Saturday, November 22, 2008

Touring Battlefields With Two Thousand Dollars Worth Of Booze!

If you enjoy reading James McPherson's books, touring battlefields, learning about the Battle of Shiloh and/or Abraham Lincoln, and doing all of this with $2,000 worth of wine, beer, and Scotch, then this might be the single-most enjoyable article the NY Times has ever published and you have ever read. Honestly, it's like the writer of this article thought "how can I write the perfect article for The Tipsy Historian?" and then went ahead and cranked it out. Fantastic!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

145 Years Ago, The Anniversary Of The Gettysburg Address

President Abraham Lincoln gave what is probably the most famous speech in American History 145 years ago at the dedication of the cemetery at the Gettysburg battlefield
Thanks to my Madre for finding this segment about these immortal 272 words on the Writer's Almanac. Just select "Wednesday, November 19th" for the entry.
Here's a link to the Library of Congress exhibition with all the stuff you need: full text of the speech, the only known photo of President Lincoln at Gettysburg, details on preservation techniques, and more.
Now that you don't have to memorize it or present it in front of the class, take a minute and read the speech on your own terms and derive your own meaning from this magnificent oration.

Current Events Reprised

In the midst of endless headlines about various economic bailout strategies, I happened upon some news of a different bailout. Turns out the records of one Colin McRae were recently unearthed and disgorged a wealth of imformation about the English and French bailout of the Confederacy in 1863.
Along with bailout headlines are the endless speculations about the personalities and motivations of various potential members of President-elect Obama's Cabinet. This narrative fits closely with the Obama-Lincoln parallels, and this LA Times editorial sounds a warning about packing too many rivals into one's cabinet, especially those who may have their own aspirations to the Oval Office.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Book Review: "Isn't This Glorious!"

When I was putting together my lecture to the San Diego Civil War Roundtable last month about the 20th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment, or Harvard Regiment, at Gettysburg, I happened upon a text I had not known existed. Prior to my discovery of "Isn't This Glorious!" by Edwin Root and Jeffrey Stocker, I thought my library had all of the pertinent materials I needed.
As soon as this book arrived in the mail from the publisher, I knew I had been mistaken, as this book had a treasure trove of new photos and personalities to examine. It was put to use as a resource, and after the lecture, I've gone back and read it as it is supposed to be; a treatment of the 15th, 19th, and 20th Massachusetts Infantry Regiments at Gettysburg that will bring their memory up to an equal level with other, more celebrated forces that participated in the battle.
There is no shortage of books providing analysis of various regiments and their exploits at this most famous of American battles; "Isn't This Glorious!" is particularly unique because it's investigation does not end with the battle or even the war's conclusion.
The first part of the book introduces us to the men of the regiments, the bloody paths that brought them to Gettysburg, and focuses us in on the essential role they played in the battle: the sealing of the southern portion of the Confederate breathrough at the Copse of Trees. The detail is tremendous, as the fighting is told straight from the eyes and mouths of the men, and not just the officers, either. We learn about the brutal dealings from the rank and file, brought out in vivid and anxious detail. There is also no shortage of photos of the men from whom we are hearing, so we can almost see their faces through the battlesmoke.
The fighting in this small section of the battlefield was just as chaotic as it was pivotal, and the tension provided by the authors as the men surge towards the Confederates at the Copse of Trees is palpable. Bringing this home in a more tangible form are some of the best battle maps I've seen. These foldout pages do not present the battle as a whole, but the the small piece of the action these regiments took part in. The value and uniqueness of these maps comes in their kinetic ability to show the lines of the regiments move from a disciplined front on Cemetery Ridge to a mob charging north towards the Copse of Trees. The Confederate forces have no marking at all, they come forward in the maps as a ravening horde, an irresistable tide plunging toward the Union forces.
The actual detail of the battle I'll leave to you, but this little-discussed segment of the battle, fought just below the Copse of Trees by men with carbines, pistols, swords, and bare hands, will leave you quite shaken.
The second section of the book takes us on a journey quite unique in the regimental histories pertaining to Gettysburg. After we spend much time investing in the men and their sacrifices, the authors take us through the sometimes sordid history of the monuments placed on the field to commemorate these sturdy men. In this portion, we see how this story became almost lost in contemporary Gettysburg history and how the men of these regiments faded from memory.
The historiography of the Civil War is spoken of frequently in this space, and this section of the book is an example of historiography at the highest level. We are walked through events that occurred over decades and shown how decisions were made and how they have influenced our current conceptions of the battle. There was quite a struggle over these regiments, and I learned, quite to my dismay, that the marker of the Harvard Regiment on the field today is in the wrong place! This story is a perfect example of how the reality of the past is frequently altered subject to the exigencies of the present.
As the various markers and monuments are shuffled around, it can become difficult to follow. We are well-served by the map that shows the previous and current locations of the structures, as well as another collection of photos of the site as well as the monuments themselves.
The stroke of genius in this book is in its ability to remind us why we care about these monuments and showing how closely the men whom they represent were so closely tied to them after the war. It's clear why these monuments maintain a hold on our imagination and why the pictures in the book are so evocative.
At the book's end, the author's stated goal, to elevate the memory of these Massachusetts men back to a level field with the more celebrated units that fought at the Copse of Trees and repulsed Pickett's Charge, is fully realized. In closing, we are reminded by the authors just what these men dealt with not only to achieve victory, but also to survive the sometimes tragic lives that awaited them after the war. The diary entry of one James Tenney, an enlisted man in the 15th Mass. as pertaining to the battle, is a telling conclusion to this story.
You will undoubtedly close this book with saddened eyes and a newfound appreciation for these men who helped win the battle of Gettysburg. If you have any interest in this battle or in Massachusetts regiments, this book will be an asset to your learning. Best of all, you can acquire it and still remain faithful to our commitment to supporting independent booksellers. I refer you please to the book's website, where you can order directly from the publisher.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

A New San Diego Cocktail Tradition

I was reading the NY Times recently (available for free online) when I happened upon a most interesting article about the surge in NYC bars that focus on the subtle and artistic approach to making truly fine and unique cocktails. An interesting article, to be sure, but not much help to me, living in San Diego.
Then came the epiphany! I'm going go out and write the same article, but focusing on San Diego establishments. I, with The Jess at my side, propose to hit up a selection of bars with a known amount of cocktail prowess as well as some that may until now, have flown under the radar.
This is definitely designed to be a community activity, so, friends of the Tipsy Historian, make yourselves heard! I need suggestions on bars and bartenders, and I'll post when we intrepid mixologists will make our way to any specific place.
I've even established a new post label: "San Diego bar reviews" and all further posts on this subject will have this designation. Just like I review books, it's time to start reviewing places where we can get a first class cocktail!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

The Ongoing Discussion About Civil War Combat Art

I really enjoy writing these posts and leaving comments on the writing of others, and the discourse about Civil War art on a few different blogs has certainly fed it. While it would be a blast to have these conversations in person over a cup of coffee or a cocktail, given that those two subjects are also a large part of what I write about, we will make do.
The range of opinions is clearly quite broad, but there is certainly no shortage of sentiment about the lack of violence in ACW combat art. Given some of the opinions I've read, especially in the comments on Cenantua's blog, I wish to further my discussion.
I am not calling for the work of Troiani, Kunstler et al to be censored or purged from the market. I am asking for a more honest acknowledgment of what they are putting on the market as to whether it is accurate and realistic or not. If it is felt not to be, we should not acknowledge it as such. The choice belongs to us as consumers.
This art has a profound effect on our memory and understanding of the Civil War, and there is enough work to be done clearing up what really happened in our country after the comprehensive obfuscation of the Lost Cause mythology. We do have the opportunity to control what is regarded as realistic and correct in what we buy and sell as pertaining to the war, and must be honest in that appraisal.
While the works of these artists are undoubtedly accurate when it comes to location, uniforms, etc, they are equally inaccurate when it comes to depicting the realities of combat. Of course no one wants to buy a picture that shows bleeding and shattered men all over the place, but we cannot have it both ways. I would be most interested to know how these artists reconcile this disconnect and am curious as to whether it has even occurred to them.
This is an issue of some import, as we will see a larger and wider interest in the Civil War over the next few years as we approach the sesquicentennial. We are, therefore, in a unique position to help present the war as accurately as possible, to turn away from the techniques employed by Jubal Early and those who crafted a more palatable mythology to the detriment of historical record.
Make no mistake, Civil War combat art that excludes the brutality of war places as opaque a lens over the eye of history that anything Early or Douglas Southall Freeman could have written. To help lift that lens, we must have a higher expectation of paintings that we describe as "realistic" and "accurate". If they are to represent reality, we must insist that they are exactly that, or else not apply that adjective to them.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Excellent Discussions About Civil War Combat Art

It was quite serendipitious that my post of yesterday discussing Civil War combat art came right near the same time as some other posts came online. There was also some good conversation last night at debate has been quite lively, please avail yourself of posts at Cenantua's Blog and Civil War Memory. The richness of the conversation can be found in the comments section of each post. Please chime in here or at any of the other posts if you have thoughts.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Remembering Our Veterans With Accuracy And Respect: Why It's Time For A Moratorium On Civil War Combat Art

Today is the day that we remember our Veterans, and take a moment to give respect to their commitment and sacrifice. In this space, we consider how we have and continue to remember the American Civil War. Which brings us to the substance of this post, wherein I wish to again posit a criticism of the use of Civil War combat as a form of consumer art, especially when that work is given credit for "realism". I refer you please to my previous post on the subject where the work of Don Troiani, one of the most prolific ACW artists, was discussed.
The utter lack of reality within this medium resurfaced during the recent book chat on "Harvard's Civil War" a text with Troiani's "Fire on Caroline Street" on the cover. I brought this issue up in the chat given we were discussing the 20th Massachusetts Regiment's experience at the Battle of Fredericksburg. I presented my take on the complete absence of trauma or blood and mentioned this glaring lack of accuracy and candor in Troiani's work. Several of the people in the chat mentioned how they'd never noticed that before.
Somehow in the 147 years since the Civil War, amidst the mythologizing and glorifying, we've forgotten what a brutal and gruesome experience this was for the men who fought it. At some point, the reality of Civil War combat has given way to something that is acceptable to hang on the wall of someone's home. We've neglected, or perhaps chosen to consciously ignore or subconsciously block out, the grim realities that faced soldiers and civilians on Civil War battlefields.
This type of treatment is not so widely seen with other American wars. For example, The Jess and I did a Google and EBay search for artwork about the Normandy landings on June 6, 1944. There is a minute commercial market for such work, which demonstrates that it isn't, and by extension shouldn't, be roundly accepted. Too many people remember exactly what happened that day, and our memories of it are too stark and raw to be dumbed down like that.
So how come this sort of art is acceptable with regards to the Civil War? These paintings, and many others, are praised for their accuracy and bought and sold as commodities. They depict famous battle moments, to be sure, but the most salient point is that men, in the moments that are so memorable, also bled, suffered, and died on those spots. I do not believe the best way to remember what happened there is through this type of sanitized glorification of something truly awful.
The citizenry during the war, especially after the Battle of Shiloh, knew exactly what was happening. They were the first citizens to see the brutal reality of war through the camera lens, and communities were flooded with the wounded, and cemeteries filled with the dead. There were of course contemporary artist renderings of Civil War fighting, most from journalists and troops who witnessed fighting. This art, while certainly not as refined as Mr. Troiani's, pulled no punches when it came to showing destruction and death. You may be sure these depictions weren't getting slapped up on the walls of private homes.
There was no hiding from the realities of war in 1861-1865, and the Civil War should have been a seminal event in the way we think about war, one that would hopefully discourage us from ever wanting to see another. Somehow, this didn't happen. There is indeed a disconnect between the way we choose to think about Civil War combat and what actually transpired, and it is fed by this sort of pulp art that is only selectively correct and maximally palatable, but certainly not reality.
We have a responsibility to remember what soldiers in our wars have done, and we must emphasize the requirement that we do this honestly. It is not only inaccurate, but dishonest to continue to present Civil War combat in the way that we have become used to. To help cement my point, I give you some words from Mr. Troiani himself, quoted from
"If an historical painting is not reasonably accurate, then it's worthless both as art and as a historical document," Troiani declares. "If you are going to become involved in this field then there is little excuse for a pattern of inaccuracies."
Couldn't have said it better myself.

Monday, November 10, 2008

What Can Barack Obama Learn From Abraham Lincoln About Being President-Elect

After hearing James McPherson lecture about his new book, I found this article from the Chicago Tribune from November 9th. Dr. McPherson and Harold Holzer, another Lincoln scholar answered a few questions about lessons that can be derived from Abraham Lincoln about how to use the time as President-elect to your benefit. It's quite good, could have been a bit longer, but still interesting.

James McPherson On Virtual Book Signing

I just finished watching the anticipated (at least by me) interview of Dr. James McPherson on He was discussing his new book "Tried by War". What a blast it was, listening in and taking notes along the way to set up this post and also to help cement some of the salient points for my upcoming period of study of President Lincoln. I figure I'll start sometime late next year and into the next in anticipation of the 150th anniversary of Lincoln's election.
So whither McPherson and his new book? The impetus behind this book was the idea that little attention has been paid to Lincoln as commander-in-chief. He spoke about how Lincoln spent inordinate amounts of time studying, evaluating, and prosecuting the war, and how his process as commander in chief mirrored the way he both became and worked as an attorney.
Lincoln was not a great natural strategist, he had to work hard at it, just like he was a self-taught attorney. He spent time reading and cross-examining those around him who were knowledgeable, he could probe to depths of an issue and get to its essence, then utilize probably his greatest strength, his ability to communicate these complex ideas to any person at any level, from his own cabinet to far-flung regions of the Union.
In this effort, Lincoln not only satisfied his stated war aims, but extended the powers of the Executive branch and helped define the idea of war powers. In fact, he was the first president to ever use that term.
It's pretty amazing listening to Dr. McPherson discuss Lincoln and the Civil War. He clearly has an unparalleled command of the subject and also happens to have a great speaking voice. It is little wonder he is such a highly sought-after speaker and professor.
Virtual Book Signing and the Abraham Lincoln Bookstore did a fantastic job presenting this lecture, and of course my signed copy is in the mail. I also think I saw Mr. Triathlon's name in the list of patrons who bought a signed copy of the book. I ordered mine yesterday, so my order fell in the "many others" category. Anyway, if you missed it, it should be archived soon and available for free.

More Analysis Of "The Peculiar Institution"

I reviewed Kenneth Stampp's seminal treatment of slavery, titled "The Peculiar Institution" here several months ago. I'm pleased to see Rene Tyree, who runs Wigs-Wags, one of the best ACW blogs out there, reading and considering this book. Please take a look at his new post about it, the comment that I entered is below. I'm keen to see his response and please chime in on this issue whether you've read the book or not.
"I was struck, when I read the book, how Stampp used the work “positive” to describe those incentives. I don’t think it was for lack of a better term, I think he used it in a tongue-in-cheek manner. He knew full well how disgraceful it was to treat another human being like this, but managed to keep such editorial comment out of his book, which is one of it’s strengths. In using the word “positive”, I think he’s venting a little bit to show how there’s nothing at all positive about slavery"

Friday, November 7, 2008

Book Review: "Shiloh: Bloody April"

In writing a campaign history about the Battle of Shiloh, author Wiley Sword, in "Shiloh: Bloody April" has tackled an incredibly complex battle that took place on a massive scale with far-reaching repercussions. The primary one being the fact, because of the nearly 24,000 casualties and savage nature of the fighting, forever changed the way this nation looked at war.
Sword has done an excellent, though not flawless job of presenting this campaign to the reader. We get a solid introduction to the events preceding the battle and the how and why the opposing forces came together as they did. Each of the primary officers involved; Johnson, Bragg, Beauregard, Grant, Sherman, Buell, get an adequate treatment that is clearly foreshortened for the sake of brevity. The text is well-balanced and liberally sprinkled with references from both sides of the battle lines. There is a wonderful grasp of the themes surrounding the campaign, and they are laid out in a clear and concise fashion.
The book ended with a series of individual questions that address all of the important issues: Beauregard's withdrawal order the night of April 6th, the death of General Albert Johnson, who was the commanding officer for the South at Shiloh, with both the short and long-term consequences addressed, the fighting at the Hornet's Nest and the possibility of a Confederate breakthrough, Grant's attack order of April 7th, and, interestingly, a section entitled "Tactical Lessons of the Battlefield." This last one was truly unique, and left me wanting a much longer treatment of this issue.
The strength of the book, and the reason it is regarded as a classic treatment of the Battle of Shiloh, is Sword's ability to put the reader right in the midst of the battle amidst the noise, chaos, and violence. We vividly see how the troops were by-in-large inexperienced, the terrain was by turns rocky, swampy, flat, forest, shrub-covered, all the while split by ravines, the weather was marked by torrential rain, and the fighting was up close, personal, and particularly savage. Sword does not sanitize the battle and does not shy away from the blood and death, with the effect of reminding us, over and over again, that there is no glory in such destruction and that what the troops had to go through is just unforgettably horrible.
Shiloh was a hellish place, and the battlefield was unbelievably confused. In order to follow such a battle, the text is not enough. All of the names, terrain points, regiments, etc get jumbled together without a frame of reference. The solution is to have accurate, consistent, and plentiful maps. The maps in this book, however, are its biggest weakness. First, there is no single battlefield reference map with all of the locations and initial troop dispositions available to look back at. There is a map at the beginning, but it's totally incomplete. The maps are inconsistent, ie, the notations change from division to brigade to regimental level. Also, when looking at different parts of the lines on a map, everything else is excluded, so it looks like the action is happening in a vacuum.It takes a bit of flipping back and forth, which is at times frustrating, but the ebb and flow of the battle can be followed.
This battle was a national catastrophe that shocked the people of both North and South, both in its scale and its brutality. After Shiloh, there was no argument that this was going to be a long and difficult war. Sword's effort does a fantastic job of capturing the broad scale of the campaign, as well as the horror of the fighting at its most basic level. This is not a flawless regimental history, but "Shiloh: Bloody April" gets a strong recommendation. You will come away not only with a greatly enhanced fund of knowledge about this campaign, but also with a heavy heart.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

What Makes A Good Campaign History Book?

There is another fascinating piece to the Lost Cause mythology that we will soon be examining, and that is the emphasis that was and still is placed on the war in the Eastern Theater with the primary combatants being the Union Army of the Potomac vs the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia. To the detriment of this bias has been attention to the fighting and events that took place in the Western Theater, which encompasses the Trans-Mississippi and Tennessee Departments (among others) of both North and South. I have a solid background in the battles in the West, but not on par with my knowledge of the fighting in the East. To remedy this, I have lined up a nice array of campaign histories which I will review as I work through them, the first of which is Wiley Sword's "Shiloh, Bloody April" which I recently finished and will review soon. To follow are works by Peter Cozzens and Noah Alan Trudeau, among others. There are multiple requirements to satisfy in crafting a complete and accurate campaign history. Here are a few which we'll be using in our analysis of these books.
1. establishing a good context for how the battle came upon the opposing forces, and what the goals of each army where for the campaign.
2. providing a succinct introduction into the personalities leading each force, their idiosyncracies, motivations, foibles, etc.
3. having plenty of accurate, detailed, and readable battle maps to follow the flow of the action, otherwise the regiments, brigades, landmarks, rivers, etc become one big jumble in the text.
4. presenting a complete order of battle as an appendix, to figure out which element was under who, and what the chain of command looked like.
5. giving a view into the common soldier's view of the fighting, ie, put the reader on the ground with the men in the smoke and fire. It's one thing to read a general's after-action report, but the real emotion and power comes in learning about how young men bore up under such extreme and terrifying circumstances.
6. balance, balance, balance. There must be equal attention paid to both sides. A good campaign history should be neither trumpeting the victors nor an apologia for the losers. These battles are so complex, it's importance that the errors and bravery on both sides have a moment of clarity.
7. having a clear presentation of the aftermath of the campaign; were aims met, was anything in particular precipitated by the action, where would the armies go from there.
Keeping these properties in mind will help give a foundation for analysis in moving forward with these texts; I know there are probably other thoughts, please add them by putting in a comment.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Post-Election Refreshments Courtesy of Imbibe Magazine

Leave it to the bright and creative minds at Imbibe Magazine to give us some brilliant refreshment choices to help us celebrate the election of President-elect Obama, or at the very least, the end of this grueling campaign season. If you taste them, pass on your thoughts, and I'll have some new recipes of my own to pass along soonest.

A Good Day Yesterday

Yesterday's events were marvelously special, and President-elect Obama's speech was something to see indeed! Given that the study of the Civil War is an engrossing interest of mine, I've been drawn to seeking parallels between this election season and those from 1860. They're not hard to find, as I along with many other authors and bloggers have opined.
I have also long-enjoyed referencing the erudite writings of Tom Friedman from the NY Times, and in a fascinating sychronicity, Mr. Friedman and the links between this election and the Civil War merged last night. Please spend some time here reflecting on the idea that the election of Barack Obama as President of the United States marks an endpoint of the Civil War.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

The Lost Cause Mythology: Evaluating The Stonewall Jackson Orthodoxy

We spent a few lines last week meeting the General Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson of myth and lore, and he is a powerful figure in American memory to say the least. Redressing these ideas is a bit of a challenge, not because of a paucity of data, but because of the strong feelings that are evoked when men like Jackson, Gen. Robert E Lee, et al get a proper historical treatment. Nevertheless, we shall go forward undaunted. There are themes we will discuss that deserve, and have received, book-length treatments; I include them here briefly to add depth to our discussion, if you want more info on any particular point, I would be happy to direct you to any number of resources.
First, a few bits of background. Jackson was born in Virginia and lived there until he went to West Point. He grew up with slaves and later became a slaveowner himself. Per author James Robertson, Jackson believed in the divine assignment of negroes to servitude as his rationalization for keeping humans in bondage. He fought for the United States in the Mexican-American War and was an instructor at VMI when the Civil War broke out. In that moment, he turned his back on the nation he had previously fought and killed for and joined the Confederate Army, where he would become the Stonewall Jackson we read about today.
On his effectiveness as a soldier in the Eastern Theater, there is no dispute that he was bold, aggressive, and sometimes brilliant. He led his troops into the Union rear to capture the Army of Virginia's supply depot before the Battle of Second Bull Run in August, 1862. His flank attack at Chancellorsville still remains his most famous maneuver, and is held in wide esteem.
He could also be neglectful, tardy, and foolish, and his abuses of his men are well-documented. His inability to effectively fight along with his near catastrophic tardiness during the Seven Days Campaign also cannot be disputed. On balance, Jackson was a very effective battlefield commander, but was by no means perfect.
Jackson the man was also an incredibly bizarre and not uncommonly cruel man. It is hard to believe he didn't have Body Dysmorphic Disorder, as he was convinced one leg was shorter than the other, he insisted on only sitting in straight-backed chairs to keep his organs aligned, and he rode with one arm in the air so the blood would drain out of it.
His own troops were subjected to his more brutal idiosyncracies; men who fell out on marches were arrested and often punished, frequently by flogging, sometimes by execution, but Jackson himself was not held to this standard as he rode a horse next to his hard-marching troops, and when he fell asleep and failed to follow orders during the Seven Days Battle, received no censure.
So with this decidedly mixed service history, why was Jackson, among so many other Confederate officers, singled out for legend status. Let us turn to the nickname "Stonewall" as a guide. At the Battle of First Bull Run, Jackson was a brigadier general under Gen Barnard Bee, and during the fighting around Henry House Hill and Matthews Hill, brought his troops up near the front. When Bee saw this brigade, which he had just ordered to move up into the fight, he reportedly said "There stands Jackson and his men, like a stone wall."
There is no way to know exactly what Bee meant when he said this, as he was shot and killed later that day, but at least one witness to the conversation and Bee's statement later said "I'm not the least sure Gen. Bee's remark was meant as a compliment." Questions remain today about Jackson's conduct that earned this sobriquet, and whether it was to be derisive or complimentary. As David Detzer writes in his book "Donnybrook", Jackson's "performance at Bull Run was actually no more courageous or resolute or dogged or unyielding than that of dozens of other officers on both sides." (pg 339)
Regardless, Jackson had a catchy new name, and with it, he went forth into the Shenandoah Valley in the spring of 1862 and proceeded to, in a series of small battles and brutal forced marches, muddle up and defeat three different larger Union forces. (Keep in mind, please, about the admitted bias of the previous treatment of this battle by Tanner). Through these efforts, he garnished headlines and newspapers seized on the memorable nickname he carried, regardless of its origin.
This period of time was a difficult one for the Confederacy on all fronts. At sea, the Union blockade was beginning to strangle Southern shipping and, in the first battle of ironclad warships, the Monitor had been thwarted by the U.S.S. Merrimac. In the Eastern Theater, the Army of the Potomac was launching the Peninsula Campaign, and in the West, the Confederacy was being rapidly overrun with the advance of Grant's army and the Union's chain of victories culminating at Shiloh on April 6th, 1862. The commercial centers of Nashville and New Orleans, as well as large stretches of the Mississippi River were under Union control.
The Confederacy needed a boost and the beleaguered state of Virginia needed someone to rally behind (keeping in mind that Jackson was the highest ranking Virginian in the field as Lee was still behind a desk in Richmond), and in a strike of serendipity, Jackson was leading his men into the Valley and winning battle after battle.
Any potential pejorative connotation from Bee's appellation was forgotten, and this nickname "Stonewall" was thrust into the headlines. As Detzer wrote, "The Confederacy needed heroes. There was also the subtle matter of state pride...Virginians wanted a favorite son of their own." (pg 339) The nickname took hold over the next months, and Jackson rapidly became a favorite son of the Confederacy.
His star was at its apex when he was accidentally shot by his own men during the Battle of Chancellorsville, just hours after his famed flank attack, and died 8 days later. From there the idealization reached higher and higher, and after the war, was used at the expense of fellow Confederate officers who suffered reverses. One of the most prominent of these is General Robert Ewell at Cemetery Hill at the 1st day of Gettysburg, and the controversy over whether Jackson would have charged the Union emplacement and thus won the day for the Confederacy.
Another is the treatment that befell General James Longstreet after the war, which will be covered in a future post.
On one hand in this mythology is the brilliance of the dead Jackson, on the other hand is the besmirching and discrediting of Longstreet (just look at his bizarre monument at Gettysburg to see the culmination of this) The irony is that Longstreet was also shot by his own men at the Battle of the Wilderness. The difference is, he survived his wound, which begs the question if whether in death Jackson escaped the sort of scrutiny that Longstreet received. The post-war treatment of Longstreet is a long and baffling story, please see Piston's "Lee's Tarnished Lieutenant" for more.
Because of his successful campaigns and untimely death, Jackson was not only made into a figurehead for the army and an idealized soldier but also as the paragon representative of Virginia and the Southern cause. Attention was not paid to the way he treated his own men or his near-disastrous failings at the Seven Days Battle, nor to his bizarre personality. The South needed heroes and men to rally behind; Jackson became that man.
This idealization has only been amplified over the past decades, especially through the writings of Freeman, Tanner, and more recently, Robertson, who wrote in 1997 that Jackson's efforts should "remain treasured legacies of the American people just as they are inspirations to people everywhere." It also continues in popular culture, most vividly in the depiction of Jackson in the movie "Gods and Generals" If you haven't seen it yourself, believe me when I say all that was missing was a halo around his head. It is also this idealized Jackson that is painted onto canvas, plates, t-shirts, etc. and enthusiastically purchased by fans.
It is clear; however, that when the whole man is examined, that the time for this era has passed, Jackson was a man who owned slaves and used religion as an excuse for it, turned against the uniform he had once worn proudly, and, though a oft-successful battlefield commander, frequently treated the men who made his reputation like dogs.
We should not continue to subscribe to the hero-worship borne of the Lost Cause mythology. We must treat Confederate officers like Jackson and Lee, (as well as their Union counterparts) with respect, and part of that is to be honest about who they were and what they did; acknowledging their strengths, but also to their flaws. In that spirit, we can appreciate Stonewall Jackson's frequent, but not constant, tactical success, but we must free ourselves of the ideas of him as a paragon of virtue, an icon of devotion, and as any sort of hero, for they are neither earned nor deserved.