Tuesday, July 1, 2008

A Rovin' We Shall Go

This summer, the staff of your favorite Western Theater blog (this one...right?) have been taking a series of research trips on our days off. There are some quality posts that are due to be written stemming from these, but I thought I'd share one of the lighter ones. Last week while headed to Montgomery to the Alabama Dept. of Archives and History, we stopped in Jacksonville, AL, the hometown of our own Chris Young. Now, Jacksonville at the time of the War was a regular metropolis, the transportation hub of the northeast (in the pre-Birmingham days), and the county seat of Calhoun.

Now it is none of those things. It is home to a fine regional university, though, and more important to our readership is the resting place of The Gallant Pelham. I know, I try to keep our posts centered on the war in the West, but I figure that since he is buried in an area that Eastern Theater partisans rarely travel to (i.e. outside the I-95 corridor) it deserves some illumination (I kid, I kid). The Gallant Pelham's memory still hangs heavy on the good people of Jacksonville, the main drag through town, the one that used to lead right to the courthouse has been renamed for him. The cemetary, too, cannot seem to move beyond his dashing Confederate legacy. The pedestaled statue of the Major dominates the cemetery, and is placed, curiously, on the edge of the cemetery, looking over the town. It struck me as the Feudal lord, surveying his lands and serfs; Pelham, Earl of Jacksonville, Defender of the Cause.

And the local SCV (Pelham Camp, go figure!) has contributed in its own way to further the cult of the glorious Cause. Their marker for some CS unknowns who died in the hospitals in the town sums up so much about the romanticization and glorification of the Confederate soldier that has taken place over the intervening years. "Carved out of the endurance of granite God created his masterpiece -- The Confederate Soldier."

Even the grave of a local reenactor (and yes, it did mention that fact quite prominently) abandons traditional imagery of death, mourning, and grief to have laser-carved Lost Cause images from Mort Kunstler's playbook. What does it mean to define your own life, and your lasting footprint on this physical world, not for any feats that you yourself have attained, but instead to define yourself in relation to an historical event? Honestly, this is not even defining yourself in relation to a historical event, but instead to the constructed memory of that event, the Beau Ideal of the Lost Cause that the sacrifice of the young, dashing, Gallant Pelham over across the way did so much to establish in both life and death. Do the people of Jacksonville still live to serve the Cause? Can't we say something else about Mr. Carter other than "He was true to the 'ashes of his fathers and the temples of his gods'?"

All this stands in marked contrast to one small section of the cemetary, not far, incidentally, from the Pelham monument. The graves of the servants of the Hoke, Forney, and Abernathy families (some of the best names in the antebellum town, I'm told). "In memory of their faithful servants: Ellen, Sallie, Nancy, Jemima, Mary, Judy, Harriet, Alfred, Johnny, and others." And others? There were better than 35 "others" in that plot. The families don't know enough to name more than the handful, don't care how many there are, don't mark them with more than a rock. Those "faithful servants," apparently, should just be happy they got to be buried with their whitefolks, and in such close proximity to that dashing young artillerist who died to perpetuate their inferiority. Of course, in contrast to those CS unknowns, there isn't a Sons of Former Slaves group to come back and place nice stones on the graves of these people. They receive no eulogy, no one to tell how their own endurance must have been carved out of granite. Instead, they remain nameless, faceless, nearly forgotten. Even when remembered, these people are seen not as icons of the past whose lives we should emulate but as faithful witnesses to the Old South, as those good ol' darkies whom the paternalistic Confederacy was fighting to "care for." I don't mean to downplay the physical sacrifice of the Confederacy or of its fighting men here, but what are we to think of these slaves, of American citizens of all colors today, if the CS soldier was indeed "God's Masterpiece?"

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