08 June 2016

Southern Heritage, Southern Family, Southern Tradition: Part 4


Part IV of this series was supposed to be a link to an interview with Earl Ijames. I've not finished that and submitted it to the other blog site yet, so that will likely have to wait until next week some time. However, the comments in part III would be incomplete without these additional thoughts. Like the part III post, this is an excerpt from my latest book, The Battle of Waynesboro. In many ways my thoughts here encapsulate what many miss (or misunderstand) in the current debate over Confederate monuments.

While the practical aspects of moving on and recovering after the South’s defeat occupied most of the energies of southerners in the decades following the war, remembrance was also a very important aspect of that recovery. There was a sense of duty and obligation to remember the sacrifices of the sons, fathers and brothers who had marched so optimistically off to war in the spring of 1861, only to return to, in the words of veteran H.H. Kerr, find “the home he left so beautiful in blackened ruins…his stock killed…his money of no value, and a system of reconstruction which made the horrors of war pale into insignificance.”

That sense of duty often manifested itself in the erecting of monuments, statues, highway markers, plaques and other memorials that dot the South’s landscape to this day. One such monument was the one erected in honor of Colonel William Harman. It was placed to remind us of his sacrifice and as a testament to his bravery and commitment in defending his native sod—the very town in which he was born. In 1926, this monument was erected by the Jeb Stuart Chapter (Staunton) of the United Daughters of the Confederacy near the very place of his death. Since that time, this monument has been moved several times and now rests in Waynesboro’s Constitution Park, about 550 yards southeast from where he fell. The inscription on the monument reads:


William H. Harman
Colonel, C.S.A.
Born Feb. 17, 1828
Killed in action at
Waynesboro Mar 2, 1865.
He was a lieutenant of a company
from Augusta County
in the Mexican War; afterwards
Brig. General in the
Virginia Militia; appointed
Lieut Col. 5th Virginia Inft.
C.S.A. May 7, 1861; Col. and
A.D.C. on staff of Maj. General
Edward Johnson.
May 17, 1862.
A Gallant Soldier.

The fact that Harman’s monument has been moved several times and now rests in a rather obscure and hard-to-see location is, in many ways, illustrative of the fading memory and focus regarding the commemoration and memory of the Civil War. I doubt that many local residents even know it exists or are aware of the struggle that took place on the ground that today hosts the stately homes of the now quiet and quaint Tree Streets. In some ways, I believe that those old veterans might be pleased with that. While I do not believe they would want us to forget their sacrifice for duty’s sake in the defense of their homes, the fading memory of succeeding generations is a natural outcome of their successful efforts to rebuild the South and unite the country after the war’s devastation. I believe many rank and file veterans simply wanted—for themselves and their posterity—a return to some semblance of normalcy. That would not be truly possible without the fading of memory. They wanted the death and destruction to cease. They wanted once again to till their land, sleep under their own roofs, support their families, educate their sons and daughters and worship their God. They wanted to rebuild, reconcile and reunite. And they did. Although that process was halting and imperfect—especially for those new citizens who were no longer slaves—we can remember and honor the men on both sides of that epic conflict for what they did after the war as much as for what they did during the war.

Yet while memories will fade, we should never let them die completely. I believe we should—and will—continue to teach our children and grandchildren what our fathers and mothers and grandparents have taught us and passed down for generations. We will continue to share our family history around the supper table as we eat harvest that was grown and nourished from the very soil that contains the blood of our kin—blood that was shed while defending their homes. We will continue to share our family history on the front porches of our homes in the fading light of summer evenings surrounded by great trees that were present when our ancestors lived. We will continue to share our family history before a crackling fire in our homes on cold winter nights with our children and grandchildren gathered close around us. We will continue to share the stories, the sadness, the injustices, the glory, the bravery, the love, the patriotism, the loyalty and the sacrifices of those who have gone before us. We do this, in part, so that we might “honor our fathers,” as the scriptures command us. And we pray that our children and our grandchildren will do the same when their turn comes.

7 comments:

Robert Marshall said...

Very well put. I firmly believe that the memory of these men, along with their monuments, needs to be preserved. This post made me want to be sitting out near a small summer fire listening to stories of glory from the old and noble South. When brave and heroic men grabbed up their muskets and stood firmly to take a stand in the defense of Dixie.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

Thanks Robert. "made me want to be sitting out near a small summer fire listening to stories of glory from the old and noble South." Yes, I've done that many times, both as a boy and also with my own youngins'. Thanks for reading and for taking the time to comment.

Mark Snell said...

Come on, guys. The "old and noble South"? I understand the sentiment (I am a sentimental guy myself), but there are nostalgic elements in every section of our country. And remember, what some southerners see as "noble," other Americans may not feel the same way. Nonetheless, one of my fondest memories, dating back to my college days (during spring break, 1976), was sitting around a campfire with my friends on the Chancellorsville battlefield (on private property), talking about the Civil War and wondering if we would be visited by the ghosts of Yankees and Rebels that night. I guess that shows what a history nerd I was back in the day--especially when most of my classmates were, at the same time, laying on some Florida beach. But I would not trade those memories for any stretch of sand.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

"but there are nostalgic elements in every section of our country." (Eric Sloane comes immediately to mind.) Of course there are, but does that mean I can't celebrate my section? I don't get the criticism. Am I missing something?

"talking about the Civil War and wondering if we would be visited by the ghosts of Yankees and Rebels that night."

I would love to have been a fly on the wall and heard that! ;-)

Mark Snell said...

Of course you can celebrate your section of the country. I'm just saying that the "South" (and you live in a very little piece of a very large, heterogeneous region) is no more special than say, Chambersburg, PA, or Bangor, ME, or Tombstone, AZ or something as large as the "Great Plains." My comments were not intended to be critical; I guess it was the word "noble" that struck a nerve.

As far as our campfire that night on the Chancellorsville battlefield, you would have fit right into our little group, except I imagine you would have passed out after only one beer. Our assembly included four future US Army officers, one future Royal Canadian Mounted Policeman, and a future police officer (now retired) from York County, PA. Plus, a guy from NJ who retired as a lieutenant from the Henrico (VA) corrections department. A typical carpetbagger, I imagine you'd call him ;-) Needless to say, we were more worried about Rebel ghosts than Yankee spirits! Boo.

Reading Through History said...

Reminiscing about the Old South and romanticising it is something I will not ever allow anyone to take away from me.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

"I'm just saying that the "South" (and you live in a very little piece of a very large, heterogeneous region) is no more special than say, Chambersburg, PA, or Bangor, ME, or Tombstone, AZ or something as large as the "Great Plains."

But I see that view as contradictory. If my section of the country is no more special (from my perspective) than others, then what's to celebrate? See: http://oldvirginiablog.blogspot.com/2010/07/dominance-of-southern-culture.html

"I imagine you would have passed out after only one beer."

Ha! Not likely. I drank my first one at 10 and, when I left PBR, I was drinking a six pack just about every night and a case on many weekends. The strongest thing I drink now is hard cider at Christmas time. ;-)