Wednesday, January 12, 2011

George Llewellyn Christian - an Angry (ex) Confederate

Greetings Cosmic Americans!

George Llewellyn Christian was among the most prolific former Confederates around. It seems he had something to say about pretty much everything Civil War related. He wrote numerous articles, published in pamphlet form, and turned up in states all across the South to talk about the war in person. George L. Christian certainly got around.

Christian was a young man in 1861 - only twenty years old. He enlisted in the Confederate army and served with his fellow Virginians until he was horribly wounded at Spotsylvania. Having lost all of one foot and most of another, he managed to hobble off to Charlottesville and earn a law degree from the University of Virginia - and after the war became a prominent attorney.

But he never quite got over Confederate defeat. His writings and speeches are evidence of just how bitter he really was. In an 1894 tribute to Jubal Early, he noted, “The man whose soul is so dead that he is not proud to have been a part of [the Confederate] army, battling not for what he thought was right, but what was right, is too contemptible, in my opinion, to be by any human power raised to the level of brute.”

Four years later, Christian would remind the people of the South, that “whilst the cause for which [Confederates] fought is a ‘lost cause’ in the sense that they failed to establish a separate government within certain geographical limits, it is only lost in that sense. The principles of that cause yet live.” Adding his bitter voice to those of other aggravated former Confederates, Christian noted the significance of monument dedications and gatherings in terms of perpetuating Confederate memories. “Here, history will record a thrilling tale of outrage inflicted upon this defenseless people by the mercenary hordes of the North, permitted and encouraged by the remorseless cruelty and unquenchable ambition of some of their leaders.”

From the looks of things, Christian had a real problem with reconciliation. In the influential Ghosts of the Confederacy, Gaines M. Foster equates such bitter Rebels with Native American Ghost Dancers of the late-nineteenth century. “They clung to the past, defended old values, and dreamed of a world untouched by defeat.” Very few southerners, Foster argues, joined the ghost dance. By the 1880s, “Confederate celebration did not foster a revival of rabid sectionalism.” Detractors perpetuating sectional animosity simply by “not forgetting” during an era when most had presumably agreed to let “bygones be bygones” thus appear out of place in a nation characterized by an outpouring of reconciliationist sentiment.

Or do they? Historians such as Foster (and...David Blight - see post) have effectively misplaced Christian's form of commemoration. The majority of white southerners, they suggest, distanced themselves from efforts to revitalize the divisive aspects of Confederate memory and rejected bitter former Rebels as unreconstructed anachronisms.

Not so fast - in fact, Christian was a reconciliationist at heart, and he spoke often of his loyalty to the postwar United States - just like most former Confederates. And thus the problem. How do we deal with those who claim reconciliation and then say every thing they can to suggest otherwise? Evidence that I will present in my upcoming book, Across the Bloody Chasm: Reconcilation in the Wake of Civil War, will offer some clues. It seems that Christian was indeed a typical former Confederate who wanted peace and brotherly harmony between the sections so long as a few terms were met first. Namely...that northerners admitted they were wrong.

Since this was not about to happen - Christian, and many, many more like him, ran up against a bit of a stone wall (so to speak). Northern Unionists were just as stubborn when it came to their version of the war. Reconciliationists all (or most), they could never seem to agree on what the war was about. This is the legacy that we live with in the 21st century. And - it gives me something to write thanks George!




  1. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Keith Harris, Keith Harris. Keith Harris said: George Llewellyn Christian – an Angry (ex) Confederate | Cosmic America: via @addthis [...]

  2. It sounds almost like a question of idealism versus pragmatism. To him, ideally, the "lost cause" questions would be secured in favor of the Confederates, but the reality was that the Confederacy had lost the war and the "Re-United" States was now their nation, and the best alternative they had. It sounds like maybe at that point, he just accepted that part - maybe even with some enthusiasm from what you say - but never forgot the dream of an independent South.

    Dreaming of one life while living another may not be unusual, but I admit I am not familiar with how he made his efforts to support reconciliation.

  3. Richard - thanks for the thoughtful comment. In Christian's case, as with many others, I do not believe he accepted anything. I believe that he recognized the military defeat of the Confederacy and the end of a slave-holding republic but worked to keep Confederate ideology alive in the reunited nation. In this way, he can seemingly live a double life - both reconciled and not (by certain definitions) And thus, this particular brand of CSA reconciliation carries with it much ideological baggage - what many former Rebels cannot let go of, regardless of their new found loyalty to the US.