I am a beneficiary of hard war

Posted on July 30, 2012 by


I don’t know, but it seems to sound about as silly as saying “I’m a victim of Sherman… or Sheridan… or fill-in name here.

So let me try the “victim” angle again.

Instead of “victim”, how about refering to oneself as…

“One who suffers the long-term ill-effects that the war laid upon my poor departed kin-folk, so many generations ago.”

Nope; still sounds silly.

It seems there is discussion about how Southerners should… or should not… “remember” episodes within the late war of unpleasantness…

I’ve seen it expanded beyond a recent post by Kevin, but, let’s just keep things within scope.

First, I’m a Southerner and every last one of my direct/lineal Civil War era ancestors were Southern.

Hold that thought for just a sec… I’ll say it again… every last one of my direct/lineal Civil War era ancestors were Southern


… not all were Confederate.

Some were; some weren’t; and some didn’t really appear to give a hoot one way or the other… they just wanted to be left alone and let the warring parties keep to their own business.

While I’m fortunate not to have lost a single direct ancestor (wounded, yes; killed, no) because of the war (at least from an immediate cause of the war, during the war years), I had plenty of distant uncles and cousins who lay a moulderin’ in the ground as a result of the war. Many wore gray… some wore blue… and some were civilians (and one may have been a woman who died because of a drunk Confederate). War even devastated certain areas in which they lived… the majority being in the central Shenandoah Valley, with some just across the Blue Ridge, in Madison County… and some in western Maryland and western Kentucky.

Yet, I don’t see myself a victim of any of the depredations laid upon my ancestors because of some general in the Civil War.

Even if I were at rock-bottom in my luck, to me, suggesting such a thing as even remotely related to my condition, almost 150 years later, is ridiculous.

As for stories of suffering… there aren’t many that made it down to me.

There’s one, from Kentucky, about hiding silverware and hams from Yankees… but truth be known, it could be the Confederates they were hiding them from, as those kin wore blue. Or, it could be that they were hiding from both!

Yet, the one story that I took hold of on my own, involved the death of my third great grandmother’s fiance. The poor fellow (who was also a cousin of mine) suffered the fate of a Federal firing squad… after the war. Knee-jerk response seems to merit the cry “bad ol’ Yankees!” I’ll even admit, when I learned about it (no, it was not a story passed down through generations), I was a bit irked as well. But, getting common sense about me, I took the time to learn, in detail, what happened, and…  there’s a lot more to it than that which meets the eye. I spent a lot of time trying to figure out the particulars… which eventually ended up in a book.

I’m not saying you need to write a book, but you need to set aside emotion and start weeding out the chaff to get to the wheat. Even then, what’s the point in getting your garter all twistylike?

So, let me go back to the title… am I a beneficiary of hard war?


For you see, had that former Confederate cavalry sergeant… my third great grandmother’s fiance… not been shot, well, it doesn’t take much, I think, to figure out the massive possibilities in reconfiguring family trees… and the descendants in the newly structured lines… in which I might not be numbered.

But, let’s consider the aftermath of a hard war and how people got by…

The Shenandoah Valley got more than rattled during the war, especially during the “Burning”, but… in the wake of war came some pretty exceptional opportunities that helped bring the Valley and its people back on their feet. The railroad became a huge employer, and my people (many lived east of the Massanutten, in the Page or Luray Valley, where it opened for regular running in 1881) took advantage of it. Railroading and subsistence farming comes down the line, from just after Reconstruction (and before), all the way through the 1970s. So, good things did come out of the wake of war, and I think my ancestors who descended from Civil War folks, knew to appreciate a good thing when they saw it. They moved forward, leaving (most of them, at least) the past to the past.

Maybe it’s just that I can see a glass half-full, as opposed to half-empty… but I think my people… all Southron… did pretty well for themselves in the years and generations since the Civil War. Sure, there were tough times (corn-mush days, I call’em… and those were real, not imagined, even in the post-depression era), but more importantly, they were survivors who didn’t pass feelings of bitterness on down the line… nor did they encourage refueling emotions that might have existed in the past.

Are some of the stories based  on truth? Absolutely, but don’t fool yourself… frankly, there’s a lot of “engineered/manufactured memory” out there… much, much more than what has really been passed down through generations (not to mention, it seems funny how some stuff has seemed to slip from memory; but give it time, someone’s gonna manufacture some historical memory from that now… I can almost guarantee it).

Once again… I think a good many were fine in letting the past be the past.

I still remember asking one of my grandmothers for stories of the Civil War… and her reply…

“You don’t need to know all that, it was a long time ago.”

Funny thing is, she also had another phrase that struck me even harder…

“John Brown’s dead, and the big day is over.”

… but, I need not know where that saying originated… I reckon…