The first thing that strikes me about Strother’s recollections is that, even after the war, he refers to himself as a Virginian, not as a West Virginian. Does this have a purpose or is it simply a projection of who he was, what he was, at the time these events were unfolding?
Obviously, he sees himself as a Southerner and knows the culture in which he lived. If you haven’t picked-up on it, or did not know prior to reading, he seems accepting of the fact that slavery is a part of Southern culture. I sincerely believe he is among those who saw slavery as part of the “status quo”, and that leaving the issue alone would preserve the peace (perhaps I should have featured his report of the John Brown trial prior to featuring his recollections). Yet, slavery as part of the “status quo” did not trump the importance of Union. As I have mentioned before about his neighbors in western Maryland, many of them were simply not willing to forsake Union in the name of slavery. That said, I think he is equally as frustrated with Northern abolitionists as he is with Southern fire-eaters. I think it’s clear that he especially thinks little of the Richmond hotheads who continue to push for Virginia’s secession. This isn’t surprising, because Richmond and those people “along the James” leading to the mountains, did not accurately reflect the mindset of all of Virginians. Sentiment varied throughout the state, and was particularly cautious in the Shenandoah Valley.
Strother is also quick to point out the flaws in the press, Northern and Southern, in stereotyping the other section. A well-traveled man, he knows the truth about the different people of both sections, and predicts the folly that will come because of these claims.
Yet, what’s at the heart of Strother’s Unionism? In his piece on Strother in Enemies of the Country, Jonathan M. Berkey writes,
Strother’s private civil war reveals that although they often competed, family loyalty uneasily existed with national loyalty in the hearts and minds of even the most committed Southern Unionists. Strother’s experience also shows, however, that the act of juggling family and national loyalty was fraught with dangerous consequences for those who demonstrated their loyalty in this most extreme form – and for their relatives as well.
There was conflict without and within. Secession was no easy decision. States’ rights was no quick rallying point. One of the most significant things we can take from this and reading Strother’s recollections is that the decisions faced by Virginians, probably most Virginians, were not at all easy. Strother wanted peace. He did not advocate for the abolitionists or the fire-eaters. On the other hand, Strother grew increasingly intolerant of the chaos that he found in his native state. We’ll see more of how this intolerance grew, as we continued to read Strother’s account.
On another note, if you haven’t picked up on it yet, note the lead-in to events, the “…”. He doesn’t use dates to introduce different journal entries. If you are familiar with the time-line of events in Virginia in 1860-61, you can generally tell on what dates certain entries fall.