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This is the archive for October 2011

Sunday, October 30, 2011

A lot of theories abound as to why some break the law, break the Ten Commandments, furniture, their lover's heart....We're all guilty to a certain degree of having committed real or imagined transgressions, major or minor, against property, life, limb, someone else's happiness, and our own selfish selves. Statistically we're more apt to wind up on a National Geographic special about life behind bars at San Quentin when we're in our late teens or early twenties than when gray hairs start crowding out the natural color on our heads. What we have to look forward to when we're wizened, draped with white locks, and blotched with age spots are the excuses we'll create to justify our past behaviors. Invariably that excuse will be "I was young, dumb, and stupid," or better still, "I have no recollection of that Senator."

James B. Snow, who served with his uncle who happened to be my third great-grandfather, in Company I of the 18th Massachusetts, is a prime example of what I'm talking about. Thomas Mann, a member of the same Company, whose memoirs were edited by National Park Service historian John Hennessey and titled "Fighting With the Eighteenth Massachusetts," wrote of Snow, "At the time he was turning his 18th year a change was becoming perceptible, and if had not been for the war no doubt he would have grown into a bad man...he floated through [his military service]...growling, grumbling, and the boss profane man of the company, though seldom shirking."

Snow, along with Mann, would see the elephant many times over, including at Second Bull Run, Fredericksburg, Gettysburg, and the Wilderness, the latter place at which both were taken prisoner and ultimately shipped off with twenty-two other of their comrades to a hell hole called Andersonville. Whether Mann was correct in his assessment of Snow, that army life, the war, and reduction to a near skeletal state at the time of his release from captivity, were lifestyle altering experiences, Mann added this postscript: "It should be noted here, however, that at this [1890] writing {Snow] is a leading man in the town of his residence, and a prominent church worker."

While Snow toed the line and feared God as his time on earth grew ever shorter the opposite side of the spectrum can manifest itself among those who fall from grace and prey to latent desires. Are you with me brother Jimmy Swaggart? Are your lips moving while reading my words Jim Bakker? Verily I say unto thee Aimee Semple McPherson, put down that glass house before thou doest dare to chuck it in the direction of yonder rock!

Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote of lust and the worm of guilt burrowing deep inside the wracked and ruined soul of the Reverend Arthur Dimsdale. Fictionalized though the story was, the stuff of its pages were rooted in the DNA of the early settlers of the Massachusetts Bay colony, the truth of which could also be found in Lexington, Virginia as evidenced by pages 155 and 156 in Thomas Lowery's "The Story the Soldiers Wouldn't Tell."

"Gen. "Stonewall" Jackson had a well-deserved reputation for piety and moral consevatism, but even he may have had weaknesses of the flesh, as shown in this note attributed to Gen. Ezra A. Carman:

"Stonewall Jackson was not a youthful saint; he was fond of horse races and has his full share of the hot blood and indiscretions of youth. It is known and not denied by those conversant with the facts that he was the father of an illegitmate child. Major [Jedediah] Hotchkiss (May 14, 1895) informed me that this was known to Jackson's military family among whom the matter was frequently discussed. When a cadet at West Point and on a visit to his home he seduced a young girl at or near Beverly and the result was a child, which Jackson acknowledged and to which he frequently made presents and sent money. The late Asher [Waterman] Harman also confirmed this and had knowledge of the fact before the war. Dr. [Robert Lewis] Dabney when hunting material for his life of Jackson was horrified to learn this fact and utterly refused to believe it."


Source for "Stonewall Jackson Praying:"