out of an old Scottish tale about castles and hidden passages - a boy's dream come true! Recently, plans were announced to convert the tunnel into a bike path and tourist attraction. This is a worthy historic preservation project and I cannot wait to see its completion.
Claudius Crozet, for whom the tunnel is named, was a Frenchman, one of Virginia Military Institute's first board of visitors' members, and fought under Napoleon. The tunnel has a rich history and is an engineering marvel. See link above and news piece below:
(News article below from the News-Virginian, 10/12/06, Waynesboro, VA
http://www.newsvirginian.com/ )

LOVINGSTON - It will bring Nelson County tourism, acclaim and the notice of high-ranking officials statewide. And it will only cost $1. This week, Nelson’s Board of Supervisors signed off on purchasing Afton’s historic Blue Ridge Tunnel, refurbishment plans for which have been in the works since 2000.

Valued at $1.5 million, the defunct railway - at one time the longest train tunnel in the country - was given up by current owner CSX Corp. for just one buck. It was an offer the county couldn’t refuse, and, according to consultants, may be the only financial investment Nelson taxpayers will have to make in the project.

Organizers plan to use grant money to finance the $3.6 million tunnel renovation - which will include three walking/biking trails that will lead tourists and outdoor enthusiasts directly into the tunnel. Nelson would have been obligated to pay 20 percent of the cost, but it’s contribution of the tunnel itself, for which it will be credited the full $1.5 million assessment, will take care of that burden.

Eugene Whitesell, of the Whitesell Group, which has been overseeing the project, said no further expense to the county is anticipated, other than maintaining the improvements once they’re complete. The nearly mile-long tunnel was carved through solid rock using mostly hand drilling - the best technology available when it was created back in the 1850s. It was designed by famed engineer Claudius Crozet, the namesake of the nearby Crozet community.

“There is a strong, strong interest in the state to help [Nelson] complete this project,” said Whitesell, noting the heavy tourism potential of such an attraction. Already, he said, his office has been fielding inquiries from rail enthusiasts across the country. “No other project our office handles receives as many calls,” he said.

The benefits will also spill over to neighboring communities including Waynesboro, which has long-term hopes of extending its own burgeoning greenway plans to include a trail that will connect the tunnel to the city.

“Obviously it will further enhance Waynesboro’s position as a destination place for recreational tourism,” said City Manager Doug Walker, who welcomed the news of Nelson’s decision. “We see it as a pretty significant complement to our own tourism program.”

Nelson supervisors said this was a project of national significance. “It’s a big part of American history,” said Central District representative Connie Brennan.

The board’s approval of the tunnel’s purchase now opens the way for planners to pursue buying additional land for the nature trails, which will initially extend 3½ miles long. Long-term plans call for additional trails, as well as a visitor’s center and museum. It’s hoped construction can begin in late 2007, with a grand opening the following year.

Story by Alicia Petska

12 October 2006

Documentary Filming in Lexington

Ken Carpenter and his wonderful crew from Franklin Springs Family Media, just completed two days of filming in beautiful Lexington, Virginia for the documentary based on my most recent book. The working title of this film is "Stonewall Jackson: His Fight Before the War." The weather was perfect, the fall colors were gorgeous, and the work came off without a hitch! Colonel Keith Gibson, of Virginia Military Institute , granted us an interview in historic Stonewall Jackson Memorial Hall on the VMI campus and then took us all on a personal tour of the school. The final day was concluded with supper in Crozet Hall with Colonel Gibson joining us and sharing his wealth of knowledge regarding VMI's rich history. Colonel Gibson is celebrating his 20th year at the Nation's oldest state military school. More filming is planned next month in Lewis County, West Virginia at the Stonewall Jackson Symposium.