Week 15: The First Annual
Last week, we heard about some in the community's perspective on why the southern campus school was named Stonewall Jackson High School in 1959. Today, we are going to look at the school annual to see what the leaders in the school deemed as the reason for the name.
"It is more than an ordinary circumstance that this first annual of the Stonewall Jackson High School is dedicated to Lieutenant-General Thomas Jonathan Jackson, C.S.A.
"It is because here in Shenandoah County many of its finest sons became members of the Stonewall Brigade, one of the most illustrious organizations of military men known in all the annals of military history.
"It is also because among all the great men of our nation no one today captures more strikingly the admiration of the high school student, nor affords a stronger pattern of human character than the beloved leader of the Stonewall Brigade, 'Stonewall' Jackson.
"And because of Stonewall Jackson's unblemished Christian character, because of his fearless courage in peace and in war, because of his masterful use in his people's service of his God-given talents and skills, and because these traits deserve emulation by the youth of our land, this annual is dedicated to him" (1960:3).
Now, as a Classicist, I have learned about a lot of leaders and armies from antiquity, including the Spartans (whose men were sent off to war with the phrase, ἢ τὰν ἢ ἐπὶ τᾶς ("either (with) it or upon it" in reference to their hoplon, or shield - and meaning either return with your shield in glory having done your duty or dying bravely doing your duty and returning dead on your shield) and the Persian Immortals; Hannibal and his bold quest crossing the Alps with elephants into Italy to engage in war with the Romans at the battle of Trebbia in 218 BCE; and, without taking too much of your time, because there are so many I could continue to name, I'm 100% certain that rural farmers from Shenandoah County in the 1860s were not "one of the most illustrious organizations of military men known in all the annals of military history." This (and the 1959 annual dedication) is the Lost Cause narrative.
After the American Civil War, the Lost Cause narrative formed as readily as the Ku Klux Klan, a white supremist band that formed under the leadership of C.S.A. General Nathan Bedford Forrest in an effort to thwart Reconstructionist efforts in southern states. After such devastating loss and destruction in the South, the Lost Cause narrative shimmered with the glory that was lost with the Confederacy's defeat: from reframing the relationship between the Confederacy and slavery to portraying chattel slavery as a beneficial situation for people that were happy in that status and without a care in the world; from portraying Confederate soldiers as "heroic, gallant, and saintly" (American Battlefields Trust, The Lost Cause: Definition and Origins, posted 2021) to making Stonewall Jackson a martyr and Robert E. Lee "the ultimate Christian soldier who took up arms for his state" (2021). Even today, the Sons of Confederate Veterans still hand out the Confederate Catechism by Lyon Tyler (1929), which is an amalgamation of the Lost Cause narrative and a lot of vexation and wrath against Lincoln. During the Sixteenth National Reunion of the United Confederate Veterans, April 25-27, 1906, in New Orleans, C.S.A. Lt. General Stephen Lee unfairly charged descendants of Confederate veterans with the following: "To you, ...we will commit the vindication of the cause for which we fought. To your strength will be given the defense of the Confederate soldier's good name, the guardianship of his history, the emulation of his virtues, the perpetuation of those principles which he loved and which you love also, and those ideals which made him glorious and which you also cherish" (Charleston Athenaeum Press, Gen. Stephen D. Lee's 1906 Address that Contains the SCV Charge, posted 2020).
In this speech, Lee also states: "Here amid the very chivalry of patriotism there is welcome for all who prize noble and generous deeds, and most of all a welcome for him who loved his country best and bore her cross of pain - the Confederate soldier."
I find no fault with the Confederate soldier. These men (whether they were soldiers in the Stonewall Brigade or not) did their duty, either because of conscription, peer pressure, or because they really did believe they were protecting their family, their land, and their way of life in joining the war. I do find fault with their leaders, many of whom were wealthy, enslaving plantation owners - including Lee and Jackson. Just as I am sure my ancestor Dorotha Polk would have preferred a long life with her husband Simon Polk, who died from wounds suffered at Antietam, she didn't get that and their five children lost a father. Simon was one of the approximately 258,000 Confederates that died in the American Civil War. It is not "the cause for which (the Confederate soldier) fought" that needs vindication, it is the soldier himself. And that vindication is in honesty over their misuse as pawns in an unjust war, in their freedom from a perpetuated Lost Cause narrative, and in peace.
In a post-George Floyd USA, the Confederate legacy is no longer something for "emulation by the youth of our land." Soon after America was born, it was stained by racism, which (according the Merriam-Webster) is simply put "a belief that race is a fundamental determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race / the systemic oppression of a racial group to the social, economic, and political advantage of another." Racism continued for hundreds of years in America. Racism lingers in our laws, infrastructure, and institutions. Racism is especially tied to the Confederate legacy and while the names of Confederate leaders continue to be used for public schools, street names, and other avenues of public life, America will not be free from its subliminal influence.
Respect and honor are not forced, they are earned. The Union soldier has just as much right to all of the claims to bravery that the Confederate soldier has. And both deserve truth, freedom, and peace. It's time to honor both by supporting America's mission of equality for all. Each one of us has a responsibility to aim for equality for every single American citizen, regardless of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, disability, age, or genetic information.
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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.