Monday, December 5, 2016

1940: Roadside fame or cast-iron shame?

Civil War veterans clad in gray and blue meet across a rock wall
 on Cemetery Ridge during the 75th anniversary of the Battle
 of Gettysburg. The fellow on the left is giving the "rebel yell."
     December 7 marked the 75th anniversary of the Japanese air raid at Pearl Harbor that drew the United States into World War II.
     At The Stoneman Gazette, we are all about anniversaries and memorials. This newspaper was created to cover the double-diamond 150th anniversary (or sesquicentennial, if you prefer) of Stoneman's Raid.
     So today seems like a good time to look back at how our forefathers commemorated the 75th anniversaries of Stoneman's Raid and the end of the Civil War—just 19 months before Pearl Harbor.
     Nationally, the biggest ceremony was in 1938the 75th anniversary of the 1863 Battle of Gettysburg. Some 2,500 Yanks and Rebs, all in their nineties, gathered on that blood-consecrated field for one last reunion. (Watch remarkable footage from Ken Burns' 1990 epic, The Civil War). Those veterans included at least one associated with Stoneman's Raid, Mose Triplett, who died just two weeks afterwards. (His daughter is the last person receiving a Civil War pension.)
Burlington Daily Times-News, April 16, 1940
     By 1940, the 75th anniversary of the end of the Civil War was overshadowed by the beginnings of World War II in Europe. Across North Carolina, the United Daughters of the Confederacy held local ceremonies on Confederate Memorial Day, May 10 (the date of Stonewall Jackson's death in 1863 and Jefferson Davis's capture in 1865), to remember fallen heroes and salute the last few surviving veterans. Prominent politicians made speeches under a battle flag at Hillsborough's Alexander Dickson House, known as "the last headquarters of the Confederacy."
     As for Stoneman's Raid, you might have expected North Carolina to sweep the whole painful episode under the rug of history. Instead, the state marked the 75th anniversary of the raid by bestowing Gen. George Stoneman with roadside fame and making him a something of a household name in the mountains and foothills. 
These markers in Salisbury are among 18 erected by North Carolina 75 years after Stoneman's Raid.
     In 1940, the state's official historian, C.C. Crittenden*, commissioned 18 cast-iron historical markers to trace the path of Stoneman's Raid along highways from Boone to Mount Airy and from Salisbury to Asheville. As the grandson of two Confederate soldiers, Crittenden must have known how provocative this would be.
     Some North Carolinians were outraged that their state would spend their taxes to honor the notorious Yankee general and a campaign that was scorched into their family memories. "When the first North Carolina historical markers commemorating the raid were installed over seventy years afterward, citizens tore them down and threw them in a river," historian Chris Hartley wrote in the cover notes for his book, Stoneman's Raid, 1865.
     Another ambush on Stoneman's legacy came in 1969 from Glenn Tucker, the award-winning biographer of Gov. Zebulon Vance. Writing about the Civil War for the centennial edition of the Asheville Citizen-Times, Tucker scoffed:

Stoneman's raid, though still prominently advertised, did not hasten the end of the Confederacy by an hour. Anyone is entitled to wonder why, since it passed through Asheville after Lee and Johnston's men had laid down their arms, it is commemorated so extravagantly by historical markers in Asheville, Hendersonville, Lynn, and places in the Piedmont. Little if any heroism appears to have been involved. Incidents occurred which had better be forgotten. ... A salutory event would be for the historical commission in Raleigh to apply the Stoneman touch and trip down those signs, then substitute more worthy markers.
     Tucker raised a legitimate question, since Stoneman's Raid has nearly twice as many markers as Sherman's march through eastern North Carolina—a much more significant campaign that effectively ended the Civil War. Undeniably, some of the raiders were guilty of rape, pillage, and other dishonorable deeds during the week they spent in the mountains.
     However, I must respectfully disagree with some of Tucker's conclusions about the timing, conduct, and consequences of the raid. And I have corroborating witnesses. Gen. Ulysses Grant shared Tucker's disdain for Stoneman, yet Grant did acknowledge that the raid helped finish off the Confederacy. An Ohio captain who later became a historian and a diplomat described Stoneman's Raid as "brilliant but indequately appreciated."
     Are the markers appropriate? I think so, and the scholars in Raleigh seem to agree: In the 76 years since the signs were erected and the 47 years since Tucker objected, only one of the 18 has been decommissioned by the state. It was in Newton, and it was replaced by the city in 2009 after it was knocked down by a snowplow in 1989.
     Eleven of the original 1940 markers still stand. You can find six of them near courthouses in Boone, Wilkesboro, Dobson, Danbury, Salisbury, and Rutherfordton. Two more are on the outskirts of Salisbury, the most significant battlefield of Stoneman's Raid. Others remain in Statesville, Lenoir, and Lynn.
     Six of the originals have been replaced with newer plaques in Hendersonville, Asheville, Morganton, Shallow Ford, Mount Airy, and Blowing Rock. Two more monuments to Stoneman's Raid were added at Deep Gap in 1959 and Swannanoa Gap in 1960. So there were 20 state markers before the one in Newton came down.
     Contrary to Tucker's generalizations, these markers are not one-sided in favor of the Yankees. The ones at the Yadkin River near Salisbury and the Swannanoa Gap east of Asheville commemorate heroic rebel stands that resulted in the last Confederate victories of the war.
Civil War Trails displays along Stoneman's route include
 this one at Andrews Geyser near Old Fort,
commemorating the last Confederate victory.
     In addition to the state and city markers, Stoneman's Raid is also documented by 22 Civil War Trails displays. These illustrated and informative plaques are part of an effort to promote Civil War tourism.
     Near Greensboro, there are also two monuments related to Stoneman's Raid erected by the Col. John Sloan Camp of the Sons of the Confederate Veterans.
     Altogether, I've found 44 historical markers documenting the 28 days and 500 miles that Stoneman's raiders criss-crossed 24 counties in western North Carolina.
     As for Tucker, he might have been more content in Tennessee, Virginia, or South Carolina, where few markers mention Stoneman by name. Georgia has several, but most of them focus on an 1864 raid where rebels captured Stoneman.
 
C.C. Crittenden
S.S. Crittenden
* C.C. CRITTENDEN (1902-1969) should not be confused with S.S. CRITTENDEN (1829-1911), a Confederate veteran who wrote the 1903 centennial history of Greenville, S.C. As far as I can tell, they were not related, and they would have disagreed on how we should remember Stoneman's Raid. In his brief chapter on "Greenville During the War," S.S. Crittenden did not mention the two occasions that Stoneman's cavalry invaded Greenville (May 1-2 and May 22-24, 1865). Certainly he knew of these incidents, and it would not be surprising if he was personally involved in the local resistance. His mother was from Salisbury, N.C., which was likewise known for denying its history with Stoneman.

The first 11 markers for Stoneman's Raid were announced May 7, 1940—75 years after the raid and 19 months before Pearl Harbor. This clipping is from The Robesonian in Lumberton, N.C.

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