We went to Anna Brown’s funeral this morning, a most sad and touching service. We begin to feel anxious and a little depressed. We hear nothing from Jackson, he is lost again. It is true that always means that some great move is on hand. The most malignant spirit pervades the Lincoln government. If their plans could be carried out, they would be quite willing to exterminate us. The paper this evening says the rejoicing of yesterday were premature. McClellan has retired again from Malvern Hill. It was merely a reconnaissance, they say.
Laura Lee’s Diary, Winchester, Virginia – August 9, 1862
Stonewall’s Influence On The Southern Mind
Laura Lee supported the Confederacy, but she lived in the war-zone town of Winchester, Virginia. Located about seventy-five miles west of Washington D.C. and situated at the north end of the Shenandoah Valley, Winchester changed hands over seventy times during the Civil War. It was a strategic location and armies moved through and fought frequently. Civilians who stayed in their hometown faced many war-time challenges, including frequent encounters with enemy soldiers.
These civilians were quick to form opinions about the enemy soldiers, and they were also swift to create (and adore) their own heroes who “rescued” the town from occupation. By summer 1862, that hero was Confederate General “Stonewall” Jackson. The 1862 Valley Campaign had a climactic moment when Jackson and the Southern army raced into town, driving out the occupying Union forces. Jackson’s marches, victories, and maneuvers gained near-mythological proportions among these beleaguered civilians, even before his death.
In Laura Lee’s diary, the authoress mentions Jackson and his army and seems to “keep tabs” on their movements. This particular entry notes a local tragedy (death of a civilian friend) and then immediately shifts to a brief report of the local hero. However, there wasn’t much to report. Jackson was “lost,” but Laura decided that meant he was moving against the Union again, hinting at a surprise attack and hoping for another victory. The thought of Jackson and the regiments from the Valley marching and winning gave the local civilians hope…and, in the end, it would make Jackson’s death in 1863 a severe blow to the Southern homefront morale.
Did you read last week’s post about President Lincoln’s resolve to end the war, using whatever means necessary? Well, this week there’s a hint at the Southern interpretation of that. Laura Lee and other Confederates firmly believed that the Federal government was “out to get them” and was doing everything possible to make their lives miserable.
Who was right? Ugh…now we’re back to the age-old question of interpretation of the Constitution. Did states have the right to leave the Union? Confederate said “yes” and Federals said “no.” (And, yes, slavery factors into that equation.)
Since the Confederates believed they had a Constitutional right for their states to secede from the union, they viewed opposition to that right (forming of Federal volunteer armies and invasion of seceded states) as a violation of rights and a serious problem. Thus, they felt that the war wasn’t “their fault” and the Lincoln administration was coming after them personally to punish them as rebels and forcibly keep the union together.
Right or wrong, it’s important to at least understand what folks were thinking since it certainly influences their writing, opinions, actions, and the writing of history.
Reconstruction Era has been on my mind since it’s Gazette665’s Historical Theme of the Month in August 2017. This particular journal entry foreshadows problems that would come to the forefront during the post-Civil War era. Laura Lee boldly stated her opinion that the Lincoln administration and the Federal government wanted to “exterminate” the Southern people. That’s strong language. Keep in mind that the Southern people (as a whole) still thought they could win the war at this point in 1862 and the Emancipation Proclamation had not been announced or signed to pave the way for the abolishment of slavery.
Attitudes like Laura’s were prompted by real or imagined injuries/insults (depending on the exact, personal experiences), and laid a bedrock attitude that would be exacerbated with other war events, loss and surrender, and measures during the Reconstruction Era. Neither side was blameless, but preconceived ideas and attitudes hindered unification and prompted problems during the Reconstruction Era that laid the groundwork for civil rights issues, opinions, monuments, and other challenges we are still encountering today.