31 January 2007

Whither History?

This is a follow up to a previous post. Notice the similarity to this first Saturday Evening Post image (July 1927) to the one in this post. Washington, Lee--heroic, brave men on horseback—symbolic of conquering evil and upholding virtue. Heroes. Quaint? Corny? Sadly, to much of our current populace, the answer would be yes. Many Americans would prefer an American Idol winner as their role model.

There was a time in our country when the names of both Washington and Lee were revered and every school boy growing up in America knew of their virtues and heroic sacrifices. No longer. A couple of years ago, I received two letters soliciting funds for the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association. I saved both of them. I knew they would come in handy one day. That day has arrived. (My wife will be pleased that at least one of the piles on my desk has proven useful!)

The first letter lamented that “Coverage of Washington’s heroic deeds in American history textbooks had declined dramatically—to less than 10% of what it was in the late 1960’s.” That is an alarming statistic. The writer went on to say that she was “sad and concerned by the fact that an entire generation of American children is being raised without a shred of respect or reverence for our greatest American hero!” The letter was signed by Mrs. Robert E. Lee, IV, Vice Regent, Mount Vernon Ladies Association.

Within a few months I received a second letter again requesting support for Mount Vernon. This writer noted that, “The New Jersey Senate recently killed a proposal to place George Washington’s portrait in that state’s schools and in Brooklyn the Borough President removed a famous portrait of Washington from the borough offices because he felt that George Washington was out of date.” Continuing, he wrote, “We all know how important the lessons—and heroes—of the past are for today. According to a recent survey, only 34% of college seniors could identify Washington as the victorious general at the battle of Yorktown.” (I wonder how many were history majors?) This time, the letter was signer by John S. D. Eisenhower (son of President Eisenhower).

The point is that apathy, political correctness, revisionism, and contempt for our heroes in the teaching of American history is slowly erasing the memory of great Americans from our collective memory. And it is not just "Lost Cause" heroes, as some would suggest. Any Christian hero in American history is the preferred target of scorn. Many historians and commentators will scoff at this concern, suggesting those of us who are alarmed about political correctness toss the accusation at anyone and everyone who has some new thought or interpretation of American history. But the truth is that more and more people are recognizing this growing problem. The only ones denying the danger of political correctness are the guilty perpetrators.

Look carefully at the image on the Saturday Evening Post cover of Washington praying (February 1935). Would any prominent publication in America put that image, or one like it, on their cover today? Yes, if it was in mockery or criticism. As I write this, I’m reminded of words written by C.S. Lewis in 1943:

“We continue to clamour for those very qualities we are rendering impossible. You can hardly open a periodical without coming across the statement that what our civilization needs is more 'drive,' or dynamism, or self-reliance, or 'creativity.' In a sort of ghastly simplicity we remove the organ and demand the function. We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honour and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the gelding be fruitful.”

As Harry Crocker, Executive Editor at Regnery Publishing recently opined, "If we want an America of heroes, we need to cherish our heroes of the past." America needs heroes, not geldings. My fellow author, Virginian, and friend , R. Cort Kirkwood, recently authored Real Men - Ten Courageous Americans To Know and Admire. (I recommend the book, by the way.) Cort currently works as Editor for the highly respected Daily News Record of Harrisonburg, Virginia. In the foreword to Cort's book, Roger McGrath writes:

"Most young Americans today know nothing of Francis Marion, Eddie Rickenbacker, or Audie Murphy and next to nothing about Andrew Jackson, David Crockett, or Robert E. Lee, unless it be their flaws and foibles. Yet these men were among my heroes when growing up. I read about them, heard about them, saw movies about them. This was all part of an American boy's life . . . we didn't hate ourselves then. We were inspired by a Crockett or a Murphy, and we aspired to be like them."

Kirkwood continues this line of thought in his preface:

"Men . . . embodied the traditional Christian conception of manhood defined in chivalry. They were honorable and honest, generous to varying degrees to foes, and solicitous and protective of women, children, and animals. They did not brook insults, and they understood that some things are worth dying for. They had guts."

The castrated cannot be fruitful and the gutless cannot inspire. Is it any wonder America is wanting in leadership?



29 January 2007

The Lost Cause “Myth”

I continue to be amazed at historians who assign “Lost Cause Sympathies” to Southerners who have “simplistic” views of their heritage. Of course, condescension towards Southerners is very chic these days. Arrogance is always blinding—to the arrogant. I don’t know if these writers intentionally overlook the facts, or, if they are so enamored with faddish pc trends, that they simply are marching in lockstep with certain segments of academia in order to gain their approval. Or do they just hate the South? Many of these *revisionist efforts proclaim that they are offering “new interpretations.” More “enlightened”, don’t you know. In reality they are only new editions of old versions.


Robert E. Lee is often the target of these “Lost Cause” barbs and attacks. He is, after all, the quintessential Southern icon and hero. The image posted here is of the cover of the January 20th, 1940 issue of the Saturday Evening Post, celebrating Lee's birthday. Hmmm . . . was it just
"simplistic" Southerners who made Lee the patron saint of the Confederacy and an American hero? Some random quotes are rather revealing:

“My own feelings, which had been quite jubilant on receipt of Lee’s letter, were sad and depressed. I felt like anything rather than rejoicing at the downfall of a foe who had fought so long and so valiantly and had suffered so much for a cause.” ~ General Grant on Lee’s surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia.

“I turned about, and there behind me, riding between my two lines, appeared a commanding form, superbly mounted, richly accoutered, of imposing bearing, noble countenance, with expression of deep sadness overmastered by deeper strength. It is none other than Robert E. Lee! … I sat immovable, with a certain awe and admiration.” ~ Union General Joshua Chamberlain at Appomattox.

“He was one who, though famous, was not honeycombed with ambition or tainted with cunning or cant, and though a soldier and wearing soldier’s laurels, yet never craved or sought honors except as they bloomed on deeds done for the glory of his lawfully constituted authority; in short a soldier to whom the sense of duty was a gospel and a man of the world whose only rule in life was that life should be upright and stainless. I cannot but think Providence meant, through him, to prolong the ideal of the gentleman in the world . . . It is easy to see why Lee has become the embodiment of one of the world’s ideals, that of the soldier, the Christian, and the gentleman. And from the bottom of my heart I thank Heaven . . . for the comfort of having a character like Lee’s to look at.” ~ Union General Morris Schaff referring to Lee’s surrender at which he was present.

“For not to the Southern people alone shall be limited the tribute of a tear over the dead Virginian . . . we have claimed him as one of ourselves; have cherished and felt proud of his military genius as belonging to us; have recounted and recorded his triumphs as our own; have extolled his virtue as reflecting upon us – for Robert Edward Lee was an American, and the great nation which gave him birth would be today unworthy of such a son if he regarded him lightly. Never had mother a nobler son. In him the military genius of America developed to a greater extent than ever before. In him all that was pure and lofty in mind and purpose found lodgment. Dignified without resumption, affable without familiarity, he united all those charms of manner which made him the idol of his friends and of his soldiers, and won for him the respect and admiration of the world.” ~Excerpt from an editorial in the New York Herald the day after Lee’s death.

“Lee is the greatest military genius in America.” ~ Union General Winfield Scott.

"[Lee was] without any exception the very greatest of all the great captains that the English-speaking peoples have brought forth." ~ Teddy Rosevelt

This is just a small sampling of the views of many esteemed Northerners who, like so many other Americans, revered true greatness. Myth? I don’t think so. Perhaps just a fulfillment of an eternal truth:

“When a man’s ways please the LORD, he maketh even his enemies to be at peace with him.” ~ Proverbs 16:7

*(In referring to "revisionist" efforts, I do not mean correcting factual errors. I mean "revising" events, and the interpretation of those events, so that they are more acceptable to current cultural trends or to conform to a certain social/cultural/political point of view. This problem is widely acknowledged by many professional historians and those who teach at various levels.)

27 January 2007

Coming Soon – Virginia Heritage Tours™ of Lexington, Virginia

"The Bible has always found its safest repose in the mountains. When the law was given to Moses, the great lawgiver did not make the place of his feet glorious, by descending to the deep and widespread vale, but he stood upon Mount Sinai. The Bible has both a mountain home and a mountain range, and experience has proved that the word of God is hard to drive from the mountains." ~ Anonymous letter to the Lexington (VA) Gazette, 3 March 1859

Lord willing, I will be embarking upon a new endeavor this spring. Virginia Heritage Tours™ will open with tours--led by yours truly--of Lexington, Virginia. Other customized tours will also eventually be offered. Initially, we will focus exclusively on the Shenandoah Valley. Tours will be private and by appointment.


The Valley, surrounded by the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains to the east, and the rugged Alleghanies to the west, has a rich Christian heritage and legacy.
Lexington in particular has been blessed with the fruits of the Gospel. As I noted in my most recent book: "By the time Thomas J. Jackson arrived in Lexington in 1851, the tight-knit community was a robust evangelical village. The town paper would refer to Lexington and surrounding Rockbridge County as 'the very home of gospel blessings.' " Our goal is to share those blessings and heritage with as many as possible through our books, (via South River Books) our website, this blog, and now our tour offerings.

We will specialize in catering to Homeschool groups, Churches, and Christian schools, but any group interested may contact us about scheduling a tour. More to come soon at VirginiaHeritage.com. For now, please inquire at stonewallbook@yahoo.com.

26 January 2007

To Leave or Not to Leave?

A few more comments about the possibility of the Museum of the Confederacy moving to the Shenandoah Valley . . . some folks are saying that the Museum of the Confederacy should stay in Richmond. After all, it was the Confederate capital, right? Yes, but Richmond has, in recent years, shown a cavalier attitude towards the MOC's plight and now, when news breaks that they are taking a serious look at Lexington, suddenly Richmonders get concerned. Forgive me for my cnyicism, but this appears to me to be too little, too late. The spurned lover is flirting with another beau.

While I agree that Richmond is a natural fit for the MOC and it would be the preferable location, given the right (and former) circumstances, I believe they've lost their claim due to their lack of concern--until now. Richmond has lots to offer, for sure. But the Shenandoah Valley has even more--namely hospitality and a booming tourism economy. And when it comes to preserving and promoting Virginia's wonderful history and heritage, no one does it better than the Valley. The Shenandoah abounds with battlefield sites, museums, notable birthplaces, and unparallelled beauty. Tourism is flourishing here. Admittedly, as a life long resident of the Valley, I'm somewhat biased, but Lexington would never have allowed the ugly, architecturally incompatible high-rise buildings to surround the MOC, not to mention the Confederate White House. In my mind, the situation regarding the White House is even more of a travesty, it cannot (and should not) be moved. But the reality is, the MOC is moving, its just a question of when and where, not if. Does the MOC want to risk continuting the relationship with the city of Richmond when the record shows that the city can not be relied upon? What can Richmond offer as proof that staying will change their attitude? Does the MOC want to go to the expense of a move down the road only to face similar problems again in a few years?

Sometimes hard lessons lead to a correction in conduct. If the MOC does move, perhaps Richmond will learn from the experience. I am a member of both the MOC and the Rockbridge County Historical Society and, if one man's opinion means anything, I would love to see the MOC relocate. It would be the best thing (IMO) for all concerned.

Flee MOC, your beau awaits you with open arms.

(I wonder how many of the bloggers and pundits offering their advice and opinion have actually bothered to join the MOC and assist them in their mission of historic preservation? If enough CW buffs and historians would become members and support the MOC in other ways, we would not be having this discussion. Again, regardless of the outcome, I would encourage readers to support the MOC with their membership. Click here.)

Thoughts on Scholarship from a Non-Scholar

I'm of the opinion that anyone in America can become an expert--and successful--in whatever field (with the exception of brain surgery and rocket science) they choose by reading and doing, reading and doing, reading and doing, reading and doing, and more reading. (I won't take the time here to cite the scores of examples to prove this. Most readers would already know them anyway.)

And by doing this, one can accomplish much--without an advanced degree, or any degree for that matter. Again, scores of examples could be cited. Passion, desire, a little talent, average intelligence, and hard work will trump a college degree every time. One example I will cite, since it is directly relevant to this discussion, is Shelby Foote. Foote dropped out of the University of North Carolina after two years, never completing his degree, though he was awarded an honorary doctorate from Loyola University. Foote proved that being self-taught by becoming a voracious reader is very possible. As one online article noted of Foote's college experience:
"He found the university setting stuffy and uncompromisingly conformist. With the exception of English and history classes, Foote rarely attended classes, spending most of his time sequestered away in the school’s library, a nine-story repository that seemed like some brave new world for the starry-eyed Foote."

Consider the following:
"I've always been a poor student if the subject doesn't interest me much. I took French, German and Spanish, and did miserably in all three of them because I didn't enjoy memorizing vocabularies and things like that. If I got interested in a thing, I would devote my time to it and neglect the others, so that I had some bad grades alongside some good grades, and none of them mattered to me. I never cared what kind of grade I got." ~ Shelby Foote
"I was never a trained historian, three by five cards and all that business. So that I would remember--I would be writing about something like the third day at Gettysburg, and it was something I couldn't remember the exact quote of, and I of course wanted to look it up and get it accurate, but I couldn't remember except that it was in a book with a red binding, and it was on the left-hand side on the top third of the page. So I would go to the shelf and pull down every red-bound book and look through it, and I would come across things like -- I'd say, "My God, I never noticed that before," and it had nothing to do with Gettysburg or anything else, but it would go into the book later in some other way.
" ~ Shelby Foote

(See full interview by clicking here.)

"Foote subsequently wrote a comprehensive three volume, 3000-page history of the American Civil War, together entitled The Civil War: A Narrative, which is considered by many to be a classic. The individual volumes include Fort Sumter to Perryville (1958), Fredericksburg to Meridian (1963), and Red River to Appomattox (1974).
"

In addition to Foote's classic narrative on the Civil War, he also wrote a number of successful works of fiction. Of course, Foote also played a prominent role in Ken Burns's PBS special on the war. After its airing, Foote achieved near "rock star" status. Not bad for a "non-academic."

And this observation by someone who knew Foote:

"He was the kind of academician who could weave a Civil War story into a discussion about fried green tomatoes -- and do so without an ounce of presumption or arrogance. He was a treasure."
~ C. Vincett Shortt

Certainly, a PhD in the field of history is an accomplishment to be noted. But it is not something which is necessary to research and write a good book. Others ultimately determine the quality and worthiness of one's work anway, not the letters behind your name. Unfortunately, the "presumption of arrogance" is common baggage in much of academia who look down their noses at anyone who doesn't have a college degree. We would all do well to remember the words of Mark Twain who, like Foote, dropped out of the University of South Carolina after two years:
"Education: that which reveals to the wise, and conceals from the stupid, the vast limits of their knowledge."

25 January 2007

Sold Out!

This first edition reprint of the Rev. Randolph McKim's sermon titled, LEE THE CHRISTIAN HERO, sold out in about an hour at Lexington's Lee-Jackson Day festivities on 13 January. This sermon was originally delivered at R. E. Lee Memorial Church in Lexington on 20 January 1907 in celebration of Lee's 100th birthday. The original, rare printed copy was published by Brentano's of Washington, D.C. The Reverend Dr. Randolph H. McKim was a Confederate Staff Officer, Chaplain and Episcopalian Minister. Many thanks to fellow blogger and author, Michael Aubrecht, for his pro bono design and formatting work on this project.

After the war, McKim served a number of distinguished churches as rector: St. John’s in Portsmouth, VA (1866-67), Christ Church in Alexandria, VA – the same church which both Robert E. Lee and George Washington attended – (1867-75), Holy Trinity in New York City (1875-86), TrinityChurch in New Orleans, LA (1886-88), and Church of the Epiphany in Washington, D.C.,
(1888-1920).

A portion of the proceeds from the sale of the 100 copies of the booklet went to the Stonewall Jackson Brigade SCV Camp's Lee Chapel fund which was established to fund commemorative functions at Lee Chapel and for the restoration and maintenance of the original organ at the chapel. South River Books is now having a second special limited edition of 200 copies printed commemorating Lee's 200th birthday. These will be numbered and will include a short sketch of McKim. The first 50 copies will be offered exclusively through Lee Chapel's Museum Shop.

(I realize that most of my posts of late have focused on Robert E. Lee. This focus will continue through this month, and, to a lesser extent, through 19 January 2008. This is, after all, "The Year of Lee." Besides, I'm in the process of gathering research materials for a book about Lee that will explore an aspect of Lee's life that I do not believe has received the attention it deserves. Some of my posts are an overflow of that process.)

Hurrah for Texas!

I was at Lee Chapel in Lexington paying my respects to General Lee on his 200th birthday last Friday and snapped these pictures. The yellow roses, I was told, were sent by a member of “The Texas Brigade.” There were separate bouquets sent for General Lee and his horse, Traveller, who is buried just outside the basement entrance to the family crypt where Lee is buried. When I saw the roses, I was reminded of a story that took place during the war. Men in Hood’s Texas Brigade, from Longstreet's Corps, appeared in a heated battle just at the right time and right place, tore through a thick cloud of smoke and with muskets in hand charged the enemy while others were retreating. General Lee was so impressed with their bravery and timing that he cried out, “Who are you, my boys?”

Texas boys” they yelled in reply. Lee, normally able to control his excitement could not do so now and replied with emotion as he waved his hat, “Hurrah for Texas, hurrah for Texas!” When I saw those yellow roses of Texas on Lee's 200th birthday, I, too, said under my breath, “Hurrah for Texas! Hurrah for Texas!”

24 January 2007

Richmond's Museum of the Confederacy May Move to Lexington

The Richmond Times Dispatch is reporting this morning that the MOC may move to Lexington.

"The mission of the museum is consistent with the historic attractions and educational institutions already in our community," said Lexington Mayor John Knapp.

This, in my opinion, would be a brilliant decision and a perfect match. For obvious reasons:

  • The Confederacy's best known and best loved Generals, Lee & Jackson, are both buried in Lexington.
  • The two schools that each General was associated with (W&L and VMI) are both in Lexington.
  • The city is proud of its Civil War heritage and history and their efforts in preserving their architecture, history, and memory of the past has been a priority. Lexington is most deserving of the honor.
  • The synergy created by this move, should it come to pass, would be unsurpassed anywhere in America regarding WBTS history, and would make Lexington a virtual Mecca for Civil War historians and tourists interested in that period of our history.
  • And, last, but not least, I live only 30 minutes from Lexington making my research on future and current books much easier. :)
Also, Richmond city officials and members of the legislature have not been very helpful in assisting the MOC as it suffered a precipitous decline in visitors in recent years. You could even say that these officials are largely to blame--allowing MCV to build high rise buildings which surround the MOC, making it almost impossible for tourists to find and a hassle for parking. Last year, the General Assembly promised to assist with a $750,000 cash infusion to give the MOC time to decide how to address their crisis. But, when the bill was finally passed, all but $50,000 had evaporated. The General Assembly was too busy spending bucket fulls of our money in tearing up the historic grounds of the Capital for their own purposes. Unfortunately, this attitude reflects a growing disinterest with preserving our history by many in elected office. I hate to say it, but it would serve the city right to have the largest collection of Confederate artifacts leave the former Confederate capital and move to where they would be more appreciated - and welcomed.

(I would encourage readers to consider joining the MOC-click here.)

23 January 2007

The Lees of Virginia

While visiting Lee Chapel on Lee’s birthday this past Friday, I picked up a copy of Paul Nagel’s The Lees of Virginia: Seven Generations of an American Family. Though first published in 1989, this new edition has been released with a new introduction commemorating Robert E. Lee’s bicentennial birthday. The last four chapters of the book are devoted to General Lee. I’ve just read a couple of chapters, but I believe it is going to be very interesting. It’s not an easy read, but not a difficult one either and moves along rather nicely with lots of details about the Lees.


I’ve posted several quotes from the book below. These are noteworthy in light of the utterly ridiculous, revisionist, character assaulting statements that some “Civil War” bloggers, “historians”, protestors, and others with a certain agenda, have made about General Lee.

  • “I believe the authentic Robert E. Lee is found in the roles he cherished—as son, brother, cousin, husband, and father.” (Page vii)
  • “For Lee, a Virginian who loved the Union and who deplored the presence of slavery, the decision which the federal government demanded of him was agonizing.” (Page xvi)
  • “Public opinion today generally reveres the name of General Robert E. Lee.” (Page xvi)
  • “Robert believed no one could cogently deny that bondage was a moral and political evil, and that it was a greater curse for whites than blacks.” (Page 263)
  • “Yet with all of this bountiful regard for Robert Lee, few of his admirers have detected that special quality setting him apart from other members of his clan—and from most of us. It came from a quiet achievement which, more than his military attainments, should command our admiration and affection. Unlike the biblical figure of Job, Robert did not quarrel when God seemed to forsake him. Instead, he quietly accepted defeat and despair, while trusting Heaven to make all things work eventually for good. By patiently serving and hoping, Robert E. Lee gave America its greatest lesson in valor.” (Page 305)

And, no, Mr. Nagel is not an apologist for the “Lost Cause” as some cynics might assume. Nagel has been a university professor, a college dean, and one time director of the Virginia Historical Society. He has been designated a Cultural Laureate of Virginia. Nagel is also a contributing editor for American Heritage and a fellow of the Society of American Historians. Fortunately, America still has some historians who aren’t afraid of the truth and who don’t see their mission in life as “re-interpreting history” and denigrating our heroes. The year of Lee continues.

I will be writing a complete review of the book once I’ve finished reading it.

22 January 2007

The Danger of Political Correctness

This is a long post, but consists of an op-ed that I felt needed as much exposure as possible. Mr. Ed Hooper, editor of the Civil War Courier, was very gracious to grant permission for me to post his most recent editorial in its entirety exclusively online here. I strongly urge readers to take the time to read it. Given the flood of poision pc statements that surrounded Robert E. Lee's birthday last week, I find Mr. Cooper's piece most timely. And, if you don't already subscribe to the Courier, I would encourage you to do so. It is an excellent and highly respected monthly publication in newspaper format with WBTS news, book reviews, preservation efforts, and all things related to the "late unpleasantness." Regardless of your area of interest in the Civil War, you will find much in it to like. I look forward to receiving my copy each month.

Today’s Politically Correct mentality is too dangerous to American freedoms

by Ed Hooper

Editor

Civil War Courier

As editor of this publication, I often get the opportunity to talk to publishing houses and their representatives about new book releases. At a recent meeting with a publisher regarding the publication and release of a book dealing with a particular state’s military history, I was told their company had enjoyed little success with “counter-culture” material and were being cautious as to how they approached marketing this new book. Being a writer for most of my life, I was used to hearing phrases such as “there’s no interest,” “no market for it” or “not our specialty,” but saying a collection of stories on the individual accomplishments of citizen-soldiers was “counter-culture” came as a shock to me.

How many generations were raised on stories of the biblical David, Samson and Gideon, the story of Alexander the Great, Hannibal, Al Saladin, Admiral Nelson, George Washington, Patton, and so forth? The stories of their individual accomplishments and lives have been rather definitive of the cultures we became or a result of it – not counter to it. The sad fact is political correctness, which has gripped the United States in force for the last ten years, is destroying this nation and threatening every fiber in the parchment that is our Constitution. It is an Orwellian prophecy come true almost and a developing weakness that is spreading like a virus. If it was a truly local phenomenon, it would not be of concern, but U.S. influence is felt around the world and the disease is worsening.

This past September Mongolia decided it wanted to erect a statue of Genghis Khan outside their embassy as a symbol of their nation. They take pride in Genghis Khan, whom they regard as Mongolia’s most famous contribution to the world and, by all accounts, they are correct. Who could deny this little nation in noting it had once been a major world player and gave rise to a man, who will live forever in the annals of human history? The U.S. political correctness machine is the short answer to that question.

It was a firestorm among college and university professors interviewed by news organizations. They claimed it improper for Mongolia to choose “that man” as a national mascot because of Genghis Khan’s “ruthlessness and imperialistic” attributes. He killed thousands they said and individuals such as that do not deserve recognition. The story of Genghis Khan starting off in life with a couple of ponies and a sword and ending up controlling most of the known world of his time is a story of incredible individual and military achievement. The Mongolians will hopefully ignore what’s been said and move forward with their project.

The academic distaste for military heroes has been evident in this nation since the anti-war protestors of the 1960s and 70s started moving into the ivory towers and becoming professors and teachers. There has been some “scholarly” work over the years, but it has been marginalized in many corners. In fact, according to surveys many professors say and have informed students of the philosophy “had there never been a Genghis Kahn or a George Patton, a George Washington or a Thomas Jefferson history would have created one therefore their stories are less important than the social movements of the era in which these men lived.” It is such a wonderful collectivist mentality that strips away the essences of individual achievement and truly strikes at the heart of this nation’s identity. We have even allowed the word “hero” to be redefined as anyone who puts on a uniform of any kind or has a good thought. It no longer describes a man or woman who faces adversity and overcomes incredible odds and circumstance to succeed.

This “P.C.” mentality, which is so prevalent among modern scholars and their students, is dangerous and threatens our very existence. It is time for the nation to sit up and start putting our historical house back in order. We have one hell of a story to tell the world and, if we let it sink into the mire of politics and academic intolerance, it will be lost forever.

Thank you, Mr. Hooper, for your words of wisdom and warning. ~ RGW

21 January 2007

Happy 183rd Stonewall Jackson

"THOMAS JONATHAN “STONEWALL” JACKSON is an enigma, or so it would seem to our shallow culture—a culture that attempts to pigeonhole everyone into predetermined categories of religion, race, social status, and politics. But Jackson does not fit neatly into modernity’s superficial typecasting. Tom Jackson was the poor, orphaned young mountain boy who would, by sheer determination, graduate from West Point; the shy, backward, stammering young man who would become an influential speaker, educator, and leader in Lexington; the strict Calvinist deacon who questioned predestination; the fearless Confederate general who would weep over one of his slaves’ deaths; the slave owner who would risk criminal prosecution and societal ridicule by teaching slaves and free blacks to read and to seek the same Savior who had redeemed his own soul." ~ Stonewall Jackson - The Black Man's Friend, page 161. (Image of Jackson as he appeared in 1855, the same year he began his now famous "colored Sabbath-school.")

20 January 2007

Honoring Lee - The Virginia Gentleman

Commemorative license plates can now be pre-purchased to celebrate the bicentennial of General Lee’s birth in 2007! Virginia citizens can click here to download an application from the Division of Motor Vehicles. Citizens of other states can eat their heart out. :)

19 January 2007

Happy 200th General Lee

What more can be said of this great man that has not already been said? His impeccable moral character, his courage, his brilliant military career, his patriotism, his loyalty, his humility, his love for his family, Virginia, and his God, his Christian faith . . . all have been eloquently written about in thousands of books, newspapers, journals, & magazines since his death in 1870. Lee towers above his critics today and the small minded and cold-souled men who try to impugn him only magnify his goodness and superior character and morality.

Robert E. Lee was born 200 years ago this day at the Lee ancestral mansion, Stratford Hall, and drew his first breath in the same room in which were born two signers of the Declaration of Independence, Richard Henry Lee and Francis Lightfoot Lee. He had married Mary Custis, the daughter of George Washington Parke Custis, who was the adopted grandson of George Washington. Lee’s strong ties to the Union, and its founding, were both by blood and by choice. The depth of Lee’s love for, and loyalty to, the Union is something many students of Lee fail to give due consideration. It makes his decision to acquiesce to Virginia’s secession all the more remarkable. Consider: By the age of 54, Colonel Robert E. Lee had fought with honor and distinction in the Mexican War, served as Superintendent of West Point, quelled a domestic insurrection at Harper’s Ferry, and was a highly respected officer and engi­neer. Lee’s military prowess was well recognized. General Winfield Scott credited the United States’ victory over Mexico to the “skill, valor and undaunted energy of Robert E. Lee” and once referred to him as, “the greatest military genius in America.”

Though loyal to the Union, readers should carefully reflect on the fact that Virginia had been a political entity for more than two hundred years, and that Lee’s roots in Virginia could be traced to the year 1640. The United States had only been a reality for about 80 years. His decision to cut his ties to the Union, though agonizing, was clearly the right one for him. It was, in the words of biographer Douglas Southall Freeman, “the decision Lee was born to make.”

Perhaps it was Douglas Southall Freeman who best and most succintly described the essential Lee:

"Robert Lee was one of the small company of great men in whom there is no inconsistency to be explained, no enigma to be solved. What he seemed, he was. He was - a wholly human gentleman, the essential elements of whose positive character were two and only two, simplicity and spirituality." ~ Douglas Southall Freeman

And how did Lee attain such strength of character? The same way you and I can: through faith in Christ. Freeman, again, on the "secret" of Lee's strength:

"Had his life been epitomized in one sentence of the Book he read so often, it would have been in the words, 'If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me." ~ Douglas Southall Freeman

I will be paying my respects to General Lee in the Lee family crypt some time later today. The Year of Lee continues. God bless his memory.

18 January 2007

Civil War Interactive Recommended Blog

I am pleased to announce that the Old Virginia Blog has made the recommended Civil War blog list at Civil War Interactive - a site I recommend for WBTS news, book reviews, links and all things related to the "late unpleasantness." You will find a diverse range of opinions and views here and the site is udpated regularly. For CW buffs, it is a must visit every day.

Virginian John Tyler

Today marks the 145th anniversary of the death of our Nation's 10th President, John Tyler. He is best remembered for his annexation of the Republic of Texas in 1845. He should also be remembered for fathering 15 children - more than any other President in history. His grandson, (yes, grandson) still lives at Sherwood Forest Plantation today. Sherwood Forest has been the continuous residence of the Tylers since 1842.


Tyler
sponsored and chaired the Washington Peace Convention in February of 1861. The convention’s goal was to seek a compromise that would avoid war between the North and South. Tyler was an adherent of "state's rights" and, when the Senate rejected his plan, Tyler urged the Mother of Presidents to secede from the Union. Tyler served in the provisional Confederate Congress in 1861 and was elected to the Confederate House of Representatives.

He died before he could take office while in Richmond. His dying words were "Perhaps it is best." Tyler is buried in Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond. Tyler Texas is named in his honor.

(Hat tip to Mr. William Connery for correction regarding Tyler's place of death)

15 January 2007

The Pathfinder of the Seas

Matthew Fontaine Maury (who, when I was growing up, was known by every Virginia school boy as The Pathfinder of the Seas) was born on 14 January 1806. Yesterday marked his 201st birthday. A brilliant man and prolific author, this Virginian remains the most decorated citizen in American history. One must wonder why he is not more widely known. Could it be ignorance, or something more “sinister” – political correctness, maybe?

Maury was an astronomer, astrophysicist, historian, oceanographer, meteorologist, cartographer, author, geologist, and educator. Though honored by Kings & Emperors, his fellow Americans have, in recent years, ignored his contributions and greatness. His accomplishments are staggering to consider. A partial listing gives us some clue as to his greatness:

  • In 1825, at the age of 19, Maury was appointed as a Midshipman in the United States Navy by Sam Houston.
  • He was the first fighting advocate for the establishment of the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland and can be credited with conceiving the Panama Canal with one of his publications.
  • By 1861, Maury was the head of the U.S. Naval Observatory in Washington, D.C. and had been Knighted and / or Honored by no less than six Emperors and Kings.
  • On the 10th of June 1861, Maury was appointed as a Commander in the Confederate Navy.
  • Maury published his Wind and Current Chart of the North Atlantic, which showed sailors how to use the ocean's currents and winds to their advantage which drastically reduced the length of ocean voyages.
  • His Sailing Directions and Physical Geography of the Seas and Its Meteorology remain standard.
  • Maury's uniform system of recording synoptic oceanographic data was adopted by navies and merchant marines around the world and was used to develop charts for all the major trade routes.
  • He assisted in the outfitting of the iron-clad Virginia “and while living in Richmond, Virginia he invented electric mines or ‘Torpedoes’, as they were called during the War Between The States, by experimenting first in the bathtub of his apartment and then in the James River.”
  • After Civil War ended, Maury “served briefly with Maximilliam in Mexico and turned down numerous other offers worldwide, including the command of several European Navies.”
  • In 1868 Maury accepted the position of professor of meterology at Virginia Military Institute in Lexington, Virginia.

In 1839, at age thirty-three, Maury was seriously injured in a stagecoach accident which led Maury to a scientific breakthrough. (No, this is not a myth and was recounted in a journal in Maury's own handwriting) While recovering at home, Maury's wife read to her husband daily out of the Bible. One afternoon Mrs. Maury was reading the eighth Psalm which describes the works and creation of God. Maury's attention was arrested by verse eight, as his wife read, “The fowl of the air, and the fish of the sea, and whatsoever passeth through the paths of the sea.” Maury believed that the Bible, though not a scientific book, was accurate and reliable whenever it addressed a scientific subject. Maury stopped his wife and requested, “Read that again.” She dutifully repeated the words and Maury stated with confidence: “It is enough. If the Word of God says there are paths in the sea, they must be there, and I am going to find them!”

When Virginia seceded from the Union, Maury left the U.S. Naval Observatory. He told the Secretary of the U.S. Navy: "I Desire To Go To My Own People And With Them Share The Fortunes Of Our State Together" – pretty much the same sentiments of Robert E. Lee (Maury would serve as a pallbearer at General Lee’s funeral.) and so many other Virginians who, while opposing secession, could not violate what they saw as the superior duty – home and kin.

The federal government wasted no time in retribution. “His name was expunged from the record of many of the enterprises he had originated.” Maury spent the last 5 years of his life in Lexington where he worked as a Professor at the Virginia Military Institute. Matthew Fontaine Maury died on Tuesday, 1 February 1873, and the VMI Cadets formed the "Guard Of Honor" when his body ay in state in VMI's library.

A dynamic Christian, Maury had the habit of saying the following prayer every night for 34 years:

"Lord Jesus, Thou Son Of God And Redeemer Of The World, Have Mercy Upon Me ! Pardon My Offenses, And Teach Me The Error Of My Ways; Give Me A New Heart And A Right Mind. Teach Me And Mine To Do Thy Will, And In All Things To Keep Thy Law. Teach Me Also To Ask Those Things Necessary For Eternal Life. Lord, Pardon Me For All My Sins, For Thine Is The Kingdom And The Power And The Glory, For Ever And Ever. Amen."

Honoring Maury's request, his body was carried through Goshen Pass when the color of the Virgina autumn foliage was in all its glory. He was buried on 27 December 1873 in Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond between Presidents James Monroe and John Tyler.

Monuments honoring The Pathfinder of the Seas stand in Goshen Pass and on Monument Avenue in Richmond.



12 January 2007

Lee-Jackson Day in Virginia

Today, 12 January 2007, the Commonwealth of Virginia officially recognizes Lee-Jackson Day. It is a statewide holiday and most of the Commonwealth's offices will be closed. Virginia has recognized the day as a memorial to one of her favorite sons's, Robert E. Lee (born 19 January 1807), since 1889. In 1904, the legislature added Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson's birthday (born 21 January 1824). Virginia is one of seven states which recognizes Lee-Jackson Day as an official holiday. The others six are: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Texas.

On a related note, I just saw this announcement at the Lee Chapel and Museum site:

CLOSED
"Lee Chapel and Museum will be closed January 22 through March 4, 2007. The auditorium will be repainted during this time and will reopen March 4; however, the museum level will remain closed until June 1 to permit the installation of a new exhibition. We appreciate your patience and understanding."

I hesitate to be critical of the fine folks at Lee Chapel, but can someone please explain to me why the museum would choose to close for 4 months during the year of Lee's 200th birthday?!?!?! I would suspect that sites related to Lee would see an increase in tourism during this time; assuming, of course, that they're open! It would appear that someone did not think the timing of this new exhibit through very carefully. Strange.

11 January 2007

Civil War Interactive Review of: Stonewall Jackson - The Black Man's Friend

"Frankly, it takes guts to write a study like this and Williams has shown the same courage and tenacity as his primary subject did at the First Battle of Manassas." ~ from Michael Aubrecht's review of Stonewall Jackson: The Black Man's Friend appearing in the The Free Lance Star and Civil War Interactive

Forgive the self-promotion, but I just LOVE that line! :)

09 January 2007

Lee Chapel's Construction Began 140 Years Ago

It was in 1867 that construction began on the “Shrine of the South”—Lee Chapel on the grounds of Washington College in Lexington, Virginia. This year marks the 140th anniversary of this remarkable building’s beginnings.


The Chapel had been in Lee’s mind almost since accepting the presidency of the beleaguered school in 1865. When General Lee reported to the board of trustees in June of 1866, he wrote:
A larger chapel is much needed. The room used is too small and badly adapted to the purpose. It is moreover required for additional lecture rooms, into which it could be conveniently converted.” This would be Lee’s pet project and construction began in 1867. It was his first major undertaking as President of Washington College. One year later, in Lee’s 1868 report, he wrote: “The completion of the new chapel, which has recently been dedicated to the service of Almighty God, is a pleasing as well as useful addition to the College buildings.”

The Chapel remains, to this day, a fitting memorial to this Christian gentleman. As Douglas Southall Freeman wrote of Lee: “What he seemed, he was—a wholly human gentleman, the essential elements of whose positive character were two and only two, simplicity and spirituality." As President of Washington College, Lee often expressed his sense of spirituality and its connection with the Chapel. Lee was often visibly moved during Chapel services. Upon one of these occasions, as Lee was leaving the building, a friend inquired of Lee if something was wrong. Lee replied, “I was thinking of my responsibility to Almighty God for these hundreds of young men.”

A little known, but interesting factoid about Lee Chapel--it was almost torn down in the early 1920's! Then President Dr. Henry Louis Smith thought the structure was "unattractive" and not "architecturally compatible" with the other building at W & L. Fortunately, the brave ladies of the United Daughters of the Confederacy mounted a spirited public relations campaign that saved the grand old building. Thank God for the UDC.

Visiting Lee Chapel today is well worth the effort. There is no admission charge and the museum in the basement houses an exquisite collection of Lee family heirlooms and historical artifacts. The museum shop has an excellent selection of books, framed art, and souvenirs. I highly recommend a visit if you are ever in Lexington, or if you have to make a special trip just to see it, especially this year.

08 January 2007

Confederate Veterans' Memory & Our New Senator

"Even the venerable Robert E. Lee has taken some vicious hits, as dishonest or misinformed advocates among political interest groups and in academia attempt to twist yesterday’s America into a fantasy that might better serve the political issues of today. The greatest disservice on this count has been the attempt by these revisionist politicians and academics to defame the entire Confederate Army in a move that can only be termed the Nazification of the Confederacy. Often cloaked in the argument over the public display of the Confederate battle flag, the syllogism goes something like this: Slavery was evil. The soldiers of the Confederacy fought for a system that wished to preserve it. Therefore they were evil as well, and any attempt to honor their service is a veiled effort to glorify the cause of slavery."


"This blatant use of the 'race card' in order to inflame their political and academic constituencies is a tired, seemingly endless game that is itself perhaps the greatest legacy of the Civil War’s aftermath. But in this case it dishonors hundreds of thousands of men who can defend themselves only through the voices of their descendants." ~ (From Born Fighting by James Webb, pp. 207-208.)

05 January 2007

The Year of Lee

VIRGINIA SENATE JOINT RESOLUTION NO. 382
Establishing a joint subcommittee to plan and coordinate the 200th anniversary celebration of the birth of Robert E. Lee. Report.

Agreed to by the Senate, February 25, 2005
Agreed to by the House of Delegates, February 24, 2005

WHEREAS, Robert E. Lee was born to Revolutionary War hero "Light Horse Harry" Lee and Anne Carter Lee at Stratford Hall in Westmoreland County, Virginia, on January 19, 1807; and

WHEREAS, Robert E. Lee attended West Point Military Academy where he graduated second in his class without receiving a single demerit; and

WHEREAS, on June 30, 1831, Robert E. Lee married Mary Ann Randolph Custis, the only daughter of George Washington Parke Custis, the grandson of Martha Washington and the adopted grandson of George Washington; and

WHEREAS, Robert E. Lee served in the United States Army for nearly 32 years and was offered the command of the Union Army at the outset of the Secession Crisis; and

WHEREAS, after suffering through a great deal of internal conflict, Robert E. Lee chose to link his fate to his native Virginia although opposed to secession, stating that he could not "lift his hand against his own people"; and

WHEREAS, Robert E. Lee assumed command of the Army of Northern Virginia in the Confederate capital of Richmond on June 1, 1862; and

WHEREAS, following the collapse of the Confederate States of America, Robert E. Lee encouraged the people of the South to "abandon your animosities, . . . and make your sons Americans"; and

WHEREAS, Robert E. Lee accepted the position of President of Washington College in Lexington, Virginia, where he strove to improve the plight of the war-ravaged South through education and advancement of the youth; and

WHEREAS, Robert E. Lee died on October 12, 1870, in Lexington, Virginia; and

WHEREAS, the 200th anniversary of Robert E. Lee's birth will occur in 2007; and

WHEREAS, the celebrations, forums, special resources for the public schools, and promotion of tourism of historic sites related to Robert E. Lee will bring national attention to the legacy of Robert E. Lee and the Commonwealth; now, therefore, be it

RESOLVED by the Senate, the House of Delegates concurring, That a joint subcommittee be established to plan and coordinate the 200th anniversary celebration of the birth of Robert E. Lee. For this occasion, the joint subcommittee is hereby designated the official Robert E. Lee Memorial Commission of the Commonwealth. The joint subcommittee shall have a total membership of 14 members that shall consist of six legislative members, five nonlegislative citizen members, and three ex officio members. Members shall be appointed as follows: two members of the Senate to be appointed by the Senate Committee on Rules; four members of the House of Delegates to be appointed by the Speaker of the House of Delegates in accordance with the principles of proportional representation contained in the Rules of the House of Delegates; two nonlegislative citizen members, one of whom shall represent the Virginia Division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans and one of whom shall represent the Virginia Division of the United Daughters of the Confederacy to be appointed by the Senate Committee on Rules; and three nonlegislative citizen members, one of whom shall represent the Robert E. Lee Memorial Association, one of whom shall represent the Confederate Memorial Literacy Society, and one of whom shall represent Washington and Lee University to be appointed by the Speaker of the House of Delegates. The Director of the Department of Historic Resources, the Executive Director of the Virginia Tourism Corporation, and the Superintendent of Public Instruction shall serve as ex officio members without voting privileges. Nonlegislative citizen members of the joint subcommittee shall be citizens of the Commonwealth of Virginia. Unless otherwise approved in writing by the chairman of the joint subcommittee and the respective Clerk, nonlegislative citizen members shall only be reimbursed for travel originating and ending within the Commonwealth of Virginia for the purpose of attending meetings. If a companion joint resolution of the other chamber is agreed to, written authorization of both Clerks shall be required. The joint subcommittee shall elect a chairman and vice chairman from among its membership, who shall be members of the General Assembly.

In planning and coordinating the 200th anniversary celebration, the joint subcommittee shall examine ways to (i) promote tourism of the historical sites connected with Robert E. Lee, including Stratford Hall, Lexington, and Appomattox; (ii) provide special activities at the historical sites, including a lecture series and forums concerning the life and impact of Robert E. Lee; and (iii) create additional emphasis on the contributions and impact of Robert E. Lee in the public schools in the history curriculum.

Administrative staff support shall be provided by the Office of the Clerk of the Senate. Legal, research, policy analysis, and other services as requested by the joint subcommittee shall be provided by the Division of Legislative Services. Technical assistance shall be provided by the Department of Historic Resources, the Virginia Tourism Corporation, and the Department of Education. All agencies of the Commonwealth shall provide assistance to the joint subcommittee for this study, upon request.

The joint subcommittee shall be limited to four meetings for the 2005 interim and six meetings for the period beginning with the 2006 interim through January 19, 2007. The direct costs of this study shall not exceed $8,000 for the 2005 interim and $10,000 for the period beginning with the 2006 interim through January 19, 2007. Approval for unbudgeted nonmember-related expenses shall require the written authorization of the chairman of the joint subcommittee and the respective Clerk. If a companion joint resolution of the other chamber is agreed to, written authorization of both Clerks shall be required.

No recommendation of the joint subcommittee shall be adopted if a majority of the Senate members or a majority of the House members appointed to the joint subcommittee (i) vote against the recommendation and (ii) vote for the recommendation to fail notwithstanding the majority vote of the joint subcommittee.

The joint subcommittee shall complete its meetings for the first year by November 30, 2005, and for the study's last year by January 19, 2007, and the chairman shall submit to the Division of Legislative Automated Systems an executive summary of its findings and recommendations no later than the first day of the next Regular Session of the General Assembly for each year. Each executive summary shall state whether the joint subcommittee intends to submit to the General Assembly and the Governor a report of its findings and recommendations for publication as a Senate or House document. The executive summaries and reports shall be submitted as provided in the procedures of the Division of Legislative Automated Systems for the processing of legislative documents and reports and shall be posted on the General Assembly's website.

Implementation of this resolution is subject to subsequent approval and certification by the Joint Rules Committee. The Committee may approve or disapprove expenditures for this study, extend or delay the period for the conduct of the study, or authorize additional meetings.


Robert E. Lee 200th birthday celebration events in Virginia for your consideration:

Liberty University - Robert E. Lee in Life & Legend

Lee Jackson Day - Lexington, Virginia


Stratford Hall - Robert E. Lee's 200th Birthday Celebration

Stephen Dill Lee Institute - Lee Bicentennial Symposium

04 January 2007

The True History of the Shenandoah National Park

"The general consensus was that the people who inhabited these mountains were living as animals and needed to be civilized."

The article linked above is one I highly recommend. The writer is right about the callous treatment of the "mountain folk" who had lived on this land for generations. My wife and I (who share the same great-great grandfather-I'll pause here for the jokes) have ancestors--Coffeys--who experienced similar treatment when the Blue Ridge Parkway was built. The Parkway connects to the Skyline Drive (which runs through the SNP) just a few miles from my home. Much of the land where Route 664 intersects with the Parkway was once owned by our folks. As a matter of fact, when you leave Sherando, Virginia and go up Rt. 664 to Love Mountain, you will pass a house on the left that was moved by the feds. That house was once owned by some of our kinfolk. Also, there is still an old log cabin (restored) that is owned by a distant cousin, right off the parkway. And, near that same place, there is still an old family cemetery. It is in that cemetery that our great-great grandfather--Morris Coffey-- who fought with the 51st Virginia Infantry, is buried.

Men like the defiant mounainteer pictured above, tried in vain to continue to live on land that their ancestors had lived on for generations. But, as the article points out, the federal government can be very cruel when they want what you have. Not much has changed, has it?
"Lizzie Jenkins was five months pregnant when the police dragged her from her home, piled her belongings in horse-drawn wagons, and pulled her chimney down so that she would have no source of heat for the upcoming winter." And who is it that needs to be "civilized?"

It is when I read of these types of injustices that I am reminded why Grandpa Coffey fought the yankees (feds). He knew what was comin'.

(The second image is of my daughters and me at Raven's Roost Overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway. My home is in the Shenandoah Valley directly behind us, at the bottom of the ridge to my right. Grandpa Coffey is buried about 3 miles due South from where we stand.)

03 January 2007

John Jasper - Christian Hero

In addition to General Lee’s 200th birthday and the 400th anniversary of Jamestown, there are a number of other worthy historical events making 2007 a remarkable year, especially for Virginia. I will be blogging a number of those events during the month of January. One of these is the 140th anniversary of the founding of Sixth Mount Zion Baptist Church in Richmond, Virginia, which will be officially celebrated next month. This historic church was originally founded by the Reverend John Jasper in 1867. Beginning in an abandoned Confederate horse stable on Brown’s Island in the James River at Richmond with just 9 members, Jasper went on to build that church into the largest African-American church in the post-war South – and the first African-American church founded in post-war Richmond. At his death in 1901, the church could boast over 1000 members. The church remains a center of Richmond culture and Christian outreach today. I had the honor of “bringing greetings” to the congregation of Sixth Mount Zion when they celebrated their 135th anniversary 5 years ago. I had republished Richard Ellsworth Day’s wonderful biography of Jasper, commemorating the 100th anniversary of Jasper’s death in 2001 and dedicated it to the members of Sixth Mount Zion for their efforts in preserving Jasper’s inspiring legacy.


A year later, the church historian, Benjamin Ross, and I worked together in writing the text for the Virginia Historical Highway Marker pictured here. Pictured to my immediate right is the Revered John Johnson, who was Pastor of Sixth Mount Zion at that time. Next to Pastor Johnson is Mr. Ross. The marker is located in Fluvanna County near “Carysbrook”, Jasper’s birthplace. Jasper is a worthy hero to emulate and I wish there was more emphasis on his story, especially for Virginia school children. Jasper overcame slavery, cruelty, prejudice, and illiteracy and did so without rancor or bitterness towards those who had held him in bondage. The love of Christ enabled him to do this.

For a complete history of the church and Jasper’s ministry, I highly recommend the biography by W. E. Hatcher (Jasper’s mentor-more on him later) and the one by Richard Day. The Virginia Commonwealth University Library also maintains a wonderful website with a lot of details on Jasper’s ministry and the history of the church.

01 January 2007

Preparing for the Year of Lee

19 January 2007 marks the 200th birthday of one of the greatest Americans to have ever lived—Robert Edward Lee. He is, perhaps, the greatest Christian gentleman America ever produced. The image shown here is one drawn by my father in 1947 when he was but a boy of 12. When my father passed away in 2000, this pencil sketch was given to me and, today, it claims a place of honor on my home-office wall. Thus I am reminded daily not only of Lee’s greatness, but of the fact Lee should remain a hero to American boys in 2007.


My father’s ancestral home was located on what served as the last major Civil War battle that occurred in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. There in his bedroom he drew this crude, but recognizable, image of General Lee. Having been born in 1958 in a hospital that was built upon that same ground that had served as the Battle of Waynesboro in March 1865, I grew up with a natural admiration for my ancestors who willingly sacrificed all they possessed to defend hearth and home. My great-great-grandfather, John W. McGann, fought with the Fifty-first Virginia Infantry and defended this very land during the Battle of Waynesboro. His son, Charles L. McGann, my great-grandfather, came to own much of that battlefield that had become apple orchards and, later, a residential area known today as the Tree Streets. My father would often walk up the hill from his home to current Pine Avenue where he would help his grandfather—who was known as “Mr. Charlie”—help feed a horse known as “Bird.”

The old steed belonged to Colonel C. H. Withrow. Withrow was a Confederate Veteran who taught at nearby Fishburne Military School. My great-grandfather’s home would eventually pass to my grandmother, then to my father, and then to my brother and me. Like my father before me, I spent many hours playing and roaming the ground that held the blood of those brave soldiers. Swimming and fishing the South River that flows through this land and hearing of the stories of heroes’ sacrifice endeared me to this ground and its history.

Most who have never experienced this type of connection to history, heritage, and their native-sod often misunderstand the connection native Southerners’ have to their past. Narrow minded, they accuse many us of maintaining “Lost Cause” sentiments or, more sinister, of being “racists” simply because we admire our ancestors’ sacrifice. They refuse to consider and understand what the eminent Virginia historian, Philip Alexander Bruce, wrote of this connection to our homes and our heritage:

It was this love of home, with its thronging recollections of the past both near and far . . . that nerved many a Southern soldier. . . . Love of the South was inextricably mixed up with this love of the family hearth. . . . Love of one particular spot, of one neighborhood, of one State, was the foundation stone of the love of the entire region which entered so deeply into the spirit of the Confederate soldier.”

I can trace my ancestors to Jamestown. I have, from both sides of my family, 3 great-great grandfathers who defended Virginia by fighting for the Confederacy. Two of them sleep in unmarked graves. None of them owned slaves—all were Scots-Irish dirt farmers and died penniless. All were wounded in the war and spilled their blood in Virginia’s soil. One died from his wounds. My connection to Virginia and its history is more than “academic.” And, as I’ve grown older, I’ve found that I neither have the patience nor the time to suffer fools (especially non-Southern fools) who have no idea what they’re talking about when cynically criticizing Southerners’ honor and respect for their heritage and then who hide their ignorance and bigotry towards Southerners behind claims of being a “professional historian.” Southerners despise condescension.

2007 will be an eventful year, historically speaking, for Virginia. We will celebrate not only General Lee’s birthday, but also the founding of Jamestown. These celebrations, no doubt, will be criticized by the cultural Marxists as glorifying a past that would best be forgotten, or if that can’t be accomplished, “re-interpreted” by “professional historians.” Traditionalists who love the truth should prepare for the battle. (Second image is of Colonel Withrow)