By Peter Galuszka
Confederate statues are finally coming down in Richmond and other Virginia cities, including one of Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson. There have been outcries by sentimental mythologists and apologists on this blog and elsewhere about how “mob rule” is forcing issues and so on.
Since some bloggers here have come up with their version of positive biographies about some of the figures, notably Matthew Fontaine Maury, an early oceanographer and Confederate Naval officer, I thought I’d weigh in on my own personal experience with Stonewall.
Jackson was born on Jan. 24 1824 in what was then Clarksburg, Va., and grew up about 20 miles south in Jackson’s Mill near Weston Va. Then in 1863, irritated about Richmond’s racial policies and economic favoritism, residents seceded and created West Virginia which supported the North in the Civil War.
By coincidence, I moved to the Clarksburg area in 1962 from the D.C. area when I was nine years old and resided there until 1969.
It wasn’t exactly the “Southern” experience others seem to recall. For one thing, the homeland of “Stonewall” did not have many slaves or African-Americans. The area of Harrison County, however, held fairly mixed views about slavery and allegiance. While Jackson, a West Point graduate went with the South, his sister was loyal to the North. (For more details about Jackson’s life, read James L. Robertson Jr.’s excellent 1997 biography.)
As a boy in the area, I remember the dark statue of Jackson on a horse facing north in the main town square of Clarksburg, But I don’t recall Confederate flags everywhere. We did assume roles of North and South when we played war. Since it was the War’s Centennial, we did trade little cards that depicted the war. These were like baseball cards and were distinctive because they had very realistic depictions of soldiers from both sides being eviscerated in very bloody ways by cannon fire. I was surprised our parents didn’t confiscate them.
There were few North-South social conflicts there. As noted, there were few African-Americans, although our family veterinarian was Black.
The social tensions there were white-on-white and religion against religion. One group were descendants of mostly Scots-Irish immigrants who took the land from Native Americans. This was not a plantation society that dominated Virginia and placed most power in the hands of a small elite of white oligarchs. These people were fiercely independent and outdoor-oriented.
The second group was the Italians. Immigrants were lured to Clarksburg in the mid-19th century to work as artisans in local glass factories since the ground was rich in silica and other raw materials. Coal came in and drew more immigrants from Southern and Eastern Europe. The Baltimore & Ohio railroad was another growth engine.
There were plenty of conflicts between the Protestant mountaineers suspicious of Catholics and the Italians. There was a Ku Klux Klan but they went after the “Papists.” It resulted in two distinct societies. I attended both public and parochial schools. Eventually Clarksburg grew an Italian neighborhood that became a tourist draw for restaurants and festivals.
It is curious to me that this reflects a very different environment in which Jackson grew up although most of the changes came after his death of combat wounds in 1863 at Guinea, Va. It really has little to do with the usual image of “The South.”
By the time we moved to Jackson’s homeland, it was in serious economic decline. Coal was played out even though in 1968 there was a horrific mine blast in Farmington in the next county that killed scores of miners. We lived with the filth and noise of largely unregulated strip mines.
In any event, the region was fairly quiet regarding civil unrest until 1996. That year, seven members associated with the far-right, white supremacist “Mountaineer Militia” were arrested for plotting to blow up the new, FBI fingerprint center that employed 1,500 near Clarksburg.
In 1999, while still at BusinessWeek, I covered a Ku Klux Klan rally that made the statue of Stonewall in Clarksburg a dandy prop.
Meanwhile, I note articles that some of Jackson’s descendants wanted his statute taken down in Richmond. So much for teary-eyed Moonlight and Magnolia.