Concern about Jenkins Hall’s name misplaced

January 21, 2019

I read your opinion piece on Jenkins Hall and think it historically unsound. Mr. Trowbridge obviously tailored his history to show Jenkins in as bad a light as possible.

Lee criticized Jenkins’ command for discipline issues, which were problems for many commanders from West Virginia who did not have the supplies and support regiments from eastern Virginia. When Jenkins submitted his resignation in 1863 because of his wife’s blindness, Lee refused to accept it. He was being considered for promotion to major-general by the Secretary of War, James Seddon, in late 1863.

Jenkins very bravely led his men from the front. He was an active leader, which is why he was wounded three times in battle and lost his life.

It was not just Jenkins but many commanders of the Army of Northern Virginia who kidnapped blacks during the Pennsylvania campaign. It was revenge on the abolitionists of Pennsylvania and Ohio who had lured thousands of slaves out of Virginia. Terrible, yes, but it is understandable in relation to the times and situation. It was not Jenkins’ decision; the top commanders knew of it and let it happen.

Jenkins also represented the views of most Cabell Countians of the time regarding the new state. Very few Cabell voters were in favor of leaving Virginia. In 1862 the vote in Cabell County for the new state constitution was made almost entirely by non-resident soldiers.

The Union army in most of West Virginia were not liberators, but occupiers. In Philippi in 1861 they looted and destroyed property. In 1862 George Crook and his Ohio soldiers rampaged through Webster County, killing civilians and burning houses. Crook’s Ohio soldiers moved through Fayette County killing livestock and burning buildings.

In 1861 the town of Guyandotte was burned by the 5th West Virginia Infantry, which was mostly made up of Ohioans. My great-grandfather was born in Guyandotte in 1863 and named after Stonewall Jackson. Other relatives rode with Jenkins in the 16th Cavalry. They weren’t just fighting for the Confederacy, but they were trying to prevent most of West Virginia’s counties from being hijacked into a new state.

And why should West Viriginia have a statue of Francis Pierpont in the U.S. Capitol, the man who headed the most oppressive government West Virginians have ever endured? He told Lincoln in 1862 that “The Union Men of West Va. were not originally for the Union because of the new state.” And yet he pursued a new state against the best interests of the Union, a state that most West Virginians did not want, arresting an estimated 3,000 civilians and jailing them at Camp Chase and the Atheneum. U.S. Judge-Advocate Joseph Holt lodged a complaint against him in 1863. If there is any West Virginia monument that needs removal it is Pierpont’s.

The absence of a monument can also distort history. At Gettysburg there are four Union monuments for West Virginia, but no Confederate monument and yet there were at least 10 times more Confederate West Virginians in the battle than Union. The Vicksburg monument to the 4th West Virginia Infantry is equally misleading. Most of the men in that regiment were from Ohio.

And if they are so gung-ho about changing names, what about “Marshall” University itself? John Marshall was a slave owner and even used his slaves to settle a personal debt. He bought and sold slaves throughout his life. He was also head of the Virginia chapter of the American Colonization Society, which sent free African-Americans to Liberia, where most of them died in the hostile environment.

It is odd to think that some people believe that changing a name or removing a statue is somehow doing good for the world. We live in an era obsessed with brands and labels, but Jenkins Hall is not the trademark of slavery, and the Confederacy is long out of business. The true face of slavery today is that smartphone you are carrying, your Apple iPhone, the designer clothing you got for Christmas and the Nike shoes you wear, made by forced labor and sweatshops in China, Bangladesh and Africa. But we wouldn’t want to make a stand of conscience against those, would we?

Bob Arrington is a Huntington native who now lives in Philadelphia.

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