Old Times There Are Misremembered …
Kevin Levin’s Civil War Memory offers some rather pointed comments about Virginia governor Robert F. McDonnell’s proclamation declaring April Confederate History Month. I think he was being kind.
Apparently the governor thinks all Virginians during 1861-1865 were Confederates. That would reveal a surprising ignorance on his part. Among other things, not all Virginians were white. Not all remained Virginians (ever hear of West Virginia, governor?). And not all white Virginians were Confederates (ever hear of George H. Thomas?).
Yes, Governor, I agree that “it is important for all Virginians to reflect upon our Commonwealth’s shared history.” That would include the history of the enslaved; it would include the history of the state’s Unionists; it would include the history of the Quakers who tried to stay out of the war; it would include men such as Thomas. Why, governor, did you overlook all this? Why are you proud of some Virginians … those who shot at soldiers in United States service … and not about other Virginians? Why do you find that the only Virginians worthy of being honored and remembered are the Confederates?
And, governor, when you declare that “all Virginians can appreciate the fact that when ultimately overwhelmed by the insurmountable numbers and resources of the Union Army,” etc., why don’t you admit that you are simply paraphrasing (without attribution) General Orders No. 9? And, when you say that Virginia’s Confederates followed “the instruction of General Robert E. Lee of Virginia, who wrote that, ‘…all should unite in honest efforts to obliterate the effects of war and to restore the blessings of peace,’” I must ask if you ever read anything about Reconstruction in Virginia (which was mild concerning the sensibilities of Virginia’s Confederates compared to what happened elsewhere) or about Lee’s behavior between 1865 and 1870, especially his comments about politics in 1868?
Finally, governor, you conclude that “this defining chapter in Virginia’s history should not be forgotten, but instead should be studied, understood and remembered by all Virginians, both in the context of the time in which it took place, but also in the context of the time in which we live.” Here we agree. But all Virginians should learn the history of all Virginians who were part of Civil War Virginia. That would include you.
Come on, governor. Get your history right.
That said, April is also the month where Richmond and Petersburg fell to United States forces (with African American troops entering Richmond on April 3); April is also the month of the famous shad bake that helped make that all possible; April is also the month when Lincoln entered Richmond and visited the Confederate White House (thus encouraging visitation and tourism, no doubt); and, of course, April is also the month when Robert E. Lee surrendered the army of Northern Virginia to Ulysses S. Grant, general-in-chief of the Armies of the United States. Somehow the governor overlooked that. I won’t when I touch down on the soil of the commonwealth where I went to college this week … and I’m thinking of visiting the Smithsonian this Friday to see the very table when Grant penned those magnificent terms of Lee’s surrender. Perhaps the governor will meet me there.
Somehow, I doubt it. There are none so ignorant as those who refuse to learn.
PS: Governor, take my advice. Don’t anger the Thomas fan boys.