Thursday, December 31, 2020

Booknotes: Stonewall Jackson, Beresford Hope, and the Meaning of the American Civil War in Britain

New Arrival:
Stonewall Jackson, Beresford Hope, and the Meaning of the American Civil War in Britain by Michael J. Turner (LSU Press, 2020).

Even a passing glance at yearly publication lists over the past decade reveals that transnational American Civil War studies rank among the the most fashionable avenues of inquiry in the academic literature. A salient feature of the sub-field's most recent trend is the desire to move beyond traditional examinations of Union and Confederate diplomatic and trade relationships with Mexico, Britain, and France. In consequence, fresh studies of the Civil War's connections with lesser European powers (such as Spain), the Carribean islands, South America, and even the Pacific Rim have found their way into books and essays. Even so, if the Confederacy could have had its choice of recognition from any of the world's nations it would clearly have turned to Great Britain. That many British citizens possessed a cultural affinity toward the South and sympathized with its bid for independence is beyond doubt, and one of the leaders who most loudly promoted the Confederate cause in his country was politician and author Alexander James Beresford Hope (1820-1887).

From the description: "In this comprehensive examination of British sympathy for the South during and after the American Civil War," Michael J. Turner's Stonewall Jackson, Beresford Hope, and the Meaning of the American Civil War in Britain "explores the ideas and activities of A. J. Beresford Hope―one of the leaders of the pro-Confederate lobby in Britain―to provide fresh insight into that seemingly curious allegiance. Hope and his associates cast famed Confederate general Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson as the embodiment of southern independence, courage, and honor, elevating him to the status of a hero in Britain. Historians have often noted that economic interest, political attitudes, and concern about Britain’s global reach and geostrategic position led many in the country to embrace the Confederate cause, but they have focused less on the social, cultural, and religious reasons enunciated by Hope and ostensibly represented by Jackson, factors Turner suggests also heightened British affinity for the South."

It is somewhat curious that Jackson and not Lee was selected by Hope and his group as the exemplar of Confederate heroism. On the other hand, great generals killed at the height of their greatest victories when the war's outcome was still in the balance are always attractive figures. Lee did preside over ultimate defeat. More from the description: "During the war, Hope noticed a tendency among British people to view southerners as heroic warriors in their struggle against the North. He and his pro-southern followers shared and promoted this vision, framing Jackson as the personification of that noble mission and raising the general’s profile in Britain so high that they collected enough funds to construct a memorial to him after his death in 1863. Unveiled twelve years later in Richmond, Virginia, the statue stands today as a remarkable artifact of one of the lesser-known strands of British pro-Confederate ideology."

The study is divided into two parts. Part 1 discusses the social, economic, political, and religious sources of Hope's pro-Confederate views and activities while also using them as a template to more widely examine the nature of British sympathy for the South. Part 2 traces in depth the "overwhelmingly positive" nature of Stonewall Jackson's reputation as military celebrity in Britain both during and after the war. British ties to Jackson were promoted well into the twentieth century, and were even used as inspirational material for WW1 army enlistment.

Turner's study "serves as the first in-depth analysis of Hope as a leading pro-southern activist and of Jackson’s reputation in Britain during and after the Civil War. It places the conflict in a transnational context that reveals the reasons British citizens formed bonds of solidarity with the southerners whom they perceived shared their social and cultural values."

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