At the height of the battle, General Barnard Bee meets General Thomas J. Jackson as he arrives on the field, and states that the enemy is driving his forces back. Jackson’s response: “Then Sir, we will give them the bayonet!” Noticing Jackson’s resolve, Bee instructs his men to form behind Jackson. “There is Jackson standing like a stone wall. Let us determine to die here, and we will conquer. Rally behind the Virginians!” We all know what happened next, but what many people do not know, is Stonewall Jackson and Barnard Bee ( S.C.) could have easily been on different sides of the conflict.
On May 3rd, Union troops invade Virginia (still in the Union), and occupy Arlington Heights. Union artillery was intended to intimidate the citizenry and to suppress secessionist votes. It didn’t happen. On May 23rd, Virginia voted 124, 896 to 20, 396 for secession, a 6 to 1 margin. An invasion of Virginia was already in progress and before the votes were counted Union forces invaded Virginia, seizing Alexandria and vital railroad connections. An Alexandria innkeeper, James Jackson flew the Confederate colors, his home was attacked, he was shot in the face, bayoneted and pushed down the steps. Virginia was horrified, outraged and now resolved to be in the fight. It now had a martyr and a reason to fight.
MY POINT IN TELLING THIS STORY is history is a lot more complicated, interesting and nuanced than the simple minded pap the NEA teaches our children. Virginia was a huge state with the South’s largest population and most diverse economy. Had she stayed in the Union, perhaps the constitutional crisis over secession would have been settled without 600,000 deaths. Lincoln’s actions flipped Virginia to the other side. Did Lincoln make good decisions? I am not sure, but one thing that is for sure is HISTORY provides us with our only roadmap on how to assess the future, but it is a faulty map if it is dumb downed, politicized and not taught and discussed in a thorough manner.