A letter to Mr. Bucephalus Turner Esq. of Rolling Fork, MS.
Dated June 30th, 1891
First and foremost, I'd like to give my genuine thanks for your missage in regards to my nephew's coming of age. I understand that the relation is a distant one, yet the time you took to write upon his accomplishments and your own at his age is a testament to your character, sir. Your graduation present of $100 was also extremely indulgent on your end, and was none the less appreciated by my nephew upon his arrival to Princeton. I would like to assure you that you are always, and will always be a welcome guest at my home at any time of day on any day of the week. Do not hesitate to call on me should the winds of fate ever find you this far north.
Obligations of civility being addressed, I must bring to your attention a matter of import. While I expect your own practice to be the model of right ordering and amor curie, my own practice has recently run into a snag which compels me to write you seeking your council. You see sir, the Sovereign Court of Orange County has inquired as to my interest in the defense of a man accused who is in custody in the Orange County Prison at the very moment of writing. While the case may seem par for the course, I must assure you good sir, that the circumstances are anything but ordinary.
You see sir, the man accused is a one Mr. Gordon Perry of Columbia in Fluvanna County just to the south of here. Mr. Perry has until recently found employment as an underkeeper for the Gordonsville (not named for him sir, I assure you) Cemetery, and has recently been accused of exhuming the remains of some (two) dozen individuals within the confines of the grounds. The remains were found stamped on, bones crushed into dust and arrayed in all sorts of humiliating postures and poses, such that the inhabitants of Gordonsville are (at the time of writing) still tidying up the mess that has been made.
An added complication to the case is that the remains that Mr. Perry (supposedly) exhumed were almost entirely Confederate War Dead who either perished at the Gordonsville Hospital, or were from the town and (God blessed that they were) returned to their native soil after having fallen in some far-off Sharpsburg or South Mountain. You can assume (nonetheless due to your Alma Mater,) that the County has found itself in an absolute tizzy, and the calls for Mr. Perry's life have echoed almost as loudly as the calls for secession when we were both but children some thirty years ago. Already the County Sheriffs have broken up no less than three lynch mobs, and inquiries from Richmond have begun making their way to this piece of Earth in the shadow of the Blue Ridge.
Hence the complication. The Court of Orange County has personally contacted me, as mine is the only practice this side of the Blue Ridge with a reputation for "even-handedness" (by which they mean treason to the vanquished Richmond Gov't, despite my father having worn the gray just like yours) to defend this man before a jury of men whose fathers also wore the gray. I took the time to speak to Mr. Perry in custody (whose father also wore the gray, in the Stonewall Brigade no less,) and he claimed like a preacher's love for the bottle, that it was not he who exhumed those remains. Hence why I write you for counsel, sir, as I've been afflicted with the much-maligned curse of believing him.
You see sir, no man who finds himself born on soil south of the Potomac after the year 1859 has any reason, desire, or compulsion to dig-up the bones of the vanquished past. Only those born before (as they knew the world as it once was,) and those born elsewhere (as their umbilical cord to the Earth turns their eyes toward the horizon,) have any reason to commit the crime Mr. Perry finds himself accused of. Much the less to dance with the bones of said past, to twist and contort them into scenes of a nature most humiliating, to grind them to dust as if the vanquish their entire existence. Nor does he have any reason to scratch out "C.S.A. Army" or similar engravings on the scant few tombstones that do exist (a detail of the case I only just remembered.)
Though we seldom if ever say it aloud, much less write its existence into being within the arena of paper and ink, we are the bearers of a tradition of self-inflicted defeat. The statues we've erected in every town in Virginia on both sides of Richmond (even in the towns along the Potomac occupied for the course of the war,) the Henry Timrod poems men with hollow hearts cry in the streets as if to once again light the fire they've never felt, this "Lost Cause" artificed like some Jew and his Golem by the ever-Hebraic (and fortunatley late) Mr. Pollard of Richmond, given a gilded sheen of "Legitimacy" by the dying relic of a dead cause in General Early, taken up for the ends of women by the thrice-Cursed "Daughters" of the Confederacy as if they were spawned by something living, something worthy of Paterfamilias and not the Platonic Mississippi Riverboat Captain taken shape in a Government.
I am candid with you sir, for while you do not exactly share my sympathies, our common curse of dissidence renders your conceptual horizon capable of perceiving my own complaints of circumstance. All too often are men who know better want to bemoan the Yankees and the Carpetbaggers and the Scalawags, as if they could understand what General Longstreet gave for a cause unworthy of giving to. At least he recognized the error post-mortem.
I do not blame the Yankees, no sir. How could I blame the Yankees when they have nothing? It would be like blaming the negroes for their condition, or like blaming children for their incapability of understanding why they ought not to steal from a cookie jar. There is no "North," no more than there was a "Kingdom of Odoacer." Perhaps the irony is that they were the real Confederacy, a coalition of competing Germanic and Celtic Barbarians sent Southward to vanquish the last living light of a semblance of Romanity, drawn by loot balmed in the pretenses of freeing "men" which they knew as much as we did ought not to be freed but it was not they who would reap the consequences of looting the treasury of a nation whose treasure was more in what they did rather than what they had.
I suspect what the Hindoos call "Karma," a concept best explained by the German proverb, "Jedem Das Seine," will reach back to them and find nothing of theirs to take but their cities. Perhaps its already happened, with the deluge of the Papist world reaching New England shores for those same promises of loot that brought New England shores as far south as New Orleans. Perhaps, after a hundred and fifty or so years of losing their own sense of self, they will dig up the remains of their vanquished foes and dance with their bones as if to remind us of our inherited tradition of self-defeat, not knowing we'd always known better than to go digging for things none of us wanted dug-up, and that we'd kept the statues and the gravestones and the pride and Mr. Pollard's pamphlets and the old uniforms and the muskets and the lyrics of "I'm a Good 'Ol Rebel" and the foreign imposed "hatred" of negroes and the alterations to our own history more for their benefit than for our own. Maybe then, they'll realize what they did down here for those four god-damned years, and we'll realize that we were spared the spear of the future in exchange for the spear of the past. They say we'll rise again and we will, but not for the reasons they think.
Forgive me sir, I distract myself. Perhaps you can see why I find myself so conflicted given the case of Mr. Perry. It's not over my reputation, which will almost certainly recover if it suffers at all. Nor is it in regards to the precedent, as this case strikes no sensitive area of the already hypochondriac half-reconstructed body of law belonging to the Commonwealth of Virginia. No, I believe it's because I'm defending a man damned by past and present in hopes of giving him a future, at the cost of the past and present without which we're undone. Perhaps if we were different, we wouldn't have to sacrifice the past. But the powers that be have made such the decision we must make: cut off our roots that we won't be cut down, or remain rooted just to be cut down.
Mississippi is not Virginia, nor is your practice anywhere related to mine. But I do not ask your advice as a lawyer, I ask you as a man caught between the world of the past, the world of the present, and the world of the future:
What course do I take?
I remain your most humble servant,
John Stover Esq.
P.S. If you could send me that recipe for the pecan pie your wife made in Charleston, I would be in your debt.