Based on real Carroll County history and real Carroll County people, a popular feature of The Carroll News over the past four years came to an abrupt end recently with the obituary of Henry Lincoln Lee.
And while The Diary of Henry Lincoln Lee was published from April of 2011 until December of 2015 in coordination with the sesquicentennial (150 years) anniversary of the Civil War, many people often asked us or wondered aloud who wrote these anonymous weekly pieces. That person shall no longer remain nameless as local historian Gary Marshall is ready to reveal it was he who penned the local diary, a weekly look at the Civil War from the view of a young Carroll County citizen.
For those that followed closely enough, Marshall gave clues about the author’s true identity – real life names of Civil War veterans and local places related to Henry Lincoln Lee, a fictitious name based on a relative of Marshall, the very real Carroll Countian Henry Lindsey. Even though no one guessed Marshall’s identity as the author during the course of the feature, he said he recently got the ultimate compliment regarding the diary.
“I was talking to an unnamed individual on the streets of Hillsville about the Civil War and the Civil War flag and I just casually mentioned, ‘Do you read the articles in The Carroll News about the Diary of Henry Lincoln Lee?” Marshall said. “And this person said, ‘Oh yes. I do.’ And I said, ‘Do you know who writes those?’ And she said, ‘John Perry Alderman wrote those before he died and they are just now being published.’ And I said, ‘Really?’ I didn’t fess up to anything. I just thought that is the ultimate compliment if my writing and my history are being attributed to John Perry Alderman, the senior historian in Carroll County. I felt pretty good about that!”
The Diary of Henry Lincoln Lee series began to publish in The Carroll News in April of 2011 to coincide with the sesquicentennial of the start of The Civil War in 1861. And while the conflict ended officially in April of 1865, Marshall wanted to continue the series through the end of the year as a way to reflect on the post-war impact on Carroll County and the nation as a whole.
“I thought that was a valuable addition to understand what happened here in Carroll County even after the war,” Marshall said, noting the reconstruction period that continued on for nearly two decades. “Occupation by Union troops in Southern cities, we weren’t involved in that, but we had the carpetbaggers coming through and people trying to take advantage. A lot of land sales out our way in Dugspur, lawyers out of Philadelphia were coming down here just buying it for cents on the acre. That’s why I didn’t want it to end with the surrender at Appomattox. The impact, the suffering and the renewal of Carroll County took a bunch of years to happen.”
Marshall said there were several reasons why he decided to pen the Diary of Henry Lincoln Lee series. First, he said the Civil War was undoubtedly the event that formulated a loose federation into a strong, united nation – the United States of America. That fact was further tested and validated in later years, he said, through other conflicts.
“We were tested in the Spanish American War that would follow in 1898 and World War I. You had confirmation that the Civil War solidified this nation like no other event,” Marshall said. “Secondly, I anticipated the same 150th anniversary would just be a platform for a lot of pro-Confederate propaganda, but I was wrong. The purpose in my writing was to give a balance. I knew historically, and I knew from my own family experience, that the allegiance to the Confederacy here in Carroll County was tenuous. It was not as pro-Confederacy as the current generation wants you to believe.”
After all, it was that tension between the north and the south that divided families and pitted brother against brother. It is the very reason West Virginia split from Virginia to form its own state, Marshall notes.
“West Virginia exists because of that tension that existed here in Virginia during that era among the original citizens, and that tension continues. That’s the reason I chose the name Henry Lincoln Lee,” Marshall said. “I wanted Lincoln Lee to be an expression of the tension, even in his identity. Historically, there is a real individual Henry Lindsey. He was a son of Carroll County. He was a victim of the Civil War, died in a tragic accident. That is all reported in the articles over the course of that time. I tried to connect all of this history to real life, real people, real experiences. The Diary of Henry Lincoln Lee is a fictitious character but all of the information, all of the presentation, all of the names other than Henry Lincoln Lee, they are real people, real history, real genealogy, real experience, real pain, real suffering, real victories. And I thought it important with my assumption of Confederate hoopla and celebration that there needed to be a balanced presentation.”
Marshall said he tried to use Henry Lincoln Lee and his voice as a young man in his early 20s dealing with the tensions of the time. Many of his friends are going off and volunteering for a fight they believe to be a just cause because the southland is being invaded by the north.
“I wanted him to wrestle with that call to duty and loyalty versus, ‘Well, I am originally an American first and now I am being called to be a Confederate, second to replace my union loyalties with Confederate loyalties,’ and there is a tension that is created there,” Marshall said. “And so I had him wrestle through that. And of course I use his compassionate, tender-hearted loving mother to pull him back, and then have his dad kind of saying ‘A man’s a man,’ and he has to face and make decisions.”
A third reason Marshall cites for writing the diary was simply to preach. A trained theologian himself, Marshall also used Lee Cummings Brown, the real-life pastor for both the Bethesda and Hillsville Presbyterian churches. Brown had four sons who fought in the Civil War and the Carroll County Historical Society has correspondence going back and forth between Brown and his sons, in addition to correspondence between Henry Lindsey and his wife Polly.
“You have that as real history and I thought I could put myself in Lee Cummings Brown. I’m a Presbyterian, he’s a Presbyterian . He’s a trained-Bible scholar, I’m a trained-Bible theologian,” Marshall said. “I could put myself into Lee Cummings Brown and I could use his platform of preaching at Hillsville or Bethesda, the Biblical principle, which I felt was applicable for people in Carroll County in that era and today.”
Eventually, Marshall said he may publish the Diary of Henry Lincoln Lee as a book, although that will need much additional work. If anything, he said the core element of the series is to serve as a real biography of Henry Lindsey.
And while it may be hard for today’s generation to believe, tensions were very real and very high in Carroll County at the start of the Civil War. While most people believe everyone was in favor of the Confederacy at the time, it was just simply not the case. To prove his point, Marshall references a newspaper in his possession from June 1, 1861. In the old, faded paper from Wythe County, there is a full page dealing with Carroll County and the Civil War with three separate articles on the subject.
The first article is by then-Clerk of Court William Lindsey. The article is an appeal for the citizens of Carroll County for the pending vote on secession, Marshall said. The Virginia counties that voted against secession, of course, went on to form West Virginia. But Carroll County voted for secession, so Lindsey’s letter asked the citizens of Carroll County to ratify the vote to secede from the Union.
And that’s were things get interesting. The second article lists the names of the 140 Carroll County citizens who voted against secession. Following up on that is a third article from a captain of one of the volunteer units that left Carroll County to train for the war in Lynchburg.
“And he writes back to Carroll County and says ‘Watch our back. Those 140 people are traitors to their country,’ and he calls them Lincoln Men. He basically says ‘Watch our back because we have traitors in Carroll County,’” Marshall said. “And so I have this history that is germane to me and my family, I have this love of the significance of the celebration of the sesquicentennial because I know the Civil War is so significant to the identity of who we are as a nation and my patriotism rises to that cause. I know historically the tension of the causes of this Civil War, but that tension is not adequately or accurately portrayed in modern platforms, primarily by the Confederates of our generation. And then finally I wanted to preach, so that summary is the energy and the cause behind my efforts.”
Allen Worrell can be reached at (276) 779-4062 or on [email protected]