Cleland on Turner, 'Stonewall Jackson, Beresford Hope, and the Meaning of the American Civil War in Britain'
Michael J. Turner. Stonewall Jackson, Beresford Hope, and the Meaning of the American Civil War in Britain. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2020. xii + 334 pp. $50.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-8071-7108-0.
Reviewed by Beau Cleland (University of Calgary) Published on H-CivWar (May, 2021) Commissioned by G. David Schieffler (Crowder College)
Printable Version: https://www.h-net.org/reviews/showpdf.php?id=55975
Historian Michael J. Turner has written an engaging book, Stonewall Jackson, Beresford Hope, and the Meaning of the American Civil War in Britain, that ably straddles the history and historiography of Britain and the United States in the nineteenth century and does so in a way that is cogently argued, intelligently structured, and comprehensively researched, while presenting a stiff challenge to reviewers seeking a usable short form of its title.
Turner’s book is the latest entry in the small but somewhat crowded field of studies on British-American relations during the Civil War era, with which the author is firmly in conversation. One might be forgiven for thinking there is little left to say that has not already been said by Mary Ellison, Duncan Andrew Campbell, Richard Blackett, Peter O’Connor, Hugh Dubrulle, or a host of other entrants in the field, but Turner threads that needle in an original fashion by tying the study of pro-Confederate sympathy in Britain to the creation of memory and monuments, and by following these themes well beyond the final battles in 1865. This is at once the book’s strength and its chief difficulty, as the two threads, personified in this study by Alexander James Beresford Hope and Thomas Jonathan “Stonewall” Jackson (and his corpse, and later his statue), sometimes resist Turner’s efforts to braid them together. Turner’s chief question is why so many Britons sympathized with the South during the Civil War, which was and is important because, as he puts it, “the American war was not just America’s war” (p. 3).
The book opens with an introduction and a single chapter that serves chiefly as a summary of British-American relations in the era. A graduate student could hardly hope to have a better summary of the literature to this date. The remainder of the work is structured into two sections, the first with six chapters on Hope, the second with four on Jackson, followed by a conclusion. The six chapters centered on Hope are organized thematically, and they systematically address his arguments in favor of the Confederate cause. The four chapters on Jackson address his Civil War military career and initial public reception in Britain, followed by the news of his death in 1863 and the persistence of his reputation postmortem. The final two chapters center on the enduring fascination with Jackson in Britain and the movement to fund and construct a monument to him in Richmond. The conclusion touches on the lasting role of monuments in shaping Civil War memory in both Richmond and Britain. It feels slightly tone-deaf and dated given the drastic movement around Confederate monuments in Richmond and elsewhere in the summer and fall of 2020, but the author can be forgiven for not predicting the future. I suspect some readers will not be as lenient on Turner for how white supremacy and the suppression of civil rights for Blacks inherent in the Confederate statues in Richmond gets waved away as “racial tension” or “political, economic, and social difficulties” (p. 258).
Hope’s name will be familiar to scholars of Civil War diplomacy but perhaps less so to others. He was, in some ways, the stereotype of the pro-Confederate Briton: conservative, rich (one publication described him as “the wealthiest commoner in England”); deeply skeptical of democracy and republican governance; and a relentless critic of domestic reform advocates like Richard Cobden and John Bright (p. 261). Although he was a member of Parliament at times in his life, he did not hold a seat during the war years. Hope was perhaps the most prominent of the vocal Confederate supporters in Britain, with the possible exception of Liverpool shipping magnate William Schaw Lindsay. He promoted the Confederate cause in speeches, pamphlets, letters, and the pages of the Saturday Review, a prominent London weekly that he controlled.
Hope’s arguments in favor of the Confederacy would do justice to the most erudite Lost Cause enthusiast today (should such a thing exist). In a blizzard of speeches and writing, he simultaneously denied that slavery could be a cause of the war and defended it as an enlightening institution that civilized and brought (preferably Anglican) Christianity to an otherwise benighted race. White Southerners were practically English, and somehow heirs to both the Cavalier and Puritan (in the Cromwellian sense) traditions of the Anglo-Saxon “race,” while their Northern opponents were the mongrels of Europe. Hope, who had never visited the United States, swallowed Southern justifications for secession, slavery, and war and regurgitated them to his British audience like the world’s most attentive penguin feeding its chick. Only the most noxious arguments extolling slavery in perpetuity or the reopening of the Atlantic slave trade were set aside, and these were replaced with wishful thinking about gradual emancipation and the happy condition of most enslaved people. Hope publicly advocated for the Confederate cause to the bitter end, and he deeply regretted its loss, which he predictably viewed as a valiant and heroic effort defeated by vulgar strength of numbers.
In the section on Jackson, Turner’s unifying thread becomes clearer: an important source of British support for the Confederacy was a malleable admiration for Confederate valor rather than a dedication to principles. British admiration of the supposed heroism of the Confederate cause found its apotheosis in Jackson, who was obscure enough to serve as something of a blank canvas for British observers to project upon. For many, Jackson was the heir to the military prowess of both Oliver Cromwell and Prince Rupert (a notable Royalist commander during the English Civil War), as well as Henry Havelock, a British commander during the Indian Rebellion in 1857 noted for his piety who died, like Jackson, at the height of his fame. The Cromwell and Rupert associations required some metaphorical contortions by Jackson’s supporters, who determined that “the greatest champion of the Cavalier nation turned out to be a Puritan. Affection for Jackson pushed forward the merging of the Cavalier and Roundhead tropes” (p. 172).
Following his death, Jackson’s fame and admiration in Britain initially grew rather than faded, as Turner demonstrates in chapter 8. Jackson was celebrated in biographies, portraits, stories, songs, public lectures, poems, and trinkets. “As a soldier, a southern leader, a Christian, a virtuous and courageous exemplar, he had a relevance to large sections of the British public that no other non-British figure of the era could match” (p. 199). His hold on popular imagination slackened somewhat over the years, but admiration remained strong even into the twentieth century, something Turner attributes not least to Jackson’s association with religious piety alongside his military reputation.
The tale of Hope and Jackson comes together in the statue erected in Jackson’s honor by “English gentlemen” (as the inscription reads) in Richmond in 1875. Hope led the fundraising drive to pay for the statue, which began not long after Jackson’s death in 1863 and was completed quickly by individual subscriptions. The statue, delayed by a variety of factors, was dedicated at a lavish ceremony in Richmond in October 1875, attended by many of the surviving leaders and generals of the Confederacy. Celebrations of Jackson continued for decades after the statue’s completion on both sides of the Atlantic, and it is difficult to disagree with Turner’s assertion that the “South had lost the war, but Jackson had died victorious” (p. 252). Turner contests the argument that the statue was purposely delayed until the return of white supremacist “Redeemer” government in Virginia. He suggests rather that the timing of its presentation depended more on the sculptor’s health and schedule and on political conditions in Britain—in other words, the Jackson statue was also a way for Hope to “shore up the established order” in Britain against “the unwelcome reforms of recent years” (p. 255).
Turner’s purpose in Stonewall Jackson, Beresford Hope, and the Meaning of the American Civil War in Britain was to understand the reasons for widespread British sympathy with the Confederacy. In this he may have succeeded, but as a reader I came away with a deep understanding of why Hope supported the rebellion and with less clarity as to how that translated to other Britons less self-emulsified in white Southern mythmaking. In assessing the appeal of Jackson to British observers, it feels as though Turner missed an opportunity to examine how he fit into Victorian standards of masculinity—the endless contemporary praise of his bravery, piety, and “celerity” of action practically begs for such analysis. The exploration of Jackson’s reputation in Britain might also have been balanced by a more explicit examination of that mythos, as a way to evaluate what his admirers wanted to believe against a more nuanced understanding of his abilities. Jackson was neither a perfect commander (as his performance in the Seven Days Battles showed) nor a saint.
I found Hope, by the end of the book, to be a less sympathetic figure than perhaps Turner intended. From a North American perspective, it is difficult to separate Hope’s failed antidemocratic goals in Britain from their more successful Jim Crow analogues in the United States, exquisitely juxtaposed in the Redeemer celebrations surrounding the unveiling of the Jackson statue in 1875. In either case, the intention was to promote a specific vision of order and social hierarchy at the expense of democracy and political rights for the traditionally disenfranchised. The valorization of Jackson played directly into these schemes, whatever the intentions of the monument’s British funders. Ultimately, Turner concludes that the power of Hope’s pro-Southern vision faded after his 1887 death in favor of a conciliatory interpretation of the war that was “conditioned by the rise to global power of the United States and the extent to which the government and people of Britain valued U.S. friendship” (p. 260). The parallel with Civil War memory in the United States is unmistakable.
While the subject matter may be a bit narrow for a general audience, Turner’s prose makes it eminently understandable, and lay readers or undergraduate students should be able to follow along. Some of Turner’s phrasing and word choices may cause the Civil War historian to raise an eyebrow. For example, he uses the Confederate appellation of “Sharpsburg” rather than Antietam for that battle, and he often uses “South” and “Southern” as synonyms for the Confederacy, but these do not detract markedly from the narrative. This book will be most useful to scholars of British-American relations, as well as those interested in the transnational nature of memory and memorialization during and after the Civil War.
Citation: Beau Cleland. Review of Turner, Michael J., Stonewall Jackson, Beresford Hope, and the Meaning of the American Civil War in Britain. H-CivWar, H-Net Reviews. May, 2021. URL: https://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.php?id=55975This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.