Historian and Author Tom Perry's thoughts on history and anything that comes to mind.

Monday, March 28, 2016

A Portrait of J. E. B. Stuart

Tonight I will be speaking the Fincastle Rifles Sons of Confederate Veterans Camp about the portrait and the resulting controversy and outcome of these events.

            On August 19, 2015, Judge Martin F. Clark, Jr. took down the portrait of Confederate Major General James Ewell Brown “Jeb” Stuart in the Stuart, Virginia, courthouse, where he presides. A few weeks later on August 31, Clark held his last book signing for his new book The Jezebel Remedy in Patrick County at Meadows of Dan. Two days after his book signing, he released a four page statement announcing he had taken the portrait down and his reasoning that was basically “someone” complained about it due to the fact Stuart fought for slavery and an African-American might feel they could not get a fair trial in a courtroom, which also held a portrait of Patrick Henry, for whom Patrick County is named. Henry was a much larger slave owner than Stuart and his portrait still hangs on the wall of the courtroom.

            Confederate symbols came under increased public scrutiny in the summer of 2015 after the June 17 massacre of nine black worshippers at a church in Charleston, South Carolina. Subsequently, South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley caved into political correctness and worked to remove the Confederate flag from the statehouse grounds in Columbia even though there was a law in place to prevent such an action.

Oscar winning actress Julianne Moore called for the name of the high school she attended to change its name a few weeks before Clark took down the portrait. The name was J. E. B. Stuart High School, located in Fairfax, Virginia, which in 1861 had been the site of a camp Stuart occupied in the early days of the War Between the States. The school became one of the most diverse high schools in the United States.

At Hillsville, Virginia’s, giant Labor Day flea market a few weeks after the portrait came down, I was selling books. Almost everyone who came into my tent wanted to talk about “Jeb” Stuart and “PORTRAITGATE.” No one supported the removal of the portrait from the Patrick County Courthouse.

One of those who came into my tent was Ed Turner III, who shared some interesting information with me. I know there is information in my papers at Virginia Tech, but I have not had time to visit to go through all that and my memory is not what it once was on all things J. E. B. Stuart. That is why I wrote books about it. Ed’s father, Edward Turner, Jr., was Patrick County Administrator in the 1970s and in my thirty years of research I have come across his name often in his efforts to preserve Patrick County history including efforts to save Stuart’s Birthplace in the 1970s.

            After all the controversy surrounding the portrait of “Jeb” Stuart, I made a trip to the Bassett Historical Center, our regional history and genealogy library, to have a look in the files. Here is what I found after about an hour of research.

On Monday, February 7, 1972, the day before was James Ewell Brown “Jeb” Stuart’s 139th birthday, the newly formed Patrick County Historical Society presented the “People of Patrick County” a portrait of Stuart dressed as a Major General in the Confederate States of America’s Army of Northern Virginia. Judge John D. Hooker accepted the portrait saying, “I think it is well, indeed, that one of the first things the Patrick County Historical Society is doing is placing on the walls of this courtroom the portrait of one of Patrick County’s greatest.” Judge Hooker stated that he “cherished” the fact that the portrait of his father was hung on a wall with J. E. B. Stuart, who was “a young man who made a tremendous contribution to a cause that he considered to be just.”

The portrait was the work of Ellen D. Stuart, a relative of J. E. B. Stuart. She completed the watercolor in 1889 and referred to in this document as the portrait.  It was a copy of an earlier painting that was a gift to Flora Cooke Stuart, widow of J. E. B. Stuart, from Major Heroes von Borcke, a Prussian, who served on Stuart’s staff during the War Between the States. The original painting went to the descendants of Flora and J. E. B. Stuart’s daughter Virginia Pelham Stuart Waller.

            The portrait made its way to the Stuart Normal College in Stuart, Virginia. The school started in 1906 and “The portrait of General Stuart graced this auspicious occasion.” The portrait then made its way to Stuart High School in the 1920s, but was not hung that anyone in 1972 could remember. Next, the portrait graced the walls of the J. E. B. Stuart Inn, formerly the Perkins Hotel, in uptown Stuart today.  The hotel burned, but the portrait was not a casualty. The portrait disappeared after that for many years.

            Many people worked tirelessly to find the portrait and get it in condition to hang in the courthouse. Judge Hooker pointed out that Mrs. N. C. Terry, mother of Mary Sue Terry, former Attorney General of the Commonwealth of Virginia, provided “invaluable assistance” in tracing the whereabouts of the portrait. Mrs. Terry corresponded with Miss Sidney Penn, a descendant of Abram Penn, who was the last surviving teacher at the Stuart Normal College. Miss Lula West, nursed in France during World War I was another that gave information on the portrait.

            Murray Thompson, publisher of The Enterprise, Patrick County’s weekly newspaper, contacted Edward Turner, Jr. about the portrait and the search began. Turner and Stuart Elementary School Principal Calvin Shockley found the portrait in a storage trailer at the school.

            The portrait went to Remsen Studio in Martinsville, Virginia for a restoration paid for by the Patrick County Historical Society and J. E. B. Stuart Senior Woman’s Club. Turner said the restored painting was a “real beauty” making a joke about J. E. B. Stuart’s nickname at West Point, where his classmates called him “Beauty,” which was not a term of endearment.

            That Monday night in 1972, Miss Ruth Jean Bolt of Meadows of Dan presided over the meeting as Mrs. Terry could not be present. The speaker that night was Samuel R. Levering, who owned Levering’s Orchard in Ararat.  A lifelong “Quaker,” Levering represented the Friends Committee on National Legislation. He spoke that night to 100 people on the “world situation and Vietnam.”

            Judge Hooker hung the portrait in the Circuit Courtroom near the portrait of his father James Murray Hooker, who represented Patrick County in the Fifth District in the U. S. House of Representatives in a newly renovated courtroom in 1972. Another portrait hanging is of Judge Andrew Murray Lybrook (1832-99) and Patrick Henry.

            Now a little history about Stuart and the town that bears his name today. Patrick County formed in 1790-91 depending on which source one believes. The county seat named Taylorsville, after George Taylor, a hero of the American Revolution, was usually known as Patrick Court House in most of the contemporary letters I have read over the years.

It became Stuart in 1884 during the heyday of the “Lost Cause” after the Civil War to honor General J. E. B. Stuart (1833-64). Born at the Laurel Hill Farm in Ararat, Stuart served as Robert E. Lee’s cavalry commander in the Army of Northern Virginia. Stuart served in the U. S. Army for seven years, mainly in the Kansas Territory, after graduating from the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York in 1854. He resigned as a Captain in the 1st U. S. Cavalry. Stuart joined the Confederacy and rose to the rank of Major General serving under Lee before losing his life on May 12, 1864. He rests today in that city’s Hollywood Cemetery.

In 1936, the statue of a Confederate Veteran was placed on the courthouse grounds in Stuart, Virginia, with a plaque on the base honoring J. E. B. Stuart. The statue is not Stuart, but represents all the men from “The Free State of Patrick,” who served in the war fought from 1861 to 1865.

            Several years ago at one of my myriad of book signings, a gentleman approached my table and looked at the book God’s Will Be Done: The Christian Life of J. E. B. Stuart. He said to me that he did not see how anyone who fought for slavery could be a Christian. A fair question for someone who sees the world through today’s standards, but when you judge people in the past by your standards that is simply not fair.

            I have seen the term “fair” bandied about with regards to the removal of the portrait from the Patrick County Courthouse. There was a judgement on the man in the portrait, James Ewell Brown “Jeb” Stuart, because of his service in the Army of Northern Virginia as Robert E. Lee’s cavalry commander and how it was not potentially fair to those the descendants of the slaves freed by that war.

            In 1988, I began thinking seriously about preserving the birthplace of the man in question. I became interested in the War Between the States at Virginia Tech, where I studied under renowned Historian James I. Robertson, Jr. I spent several year learning about my fellow Patrick Countian, “Jeb” Stuart. I devoted the next few years of my life to study and eventually I traveled all over the nation visiting nearly every place Stuart lived or served going as far west as Fort Davis, Texas, near El Paso, and to West Point, New York, where he graduated from the United States Military Academy before serving seven years in the U. S. Army. I have been to every library or society that had Stuart materials and read or transcribed every letter, telegraph, report, and known communication of the man in question.

            In 1990, I started the effort to preserve the site of his birthplace in Ararat, Patrick County, Virginia, where he was born on February 6, 1833, the eighth of eleven children to Archibald Stuart. Archibald served as Commonwealth Attorney, the same position held by Martin F. Clark, Sr., an interesting dynamic of fathers and sons in this is not lost on me as both Stuarts and both Clark’s were lawyers. Stuart passed the bar while in Kansas in the 1850s, and the other three all practiced law in the same courtroom where the painting hung until August.

            I wished to preserve the property that is now on the National and Virginia Registers of Historic Places because it was an important piece of historic property nationally and an important part of Patrick County’s history. I grew up two miles from Stuart’s birthplace, Laurel Hill, and thus it was part of my history.

            I wanted to preserve the property because J. E. B. Stuart did not have a single place in the country devoted to his history. He wrote often of his love for what he called “The Dear Old Hills of Patrick” and wished to return to it if he survived the war fought from 1861-65. He resigned to fight for Patrick County and Virginia. He was a man of his time and the pull of home and hearth was more important to him.

Stuart witnessed firsthand the radicalism of John Brown and the Abolitionists at Harper’s Ferry in 1859, when he approached the firehouse door to demand the surrender of Brown. Only Stuart recognized Brown from his time in the Kansas Territory in the 1850s. Stuart abhorred Abolitionists and the “Fire Eaters,” who wanted secession, but if Virginia left the Union, he would go with her. Brown’s raid, I believe, changed his viewpoint. I do not believe he saw a way out of the impending crisis.

            I have seen it stated this week that Stuart did not own slaves. He and his father owned slaves. During his time in the U. S. Army, Stuart owned slaves. Among them were William, who Stuart gave a $25.00 monthly cash allowance, Bettie, who Stuart acquired from Archibald’s estate was valued at $770. He sold her “south” for mistreatment of little Flora, Stuart’s daughter. He bought a “Negro boy” age 21 named Ben for $1100.00.

            Today, you can go to Laurel Hill in Ararat and you will see slavery talked of in the open with no effort to cover it up or the Stuart’s relationship to it. It was there. It was part of that time. We should learn from it and not judge people. We cannot walk in their shoes or understand their lives unless we do it with empathy not judgement.

Getting back to the question the man asked me all those years ago. How does a Christian own slaves or fight for slavery? J. E. B. Stuart grew up in a house with a Presbyterian father and a very “High Church” Episcopalian mother. He attended services in Mount Airy, North Carolina, at the forerunner of today’s Trinity Episcopal Church on Main Street. While at Emory and Henry College, he joined the Methodist Church. While in the U. S. Army, Stuart returned to the church of his mother. I believe a man can be a Christian because he lived in a different time with a different set of values.

            Stuart lived his faith. He saw firsthand the role that alcohol ruined lives in the U. S. Army and was a “Temperance Man” giving speeches about the evil of alcohol abuse. He promised his mother at age twelve he would not drink.

            Stuart put his money where his faith was. He started a church in today’s Junction City, Kansas, just outside his post at Fort Riley. He sent his mother $100 to match him and start a small church in Ararat, which she did leaving an acre of her property for such a purpose when she sold it in 1859.

            Stuart witnessed about his faith. He attended revivals and bought his men copies of the scriptures from his own pocket. He always ascribed his military success to God in reports and letters. Here is one such statement, "From the first I prayed God to be my guide and I felt an abiding hope that all would be well with us.”

As he laying dying in Richmond on May 12, 1864, at his brother-in-law’s home on Grace Street, after receiving a wound from one of George Custer’s cavalrymen, he faced his death with the quiet grace of a true Christian. He sang Rock of Ages with those present and left this world with the last words, “God’s Will Be Done.” I believe Stuart did not fear death because he was a true believer. He believed he was right in his course and he gave his life for Virginia and for Patrick County.

            Many people disagreed with the decision to remove the portrait. I do not think it was the right decision, but all of you who talk about being Christians while disparaging Martin Clark or his family members who have been just as bad online threatening revenge on people criticizing those in this country who have every right to criticize the decision, need to step back take a deep breath and think about “What Would Jesus Do?” and maybe what would a real Christian do, “What Would Jeb Do?”

This our history and we need to leave politics and personal attacks out of this on this Sunday. Maybe we should stop and think about our behavior and if you profess to be a Christian as Jeb Stuart most assuredly was while being also a man of his time. You should live it and do not just talk about it. It is not our place to judge J. E. B. Stuart.

A protest led by my friend, Wayne Jones of South Carolina, who portrays General Stuart across the country, was held on the courthouse steps and two days later the Patrick County Board of Supervisors decided to hang the portrait on the “Wall of Honor,” which recognizes the service of the men from Patrick County, who lost their lives fighting in the myriad of wars this nations has fought.

I encouraged people to watch a documentary from my website about Stuart produced by Henrico County and read about Stuart before speaking about him. I encouraged them to speak with knowledge of Stuart and the war he gave his life in and to speak with respect about those who do not agree with their point of view. I thought it was a teachable moment.

A few weeks ago I went for my biannual visit to my alma mater Patrick County High School, as I have for a decade now, to teach Civil War to all the 11th grade U. S. History classes. I spoke of the controversy surrounding the portrait, but that will not get in the newspapers or be on television, but I hope it gets in the brains of the next generation, where if this history is to survive, it needs to be remembered.

 A Dedication Ceremony will be held for the portrait on May 12, 2016, at 10 a.m. in the Patrick County Administration Building. The portrait has been hanging on the Wall of Honor that commemorates the people from Patrick County who lost their lives in war.

Tom Perry

The Bull Mountain Bugle 2/2/1972
The Enterprise 2/2/1972
Martinsville Bulletin 2/3/1972, 2/11/1972
The Dear Old Hills of Patrick: J. E. B. Stuart and Patrick County Virginia by Thomas D. Perry

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