So far, a majority of what I have shared has been ubiquitous to observations as they relate predominantly to often cited sources. While I will continue with information from such primary source documents and firsthand accounts, today, I'm going to be a little more personal.
One of the most common arguments for why the name Stonewall Jackson was chosen on January 12, 1959 was to honor the men who fought (and in some cases died) in the Stonewall Brigade, which was formed as the First Brigade of Virginia from the 2nd, 5th, 27th, and 33rd Virginia regiments and the Rockbridge Artillery and got its name from the Battle of Manassas on July 15, 1861. Some in the community participated in reenactments of the Confederate victory of May 15, 1864, at New Market Battlefield and saw this as the heart and soul of the county.
In the unfolding weeks, we will be looking at primary source documents from Shenandoah County that encapsulate and add perspective to this decision that must be held in as equal light as this ephemeral desire in 1959. But for today, I'm speaking to you as a descendant of Confederate soldiers.
One of these was Simon Polk. He served under William Clark, Jr. in the Winchester Riflemen, Company F of the Second Virginia regiment, which was assembled in Charles Town on April 18, 1861. One year later, on October 11th, Simon died from wounds he had received at Antietam - a battle which encouraged President Lincoln to issue the Emancipation Proclamation, freeing enslaved individuals in enemy territory. Simon was married to Dorotha Dellinger Polk, with whom he had five children, before serving for the CSA during the Civil War. When I think of this time period, I reflect on Dorotha's hard work and perseverance in managing their small farm and raising five children without her husband's help. I am here because Dorotha lived, not because Simon died.
My family was part of the Palatine, Swiss, and Swabian immigrants that made homes in the Stony Creek area in the mid-1700s. The rolling hills allowed for lovely views of the mountains, and the meandering streams were more predictable than the flooding North Fork. One of my ancestors, Stefan Schauman, married Susanna Ziegler, whose father died in the Narrow Passage attack by Indigenous Peoples in 1765. Today, I live barely a mile away from the church they attended, Zion Pient-Kirche. Another ancestor, Johann Döllinger, arrived in Cabin Hill in 1730. During the American Revolution, his daughter-in-law Magdalene provided beef to the Continental Army. My ancestors were indentured servants, soldiers, mothers and fathers, farmers and homemakers, laborers and nurses, even Americans displaced from the cabin homes in the the Blue Ridge Mountains by the government for Skyline Drive's formation, and as all of us can claim today, survivors.
Every family that has Confederate soldiers, lost something. They lost lives, land, resources, nationality, kinship ties, and so much more. These four years were some of the hardest of our country. And the men, many of whom were required to fight due to conscriptions, didn't deserve to be led like pawns by the slave-owning leaders that wanted to preserve their individual rights to capitalize off of free labor from the human beings they enslaved or bred and sold into slavery.
I remember parts of my childhood fondly in many ways. But I can honestly say that I had no idea about any of this history in my ancestry or that I also have several Confederate soldiers in that lineage as well. It wasn't discussed - so, the fact that the public school I attended was supposedly honoring not even a handful of my ancestors was unknown to me. And it certainly isn't a source of pride to me now.
Frederick Douglass shares a perspective of America that is important for us to hold as a beacon in any decisions our country, our county, and our communities make today. He says in his Mission of the War speech from 1864 that the North was "like the south, fighting for National unity; a unity of which the great principles of liberty and equality, and not slavery and class superiority, are the corner stone" (Kendi & Blain, Four Hundred Souls, 2021:227).
What is Unity in our public school system today? What great principles will be part of our corner stone?
Leave a Reply.
SENK is an artist and writer in the Shenandoah Valley. The blog, 52 Weeks, is an ethical contemplation on the importance of choosing public school names that are not divisive within a community. Each post is based on over seven years of research by the author. 52 Weeks is a compassionate appeal to community and school board members to not revert to the names of Confederate leaders for Shenandoah County, Va, public schools.