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 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 claimed to be 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: Commemorative Cultures among Civil War Veterans, will offer some explanations. It seems that Christian was indeed a typical former Confederate reconciliaitonist…one 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 about…so thanks George!