Monday, February 13, 2012

Confederate Veteran James F. Crocker on Pickett's Charge

[caption id="attachment_2033" align="alignleft" width="238" caption="James F. Crocker"][/caption]

Greetings Cosmic Americans!

I was checking out a nicely written report at 901 Stories from Gettysburg by Gettysburg College student Natalie Sherif on the experiences of Pennsylvania College graduate (aka Gettysburg College) and Confederate veteran James F. Crocker. It reminded me of two things. One, he served in the 9th Virginia Infantry with Henry A. Allen - A Confederate soldier captured at Gettysburg  who would write dozens of captivating letters to his wife describing prison life. Two, I have in the Cosmic America archives a 1894 speech delivered to the Stonewall Camp, Confederate Veterans in Portsmouth, Virginia. In this speech, Crocker offers an all-too-familiar narrative of the three days in July 1863, when his certainties (and many others' too) of independence were dashed.

Amidst the pathos typical of many commemorating Confederates, Crocker enumerates those to blame for the Rebels' devastating loss. The usual suspects take their hits: Jeb Stuart for leaving the Army of Northern Virginia blind, Richard Ewell for not taking Cemetery Hill on July 1st, and James Longstreet for dragging his feet on July 2nd and 3rd. Robert E. Lee, of course, was faultless.

Crocker's story, focusing primarily on the frontal assault of July 3rd, places him squarely in what one could call the John Brown Gordon school of reconciliation - the predominant "we were all brave Americans North and South and fought for a cause we thought just" type...much unlike the bitter and antagonistic reflections of Confederates such as Jubal Early.  But his speech is laced with lament. He emphasizes the horrific losses in men and naturally mourns them - leading us to suspect that his words could indeed be part of the general ex-Confederate reconciliationist position. He is reconciled - but not forgetful.

[caption id="attachment_2037" align="alignright" width="300" caption="Gettysburg Sources, Volume 2"][/caption]

I believe it important to make a distinction here. Historians such as John Neff argue that mourning fallen comrades served as an impediment to reconciliation...thus adding more veterans to the unreconciled side of the balance sheet than we thought might exist. This sort of dichotomy is problematic, suggesting clearly delineated groups, and doesn't much get at the many ways veterans expressed reconciliation in public, private, among their peers, or among strangers.

This is the fascination thing about published speeches - available (in this case) in the three volume collection, Gettysburg Sources. Most speeches lauded reconciliationist efforts. But within these speeches were often hints - or sometimes outright demands - that certain issues be recognized. For Crocker - it was the loss of a generation.



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