Epilogue: Moonlight, Magnolias & Shadows in the Gloaming
(NOTE: this on-line version omits endnotes.)
Although even a cursory glance at Civil War sources confronts the reader with voluminous evidence of desertion from both the Federal and Southern armies, only one Mangham soldier in the Confederate Army clearly deserted the colors outright. Private Thomas Hamilton Mangham left the ranks of the 19th Louisiana Volunteers only in late January 1865, after almost four years of war. Probably a veteran of Jackson, Chickamauga, Rocky Face Ridge, Resaca, New Hope Church, Atlanta, Ezra Church, Jonesboro, Nashville, and numberless skirmishes lost to posterity, he went home only when the dreams of Southern secessionists lay in tatters, fully as ragged as the starry crossed flags they had followed so faithfully. The epidemic of desertion among soldiers from states west of the Mississippi was spreading so fast in the Army of Tennessee that their regiments were furloughed en masse soon afterward, thus providing a thin veneer of legitimacy to their mass absenteeism.
Lee's Army of Northern Virginia suffered a similar drain from desertions and unauthorized absences towards the end of the war. James M. D. Mangham of the 61st Alabama fell into the latter category after an extended absence due to illness and the death of his wife, although the final disposition of his case is obscured by the chaos of defeat. Bush Mangham of the 59th Alabama was court-martialed under circumstances that imply his desertion at Petersburg in the summer of 1864, but perhaps his commander's appeal for clemency spared the boy for a date with a Yankee bullet.
Although so few deserted, only a handful of Manghams actually remained in service with the Confederate field armies when they stacked arms for the last time in April and May 1865. Frank and Oliver were serving in government factories and hospitals, while Will and Solomon were guarding Federal prisoners at Andersonville and Cahaba. Six others had been discharged for ill health, injuries, or wounds that rendered them unfit for military service-Jack and Irby were so badly debilitated that they might have died before the war ended. Captain John H. Mangham was a different sort of casualty; unable to eat, sleep, or speak during the final weeks of the Confederacy's collapse, he was committed to the Georgia state mental hospital by his heartbroken wife.
Charles and Willoughby languished nearly two years in Federal prison pens, each waiting for the end rather than swearing the oath of allegiance that would have set him free. Tom and Willie were captured during the final agonies at Petersburg and during Lee's retreat to Appomattox Court House, and likewise remained in captivity until war's end. Amazingly, John S. Mangham of the 53rd Georgia was the only one of the thirty-seven Mangham Confederate soldiers known to have died as a direct result of wounds suffered in combat. His relatives John R., William W., Wiley James, and Wiley Pendleton Mangham succumbed to the virulent diseases rife in 19th century army camps; none had been very long in the army, and only the latter ever saw combat.
Many a public man had called loudly for war "to the last ditch" in 1861, but painfully few were left to climb out of that last ditch when the time finally came. Charles A. "Nat" Mangham of the 13th Georgia and William A. Mangham of the 14th Alabama were the only members of the clan left to stack arms when Lee surrendered. Nat's brother John, a sergeant in the 2nd Georgia Sharpshooters, was the only Mangham remaining with the Army of Tennessee when Johnston surrendered later that month. Those serving in the Trans-Mississippi Department simply went home at "the breakup," like the rest of their dissolving army. The lack of any formal surrender ceremony and associated parole records makes it impossible to determine who remained to the bitter end, although apparently Arthur, William J., Henry, and Willis W. Mangham stood by the colors of their Louisiana and Texas outfits until the last.
* * * * *
The chaos of Reconstruction followed the collapse in 1865, and the loss, scattering, or destruction of military and civil records that concealed the fates of Bush, Irby, and Jack soon obscured the futures of another half dozen Mangham soldiers known to have survived the war. Such uncertainty was all too common in the defeated South, as one-fourth of its able-bodied male population died or disappeared during the war.
All of the survivors faced greater or lesser challenges in returning to civil life after the war's end. Willis W. Mangham had to start afresh in Bell County, Texas, where long years of war had seen deserters, jayhawkers, and Indians roll back frontier conditions far to the east of the ante-bellum line of settlement. His wife had died during the war and ruffians had stolen or scattered his stock, so he had to remarry and rebuild his life with the help of his two children. Bitter guerrilla warfare had reduced much of Ashville, Alabama to ruins, and their reputation as outspoken secessionists probably made it dangerous for Tom and Wiley Mangham to remain. Both went west to join their brother Henry in Louisiana, wasting little time in finding brides and settling down. Charles, Nat, Will, Willoughby, and Arthur Mangham, plus Col. Tom Mangham of Macon, also found wives "at the double-quick," doubtless eager to begin domestic life after years in the peripatetic, all-male environment of army camps.
Lieutenant Bromfield Ridley, a youthful veteran of Stewart's Division, witnessed this phenomenon in full bloom just weeks after the surrender, when a parlor full of Georgia girls attracted a flock of his comrades on their way home to Tennessee. Forgetting for a moment the anguish of their defeat, the young gallants entered the parlor with gusto, "stepping like peacocks in high grass." Ridley explained this widespread development in his journal entry:
Whilst the old gentlemen are pondering over the future and grieving over "what I used to was," we young bloods are delving in boyish hope and dwelling in the bright anticipation of meeting a beautiful blonde or brunette, knowing that "all things change as the years pass by, save love, which is the same forever and aye."
Whether single or married, the Manghams had to buckle down to face the multitude of challenges that characterized a world gone topsy-turvy. The first years were very hard indeed, and men like Will and Tom Mangham, probably made fatally vulnerable by serious wounds received at Sharpsburg and Chickamauga, joined the legions of sick, wounded, and exhausted men who died while still young. Nat had to train a horse to support him as he limped on a bad leg, while Henry stumped along on a poorly fitted wooden leg. The shell fragments that wrecked his brother Willis's hearing, eyesight, and back made it impossible for the young farmer to work as he had before the war, but he lived to become one of Butts County's most respected schoolteachers. One of Wiley Person Mangham's lungs was ruined as completely by disease as any Minie ball could have done, but he edited a country newspaper in Louisiana for thirty more years before pneumonia finally stole the last march on him.
For most of the former soldiers, the economic outlook brightened after the South weathered the severe depression of 1873. The following decade brought more hard work, of course, but also a significant degree of economic prosperity, social recovery, and emotional recovery. Many Mangham veterans clearly reveled in the ensuing celebration of the Confederacy that blossomed in the 1880s and continued until the last of the old Confeds died. This era saw the flourishing of the powerful "Lost Cause" mythology, with its mixture of fact, wishful thinking, self-justification, historical revisionism, and simple nostalgia. The wartime and early postwar bitterness between secessionists, "speculators," shirkers, defeatists, and deserters, so pronounced in Tom Mangham's wartime letters to the Jacksonville Republican, began to take a backseat to a mellower view of the past. In 1865 it seemed that the war had dragged American society to its nadir; only three decades later, it seemed that every aging Southerner had become a hero of the "Last Stand," just as every Union veteran was a fit champion of the Grand Army of the Republic.
The relative ease with which Northerners could turn to new challenges was largely a function of their victory, of course, and their widespread celebration of wartime heroics seemed to be just one more paving stone in the pathway of America's irresistible national progress. Reminiscent of the way in which Johnny Reb and Billy Yank generally got along while on the picket lines, the burgeoning postwar celebration went a long way towards accommodating the heroic self-image cultivated by each side.
And just as the North's collective memory of the war was shaped by its image as one more victory in an apparently unbroken procession of American victories, the South's was necessarily an adaptation to the realities of defeat. Much of the region's economic and social adaptation to the new order of things, however, was a successful attempt to maintain the essence of the old order despite their crushing military defeat. As noted Southern author W. J. Cash mused in his 1941 exposition, The Mind of the South, the vanquished never accepted that their defeat on the battlefield necessitated a fundamental change in their world-view:
And so far from having reconstructed the Southern mind in the large and in its essential character, it was [the] Yankee's fate to have strengthened it almost beyond reckoning, and to have made it one of the most solidly established, one of the least reconstructible ever developed.
And although postwar radicals decried the South's dogged refusal to rapidly embrace revolutionary changes in its racial and economic relations, twelve years of resistance during Reconstruction convinced most that the maintenance of some sort of status quo ante-bellum was the only alternative to the worst possible sort of anarchy. Even if the radicals had been willing to enforce a more thoroughgoing outward compliance at the point of the bayonet, most Americans seemed content to let well enough alone. This conclusion was as consistent with Unionist motives and temperament in 1877 as it had been in 1861.
A decade or so after Reconstruction ended, the passage of time was sufficient to allow Southerners to develop a popular historical interpretation of the war, that in some respects practically redefined defeat as victory. This was, of course, but one more facet of their section's successful adaptation to defeat by deflecting its emotional impact. Although many aspects of their "defeated by overwhelming numbers" interpretation were contrived, its underlying theme of indomitability in defeat-so close to victory in defeat-was emotionally satisfying. Indeed, it was satisfying enough to help ensure Southern willingness to abide the verdict of the battlefield, just as they would the outcome of an honorable duel, because neither required much adjustment to the "chip on the shoulder individualism" posited by W. J. Cash. Essential to the acceptance of the myth of Southern indomitability, however, was the sizable grain of truth inherent in the concept; veterans of both sides recognized the spectacular stamina displayed by the underfed and outnumbered Rebels of 1861-1865, and both could respect that staying power. Neither Northerners nor Southerners of that era felt any sentiments more noble than pity for helpless (male) victims, and neither was likely to mistake pity for the thing their culture demanded above all else: respect. As a corollary, the blueclad victors derived the respect (and self-respect) due not simply to the winners, but to the men who had defeated the indomitable. After all, had the Confederacy been merely a 90-pound weakling doomed to defeat, how could anyone view the badly bloodied victors of four years of warfare as anything but cowardly, incompetent, or both? Despite the contradictions in this mutual accommodation, it enabled each side to glory in their victory, whether real or apparent.
Such views were part of the "Moonlight and Magnolias" view of the war and Southern history, and these rose-tinted interpretations found great favor in North and South alike. One of the greatest advocates of this school of thought was Lt. Gen. John B. Gordon of Georgia, whose early reputation as a brigade commander was secured by men like Will, Nat, and John Mangham of the 13th Georgia Volunteers. Gordon was a successful governor and nationally prominent figure, and his dramatic stage presentations of American heroism in the Civil War were fantastically popular throughout the country, because they emphasized the very best qualities inherent in the soldiers of both sides. Some of his anecdotes have since been exposed as being more illustrative than factual, but these well-intentioned frauds rang comfortingly true to his audiences of approving veterans, both North and South. Gordon told one story that perfectly illustrates Cash's interpretation of Southern character, as well as the mutually satisfying nature of the myth of Southern indomitability:
As the Confederates were taking leave of Appomattox. . .many of the Union men bade them cordial farewell.
One of Grant's men said good-naturedly to one of Lee's veterans: "Well, Johnny, I guess you fellows will go home now to stay."
The tired and tried Confederate, who did not clearly understand the spirit in which the playful words were spoken, and who was not at the moment in the best mood for badinage, replied:
"Look here, Yank; you guess, do you, that we fellows are going home to stay? Maybe we are. But don't be giving us any of your impudence. If you do, we'll come back and lick you again."
Another tale in this genre was the story of the captured Rebels who appeared before General Ben Butler to take the oath of allegiance to the United States:
One of them, a wag in his way, looked at the General, and with a peculiar Southern drawl, said: "We gave you hell at Chickamauga, General!"
The General was furious at the man's familiar impudence and threatened him with all sorts of punishment, but again came that drawling voice, repeating the first part of the statement, but he was stopped by the General, who ordered him to take the oath of allegiance to the United States at once or he would have him shot. After some hesitation, looking into General Butler's fierce eye, he reluctantly consented to take the oath. After taking the oath, he looked calmly into General Butler's face, and drew himself up as if proud to become a citizen of the United States and a member of the Yankee Army, and said: "General, I suppose I am a good Yankee and citizen of the United States now?"
The General replied in a very fatherly tone, "I hope so."
"Well, General, the rebels did give us hell at Chickamauga, didn't they?"
The modern apotheosis of this "Moonlight and Magnolias" history, of course, was Margaret Mitchell's Gone With the Wind. Released in 1939, the film became an instant sensation just eight years after Alabama veterans Charles Arthur Mangham and Wiley Paul Mangham passed on to their eternal rewards. Their active membership in the United Confederate Veterans implies that each would have enjoyed the film's depiction of the society he had fought to uphold. The film debuted the same year that ex-Private John Wood died in Monticello, Georgia, where he was lionized as one of the oldest Confederate veterans in Jasper County. Many years earlier, Wood had served with Wiley Pendleton and John S. Mangham in the 53rd Georgia Infantry through the Seven Days' Battles outside Richmond, as well as at Sharpsburg and Chancellorsville. Unlike Wood, both Wiley and John died in Virginia, and probably remain there in the unmarked burial trenches that haunt the grounds of the old hospitals.
With the deaths of Wood and others of his era, including members of the later generations who heard firsthand their tales of America's greatest national drama, our insights into their personalities, hopes, and dreams is limited by our ability to mine nuggets from the written record. Unfortunately, the vicissitudes of war, time, and tide have placed finite limits on what we can learn. For most Confederate soldiers, including the thirty-seven Mangham men and boys who wore the gray, the surviving record is tantalizingly suggestive, but sometimes disappointingly sparse.
For historians and Americans, especially Southerners, the magnetic attraction of the period 1861 to 1865 nonetheless remains powerful indeed, as these events shaped our subsequent cultural and national development in fundamental respects. This attraction is intensified in the modern imagination precisely as it was a century ago, accentuated by the disparity between the publicity attending "Moonlight and Magnolia" deeds of heroism, and the relative obscurity cloaking the ugliest hours in 1865, when the nastiest sorts of violence attended the Confederacy's death agony. Perhaps it was, and remains, a natural defense mechanism for the reunited country to turn its collective back on the excesses of war and Reconstruction, both radical and conservative, consigning them to the back shelf as soon as it seemed safe to do so. It is unfortunate, however, that any attempt to investigate and analyze Southern thoughts and actions, whether objectively or romantically, threatens to awaken the sectional and racial antagonisms imbedded in the war and its aftermath.
We cannot assume that the Manghams, any more than their friends, neighbors, former slaves, or former enemies, made a painless transition to their new world when Reconstruction petered out in 1877, following seventeen years of war and civil emergency. Although the broad outlines of their individual responses to the new order are indeed visible, the impossibility of tracing these in detail ensures that part of the tale, regrettably, must remain forever elusive. For any that seek to discern clearly their faces, lingering in the shadows of a Southland forever gone, the reflections all too often glimmer disappointingly dim in the uncertain moonlight of history.
Nonetheless, it remains in our nature to long for a touch of the vanished hand and the sound of the voice that is stilled.
They, too, would understand.