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Person of the Year - 1863

The May 2013 meeting at the Civil Service Club saw John Coski present a summary of the Museum of the Confederacy's "Person of the Year 1863" symposium. In the first half of the programme he presented the candidates, including a few red herrings, and in the second half ACWRTUK members were allowed to debate, reject, reinstate and finally vote for their very own "Person of the year." It did not disappoint.

John took us back to the fictional offices of the "Time" magazine editorial team late in 1863. The January 1864 cover needing filling with the person or persons that were deemed to have affected or influenced the events of 1863. It was going to be a long night. Extra candles and claret were ordered. Acting as proxy editor, John outlined 16 candidates plus a few extras. Of course the Presidents were there. Both had had a tough year but both still had played their parts. Could Lincoln build on his 1861 Person of the year award? Davis still had a country under his control albeit somewhat condensed on size. Lee had had a brilliant victory in May. but lost the strategic impetus in July. But by the end of the year the ANV could still hold its own against anything the Union threw at them. Could the 1862 Person of the year win twice? Grant had managed at last to overcome Vicksburg and then Chattanooga. Would Lincoln recognise this man and call him east? Only time will tell.

Sherman must get a mention, but was he overshadowed by Grant? Perhaps the apprentice will have a better year in 1864. Jackson appeared invincible until his untimely death. Could he be the "dark horse"? Did his legacy live on in the spirit of the ANV? Pemberton might be the cover man purely through his dogged resistance. Likewise was it Bragg's prize to take as the man with the thickest skin throughout the year only to give Rosecrans a bloody nose? Could the stalking horses who were later to fade away get the recognition they deserved as their stars shone in 1863?

Three Confederates heralded a new type of warfare. Quantrill waged a fierce guerrilla war in the west where no man was safe in his bed. Should we recognise his feats as a sign of war to come? On the high seas Captain Semmes ranged at will destroying Union shipping and damaging US trade. Should the pirate that the hit worlds press be on the cover? John Hunt Morgan also deserves a chance with his daring raid into northern territory. Do these men hold the key to changing northern public opinion of the war as being impossible to win? It was agreed that they were not decisive war winners but they were significant nonetheless.

Likewise Great Britain had a likely candidate through Lord Russell. We still are not sure if he is Pro- south or pro-north, but we are certainly sure he is pro-British. Perhaps Russell should be the cover just by keeping Britain out of the conflict. Also in Britain was James Bulloch, the Confederate agent responsible for procuring the ships and material for the Confederacy. Will this man's actions see him on the cover?

A peacemaker must be considered even if he was a Democrat. Is Vallandigham a traitor or hero? Will men like him hold sway in 1864 or will the sword continue to cut its bloody swathe?

The Time Life team also have to consider groups. The Black soldier may warrant a thought. After all their first battles may have been indecisive, but their bravery cannot be faulted. Perhaps a year too soon again. The Women of the South have seen their share of travails. Inflation and shortages prompted them into open revolt in Richmond and other cities in April. With most of their menfolk gone the burden is very hard.

Not content with trying to whittle this list down from 16, John introduced a few more candidates. Surely the hero of Gettysburg, George Meade was worthy of the cover. Rosecrans and his bloodless campaigns in Tennessee merits an opportunity to impress the committee. Likewise so does Napoleon III whose actions in Mexico may have thwarted Union plans sufficiently to allow the Confederacy some respite. However these were obvious red herrings and consigned to the also rans.

Faced with this dilemma, the Editorial team threw their hands in the air and called upon the ACWRTUK audience for their thoughts. Fuelled by coffee and tea, they embarked on their challenge with relish.

We quickly discounted Meade, Morgan, Quantrill who whilst having an impact, there were clearly more deserving candidates. Sherman also went quickly. He was too much under the careful guidance of Grant. Perhaps next year for Sherman? We decided that Lord Russell should go on the cover of the British Time for services to British manufacturing. Jackson was out and then passionately reinstated and then finally rejected only to be brought back in at the twelfth hour. Going out late in the evening and failing to duck quick enough counted against him. Pemberton was deemed a complete failure. The Black soldier was not to be and the women scarcely had a look in. Surprisingly, we couldn't decide whether Bragg should stay or go so in the end he stayed.

This left us with a final seven . Lee. Grant, Semmes, Jackson, Bragg, and both Presidents. We debated a few points further but with the deadline looming we had to vote. Despite having most of the debating time, Bragg lost out badly with one vote. Davis (2), Lee (4) Jackson (4) and Lincoln (6) did not make double figures. It was down to two men, Grant and Semmes. In the end it was very close. The ACWRTUK voted 17 - 16 in favour of Raphael Semmes, the scourge of the Union merchant fleet. Perhaps we just love a good pirate tale?. In Richmond earlier in the year, there were five speakers promoting five candidates. The shortlist was the U.S. Coloured Troops; Ulysses S. Grant; Stonewall Jackson; Lord John Russell; and Clement Vallandigham. The audience voted Ulysses S. Grant as Person of the Year 1863. In the pre- symposium build up the MOC concocted a few red herrings to increase the tension. In Richmond, Grant won the day. In London in 2013, a man who probably had a herring or two on his journeys in the Atlantic through most of 1863 won our vote.

Thanks to John Coski for assuming the role of five speakers and thanks to the members of the ACWRTUK who contributed to the debate. More of the same please.

John M. Coski is Historian and Vice-President for Research and Publications at The Museum of the Confederacy, where he has worked in various capacities since 1988. He is also editor of the Museum’s quarterly Magazine. He earned his B.A. from Mary Washington College, located on Marye’s Heights in Fredericksburg, Virginia, and his M.A. and Ph.D. in History from the College of William and Mary. He is the author of several books, including The Confederate Battle Flag: America’s Most Embattled Emblem (Harvard University Press, 2005), Capital Navy: The Men, Ships, and Operations of the James River Squadron (Savas, 1996), The Army of the Potomac at Berkeley Plantation: The Harrison’s Landing Occupation of 1862 (Dietz Press, 1989), and more than 125 essays, articles, and reviews. He is married to Ruth Ann Spivey Coski, who also worked at the Museum as supervisor of the White House of the Confederacy interpretive staff and as library manager, and who now writes occasional articles for the Museum’s Magazine.


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