A snowball effect: the continued propagation of bad history in Confederate History Month in Va.

Posted on April 21, 2010 by


It just continues to get worse.

As Kevin pointed out in a post yesterday, the S.C.V. camp in Harrisonburg/Rockingham County placed a proclamation in the Harrisonburg Daily New Record. Rockingham isn’t my home county, but I do have ancestry (including one third great grandfather in Co. A of the 58th Virginia Militia, and several cousins in other units formed in Rockingham County) from there and I know enough to be aware of the problems in the wording of the proclamation in regard to local history. Forget the rhetorical pitch (which is bad enough), I’m going after the attempt to revise the actual history of Rockingham County and it’s citizens in the Civil War. Yes, you heard that right, revisionists history by Confederate celebrationists.

First, let’s talk about the vote for secession and Rockingham County’s delegates to the convention. All three delegates – Samuel A. Coffman, Algernon S. Gray, and John Francis Lewis – voted initially against secession on April 4. On the second vote on April 17, Coffman voted for it, but Gray voted initially against it and then changed his vote. At one point, Gray even made a pitch for the Union that brought the delegation to tears. Lewis, on the other hand, voted against it again. It was no slam dunk for the Confederacy on the part of Rockingham’s delegates. Of course, you won’t know the complicated details behind the votes of Rockingham’s delegates by reading the proclamation. After all, they want you to focus on all the “good stuff” related to Rockingham’s part in the Confederacy.

Second, you have that complicated matter with the second “Whereas”…

upheld her rights as specified in her Constitution, and her ratification of the Constitution of these United States, with the overwhelming support of her citizens by vote, withdrew from the Union on 17 April 1861

Really? While it is true that the secession convention moved to secede on April 17, the citizens had not been given the opportunity to decide yet. In fact, that vote didn’t come until May 23. Of course, if you look at Virginia’s actions prior to the 23rd, did the vote/voice of the citizens really matter? Furthermore, when you understand the measures of coercion used in the referendum, you begin to realize that “overwhelming” might be pushing the envelope when it comes to defining the support of Virginia’s citizens, most especially those in Rockingham County and the Valley.

Sure, many citizens in Rockingham County supported the Confederacy, but let’s see a little more honesty. All 23,500 were not among the supporters. Elder John Kline surely wasn’t. What about the nearly 250 citizens of Rockingham County who applied for a Loyalist Claim? What about those who didn’t but are listed in those Loyalist Claims as having been among the local unconditional Unionists? What about those Rockingham folks like Jacob P. Kyger who ended up wearing blue? What about the 1,163 men who were age-eligible and aren’t on any muster rolls for the Confederacy?

As I mentioned in my comment to Kevin’s post, another problem is that of the 3,000 men who did wear gray, the S.C.V. camp’s proclamation fails to grapple with the nature of service of all of these men. Men in the militia did not enlist, but were “activated” (some considered themselves conscripted, even before the first Confederate Conscription Act). When Jackson disbanded the militia in the Valley in ’62 (in order to bring more men into the ranks of the regular army), how many did not enlist in other units, but sought exemptions from military service? Furthermore, of those in the regular army, how many were conscripts, forced to serve… and did not believe in the objectives of the Confederacy? How many deserted and remained away from the army? How many disaffected and disillusioned Confederates can be counted among those 3,000? How many used the reserves as a means to stay out of the regular army, even when the third Conscription Act called for all men between the ages of 17-50? How many of the 3,000 from 4.163 had no interests in the Confederacy or became disgruntled with it in a year, two, or even three? Doesn’t matter… they don’t want us to know that… it’s bad for “Confederate PR.”

What about all those free blacks and slaves who supported the Confederacy? Can they give names? Are they just suggesting what they do based on the story of the slave “Fanny“, and forgetting that even though she aided Confederate wounded, she “left for freedom with Sheridan’s army in 1864”? Even if the slaves and free blacks can’t be named, name the incidents in which they gave support. Even so, can they give the names of those slaves who left Rockingham when afforded the opportunity by Union troops? Can they list the names of the free blacks who were forced into the service of the Confederacy? Why don’t they make an equal effort to recognize those people who were forced? After all, didn’t they make the Confederate war machine work a little more smoothly?

You won’t find the answers in this proclamation, because they don’t want you to think about those people. They just want you to think that the people of Rockingham County were good Confederates by default

Forget the Unionists, forget the leave-aloners, forget the slaves and free blacks who had no interest in the Confederacy, forget those who became fed-up with the Confederacy, even after they had initially been among those enthusiastic to enlist. It’s Confederate History Month, so forget everything else.

It’s clear that history doesn’t matter to some…

* To round-out your diet of Rockingham County history in the Civil War, be sure to supplement your reading with Unionists and the Civil War Experience in the Shenandoah Valley. Volumes I through VI are available, with more in the works.