14 June 2007

We All Make Mistakes

I recently picked up a “Collector’s Edition” magazine copy of The South’s Terrible Swift Sword—published by “The Editors of Military History” – www.HistoryNet.com. This is a collection of essays and articles about Stonewall Jackson; some written by well respected Civil War historians including Professor James I. Robertson, Jr. and Professor Mark Grimsley.

While I realize the magazine is targeted to a general audience, I was somewhat surprised by the mistakes and oversights that were missed in the editing process.

For example, on page 15, writer John W. Bowers states that Jackson purchased his home in Lexington in 1859. Jackson actually purchased the home on 4 November 1858. He moved into the house mid-January 1859. The same writer restates the myth that Jackson regularly “loved to suck lemons.” Wrong. Peaches were his favorite fruit and, as James Robertson has pointed out, while Jackson may have liked lemons, the notion that he sucked on them as a regular habit is a persistent myth. Some things should be obvious—how many lemon groves are in Virginia? How likely is it that Jackson would have been able to keep a regular supply of a citrus fruit from Florida during war-time? Not impossible, but not likely a priority.

Contributor Daniel Sutherland notes (page 31) that Jackson was “about as hardcore a Calvinist as you can get.” Well, not exactly. According to several sources close to Jackson, the Presbyterian deacon had serious doubts about one of Calvinism’s cardinal doctrines—predestination. And, according to Jackson’s brother-in-law, Daniel Harvey Hill, those doubts persisted until Jackson’s death. Hill wrote to R. L. Dabney in July 1864, stating that Jackson “professed himself pleased with everything except predestination and infant baptism. His scruples about the latter did not last long . . . but his repugnance to predestination was long and determined.

Also, in Mark Grimsley’s article titled, God’s General, the most important aspect of Jackson’s Christian faith—his black Sunday school class—receives no mention whatsoever. (Bowers does make one passing mention of the class on page 13.) Jackson was involved with this class for five and one-half years—almost three times as long as he fought for the Confederacy. All who knew Jackson intimately; R.L. Dabney, Mary Anna Jackson, Maggie Preston, and Jackson’s pastor, William Spottswood White, all took special note of how important this effort was to Jackson and his Christian faith. It is, however, frequently treated dismissively.

Also, on page 73, contributor Dana B. Shoaf (editor of America's Civil War magazine) states that Little Sorrel’s “bones stayed at the Carnegie Museum until 1997, when they were shipped back to the institute [Virginia Military Institute] and buried in a walnut casket . . . ” Actually, Little Sorrel's bones have been at VMI since 1949. They were there on loan until 1960, when Carnegie then donated them to the Institute. For some time, they stood assembled in a biology class. The bones were later disassembled and stored in a box. The burial information is correct, however. I was there at the ceremony.

Finally, on page 77, Linda Wheeler writes regarding Jackson’s boyhood home: “Not one of the original buildings of a grain mill and family home complex owned by relatives who raised Jackson has survived to the present.” Wrong again. The mill that was there when Tom Jackson was a boy still stands. (Pictured here) I've seen it. About 500 of the original 1500 acre Jackson’s Mill farm is now owned and maintained by the University of West Virginia.

My point? Even “professional” historians sometimes make mistakes. And even this amateur can find them. I have lots of experience finding my own.

(I won’t be posting much next week as I’m off to Florida taking my daughter to college.)


Michael Aubrecht said...

Excellent post Richard. I was very glad to discover an issue of this nature, but I also noticed some errors that bothered me too. All in all it was a good issue in the diversity of its content, but far from perfect. Nothing is I guess.

Lawrence Underwood said...

Thanks. I wondered if you'd comment on the errors in the magazine. All, in all, I really enjoyed the periodical. It is not often one finds and entire magazine dedicated to his childhood and adult hero.