The Great Men of History
As George Washington, “The Father of His Country,” fades into the mists of history along with the voluntary Union of sovereign States, Abraham Lincoln, dominating the Washington Mall in his Olympian Temple just as his Empire dominated Washington’s Republic in 1865, has been anointed “The Great Man of American History.” What part does the so-called “Great Man” play in history and cultural evolution? The answer is double-edged, for it requires an understanding of the distinction between the temporal process of “history” (“a chronological series of events each of which is unique”) and the temporal-formal process of “evolution” (“a series of events in which both time and form are equally significant: one form grows out of another in time.”) (1)
G. W. F. Hegel defined the Great Men of History as the “World-Historical Persons whose vocations it was to be the Agents of the World-Spirit.” (2) If the “World-Spirit” is deduced here as being the impulse of evolution towards the culmination of its pattern, then we must look to this distinction between history and evolution to place the Great Man in his proper context.
The course of history – being a temporal process of unique events – can be determined as much by, say, the random act of an idiot or by Missus O’Leary’s cow as by the deliberate act of a Great Man. The course of evolution, on the other hand, is a different matter. While we may hope that the course of history determined by the act of the Great Man is different from that determined by the act of a particular cow or a particular idiot, neither he nor they can determine or control the course of cultural evolution. What the Great Man can do and does do, however, is to ride the crest of evolution as a navigator or a pilot and obey the imperatives of his culture, an “unconscious impulse that occasion(s) the accomplishment of that for which the time (is) ripe.” (3) This is what distinguishes him from Missus O’Leary’s cow.
But it is not enough for him only to be a man of great capacity; he must also have a crest to ride. He must live in conjunction with, and respond to, the culmination of a cultural pattern of evolution; otherwise he will be lost in obscurity. These “World-historical-men,” therefore, are world-historical because they “met the case and fell in with the needs of the age.” (4) The man, then, does not determine the age; it is the age that calls forth the man. Had Abraham Lincoln been born ten years earlier or ten years later, America might never have heard of him.
Great Men and the Age of the Machine:
Abraham Lincoln rode the crest of the Industrial Revolution in America, a revolution that transformed an age that had begun when Adam and his sons stepped out of the Garden of Eden and learned the domestication of plants and animals. The Age of Agriculture ended in the nineteenth century with the development of technology that could effectively harness solar energy from fossil fuels. With this revolution, steam power replaced muscle power as the prime mover of civilization, and the Machine Age was born roaring. The amount of energy harnessed by the Industrial Revolution and the efficiency with which it was put to use increased exponentially as technological evolution synthesized, resulting in the rapid growth and the increasing complexity of social structures to orchestrate it all. As the means and the efficiency of harnessing the free energy of the cosmos increased, populations in the industrializing cultures doubled and in some cases nearly tripled during the nineteenth century. The rural, aristocratic, agrarian feudal system became obsolete and was replaced by an urban, parliamentary, production-for-sale-at-a-profit economy, while the ideologies, values, beliefs, morals and myths of the industrializing cultures evolved apace to justify it all. With the great increase of population and cheap labor, and with the increasingly complex demands of industrialism, slavery and serfdom were found to be inefficient labor systems and they were abolished. While the basic dichotomy of the class structure remained, the composition of these classes underwent radical change. As Leslie A. White says:
“Industrial lords and financial barons replaced the landed aristocracy of feudalism as the dominant element in the ruling class, and an urban, industrial proletariat took the place of serfs, peasants, or slaves as the basic element in the subordinate class. Industrial strife took the place of peasant revolts and uprisings of slaves and serfs of earlier days.” (5)
White makes an interesting observation of cultural evolution and its technological determinant: as culture evolves the rate of growth is accelerated. As technology synthesizes at an ever-increasing pace in our day, culture, like cancer, is metastasizing – but whether into a single global state or into a state of global frenzy remains to be seen. Meanwhile, we have unlocked the energy of the atom, and again a new revolution is upon us, this time superimposed upon the old. In addition, with the evolution of digital technology, of the internet, of the ubiquitous hyperventilating of the media dunning us day-in and day-out, and of the instant global communications between everyone from kings, priests, and tyrants, to radicals, peasants, and demagogues, social structures are being radically transformed all over the world. Whether this new wine can be contained in an old wineskin remains to be seen. We are indeed “riding the stream of Time,” as Bismark said (6), but any claims of control over it are sounding increasingly more like an anthropocentric whimper.
This realization should not be taken as defeatist. If we are discovering that we cannot control the course of evolution, then we must learn to adjust to it the way a sailor must adjust to the weather and to the conditions of the sea – conditions that he cannot control. In order to adjust to the course of evolution we must learn to predict it like we predict the weather, and, with the experience of a seasoned pilot, learn to “read the river” for its rocks and shoals, its tides and its currents.
To predict the course of evolution, a study of the history of those who have ridden this “River of Time” before us is necessary. And as the accurate marking of channels and hazards is vital if our river chart is to be worth anything, then we must sift history for the Truth. Only then – and with an attitude of humility before the might of the Infinite - may we hope to become successful pilots, like the Great Men of History.
Fisher’s Hill, a veritable fortress stretching across the Valley westward from the Massanutten – is a good place to rally from the good fight with Sheridan, whose cavalry alone outnumbers Early’s entire army. But a flank march through the woods on the mountain to the left breaks out and rolls up the lines. Ragged, starving, and lice-infested prisoners of war are packed into a long train of wagons and galloped all night down the Valley Pike to Winchester for fear of Mosby’s men.
A doctor volunteers his services in “the war to make the world safe for democracy,” but he is not needed there because he has a family, and his services are more needed at home.
A surgeon makes three invasions, and, building shelters for his wounded with pine boughs in the snow, refuses orders to withdraw from the Hertgen Forest and is killed by artillery fire while helping to carry a stretcher.
An Infantry officer in Burma helps to repel an attack at night, and attackers fall at his shots. “Oh, no, son. You mustn’t say that. That man may have had a little boy just like you waiting for him to come home.”
An Engineer officer in Vietnam, riding in a jeep and escorting a crippled bulldozer on a lowboy through a village near twilight, meets a man by the side of the road in a conical peasant’s hat, shorts, open shirt, barefooted, and feet planted solidly into the ground. For a moment their eyes meet – the eyes of the rash, parvenu West, the energy of the bright and lusty cities clamoring day and night for more steam, more steel, more trade, more wealth, and more power looking into the eyes of the eternal East, the blade of grass that pushes up through the cracked-pavement entropy of mean streets and litter-strewn alleyways, of desolate factories and drug-plagued ghettoes, of gang wars in crumbling concrete wastelands, the patient blade of grass that waits like the grave for its victory. The East does not blink, and Sheridan’s cavalry passes on.
A deadly drone strike against civilians caps a withdrawal from Afghanistan, “The Graveyard of Empires.”
The Editor of the Roanoke Times has a bee in his bonnet to get something named for John C. Underwood (1). Underwood was a US District Judge in Virginia during Reconstruction who was to preside over the trial of President Jefferson Davis before charges were dropped by the US Supreme Court, and who did preside over the Virginia Constitutional Convention of 1867. He was described as a “semi-”carpetbagger, as he had resided in Virginia for a time prior to the war (2). Personally, he has been described as “repellant; his head drooping; his hair long; his eyes shifty and unpleasing, and like a basilisk’s...” (3)
Underwood was a native of New York who moved to Northern Virginia several years before the war, and had a farm in Clarke County, but he was a radical abolitionist and got run out of the State. During the war he returned under the protection of Governor Francis H. Pierpont’s Unionist government, where he was appointed US District Judge (4).
Pierpont’s “government,” founded by the Wheeling Convention early in the war and consisting of Pierpont as “governor” with three senators and nine delegates as the “General Assembly,” and ensconced in Alexandria across the river from Washington, was recognized by Lincoln, giving him “Virginia’s” electoral votes in 1864, as well as the votes of “West Virginia,” a new state separated from Virginia with the permission of the Pierpont government. After the war, the Pierpont government moved to Richmond, and Underwood went with it. In 1867, under the Reconstruction Acts, the Southern States lost their identities and were placed under martial law and an Army of Occupation, (Virginia being designated as “Military District No. 1,”) and all Confederate soldiers and any who gave aid to the Confederacy disfranchised (5). Blacks, on the other hand, were enfranchised (but not in the North) and under the control of the carpetbaggers and their Union Leagues, who taught them how to hate, and to vote the Radical Republican ticket (6).
Confederate President Jefferson Davis had been vindictively enchained at Fortress Monroe for the two years since the war. He was supposed to die there, but he did not. He was then supposed to be hanged for treason by military tribunal but he was not, as the civil courts had resumed jurisdiction (7). In the Spring of 1867, Judge Underwood was to bring him to trial in Richmond with a jury he selected. Perhaps more in the prevailing spirit of Northern vindictiveness rather than for any altruistic solicitude for civil rights, Underwood seated Blacks on the jury and, abandoning all regard for judicial decorum, harangued them with inflammatory lies against the Confederacy. “The Confederates had been motivated by the ‘fiery soul of treason.’ Southern ‘assassins’ had been guilty of murdering Federal prisoners of war deliberately by starvation; of practicing germ warfare by scattering yellow fever and smallpox germs among helpless civilians; of striking down Abraham Lincoln, ‘one of the earth’s noblest martyrs of freedom and humanity’...” etc. (8)
The editor of the Roanoke Times accuses the Virginia textbooks from the 1950s of “indoctrinating schoolchildren.” With the truth, perhaps, instead of with “The Myth of American History,” as now. Of course no charges of indoctrination could conceivably be made against newspaper editors at the Roanoke Times – pure and pristine as the new-blown snow as they are – or of their pandering to the mob during the “Woke Revolution” to sell newspapers. As part of the Lee Enterprises News Cabal, headquartered in one of those square-shaped states out there in the Midwest somewhere and answering to Warren Buffett, they could not possibly have any affiliation with The Ministry of Propaganda. But as Tennyson wrote, “they, sweet soul, that most impute a crime are pronest to it, and impute themselves” (9).
As for Judge Underwood’s demagoguery, the Confederacy had been motivated not by “the fiery soul of treason,” but by the same desire for independence as in 1776. Scanty rations in Southern POW camps were the same scanty rations that starving Confederate soldiers subsisted on, and Union POW deaths were due to the North’s refusal to exchange prisoners. In fact, according to the Official Records, the mortality rate among Confederate POWs in Northern camps was higher than the mortality rate among Union POWs in Southern camps (10). As for Underwood’s charges of germ warfare, it is on record that between 1862 and 1870 perhaps as many as one million freedmen, or twenty-five percent of the population, died or were in mortal peril from starvation, epidemics and neglect under the hands of their Northern “liberators” (11). As for the assassination of Lincoln, the South had everything to lose and the Radical Republicans had everything to gain by it (12).
Jefferson Davis was offered a pardon by President Andrew Johnson, but he refused it and demanded a trial. It might have been the most important trial in the history of the United States, but the prosecutors were afraid that the uncomfortable facts of the Declaration of Independence and the Tenth Amendment to the US Constitution might come up, Davis would be acquitted, and the North would lose in court what it had won in war. Worse yet, since Abraham Lincoln had never recognized the Southern States as being out of the Union, the embarrassing fact might be exposed that it was Lincoln – not Davis – who was the one who had committed treason under Art. III, sec. 3 of the US Constitution by invading them. So US Chief Justice Salmon P. Chase had the case dropped on a technicality and Davis went free (13).
But Judge Underwood was not finished. He was to preside over the Constitutional Convention that met in December of 1867, also known as the “Black and Tan” or “Underwood” Convention. With most White Virginians disfranchised, the delegation was comprised of 32 conservative Whites, and 70 Radical Republicans, which were composed of 25 Blacks, 17 scalawags and native Virginians, 6 from foreign countries, 13 New Yorkers, and the rest carpetbaggers from other Northern States. Some Whites and most Blacks were illiterate (14), fresh from the corn, cotton, and tobacco fields, decked out in silk hats and broadcloth suits, and reading newspapers upside down (15). A White conservative delegate from Augusta County described (among many other sketches of the Convention) Judge Underwood: “The president of the Convention is, apparently, a gentleman of great amiability. When I observed the other day the suavity of his deportment in the chair, and thought of the shocking harangues he was lately wont to deliver to his grand juries, I was reminded of Byron’s description of one of his heroes, - ‘as mild-mannered man as ever scuttled Ship,’ etc.” (16)
The Underwood Convention framed a Northern constitution, with secret ballots and an increase in local officeholders at taxpayer expense. It required free public schools and heavy taxes on land, which would compel the disfranchised Virginians to pay for the carpetbaggers’ programs. It gave the right to vote to every adult male who had resided in the State for six months, except those thousands who had been Confederate leaders. And it provided that no one could be an office holder or a juror unless he could swear that he had not supported the Confederacy. The Underwood Convention went on until the per diem ran out, and General Schofield, commander of Military District No. 1, finally compelled it to adjourn in April of 1868 (17), when “The Midnight Constitution” came into birth (18).
The editor of the Roanoke Times wants to have something named after John C. Underwood to pay him “tribute.” A portrait of his character by one who was knowledgeable of him at the time of the opening of Jefferson Davis’ trial in Richmond is offered here: “Reporters for Northern papers were present with their Southern brethren of scratch-pad and pencil. The jury-box was a novelty to Northerners. In it sat a motley crew of negroes and whites. For portrait in part of the presiding judge, I refer to the case of McVeigh vs. Underwood, as reported in Twenty-third Grattan, decided in favor of McVeigh. When the Federal Army occupied Alexandria, John C. Underwood used his position as United States District Judge to acquire the homestead, fully furnished, of Dr. McVeigh, then in Richmond. He confiscated it to the United States, denied McVeigh a hearing, sold it, bought it in his wife’s name for $2,850 when it was worth not less than $20,000, and had her deed it to himself. The first time thereafter that Dr. McVeigh met the able jurist face to face on a street in Richmond, the good doctor, one of the most amiable of men, before he knew what he was doing, slapped the able jurist over and went about his business; whereupon, the Honourable the United States Circuit Court picked himself up and went about his, which was sitting in judgment on cases in equity. In 1873, Dr. McVeigh’s home was restored to him by law, the United States Supreme Court pronouncing Underwood’s course ‘a blot upon our jurisprudence and civilization’” (19).
So name something after John C. Underwood, or perhaps build him a monument on the Capitol grounds. He is of low degree but eminently worthy of our times, and the carpetbaggers and the scalawags who have overrun Virginia are in need of love, too. But know that it takes more than a zip code to make a Virginian.
If you are like me, you probably don’t spend a lot of time thinking about mules these days, but a passage from Faulkner brought them to mind. Collectivism so far has not taken root in the South, but things are so rapidly changing with the “Woke Revolution” there is no telling the future. But whatever the future holds, the “woke” will have to contend with the ubiquitous individuality of the native Southerner, and one of the most individual of that breed is the mule. As William Faulkner wrote in Flags in the Dust:
Some Cincinnatus of the cotton fields should contemplate the lowly destiny, some Homer should sing the saga, of the mule and of his place in the South. He it was, more than any one creature or thing, who, steadfast to the land when all else faltered before the hopeless juggernaut of circumstances, impervious to conditions that broke men’s hearts because of his venomous and patient preoccupation with the immediate present, won the prone South from beneath the iron heel of Reconstruction and taught it pride again through humility and courage through adversity overcome; who accomplished the well-nigh impossible despite hopeless odds, by sheer and vindictive patience…
As a city boy growing up in Lynchburg right after the Second World War, I didn’t have much occasion to come into contact with mules. My father had come home and was a manufacturer’s representative for a farm machinery company, but he told me they still used mules in the tobacco fields, pulling the sleds down the rows where a tractor couldn’t go. Most of those broad tobacco fields that I remember seeing below Lynchburg when we were driving to South Carolina to visit my grandparents are gone now, and the mules with them, too, I suppose.
I remember one day in South Carolina seeing a car load of colored men in an old car, with one leaning out of the window leading a mule trotting alongside, with harness jangling, in a picture surely worth a thousand words.
My long-time “ol’ podner” Doug Wakefield (may God rest his soul) grew up in the little town of Iva, South Carolina. In an early manifestation of his innate patriotism – before serving two tours of duty in Vietnam with the Navy – he was a member of the Civil Air Patrol. He said on Sunday afternoons they would muster on the roof of Claude Finley’s mule barn to watch for Communist airplanes. Finley’s mule barn was the tallest structure in town, and CAP “intel” had evidently determined that a Communist strike on his establishment – the largest mule distributorship in the South - was likely most immanent on Sunday afternoons after church. I recently attended a funeral in Iva, but I saw no sign of any mule barns in the growing town or its environs.
Mules, horses, and oxen were the farm tractors before steam power replaced muscle power as the prime mover of civilization, and they carried history on their backs. In my front yard when I was growing up, there was a swale over which my tire swing hung. It was part of the remnant of General Jubal Early’s defenses of Lynchburg in 1864 when the Yankees came - the old road that connected Ft. McCausland on Langhorne Road with the redoubt held by the Lynchbug Home Guard – “The Silver Grays” – and the VMI Cadets up on Rivermont Avenue, where Villa Maria is now. My father rigged up my tire swing for me. He tied a chisel to the end of a heaving line, threw it high up over a limb on the big oak tree, bent the end of the heaving line to the main line for the swing, pulled that over the limb, tied a slip knot, pulled it taught against the limb, and secured the other end to the tire. Then he cut a drainage hole in the bottom of the tire and I was “good to go” (except for the wasps that you had to watch out for that would build a nest in the tire) getting a good running start and swinging out over that little depression in the front yard where ninety years before teamsters pulling wagons, and artillerymen pulling guns and caissons cracked whips and swore at hard-headed and recalcitrant mules:
… Father and mother he does not resemble, sons and daughters he will never have; vindictive and patient (it is a known fact that he will labor ten years willingly and patiently for you, for the privilege of kicking you once); solitary but without pride, self-sufficient but without vanity; his voice is his own derision. Outcast and pariah, he has neither friend, wife, mistress nor sweetheart; celibate, he is unscarred, possesses neither pillar nor desert cave, he is not assaulted by temptations nor flagellated by dreams nor assuaged by visions; faith, hope and charity are not his. Misanthropic, he labors six days without reward for one creature whom he hates, bound with chains to another whom he despises, and spends the seventh day kicking or being kicked by his fellows…
After The War, there were the “forty acres and a mule” that the carpetbaggers had promised the freedmen in exchange for their votes. It worked pretty good for the carpetbaggers, but not so good for the credulous freedmen. While they got top hats and cigars, the carpetbaggers got the votes and the forty acres. What they did with the mules is not recorded. They did not need mules to plow the ground for votes, or to harvest taxes, or to foreclose on the forty acres.
It front of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts – before Monument Avenue was desecrated and the Confederate monuments were vandalized and torn down – there stood a sculpture of a war horse. He was gaunt and starving, saddled with a McClellan, and with head drooping, worn to a frazzle. The new carpetbaggers and scalawags of the VMFA evidently felt that he looked too much like a Confederate horse, so to placate the tender sensibilities of the “woke” who abound these days, the War Horse was moved around back, lest he offend anyone, and the front of the museum is now graced with Kehende Wiley’s barbarian thug on horseback, “Rumors of War,” created by the artist to mock the “Jeb” Stuart monument (now torn down) - and unintentionally glorifying, sanctifying and enshrining the highest aspirations that those who adulate it are likely to attain.
There has been much talk about the replacements for the monuments on the Avenue that were torn down (the Lee monument has been thoroughly vandalized, but it is still standing, albeit under litigation.) A number of replacement heroes of a “woke” multicultural nature have been suggested, but none that remotely match Lee and Jackson for shaking the Lincoln Empire to its foundation while Jeb Stuart rode circles around it in defense of our independence. I don’t know how “woke” he is, but may I suggest a monument to the multi-cultural mule?
On January 1, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln issued his Emancipation Proclamation as a war measure to weaken Confederate defenses and to keep England or France from recognizing the Confederacy and lifting the blockade of the Southern Coast. It stated in effect that slavery was alright as long as one were loyal to his government, but that those slaves behind Confederate lines were declared “then, thenceforward, and forever free” (1). The war did not end at Appomattox, for there were other Confederate armies in the field, and E. Kirby Smith did not surrender the Confederate Army of the Trans-Mississippi until June 2, 1865, at Galveston, Texas (2). Thus, the last slaves under the terms of Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation were freed there on June 19, but slaves in the United States were not freed until the ratification of the 13th Amendment to the US Constitution in December of 1865.
Accounts survive of emancipation during the war. It was not always a “Jubilee.” Edward A. Pollard, editor of the Richmond Examiner during the war, reported, “The fact is indisputable, that in all the localities of the Confederacy where the enemy had obtained a foothold, the negroes had been reduced by mortality during the war to not more than one-half their previous number… In the winter of 1863-64, the Governor of Louisiana, in his official message, published to the world the appalling fact, that more negroes had perished in Louisiana from the cruelty and brutality of the public enemy than the combined number of white men, in both armies, from the casualties of war… The Yankees had abundant supplies of food, medicines and clothing at hand, but they did not apply them to the comfort of the negro, who, once entitled to the farce of ‘freedom,’ was of no more consequence to them than any other beast with a certain amount of useful labor in his anatomy (3)…
“We may take from Northern sources some accounts of these contraband camps, to give the reader a passing picture of what the unhappy negroes had gained by what the Yankees called their ‘freedom.’ A letter to a Massachusetts paper said: - ‘There are, between Memphis and Natchez, not less than fifty thousand blacks, from among whom have been culled all able-bodied men for the military service. Thirty-five thousand of these, viz., those in camps between Helena and Natchez, are furnished the shelter of old tents and subsistence of cheap rations by the Government, but are in all other things in extreme destitution. Their clothing, in perhaps the case of a fourth of this number, is but one single worn and scanty garment. Many children are wrapped night and day in tattered blankets as their sole apparel. But few of all these people have had any change of raiment since, in midsummer or earlier, they came from the abandoned plantations of their masters. Multitudes of them have no beds or bedding – the clayey earth the resting place of women and babes through these stormy winter months. They live of necessity in extreme filthiness, and are afflicted with all fatal diseases. Medical attendance and supplies are very inadequate. They cannot, during the winter, be disposed to labor and self-support, and compensated labor cannot be procured for them in the camps. They cannot, in their present condition, survive the winter. It is my conviction that, unrelieved, the half of them will perish before the spring. Last winter, during the months of February, March and April, I buried, at Memphis alone, out of an average of about four thousand, twelve hundred of these people, or twelve a day’” (4).
Precise figures are unavailable, but by some estimates, out of a population of four million, as many as 25% of the freedmen perished or suffered mortal peril from epidemic illness and famine from 1862 to 1870 under the hands of their “liberators” (5). In February of 1865, Confederate Vice-President Alexander Stevens tried to negotiate a peaceful settlement to the war with Abraham Lincoln. Stevens asked what the North was prepared to do for the Blacks that the North had emancipated. Lincoln responded, quoting a song then popular: “Root, hog, or die” (6). Perhaps a million did.
Hit mus’ be now de kingdom comin’,
A native of Lynchburg, Virginia, the author graduated from the Virginia Military Institute in 1967 with a degree in Civil Engineering and a Regular Commission in the US Army. His service included qualification as an Airborne Ranger, and command of an Engineer company in Vietnam, where he received the Bronze Star. After his return, he resigned his Commission and ended by making a career as a tugboat captain. During this time he was able to earn a Master of Liberal Arts from the University of Richmond, with an international focus on war and cultural revolution. He is a member of the Jamestowne Society, the Society of the Cincinnati in the State of Virginia, the Sons of Confederate Veterans, and the Society of Independent Southern Historians. He currently lives in Richmond, where he writes, studies history, literature and cultural revolution, and occasionally commutes to Norfolk to serve as a tugboat pilot