What would Stonewall say?

A popular fiction writer can be expected to have as little interest in distinctions as a pop history writer - maybe even fewer.

I was not surprised, therefore, that the former pulp fiction novelist James Webb, now representing Virginia in the U.S. Senate, would make a claim as historically romantic and extravagant as this:

The lawmaker was making a point about certain National Guard troops deploying to Iraq in September after returning only two years ago from a deployment in Afghanistan. Those troops are deploying with roughly 1,400 Virginia Army National Guard members of the 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, "the famous Stonewall Brigade," he said.

"I would point out as an aside," Webb said, "that this is a brigade with a long history that dates back to the Civil War, and, in fact, one of my ancestors fought in that brigade during the Civil War, was wounded at Antietam, and lost his life at Chancellorsville."
Webb served in the military and was Secretary of the Navy at one time; if he was interested in unit history, he should have learned something about unit lineage.

There is no Stonewall Brigade on duty with the Virginia ANG, whatever the ANG claims.

The connection between the 116th Brigade Combat Team (BCT) and the Stonewall Brigade is a claim that the 116th Infantry Regiment, the core of the BCT, was once a Stonewall Brigade unit. Nonsense. Not even close. The regiment's own lineage page proves otherwise.

Start with the idea that there was no 116th Virginia anything in the Stonewall Brigade. The key connection seems to be that: "Former elements of the Stonewall Brigade and the 52d Virginia Infantry reorganized 1871-1881 in the Virginia Volunteers as separate infantry companies in the Shenandoah Valley." So the 116th is descended from companies of the Virginia Volunteers, post war.

I understand that there is a fungibility in lineage, but this pushes way past the breaking point. There is no history here, just sleight of hand for morale-building purposes. Take a look at the lineage of one of my old outfits and notice how clean by comparison.

A second point, more offensive than the contrived Stonewall connection: lineage as a rule does not flow upward or downward. The unit itself is the object of its own history. Units are deactivated, reactivated, merged, redesignated, but remain immortal - they are either active or not.

Assigning the 1/17th Infantry Battalion (my counter example in the last link) to another infantry division in the 1980s did not flow the 1/17th's historical association with the 2nd Infantry Division upward. When the Sixth ID gained the reassigned 1/17th it did not become the Second Infantry Division. Nor did it become the 17th Infantry Regiment.

So even if Stonewall had fought the 116th Virginia Infantry at Manassas, which he didn't, its heritage could not rise like baked dough to envelop the gaining 116th BCT in a warm pillow of historical identity - "the Stonewall Brigade." The 116th BCT is an historically unique unit. The Stonewall Brigade was a unique unit and not not defined by its constituent regiments (not legally nor organizationally only historically). Even if the 33rd Virginia had been redesignated the 116th Virginia before the end of the ACW, it could not bestow Stonewall Brigade status on a higher (gaining) unit.

The deeper question is not one of historical procedure but about the meaning of unit history to soldiers. Does it matter that soldiers take a false historical consciousness to war? Have we done well to tell morale-building lies about lineage? And is it any kind of surprise that a politician would seem not to know the difference?

Coming out of Afghanistan, headed to Iraq, these men will not be allowed to make a name for themselves or their unit. A name has been given them and the name is a lie.

(More clean lineages here.)