THE SESQUICENTENNIAL AND GENERAL LEE REDUX
Tuesday, December 28, 2010
BY BOB HURST
As each year comes to a close and I begin looking forward to January and a new year, I automatically think "Confederate Generals" month. This is because January has long been considered special by many Southerners because of the special birthdays that occur in the month.
Now, there were 425 Confederate generals so the laws of probability would indicate that any month would likely be the birth month of somewhere between 30 and 40 of these military leaders. Ah, but it is the "who" and not the "how many" that makes January stand out since it is the birth month of Robert E. Lee, Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson, James Longstreet and George Pickett. No other month has such an impressive array of Confederate heroes.
January is also the month when many Sons of Confederate Veterans camps around the country will hold a Lee/Jackson banquet in honor of the two generally most beloved of Confederate leaders. I should mention here that Gen. Longstreet’s birthday is January 8, Gen. Lee’s the 19th, Gen. Jackson’s the 21 and Gen. Pickett’s the 28. While 99% of camps will call their largest early-year event the "Lee/Jackson Banquet", I did have the honor several years ago to speak at a camp banquet in west Florida which was deemed the "Lee/Jackson/Longstreet/Pickett Banquet". Nice event.
I mention all this merely to emphasize how important these banquets are on the SCV calendar for January and the early part of each year since oftentimes these are the only major functions during this time period.
This coming new year, 2011, will be a bit different, though. During the period 2011 through 2015 the country, the South, the SCV and other heritage organizations will celebrate and commemorate the sesquicentennial (150th anniversary) of each year of that great conflict known in the South as the "War for Southern Independence", in the rest of the country and academia as the "Civil War" (even though it wasn’t), officially by Congress as "The War Between the States" and heaven only knows how many other appellations. In fact, I understand that many of the gentle folks of Charleston refer to the conflict merely as "The Late Unpleasantness".
And speaking of Charleston, that beautiful old South Carolina city is getting a headstart on everyone else regarding sesquicentennial events as their first celebration is scheduled for December 20 of 2010 to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the secession of the Palmetto State on December 20, 1860. South Carolina, of course, was the first Southern state to secede. (Note: As I write this the event has not yet occurred, but as you read this in the magazine it will already be a happy memory.)
The event in Charleston will be a marvelous occasion. It will be held in a large auditorium/hall and is completely sold out. There will be hundreds of people in period clothing, decorations as though it were 1860, a fine banquet meal, period music (including many renditions of "DIXIE", I’m sure) and a theatrical presentation of the SC Secession Convention. Altogether a truly fine and memorable evening. It is also guaranted a great deal of media coverage. That is because the South Carolina NAACP ("National Association of Always Complaining People") has planned a protest demonstration in front of the hall during the banquet and you know how much the media just loves conflict, especially of a racial nature.
I understand that there has already been some national mention of the event. I was told that Keith Olbermann of MSNBC mentioned the event on his show and then made some swarmy remark about "celebrating 150 years of treason". I am repeating this second-hand since I rarely watch MSNBC and I simply cannot stomach Olbermann. I find him vile, uninformed and always wrong in his opinions. Bless his heart, though, with his audience so small, his ratings so low and his book unable to crack even the top 1000 at Amazon, poor Keith has good reason to always be in a bit of a funk.
Charleston is just the first of many hundreds of events planned for the Sesquicentennial celebration. Here in Tallahassee there is a planned reenactment of the Florida Secession Convention which was held January 10, 1861 at the State Capitol. (Note: Florida was the third state to secede.) The reenactment will be held Saturday, January 8, 2011 in the Senate chamber of the Old Capitol where the original convention was held. The presentation will begin at 12:30PM and should be completed by 3PM so catch an early noon meal on the 8th and come on by. Admission is free and I understand there is enough seating (and standing room) for about 400. Any dress is acceptable (but please wear something) and if you have period clothing that would be outstanding.
Now, for those of you who have emailed me, phoned me or approached me at parades, restaurants or wherever to tell me I should announce these events in advance rather than merely writing about them afterwards, consider yourselves told and I expect to see you at the Old Capitol on January 8.
You may be wondering why General Lee’s name is in the title of this article since, so far, I have written primarily about the Sesquicentennial. Well, the rest of this piece will relate to that wondrous gentleman who was the best known and most beloved of all Confederates.
If you have read previous CONFEDERATE JOURNAL articles about Robert E. Lee over the past five years, you certainly know of my deep respect and admiration for this truly remarkable and truly good man. In these politically correct times in which we now live, there are people with an agenda who will go to any extreme to bring criticism against anything Confederate. Even an individual as decent, outstanding and historically well thought of as General Lee is not immune to the character assaults and outright lies of those who would attempt to tarnish him and, by extension, the Confederacy and its Cause. That Cause, by the way, was independence.
To learn the truth about historical figures it is generally best to read what was written about them by their contemporaries and, more specifically, contemporaries who were neutral, were great in their own right and could observe the subject both close-up and from a distance. That is why I was so happy to be able to purchase recently a book that I have been seeking for some time. That book is THE AMERICAN CIVIL WAR: AN ENGLISH VIEW and contains the writings of Field Marshall Viscount Sir Garnet Wolseley.
Before I delve into what the great Wolseley wrote about General Lee, let me first tell you about Sir Garnet Wolseley and establish with you his credibility both for greatness in his own right and as an individual who could recognize greatness in others from the lofty perch of his own character and accomplishments.
Let me begin by saying that Wolseley is generally given credit for the transformation of the British army from a gentleman’s army to a modern fighting force. He was the one who prepared the Brits to play a key role in the winning of the First World War.
He was attracted to the military at an early age and followed in the footsteps of his military father. From the beginning he was destined for greatness. His first action was in the Crimean War where he was elevated to the rank of captain at age 21. Because of his youth there was opposition to his holding this rank. When he threatened resignation if the rank were taken away, his superior officers recognized greatness and allowed him to maintain the rank. Just three years later he became the youngest lieutenant colonel in the British army.
Wolseley served in India and China before being sent to Canada in 1861 to help plan for possible war against the Union forces of the United States after northern forces had illegally removed two Confederate diplomats from a British ship.This was the famous Trent Affair. He traveled in secret to Virginia to study the organization and effectiveness of the Confederate army since it was primarily a volunteer army. He spent much time with generals Lee, Jackson and Longstreet and was highly impressed by all three. It was Robert E. Lee, however, who most impressed Wolseley.
Based on this time with the Confederates he wrote "A Month’s Visit to the Confederate Headquarters" which was published in Blackwood’s magazine and is still well-known today.
Garnet Wolseley later served in Cyprus as the first high commissioner of that island after it came into the empire and as governor and commanding general in South Africa Natal Province. In 1880 he returned to England and was made adjutant general which gave him authority over military training. In 1882 he was sent to Egypt to quell a nationalist uprising where his brilliant tactics led to suppression of the revolt. To show the gratitude of the British government, Wolseley was made a baron and paid a reward of 30,000 pounds. In 1884 he was made viscount and in1894 was made field marshall. In 1895 he was promoted to commander-in-chief of the British army.
Viscount Wolseley also found time to author THE LIFE OF MARLBOROUGH, THE DECLINE AND FALL OF NAPOLEON and SOLDIERS POCKET BOOK FOR FIELD SERVICE, the bible of the British army.
This is only a brief portrait of the brilliant Wolseley – a man of great honor, accomplishment and intelligence. How would a man of his stature describe Robert E. Lee? Let me list just a few direct quotes fromthe pen of this great man:
" I desire to make known to the reader not only the renowned soldier, whom I believe to have been the greatest of his age, but to give some insight into the character of one whom I have always considered the most perfect man I ever met."
Wolseley on Lee
" He was opposed to secession, and to prevent it he would willingly sacrifice everything except honor and duty, which forbid him to desert his State… Nothing would induce him to have any part in the invasion of his own State, much as he abhorred the war into which he felt she was rushing. His love of country (Virginia), his unselfish patriotism, caused him to relinquish home, fortune, a certain future, in fact everything for her sake."
Wolseley on Lee turning down the offer of command of the Union army to side with Virginia and the Confederacy
" He spoke bitterly of none – a remarkable fact, as at that time men on both sides were wont to heap the most violent terms of abuse upon their respective enemies."
Wolseley on the character and Christian nature of Lee
" Where else in history is a great man to be found whose whole life was one such blameless record of duty nobly done? … The most perfect gentleman of a State long celebrated for its chivalry, he was just, gentle, and generous, and child-like in the simplicity of his character."
Wolseley on the character of Lee
" I have met many of the great men of my time, but Lee alone impressed me with the feeling that I was in the presence of a man who was cast in a grander mould, and made of different and of finer metal than all other men. He is stamped upon my memory as a being apart and superior to all others in every way: a man with whom none I ever knew, and very few of whom I have read, are worthy to be classed."
Wolseley on the greatness of Lee
" When all the angry feelings roused by Secession are buried with those which existed when the Declaration of Independence was written, when Americans can review the history of their last great rebellion with calm impartiality, I believe that all will admit that General Lee towered far above all men on either side of that struggle: I believe he will be regarded not only as the most prominent figure of the Confederacy, but as the great American of the nineteenth century, whose statue is well worthy to stand on an equal pedestal with that of Washington, and whose memory is worthy to be enshrined in the hearts of all his countrymen."
Wolseley on Lee’s rightful place in history
It is obvious from these quotes of Wolseley from his book that he recognized the greatness and uniqueness of Robert E. Lee. It is unfortunate that during the next four years of the Sesquicentennial celebration I am certain there will be many attempts by the politically correct, revisionist historians and general haters of the South to attack and denigrate the good name and spotless character of the magnificent Lee. When you read these attacks in print or hear them in broadcasts, be sure to contrast them with the descriptions of General Lee by Sir Garnet Wolseley and remember – the attackers never knew General Lee, Wolseley did.
Harry Birthday Confederate Generals and Happy New Year to all of you!
P.S. As a postscript allow me to leave you with one more quote from the brilliant Wolseley:
" The unprejudiced outsider will generally admit the sovereign right, both historical and legal, which each State possessed under the constitution, to leave the Union when its people thought fit to do so."
Another erudite individual who is honest enough to admit that THE SOUTH WAS RIGHT.