Ladies First in Winchester
In the August 2008 issue’s “Mail Call,” Robert E. Zaworski pointed out the integral role Southern white women played in creating Confederate cemeteries in the war’s aftermath. He noted that the first Ladies Memorial Association, organized in Columbus, Ga., in April 1866, was followed shortly thereafter by the establishment of an Atlanta LMA. In fact, the Georgia LMAs were among no less than 70 ladies associations that formed in the spring of 1866 from Virginia to Alabama. Since that time, representatives from LMAs across the South have debated which group was actually the first to organize. These same groups also disputed who first celebrated Memorial Day. (Alternatively, David Blight, in Race and Reunion, has shown that one of the first Decoration Days occurred in South Carolina under the direction of black men and women on May 1, 1865.)
In researching my book Burying the Dead But Not the Past: Ladies, Memorial Associations and the Lost Cause (December 2007), I found that the women of Winchester, Va., were probably the first memorial association to organize in Virginia, if not the South. Disturbed by reports that farmers had unearthed countless Confederate dead while plowing their fields, two Winchester women in May 1865 called a meeting of the town’s interested women. Their objective would be to gather all the dead within a 15-mile radius of the town, inter them in one graveyard and establish an annual tradition of placing flowers and evergreens on these graves. Less than a month after Robert E. Lee surrendered at Appomattox, the first Ladies’ Memorial Association in Virginia had organized to honor the memory of the Confederacy’s fallen soldiers.
Regardless of which association formed first, however, the legacy of the Ladies throughout the South is undeniable. They did much more than provide centralized resting places for fallen Confederates. Relying on the mid-19thcentury assumption that women were naturally nonpolitical, ex-Confederate men recognized that women might be best suited to take the lead in memorializing the South’s lost cause. Women of the LMAs thus served in the forefront of the postwar battle over Confederate memory, simultaneously allowing men to skirt the issue of treason and inaugurating the traditions of the Lost Cause as early as 1865 and 1866.
Caroline E. Janney
West Lafayette, Ind.
More Vicksburg Must-Sees
After reading the “Field Guide” to Vicksburg that appeared in your August issue, I wanted to let readers know about two of my own favorite spots on the Vicksburg battlefield.
The Illinois State Memorial, located on Union Avenue, is modeled on the Roman Pantheon. Forty-seven steps, one for each day of the siege, lead up to its interior, where the names of the 36,325 Illinois troops who fought in the Vicksburg Campaign are engraved.
Fort Hill, which during the war offered a commanding position above a bend in the Mississippi River, is another great place to visit. I also used to enjoy visiting a waterfall near the national cemetery (Mint Spring Bayou), but that area is now inaccessible to the public.
Kudos from a Border Stater
I have been so impressed by your recent issues that I recently decided to become a subscriber. Two essays included in the June issue were especially interesting: Gary Gallagher’s piece about Civil War films (“Lights…Camera…Civil War!”) and Tracy Thomp son’s article on growing up as a Southerner with an ancestry of Union loyalties (“Reimagining the South”).
When I was teaching a Bradley University graduate course on charismatic leaders and demagogues, I ran into some of the same problems that Gallagher mentioned. For our Civil War section, it was easy to find useful books and essays, but it seemed hard to locate first-rate films. Admittedly, movies such as Glory have strong claims, but too many earlier films showed all kinds of annoying biases.
Gone With the Wind is a different matter; even a flawed film can have elements of greatness and teach us something about people’s beliefs, such as the romantic, Lost Cause view of the Confederacy. That film’s early scenes are clearly a nostalgic fantasy about the ante bellum South.
Thompson’s essay touched on the uneasiness that even Southerners can feel while watching Gone With the Wind. I’m from southeast Missouri, an area in a border state that had pro-Confederate sympathizers. My immediate family didn’t buy into what Thompson calls the “party line”—that the war was about states’ rights rather than slavery, and that Confederates fought more gallantly and had better generals. But growing up, I still felt a little uneasy, since I thought some of my ancestors might have fought for the Confederates.
I recall that, in our high school history class, we played a game where we had to choose sides. Few of my classmates gave much thought to the evils of slavery or racism, although our teacher, who was from Mississippi, did her best to keep our minds on the larger issues. At any rate, all but the most pro-Union people in our part of the world did feel some attachment to the Confederacy.
Still later, when I went to grad school at Brown University in Rhode Island, I did indeed run into people imbued with the Yankee virtue and self-righteousness Thompson mentions. But the more I studied history, the less respect I felt for the Confederate cause and its defenders—and the more obvious it became to me that slavery and Southern arrogance were actually the war’s main causes. A fellow Missourian, Mark Twain, underlined that same point in his writings, although he probably exaggerated the importance of Sir Walter Scott’s novels in deluding Southerners.
Like Thompson, I was surprised by a revelation about an ancestor. I learned that my great-great-grandfather, George Washington Corbin, joined an Indiana regiment in Greene County in 1862 and fought under Grant and Sherman for a year, including the Vicksburg Campaign.
Two weeks after Vicksburg’s capture, Private Corbin succumbed to a Confederate bullet during a battle at Jackson, Miss. On learning that, I knew I no longer had to feel any guilt about betraying my forebears because of my own strong pro-Union sentiments.
Edgar L. Chapman
East Peoria, Ill.
Feeling Gettysburg’s Past
Kudos to Glenn LaFantasie for writing one of the best articles I can recall reading, and not just limited to Civil War magazines (“Feeling the Past at Gettysburg,” August 2008). As a historical narrative it is a fascinating voyage of discovery about one of the three or four most famous aspects of the Gettysburg battle. As a Civil War human interest story it also excels, since it connects the Oates brothers’ stories with the complexities of the fray. At a personal level, the connections between LaFantasie’s father, himself and his daughter, Sarah, are fascinating. Furthermore, the whole adventure was a clever idea—and the writing is superb.
I know the feeling of awe you can get from standing on Little Round Top or, for me, on the spot where John Buford defended against the Confederate advance on the Chambersburg Pike at McPherson’s Ridge. I relived that feeling while reading LaFantasie’s article.
Wrong Colors for 15th Alabama
As the captain of a reenacting unit that portrayed a company of the 15th Alabama Infantry, I’ve done a great deal of research on the regiment’s actions at Gettysburg. I am writing about the regimental colors pictured in the sidebar (P. 29) of Glenn LaFantasie’s article “Feeling the Past at Gettysburg.” Alongside a photo of Colonel William C. Oates, you showed a first-issue Richmond Depot Battle Flag, identified as the “regiment’s Gettysburg battle flag.” It is actually a photo of the colors issued to the regiment soon after it arrived in Virginia.
I’m not exactly sure how long the regiment carried the flag you published, but I do know for certain that it wasn’t carried at Gettysburg. According to former Colonel A.A. Lowther of the 15th Alabama, that flag was carried by the regiment in the battles of Winchester, Cross Keys and Port Republic during Stone – wall Jackson’s Valley Campaign in the spring of 1862, and then at First Cold Harbor (Gaines’ Mill) during the Peninsula Campaign in June. The 15th also served under that flag at the Battle of Cedar Run on August 9, 1862.
When the regiment was issued a new flag, Lowther retained possession of the old one. The flag was presented to the Alabama Department of Archives and History by Lowther’s daughter, Virginia, of Macon, Ga. It was received on March 18, 1927.
According to my research, the 15th Alabama was issued new colors upon the formation of Law’s Alabama Brigade during the winter of 1862-63. They were of the Richmond Depot “Type III” pattern, with white bunting and blue battle honors painted in the flag’s red quadrants. I don’t know for sure what the flag itself looked like because it was removed from its staff at Appomattox and taken home by the 15th Alabama’s color-bearer, John G. Archibald, of Company H. According to William Oates’ The War Between the Union and Confederacy, Archibald “was present at the surrender at Appomattox and took the colors off the staff and hid them under his shirt, brought them home with him, and the last time I saw him said he would keep the old flag until he died, and request that it be put under his head in his coffin when he was buried.”
So as you can see, the Gettysburg colors of the 15th Alabama have long since been lost, and the flag that was pictured in your article has been misidentified as those colors.
At left is a depiction of what we believe the 15th Alabama’s colors actually looked like when it was placed in Law’s Alabama Brigade. We acknowledge that the unit designation on the colors is not in the correct format, but everything else meets Army of Northern Virginia regulations.
Thanks to sharp-eyed reader Matthew Oppy of Quincy, Ill., for noticing that the book review of Mark Twain’s Civil War in the June 2008 issue credited Samuel Clemens with serving briefly in the Union Army. Clemens was actually a member of the Marion County (Mo.) Confederate Rangers.
Originally published in the December 2008 issue of Civil War Times. To subscribe, click here.