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Southern Heritage <br>News and Views: AN ADVENTURE AND A CAUSE

Friday, January 20, 2012


By Bob Hurst

Everyone has a place, or places, that they especially wish to visit someday. Often these places are vacation destinations, famous cities or even venues for certain events ( I, for instance, would someday love to attend The Masters and the Kentucky Derby). Generally, these destinations are sites that would be appealing or of interest to a great number of people. At an entirely different and more visceral level is that particular place that calls to us for more emotional reasons which reach to the very core of our being. That place for me has long been the small town of Lexington, Virginia.

My fascination for Virginia began at an early age. When I was just a young lad, not even nine years old, I started studying American history. My first heroes were the American presidents and my favorites were George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and James Monroe, all Virginians. It was not long after this that the wonderful librarian in my hometown of Talladega, Miss Willie Welch, introduced me to the Confederacy and then there were two more larger-than-life figures in my life and they, too, were Virginians. These two giants were Robert E. Lee and Thomas Jonathan "Stonewall" Jackson.

Reinforcing this feeling for Virginia was the fact that I had an aunt and uncle who lived in Warrenton, Virginia and their visits to Talladega were always much-anticipated by the entire family. She was an extremely intelligent woman and such a free spirit and he was a scientist with a research firm located in northern Virginia just across the Potomac from Washington. Their visits to Talladega were always a very special time and I learned a lot about Southern and Confederate history from talking with them. Uncle Paul, in fact, was the person who taught me the correct pronunciation of the word "Shenandoah". This precocious young boy had mispronounced the word while rattling on about all I knew of the War Between the States.

Now, fast forward about nine years to my freshman year in college at Auburn University. I had entered the summer of 1964 right out of high school and had gone out for "Rush" that Fall. I went to Auburn wanting to be a Sigma Nu because of the number of outstanding men in my hometown who belonged to that fine organization. I was privileged to receive a bid from Sigma Nu and committed early during Rush Week.

It was during my pledge period that Lexington, Virginia, began to become that special place that I simply had to visit someday. It was while studying my pledge manual (which I still have, by the way) that I learned that the national headquarters of my fraternity is located in Lexington. I also learned that Sigma Nu was founded as an honor fraternity at Virginia Military Institute (VMI), which is also located in Lexington, by three cadets at that venerable institution. VMI is the very school where General Jackson was an instructor (although he was not a general yet) before he marched into immortality as the remarkable "Stonewall".

The pledge manual had fine pen-and-ink drawings of Jackson and the impressive military-style buildings at VMI. It also contained drawings of Robert E. Lee and the beautiful architecture of Washington and Lee University (W&L) which adjoins VMI. The manual explained how, after the War, Robert E. Lee had sought a place of culture and refinement where he could use his talents to build a better world. He found it in Lexington as president of a small college (then called "Washington College") . That institution now bears his name and the name of this country's first president and is one of the outstanding institutions of higher learning in this country. Those words, "culture" and "refinement" , came to exemplify Lexington to me. Since Sigma Nu was founded as an honor fraternity and the word appeared frequently in the pledge manual, the mystique of Lexington, for me, continued to grow. Learning later that both Lee and Jackson are buried in Lexington just fueled my desire to visit this historic town.

I almost visited Lexington the summer of 1966 when I spent two and a half months visiting my relatives in Warrenton. I was able to get a job for the summer so I would have spending money but it reduced drastically the time I had for travel and sightseeing. Also, I was given a summer membership in the Fauquier Springs Swim & Tennis Club in exchange for playing on the club team in the Blue Ridge Tennis League and teaching tennis lessons one day a week (I was playing for Auburn at the time). This further reduced travel time. Since I was already into photographing beautiful, old Greek Revival homes (my favorite style of architecture) I spent most of my roadtime in northern Virginia capturing images of wonderful structures such as Carter Hall (Berryville), Oatlands (Leesburg), Oak Hill (Loudoun County) and Montpelier (Orange County). This didn't include the entire day I spent in Charlottesville with my Aunt Sara visiting Monticello and UVA. Lexington was just a bit too far away.

The years after graduation from Auburn included work, marriage, work, graduate school, work, childrearing and work and there was just never time to get to Lexington although the desire still remained.

Then, this past Fall, I read that the city council of Lexington had passed an ordinance prohibiting the flying of any Confederate flag on the lampposts downtown (or any other public place) at any time including the annual parade through town on Lee-Jackson Day. It seems that some of the always complaining people had complained that they were "offended" by the flags and, of course, the mavens of political correctness on the city council naturally caved to the complainers. I knew then that this would be the year that I finally got to Lexington.

I and many other Southerners are sick and tired of history being revised and old traditions done away with so that ignorant people won't be "offended". I knew it was now time to ride to the sound of the guns just as our Confederate ancestors had done so many times in their quest for Southern independence. I also knew that Southerners from all over the South and beyond would be riding to the sound of those guns in Lexington. Thus began the adventure.

It is 726 miles from my house in Tallahassee to downtown Lexington. Even though I no longer wear the clothes of a young man and that mileage indicated a trip of more than twelve hours, I felt certain that Lee, Jackson, Stuart, Ashby, Mosby, Pelham, Hill, Early and so many more would be riding right along side me so it should be a piece of cake - and it was until I turned north at Charlotte onto I-77. By the time I reached the mountains the bottom had fallen out and the sky had turned dark and ominous.

The next few hours on I-77 and then I-81 can only be described as "harrowing". Many times I thought to myself,"What have I gotten into" but then remembered that the generals and all were riding with me and Jedediah Hotchkiss was planning the route so I plunged ahead. I reached Lexington sometime after 9PM (I had left Tallahassee at 7:30AM). It had been 71 degrees when I left Tallahassee Thursday morning - it wasn't when I arrived in Lexington.

When I stepped out of my motel room Friday morning there were snowflakes falling outside and the wind was blowing at what at first appeared to be gale force. I had arisen early as my plan was to first go to Stonewall Jackson Cemetery before people started arriving so that I could spend some quiet time with the general and take some pictures sans people. There is a wonderful statue of General Jackson at his gravesite and as I gazed at that visage in that beautiful cemetery where almost 150 Confederates sleep eternally under the gaze of the surrounding mountains I was deeply touched and felt so close to and proud of my Southern heritage. Yes, I did tear up a bit but it was a warm and good feeling. I also took some beautiful pictures and plan to enlarge and frame some.

After leaving the cemetery I spent some time riding around exploring Lexington and just enjoying the beautiful architecture. I won't try to describe the town, I will merely say that the town has been there since the 1700's when there was much great architecture created in Virginia and there is an abundance of significant architecture in Lexington. The streets downtown are narrow (many are one-way) and some of the shops still have stoops. Wonderful!

I had located Sigma Nu National Headquarters during my exploring and made a point to be there by 9AM. The structure sits atop a hill with a winding drive going up to the front entrance and it is simply stunning. The main two-story central section was once one of the finer homes in Lexington and to this has been added curved one-story wings which beautifully complement the main section. It would fit nicely among the fine old mansions in the Tidewater. I was treated like royalty by everyone I met and was given a complete tour by a fine, young Southern gentlemen named Todd Denson which I truly enjoyed. I also felt honored when a copy of each of my books was accepted for placement in the alumni portion of the headquarters library. This is where books written by Sigma Nu alums are kept and after perusing the shelves I was hoping my two small books would be placed alongside the two shelves of books written by the legendary Zane Grey who was a Sigma Nu at the University of Pennsylvania. Actually, I will be happy with a corner location on a bottom shelf.

Friday afternoon was taken up by a five-hour symposium featuring a number of speakers ranging from university professors to the commander-in-chief of the Sons of Confederate Veterans. After this we were prepared for the centerpiece of the weekend celebration - the parade through downtown and the other events planned for Lee-Jackson Day on Saturday. And thankfully, when Saturday came it was a good bit warmer than Friday. Still cold, just not as cold.

Everything began Saturday with a dignified ceremony at the grave of Stonewall Jackson. It was a marvelous sight with hundreds of men in Confederate uniforms and period clothing and hundreds of Southern ladies in period clothing, mourning clothes and other suitable attire. And there were flags; oh, were there flags! There were several hundred flags with the preponderance, of course, being Confederate Battle Flags.

I had taken two flags to the event - a CBF and a Lee Headquarters Flag. Fortuitously, earlier that morning I had met a father and daughter from Conway, South Carolina who had, as had I, gone to Lee Chapel on the W&L campus to take photographs. Actually, it turned out that I had previously met the dad, Tony Anderson, at the 2011 SCV National Reunion in Montgomery, Alabama. I mentioned that I had an extra flag and asked if they would like to walk alongside me in the parade and carry a flag. I have got to say that the Battle Flag never looked finer than when it was carried through the streets of Lexington by a pretty 15-year old named Chelsea.

The parade procession received a great reception from the crowd in town and eventually ended at the VMI drillfield. From there most everyone made their way back to W&L (it's just a few hundred feet) to Lee Chapel for a service there. It is an overwhelming feeling to sit in the very chapel where the immortal Robert E. Lee had worshiped during the last years of his splendid life. It is also overwhelming to gaze upon the Edward Valentine sculpture of a reclining Robert E. Lee, in uniform, which is placed directly behind the pulpit and directly over his tomb in the lower level of the chapel.

The service essentially brought to an end the official festivities. There was a luncheon and later an evening banquet at the Virginia Horse Center just a few miles out of town. After the luncheon I returned to the VMI campus and took photographs of the beautiful buildings there. While photographing the statue of General Jackson that stands in front of one of the oldest buildings on campus, a professor who was jogging by stopped and offered to take pictures of me in front of the statue. He was a truly nice man and we had about a 10-minute conversation which again brought to mind the words "culture" and "refinement" as the proper descriptive terms for Lexington.

I hated to leave and delayed my departure until 10 o'clock Sunday morning. I took some more pictures, of course, as I was leaving and then buckled down for the , what proved to be, 14-hour trip back to Tallahassee.

I had finally been to Lexington and it was an experience I will never forget. Not only did it make me prouder than ever of my two fraternities - Sigma Nu and the Sons of Confederate Veterans - but it gave me an even greater admiration for Robert E. Lee and Thomas Jonathan Jackson and the Cause for which they fought and the remarkable lives that they lived. It also gave me a warm feeling to know that so many Southerners would ride to the sound of the guns and from such distances. I spoke with attendees from Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky and, of course, Virginia from the Confederate states. I also met compatriots from Illinois and Indiana who might not live in the South but certainly have the South in their hearts. It gave me great hope for the future of our Cause and the veneration of our Confederate ancestors.



Note: CONFEDERATE JOURNAL in book form is now available online. Volume 1, 2005-2007 can be ordered at and Volume 2, 2008-2009 can be ordered at

Bob Hurst is a Southern Patriot who has special interests in the Confederacy and the antebellum architecture of the South. He is Commander of Col. David Lang Camp, Sons of Confederate Veterans in Tallahassee and is 2nd Lieutenant Commander of the Florida Division, SCV. He can be contacted at or 850-878-7010.


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