Civil War “forgetfulness?” Ummm, sure… so “where did the love go?”

Posted on December 1, 2008 by

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Noting a remark in a post made on Richard William’s blog that demonstrates Richard’s belief that saying “Civil War ‘forgetfulness'” is more appropriate than saying “Civil War ‘memory'” (I would argue that both “forgetfulness” and “memory” have valid places in understanding the way people reflect on the war, but that will come in another post), something came to mind.

Nearly 150 years since the war, I find it interesting the way that some people don assumed Civil War era animosities. Granted, some people do have ancestors who, in some way, passed animosity down the family lines (exactly how “original” that animosity is today, as compared to how it existed then, is questionable), but do one or two ancestors (just used as an example here) define the sentiments of ALL our ancestors who lived through the war? So why do some people today engage in the practice of identifying with assumed animosities?

I know for a fact that one of my direct ancestors – Charles Robert Hilliard – upon learning that the person from whom he was purchasing a farm implement was a veteran of the Union army, refused to have lunch with the man.

On the other hand, another direct Confederate ancestor of mine – Siram W. Offenbacker – despite his financial woes, made every effort to attend the huge 50th anniversary reunion at Gettysburg in 1913 and exchange greetings with former foe – only a year before his own death.

So again, do one or two ancestors define the sentiments of ALL our ancestors who lived through the war (or, in the absence of any real linkage with animosities in any ancestors, do we assume animosities just to say we can better identify with an ancestor or set of ancestors of choice)? Not likely. Nor do we have the right to reflect on Union or Confederate soldiers with the same (assuming they are the same) animosities felt by those who lived it. So, are assumed animosities in people in the 21st century a reflection of “memory,” or are they a reflection of “forgetfulness?”

As I already mentioned, there was animosity in some men from both sides. However, as the years passed by, there is evidence that animosities did not dominate all of the actions of veteran organizations. As an example, I remember reading about a meeting held in a convention in Virginia among Confederate veterans, when one veteran stood up and swore that he would not meet with his former enemies (I think this was in Gaines Foster’s Ghosts of the Confederacy). This man was quickly shouted down by the majority of Confederate veterans present, and the reunion did in fact take place.

So, in today’s “remembrance,” how many have “forgotten” the example of reconciliation as displayed in our the actions of our ancestors? Additionally, are not animosities assumed and exhibited today examples of “imagined memory?”

All this having been said… consider this…

Near the time of his death in July 1885, former general and President Ulysses S. Grant, felt that he had lived to see true reconciliation and reunion in the country. In fact, even before Grant’s death, former Confederate General Fitzhugh Lee worked in unison with former Union General Winfield S. Hancock in planning for the day. One newspaper reported of his funeral that “if the war didn’t end in 1865, it certainly did yesterday [at the funeral].” Among his pallbearers were former Confederate Generals Joseph E. Johnson and Simon Bolivar Buckner, as well as former Union General William T. Sherman.

Even years before Grant’s death, while Gen. Robert E. Lee was serving as President of Washington College (now Washington & Lee University), Lee scornfully rebuked a peer when he denigrated Grant in front of him.

Perhaps then, the response of Page County’s own Confederate veterans should not be surprising as most appear to have emulated the example made by Lee. At least that is the way it appears in an article from an August 1885 edition of the Page News, published soon after Grant’s death. As stated in the article, most of the men named to the committee to honor Grant were local Confederate veterans, some of whom had been present at the Luray-Carlisle Reunions that had taken place in 1881.

The Grant Memorial Meeting

A meeting of the citizens of the town and county, including a number of ex-Confederate soldiers, assembled in the Court House at 2 o’clock p.m., Saturday, August 8th, and was called to order by Maj. A.J. Brand, who stated that in response to the request of the Governor of Virginia [Confederate Veteran and Democrat William Evelyn Cameron], we were here to pay tribute to the memory of General Grant.

Upon motion of Maj. J.G. Newman, Judge James E. Stewart, was elected Chairman, and E.A. Wilson, Esq., Sec’y, paid a high tribute to the character of the distinguished dead.

Upon motion a Committee was appointed to draft suitable resolutions. The Chair named the following gentlemen: Maj. J.G. Newman, Dr. H.J. Smoot, Andrew Broaddus, Esq., Maj. A.J. Brand, Col. W.O. Yager, Messrs. T.R. Campbell, Sr., Solon T. Kite, W.W. Hampton, T.C. Strickler, William H. Somers, S.K. Wright, Jno. N. Mauck, and

The Committee submitted the following resolutions, which were adopted:

Resolved, That the Southern soldiers and citizens of Page County deeply deplore the death of the distinguished soldier, patriot, and statesman, General U.S. Grant, whose memory will ever be cherished by them for his magnanimity in their darkest hour.

Resolved, That the firm and courageous stand of General Grant, by which he prevented the arrest and prosecution of that illustrious Confederate General, Robert E. Lee, and other Southern soldiers, entitles him to the lasting gratitude of every American patriot.

Resolved, That as a warrior and statesman, General Grant gained a renown which elicited the admiration and applause of all mankind, yet his demeanor and bearing was always that of modest and unpretending citizen.

Resolved, That we unite with all patriotic citizens of the Republic in lamenting the death of the eminent soldier, statesman, and patriot, yet we rejoice that he lived long enough to receive assurances of the sympathy of all brave men, who had antagonized him in war, and to realize the most earnest desire of his heart – a restored and happy union of fifty-five millions of American freemen bound together by fraternal ties which we ardently hope will ever remain indissoluble and imperishable.

Resolved, That the newspapers are requested to publish these proceedings, and that the Judges of the County and Circuit Courts of Page County are requested to have them entered of record in the minute books of their respective Courts.

Pathetic and eloquent speeches were delivered by Maj. J.G. Newman, Maj. A.J. Brand, Dr. H.J. Smoot, Andrew Broaddus, Esq., and the Chairman, Hon. James E. Stewart.

So, as far as “forgetfulness” goes, in the act of reflecting, in modern times, on our ancestors and the general actions of veterans in reconciliation efforts, “where did the love go?”

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