Has the Sesqui of the ’62 Shenandoah Valley Campaign fallen short?

Posted on June 7, 2012 by

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In writing about Turner Ashby yesterday, I kept thinking about (but wrote nothing of it) how all has gone, so far, in the Sesqui of the Shenandoah Valley Campaign of 1862, and feel that the 150th has served as a benchmark of sorts. I think when the Sesqui began, many of us in the CW blogosphere, asked if it would really be any different than the Centennial. As the Sesqui of the ’62 Valley Campaign winds down, I do believe that it has fallen short.

Sure, I wasn’t around for the events of the Centennial, but taking into consideration the descriptions of events in 1962, I think the Sesqui of the ’62 Valley Campaign may have been a ramped-up version of the Centennial. No doubt, there were some much larger events during the Sesqui, but… have they really told us anything… about ourselves and that part of our past… that hasn’t been told before? Instead, are we getting the generic/standard fare outpouring of the stories of battles and commanders, and a Valley of Confederate-embracing people? Sure, these things are relevant, and important to revisit, but have we not learned anything new… more comprehensive, more encompassing of ALL of the people involved, HERE in the Valley, than that which was told in 1962?

As a follower of one Facebook page, in particular, I really got the feel that it was quite often a “Confederate love-fest”. There was much, MUCH praise of Jackson, and many quotes of Confederate soldiers used… while Union accounts were few and far between… if present at all. Frankly, I find the very slanted approach very unbalanced.*

Given the understanding of the stories I often tell here, I can hear people now, in the wake of these few comments… “Oh, if they had focused more on Southern Unionists, you would have been happier?”

If that’s the case for any of the readers of this blog… they miss my point.

Let’s say, in 2014, the same organization approached it, praising Hunter and Sheridan in the same manner as they approached Jackson for the ’62 Campaign. In that case, I’d be equally bothered.

I wonder sometimes if the events of the Sesqui in the Valley are actually reflections of what people have come to expect… that this is the Shenandoah Valley, and Stonewall Jackson did remarkable things here, in 1862; and the people here, with ancestors who populated units such as the Stonewall Brigade and Turner Ashby’s cavalry (later know, in 1864, as the “Laurel Brigade”) represent the Valley as a whole (tied closely with the assumed… the Valley was part of the South, and therefore embraced the Confederacy) mindset.

Well, not exactly. That’s only part of the story, and a limited, if not restricted, one at that.

The point is this… the Valley and its history would be better served with “blinders” removed, and I think that any organization that takes the history of this place seriously, should do just that. The Valley, even within the scope of a mere four years, has much more to offer in telling its history. That reality found in that complexity and diversity of sentiments is much richer than a story that so closely mirrors that told during the Centennial. There are stories here that… while some find them distasteful to that “memory” filled with standard fare… actually tell us more about the people who lived here, and how they dealt, in their own way, with the complicated affair of a war… as opposed to stories, as told, revealing more about how people manipulate history in order to self-satisfy themselves, and others who follow on a particular path.

I ask again, have we not learned more about the people in the Valley at that time… those who were both from here, and from outside? To me, the observation of the people… the common man & woman… of the past is critical. How can we not appreciate that side… the human element in war, and how can we not appreciate that there were differences in the way people approached war and the trials of life during that time? Fortunately, we do have an advantage as people who look back, at all that has come out about the history here, over the past 150 years. Why then do some continue to live as if they are still in the mindset of the 1860s, and in that mindset only because of the way they have imprisoned themselves with that which those in succeeding generations found more palatable? By doing such many do a disservice to our past and our future.

*Then too, while there were programs, among smaller local heritage groups, about the civilians of the Valley… it appears (please correct me if I’m mistaken, as I didn’t attend these civilian-focused presentations) they have been about those who embraced the Confederate Cause.  More importantly… nothing/no one has dared to touch the story of slaves and free blacks in the Valley during the war (I warned you)… and that is even more shameful and reflective of the Centennial mindset.

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