Bull Runnings Research Assignment: Why Were Ricketts and Griffin on Henry Hill?

The other day, Harry Smeltzer and I were bantering back and forth about the Civil War.  And if you know Harry, then you know he’s a “one battle” guy, sorta…. that being First Manassas or First Bull Run, depending on how you button your shirt.  Well that spawned a question to ponder.

The question in mind is exactly what were Captains James Ricketts and Charles Griffin supposed to do with their batteries upon reaching Henry Hill?  As Harry says:

This move has often been criticized over the years, sometimes even described as a turning point of the battle. But, why exactly did McDowell send his artillery there? What was he thinking? How did he want to uses them, as flying artillery, in place of infantry, as what?

Indeed, we often read about how bad the deployment was.  And furthermore how when the Confederates overran the guns, the Federal line just collapsed.  But let us back that up just a bit.  What was McDowell sending those batteries forward to accoplish?  What was their mission?

Mission…  In the modern context, Field Artillery’s mission on the battlefield, as defined in FM3-09.22 is:

The mission of the Field Artillery is to provide responsive lethal and nonlethal fires and to integrate and synchronize the effects of fires to achieve the supported commander’s intent.

I’m not going to say this applied blindly, totally to the Civil War.  But I submit in the sense there are natural rules and practices (what I like to call the “Water flows down hill” rules of military science).  And with that, field artillery’s mission is relatively constant through the ages.  I need to queue up XBradTC here for a proper “military science” comparison of the mission and roles – comparing that of the Civil War to modern employments.

But that is “mission” in the sense of “why does the army have all these cannons in the first place?”  At the tactical level, the derivative of that over-arching mission is an instruction as to what the guns should accomplish with their projectiles.  For instance:  “Drive off the enemy’s guns”; “Drive off the enemy’s infantry”; “Prevent the enemy from attacking the hill”; or “Support the attack of our infantry.”  In short, the commander normally details where he wants the battery commander to stick that shot, shell, and canister.

What we are looking at with regard to Henry Hill is what exactly did McDowell charge Griffin and Ricketts to accomplish with their guns?  Was it simply to occupy the hill?  If so, was that a “mission” that fell within that broader mission sense, cited above?   Or was it in fact an infantry mission, just assigned to the artillery?  Or, was there a traditional artillery mission in mind?

And keep in mind that “employing them as Flying Artillery” is not a mission.  That’s a tactic.  And it is a dubious tactic to apply to the Civil War?  Why do I say that?  Well go back to the manuals of the day…. The Instructions for Field Artillery (1861 edition), John Gibbon’s Artillerist’s Manual, or even across the “pond” to the Royal Army’s Major F.A. Griffinths’ Artillerist’s Manual, for example… none of them mention “flying artillery,” as a tactic, much less define it.

Allow me to over-simplify something that properly requires a full set of posts – The notion of a flying artillery tactic was derived from Napoleonic forms of employment, adapted to American situations… then determined to be simply another way of saying the same thing that already had a name!   You see, the notion of flying artillery was just the use of mounted artillery as mounted artillery was supposed to be used.  The label was simply a way of conveying the jargon of artillery tactics to those smaller minded folks in the infantry.

And even if we allow for “flying artillery” to be a tactic which McDowell might have had on his mind, that is still just a “tactic.”  So if allowing for such usage, it would have been the “how” and not the “what” that we seek here. So let us not get wrapped around this label of flying artillery.

Stick to the target – what was the target – the mission – given to Ricketts and Griffin?  If you have a mind to that question… click over to Harry’s place and drop a comment.

If the Dutch can confront their complex history, can we?

I think it a good practice to consider how other countries and cultures chose to display their history, and heritage, in public spaces.  For instance, from Goirle, Netherlands:

The helmet identifies the nationality and context of this figure very well – he is a German soldier.  A soldier serving in the German Army in World War II.  Why would the Dutch people chose to honor a soldier from an army which occupied their country – a brutal occupation I would add – with a statue? An article from War History Online offers some background for this statue memorializing Karl-Heinz Rosch:

October 6, 1944 – Three days after Rosch’s turned 18, the young German soldier, along with his platoon, was stationed in a farm in Goirle when Allied forces took fire on them. He was about to hide in the basement along with his comrades when he noticed that the two children of the farmer who owned the land seemed oblivious of the danger that was on them and continued to play in the courtyard. He quickly dashed to them, took each in his arms and brought them into the safety of the basement. He again ran outside to position himself on the other side of the courtyard when a grenade hit him right at the spot where the children were earlier.

The article goes on to say that Rosch was killed on the spot. Years pass and yet the villagers of Goirle remembered the incident.  It stood out large among many other, arguably more important, incidents during World War II.  Rosch’s story was a part of their shared history.  But it was not one that could be spoken of without reservation.  After all, Rosch was “...just a damn Kraut” in the eyes of some. Then after three-quarters of a century, the village decided something should be done.  Herman van Rouwendaal, a former city councilor of the area, determined in 2008 that it was time to bring Rosch’s story out into the light of day.  To explain and interpret this display, the statue has this plaque at the base:

I’m not going to fool you with my attempt to translate the whole.  It is the last line which stands out to me:

Dit beeld is een eerbetoon aan hem en allen die het goede doen in kwade tijden.

My Dutch is not even passing. But from about every other word I can translate, I get:

This is a tribute to him and all who do good in bad times.

The direct approach to the “good, bad, and ugly” of history. But this project was not necessarily a “feel good” story where everyone simply joined hands to agree. Those advocating for the memorial argued with others contending that no honors should be offered to soldiers who fought for Nazi Germany during World War II.  In the end, the memorial was placed on private space, without public funding.  But the display was allowed. The article provides another “gem” for us to consider.  Rouwendaal went on to say:

Some Dutch are caught in a black-and-white way of thinking. The Germans were all Nazis, the Dutch were all good. That there were also unsavory characters among us, who for example betrayed Jews and robbed them, one does not like to hear… We will not be honoring the Wehrmacht, but rather the humanity of a young German soldier.

At a time in our history where many loud calls are made towards extreme ends about memorials and unsavory aspects of our own history, we might paraphrase Rouwendaal’s to reflect that “some Americans” are caught up “in a black-and-white way of thinking.”  I don’t think that would be threading the eye of some needle.

Brandy Station Battle App now available for download

Civil War Trust has added another Battle App to their menu. The latest focuses on the battlefield at Brandy Station:


The Brandy Station Battle App includes the features we’ve grown to enjoy with the earlier selections in the series.  But, as we’ve seen with the other apps, there is a need to tailor the content presentation to meet the requirements of the field.  For instance, Brandy Station has a larger map than many of the earlier Battle Apps:


We’ve seen larger maps – say for the Overland, Petersburg, Appomattox, or Atlanta Campaigns.  But those are “campaign” maps.  As single “battles” go, this is a large map.   That’s because the movements at Brandy Station cover far more ground than most “larger,” in terms of numbers engaged, battles of the Civil War.  That is actually an interpretive point I impress upon visitors when leading tours of Brandy Station.   The opening action of the Gettysburg Campaign was fought over a larger area than the three day battle in July 1863.

In addition to the fifteen stop tour, the app includes a number of nearby Points of Interest.  These speak to the intensity of activity in Culpeper County during the Civil War.  If the armies were not fighting over Brandy Station and Fleetwood Hill, then they were camping on it:


And there is much more that couldn’t be included in the app.  But some day in the future, there will be ample interpretation to describe the numerous actions and activities across Culpeper County.

Legacy of the Confederacy on military service: Do “Confederates in blue” have influence?

Robert Moore has, as he often does, posted a thought provoking piece today.   Some of the present debates about the Confederate legacy in play in our present day brought Robert to think about how that intersects with notions of military service:

I know how people like Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson touched something within me, and inspired a sense of dutyhonor… and, frankly, I knew from an early age that I was going to serve my country. It wasn’t debatable (I can’t help but hearing, right now, some of my old shipmates calling me a “dig’it”. Lol.).

So, when we see the current trend of removing the Confederate flag, discussion of moving/removing monuments, vandalizing monuments, etc. – all because it “inspires hatred”, and therefore, must be removed to eliminate, at least that much “inspiration” (because, certainly, there’s more out there that serves as “inspiration”), I wonder just how many out there find another kind of “inspiration” in Confederate iconography… the positive kind… especially U.S. military veterans. I’m really curious as to how many have been inspired, in some way, by the legacy of Confederate leaders such as these? I’ve mentioned it before… some key people in WW1, like Lejeune; and in WW2, like Patton, Puller, Buckner.. and many others, are just a few examples.

An interesting observation and a point to ponder.

As I mentioned with respect to the Confederate memorials, it is important to consider the subject of those public fixtures.  The surface intent of those memorials was to force the audience to recall the service and sacrifice of individuals who answered the call to war.  Now that war was for, we must agree, a terrible cause.  But it was a call placed by society, none-the-less.  We certainly should discuss that cause.  However, it is important to caveat that discussion with the separation of “causes” and “motivations” in respect to the soldier’s service.  We might enter the same logical start point with respect to the Vietnam War (or maybe the wars in Iraq?).  This changes the foundation of the discussion somewhat.

And thinking to Robert’s observation, can we find inspiration… or at least some redeeming quality … from the service of Confederate veterans?

Robert has a poll on his site that addresses that question.  Please click over there and offer your take.

However, let me take Robert’s point and step to another…. Consider if you will our oral history, and to a degree the ‘pop’ history, with respect to the Confederate veterans.  As Robert and others say, there is a legacy of reconciliation and … in general… “coming to terms.”  Indeed the vast majority of former Confederates reverted to U.S. citizenship, and for all measure there was little to question that loyalty.  (And lets remember… there are a lot of loyal Americans who disagree with Presidents, Congress, or particular laws.  That disagreement is well below the measure of disloyalty.)

Some of this plays out in our collective memory of those post-war years.  Again, the oral and pop history give us plenty of examples to lean on, if we are searching for inspiration of the kind Robert alludes to.  One stereotypical figure is the “Confederate in blue.”  Not talking specifically of the “Galvanized Yankees” who were more so a wartime convention, being recruited from the prisoner camps.  More so the former Confederates who after the war served in the US Army.  As the stereotype works, that was linked to the frontier.  We see that stereotype personified in the westerns of the 20th century.  An ample example is “Trooper John Smith” from that classic “She Wore a Yellow Ribbon.”

BrittlesClayTyree

Here’s a clip of that movie in which “John Smith’s” Confederate service receives notice, at about the 1:40 mark:

Later, as Captain Nathan Brittles lays Smith to rest, he offers this eulogy:

I also commend to your keeping, Sir, the soul of Rome Clay, late Brigadier General, Confederate States Army. Known to his comrades here, Sir, as Trooper John Smith, United States Cavalry… a gallant soldier and a Christian gentleman.

Another dialog occurs in the movie “Fort Apache” as Captain Yorke (John Wayne again) discusses a detail with Lieutenant-Colonel Thursday, with some situational humor laced in:

 Lt. Col. Owen Thursday: I’m for it, Captain. How many men will you need?

Captain Yorke: One, sir. Sergeant Beaufort.

RSM Michael O’Rourke: PRIVATE Beaufort, sir!

Lt. Col. Owen Thursday: Why him?

Captain Yorke: He speaks Spanish – so does Cochise. My Apache has its limits.

Lt. Col. Owen Thursday: Shouldn’t you take another officer instead?

Captain Yorke: Well, Sergeant Beaufort was…

RSM Michael O’Rourke: PRIVATE Beaufort, sir!

Captain Yorke: Private Beaufort was a major in the Confederate army… an aide to Jeb Stuart.

Lt. Col. Owen Thursday: Hmm. I remember “Kaydet” Stuart. He was…

Captain Collingwood: Quite.

Lt. Col. Owen Thursday: Were you saying something, Captain?

Captain Collingwood: I said, “Quite,” sir.

Some will wash this off as just the “reconciliationist” attitudes still persistent in 1949.  Like much of our history, there is more here than a simple explanation.

How many former Confederates went west to serve in the US Army?  I don’t think anyone has ever quantified that.  There were without doubt some “Trooper John Smiths” and “Sergeant Beauforts” were out there.  Though I don’t think it was a significant portion of the force.

Hollywood… or specifically, John Ford… looked to bring some positive and inspirational qualities out from the story of individual Confederate veterans. Yes we need to put it in context of an overall “we are Americans and reconciled” theme.  But we also need to consider why the writers and directors chose to pinpoint these particular details.  Is it not to show that individuals are… well… individuals?  And there is something to everyone’s story that is worth consideration?

I dare say that trend, with respect to Confederate veterans, continues in Hollywood today:

I think the study of such characters – Trooper John Smith, Sergeant … er.. Private Beaufort, and Cullen Bohannon – serves a valuable purpose.  These were individuals.  And individuals can be measured both “inside of” and “aside from” what ever causes they might have served.

What do you say?

“numerous plaques, markers and signs all over Loudoun County celebrating the Confederacy”… Actually just three

Having featured Loudoun’s Confederate memorial in an earlier post, let me pass along an update on that story.  Yesterday, Loudoun Times posted:

Loudoun NAACP To Rally At County Courthouse

The NAACP’s Loudoun Branch will hold a rally at the county courthouse in Leesburg this weekend in remembrance of the slaves sold on the building’s steps and of the Union soldiers who died in the locality.

The event will focus on demanding the placement of memorial monuments in honor of those slaves and soldiers and on a request that physical recognition be placed on the grounds that the courthouse is a registered National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom historical site.

“The courthouse grounds are rich with history of past activities, but there are only plates and descriptions of selected pieces of that history,” Phillip Thompson, the branch’s president, said in a prepared statement. “Let’s ensure that visitors are able to get the full history, to include the slaves and Union soldiers that fought for Loudoun County.”

The Loudoun NAACP opposes the Confederate statue located on the grounds of the courthouse, the statement said, but the branch decided not to focus on removing that memorial but instead on adding recognition of the slaves sold in Leesburg, the Union soldiers who fought for their freedom and the historical significance of the courthouse.

These parts of history aren’t commemorated, the statement said, while there are “numerous plaques, markers and signs all over Loudoun County celebrating the Confederacy.”   (Full article here)

The article goes on to relate details of the rally, scheduled for Saturday, July 18.  If I am not employed otherwise, I will likely attend.

I applaud this effort by the Loudoun NAACP and the sentiment expressed by Thompson.  This is the right approach, in my opinion, to a complex and tricky subject.  While the NAACP chapter may oppose the statue, they are offering constructive alternatives.

However, I have to take exception with the last bit.  … “numerous plaques, markers and signs all over Loudoun County celebrating the Confederacy.”   We (speaking for HMDB here) have 73 Civil War related Historical Marker Database entries for Loudoun County.  Here’s a map for those who prefer the information in that order.  There are a few recent Civil War Trails markers that I’m behind on.  They will be transcribed and added in good order.  So let’s just say 78 as a total for now counting those.

Of these 78 markers, monuments, and memorials (which would include plaques), how many “celebrate the Confederacy”?

Well first off, I’m assuming Thompson used “celebrate” as in the notion of “commemorate.”  And that being to “recall and show respect for” in a memorial sense.  As I said with respect to Slate’s “chilling inscriptions,” we cannot say that ALL Civil War markers are “celebrating” the Confederacy.    I’ve written the text for several of the recent Civil War Trails markers.  None of them celebrate the Confederacy.  The text is cut to provide facts, figures, and details of the incidents for which they interpret.  There is no celebration of either side there.  Indeed, just across from the Confederate memorial is this Civil War Trails marker discussing incidents from the town’s Civil War experience.

Loudoun CH Marker 070

Portraits of three Federals and two Confederates.   I’d say, with a little pride in the work done by our committee over the last five years, that’s rather balanced coverage.  And I would further point out that a few blocks away another marker in the Civil War Trails series is fully devoted to the story of the USCT veterans who called Leesburg home:

IMG_3135

As expressed when the marker was dedicated, it is my hope this is the first of many in the county to highlight the service of the USCT veterans.  Certainly there is more of this story to tell.  And perhaps the Court House green is the place to tell that.  Our limitation thus far prohibiting more Civil War Trails markers has been funding, not ideas. But as for “celebrating the Confederacy,” of those 78 entries, I find only three.  Three… one of which is the Loudoun Confederate Memorial in question.

LoudounCWMemorial

There is also the 8th Virginia Infantry Regiment memorial on the Balls Bluff battlefield:

Balls Bluff 1 Sept 005

More about the 8th Virginia appears on an interpretive marker nearby. Lastly, there is a monument to Clinton Hatcher, also on the Balls Bluff battlefield:

Balls Bluff 1 Sept 019

More of Hatcher’s story is on an interpretive marker next to the stone. Of the three, I call the first two “memorials.”  Clinton Hatcher’s is more of a monument, as it very much tied to the physical location.  But undeniably, all three are commemorative of people who were Confederate.  Though, as related before, there is more to that commemoration than the word “slavery.”  We need to understand what those inscriptions say before making blanket categorizations.

So just as I said with respect to Slate’s article, we cannot simply say anything mentioning the Confederacy or the Civil War is automatically “celebrating the Confederacy.”  The vast majority of those 78 items I catalog above are purely interpretive.  Again, is more needed?  You bet!  And I’ll be working on it!

Yes.  There may be “numerous” plaques and markers that mention the Confederacy throughout Loudoun County.  But that is not the same as saying those “commemorate” the Confederacy.   Let us not impose a “chilling effect” over the subject of the Civil War.  Focus the debate where it needs to be, and then let us ALL celebrate our common,shared Civil War history.

Military history *is* history… and it *is* a separate discipline

I received a fair number of hits for last week’s post about field tests of canister… and a lot of good comments (both on line here and off line in private) from folks associated with that project.  Bully!  The topic of that post was in the “red meat” section of my blogging menu.  It is the sort of subject that I like reading, researching, and writing about.  And it is the sort of subject that seem to get a lot of traffic.

That’s not to say I’m just posting to boost my page views.  Rather, I’m simply concluding that people who like reading that sort of thing are apt to click on links to my blog.  Some people like bar-b-que  for dinner.  And they will look for a BBQ joint off the highway exit.   You want brisket, a rack of ribs, or some pulled pork?   We have you covered.  You want a soup and salad?  There’s a Panera Bread somewhere down the road… thank you and enjoy your meal.

However, there always seems to be someone showing up at Taco Bell demanding a burger and fries.  I had one of those customers on Saturday.  His comment:

I guess this was one of your “throw away” posts. Nothing better to write about on this day? I find the minutia covering the number of bits in a shell or the velocity of a bullet to be trivial at best. None of this matters in the larger picture.

OK.  I guess he didn’t like the barbeque sauce. I can live with that.  But let me turn that into what those in the pop-history circles are calling “a teachable moment.”

Military history – what I deem of sufficient interest for me to write about on a regular basis – is certainly part of a larger subject we call history.  To be precise, it is a discipline within history.  There are other disciplines within that bigger subject of history, notably economic history, social history, political history, medial history… and … even… art history.  Each has a defined area.  For the most part, we can define those disciplines by the methods, practices, and conventions used within.  Yet, that is not to say each discipline is separated from the other.  Nor is it to say that there are somehow exclusive subject areas for each.  Rather, these disciplines overlap.  Sort of like this:

MilitaryCWHistoryVenn

Again, keep in mind what defines a discipline.  It’s not the subject, but rather the methods used to study and relate the material.  You might apply any historical discipline to the subject.  But each discipline has its own rules and approaches.  In the application, a discipline might be considered a perspective.

Consider for the Civil War how this would work.  Let us take the Winter Encampment of 1864 as our subject.  That being the body of material, how best to examine it?  A pure military history approach might focus on the reorganization of the Army of the Potomac, the military operations over the Rapidan, and the daily “spy game” going on with the picket posts and signal stations.  Meanwhile, looking at the political history there are another set of highlights, in particular the ongoing saga of Meade and the Committee on the Conduct of the War.  Or maybe the political influences and divisions within the camp.

But as we study along each approach, we’d be more and more drawn to the reality that all are intertwined.  The more we’d study about the tactical movements at Morton’s Ford the more we have to bring up the political maneuverings that brought about such a tragically misguided mission.  And I could cherry-pick out other examples where social history and economic history work against the same subject body as military history, in regard to that Winter Encampment. Same with any other episode of the Civil War (or other wars…).

Such is why historians should always try to approach history with an assorted set of tools.  They should always try to look across to other disciplines for more refined and inclusive insight to the subject.   That’s my preferred approach, though I must admit it to be a difficult task at times.

Yet we need to address what makes the discipline a separate discipline.  My friend Harry Smeltzer brought this up last fall, when he wrote:

I’ll make it simple – military history to me is not history that simply involves military operations (though based on some awards given out this past year – and pretty hefty ones at that – that does seem to be a working definition for some pretty prestigious organizations.) Military history, in my opinion, at the very least reflects an understanding of  not only military conventions and doctrines of the time in question – say, the American Civil War – but also of how they fit on the developmental timeline.

I’d add to that, in order to understand those conventions and doctrines, we must frame the study using components of military science.  While I don’t want to get on you like an ROTC instructor, there’s a lot of science to the profession of arms.  In the same way economic history requires statistical analysis as a construct, military history leans on a lot of “numbers.”  And it just so happens one of those numbers to consider is indeed the count of “bits” flying out of the muzzle of a cannon… another is how fast those bits were traveling.

To that point, how fast did Emancipation move after January 1, 1863?

Answer: At the pace of the Federal army’s advance.

And what regulated that advance?  In some places the external ballistics of canister from a rifled gun.  You see that old quip about “for the want of a nail…” is not exclusive in application to military history.

Something to think about … before we tear down those Confederate memorials

These are some great days if you are the type to enjoy intersecting Civil War history into current events.  The word “Confederate” has appeared more often in the news over the last three weeks than over the collective years of the sesquicentennial.  Though I would point out that the words “Federal” and “Union” are once again getting little air-play.  Yet, darn near every day someone passes another link my way calling for a Confederate monument … or all of them… to be torn down.  Maybe that is the way things are heading.   A great deal of effort has been spent in what I see as “windmill tilting.”  Or perhaps, for some, building straw-men.    As mentioned in an earlier post, I see trouble in this trend.

I would encourage you to read a column by William C. Davis, posted this weekend, titled “The Right Way to Remember the Confederacy.” The column is far to lengthy for me to quote or even summarize sufficiently here.  Davis weaves through a whole litany of topics – from the veneration of Lee to the Black Confederate myth.  Best for you to devote some time in your schedule to read and digest it all.  Your mileage may vary….

A section that stands out for me is this:

All of which demands that we ask: Can we ever separate the memory of the Confederate experience from the memory of slavery? Is there any positive legacy to be drawn from the Confederacy? Can we admire Confederate leaders, even the all-but-deified Lee, without tacitly endorsing their cause? Ultimately, can we make the Confederacy worth remembering for the descendants of the slaves and those following generations of freedmen whom the whole nation betrayed by ignoring their new rights and liberties for a century?

This paragraph reminds me much of the insightful talk offered by John Hennessy at Longwood, last winter.

Both of which remind me the Civil War is a topic with few absolute right angles.  Instead, complexities that require the historian to bring more than a crosscut saw, box of nails, and hammer.  Indeed, a set of woodworking tools is more so required just to define the subject.  Davis, a good historian, brought some of those woodworking tools for that column:

To paraphrase Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis, America has ever been a laboratory for that democracy. The Confederacy is its most notable failed experiment. The debate over the relation of the states to the federal government had been present since independence. The idea that secession was an alternative if conflicts over sovereignty couldn’t be resolved arose often enough that it was likely to be tried eventually, and so the Confederates tried. They failed. But good scientists don’t erase their laboratory failures; they learn from them.

That, my readers, is why we study history.  It’s not for the “good” parts only, but for “all the parts”  Every piece of it need be considered.

Let me run with what Davis offered in that column…  and localize it a bit for me.  Of late this statue in downtown Leesburg has come up for discussion (again):

LoudounCWMemorial

There are calls from some sectors to have the memorial removed.  And I can understand the underlying logic, even if I find the arguments lacking.  That statue depicts a man bearing arms in defense of slavery.

But that’s me, a historian, drawing a right angle where there isn’t one.  I’m making it TOO simple and avoiding the complexities here.

What does that inscription say?

In memory of the Confederate soldiers of Loudoun County, Va, erected May 28, 1908

Not exactly chilling, is it?

And let me go back to those “nouns” again. This is a “memorial” in the proper sense of the word.   A memorial designed so as the visitor would be called upon to contemplate society’s collective memory of something.

So what was that something?  Well it says what we are supposed to remember… right there on the stone – Confederate soldiers.

Not the cause.  Not the flag.  Not Jefferson Davis. Not even General Lee (who by the way, stayed a block and a half down the street while in town).

This memorial calls for us to remember the soldiers sent off to war.  In that respect, it is not far removed from the other memorials that grace the courthouse square:

LoudounWarMemorials

These are not memorials to “Black Jack” Pershing.  Or Ike.  Or to Westmoreland. Or to the Enola Gay.   Nor to “Peace in our Time.” Or to “The Arsenal of Democracy.”  Or to the “Domino Theory.”

These are memorials that speak to the service of young people whom the community sent forward to represent the society in wars.  The county honors the sacrifice of those who’s names appear, and those alluded to in the inscriptions. And it is important to understand that the community sent those men into war.  Some volunteered.  Some were conscripted.  But it was the community… society, in the larger, national sense… that made the call.  The individual answered that call in the manner which they felt best.

Every war has a “cause.”  I’ve personally seen three wars.  Each has had a “cause.”  Some will say one of those causes was control of oil.  Maybe so, though I’d sort of like to think from my ground level the cause was something else. You see, there’s a fine example where the “right angle” we hope to impose is spoiled by the complexity.  I could care less about what you pay for gas at the pump, as there were other things which hastened my stride.  Whatever the cause for which society deemed important enough at the time, we heeded the call with our own personal motivations.  And none of those motivations will ever get a single letter on any memorial.

We can certainly say the same for the Confederate soldiers of Loudoun.  The “almost” right angle on this subject might be the cause of the Civil War.  As Davis said,

The shibboleth that “state rights” caused secession is a suit of clothes desperately lacking an emperor. Only slavery (and its surrounding economic and political issues) had the power to propel white Southerners to disunion and, ultimately, war.

But that is a “cause.”  The memorial is not celebrating a cause.  It is calling on us to remember individuals. Why did they put on those grey uniforms?  What motivated them?   We might find some answers in the words recorded by those men.  But we will find no right angles there.  Those answers will vary and scatter like leaves in fall before the storm.  It’s complex.  And it is interesting.

Is that memorial for ONLY the true, die-hard Confederates who wanted to uphold slavery?  What about those who thought little about slavery, but were concerned of the protection of their homes?  What about those conscripted to fight?  (Mind you, Loudoun is somewhat a special case for Virginia, what with a strong unionist enclave just a few miles from where that statue stands today.)  What about those who volunteered, maybe felt different about that decision later, yet continued to serve as they had little other option?  We practice redemption in our society, don’t we?   In other words, is “being” Confederate something we can define with such a sharp degree to measure only against a single word?

In a complex way, that memorial is both inclusive and exclusive.  It is for all of those from the county, regardless of motivation, who fought for what their community, at that time, felt was a compelling reason – a cause – to wage war.  And please note the complexity of that sentence.   I can’t find the words to make it less complex.  You, the reader, have to study that sentence.  That’s what this subject requires.

Think about what actions that translated to.  Not just the Civil War, but any and all wars, require individuals to commit acts which are – lacking a better word – inhuman.  Yes, inhuman, which the dictionary says is “lacking human qualities of compassion and mercy; cruel and barbaric.”  Walk that through the bold-face sentence above.  When turning to war, society finds the cause so vital and important that it must ask individuals to turn their nature.  That’s a heavy thing.

So, as we walk around the discussions about what memorials need to be removed, think about that heavy thing.  Maybe those memorials serve a higher purpose.  As Davis pointed out in his column, we need to be reminded of failed experiments of the past.  Perhaps that will give pause at some future time when a “cause” is on the lips of those calling for war.   And at the same time, maybe those memorials will serve to instruct future generations as to the responsibilities and burdens shared by individuals who are part of our society.