Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Veteran Cunningham 'felt the heart throbs of the South'

The bronze plaque on the grave of  Sumner Cunningham, founder of Confederate Veteran magazine.
Like this blog on Facebook | Follow me on Twitter

On Dec. 17, 1913, Sumner Cunningham, founder and publisher of the influential Confederate Veteran magazine, was sitting at his desk in Nashville, working on a proposal for a monument for the man who composed Dixie. It was the last work of a momentous life. Found slumped over, "insensible" and rocked by a "series of hemorrhages of the nose," Cunningham was rushed to a Nashville hospital, where he died days later. The longtime journalist, a Civil War veteran and Lost Cause proponent, was 70.

Sumner Cunningham died in 1913. He was 70.
"Friend to Man," read a Page 1 headline in the Nashville Tennessean the day after Cunningham's funeral. "Thank our God for letting Sumner A. Cunningham live in the south and do his fine work here," noted the United Daughters of the Confederacy, which passed resolutions praising "a most remarkable and unusual character."

Founded in 1893 by Cunningham, who  served in the 41st Tennessee during the war, Confederate Veteran was initially a fundraising newsletter for the construction of a monument in honor of Jefferson Davis in Richmond. Soon it became one of the most important publications in the South, the voice of Confederate veterans' organizations. In the magazine, Cunningham published everything of interest to veterans and their families -- battle accounts, book reviews, reunion information, death notices and much more. Unsurprisingly, the offerings were heavily pro-Confederate.

"For twenty years his only thought has been for our good and for our honor and the glory of our cause, keeping our history true and straight, and honoring those of our comrades, who, like [Stonewall] Jackson, have crossed over the river to rest in the shade of the trees," a North Carolina veteran wrote in Confederate Veteran in 1913.

Sometimes Cunningham published complaints.

Memorial for Sumner Cunningham, a "gallant 
Confederate soldier."
"History is a true narration of past events," wrote a Missouri member of the United Daughters of the Confederacy. "The correct sources for which a historian should write are the records of the people whom he is writing. We do not want the children of America misled by the falsehoods that some of the present-day histories contain."

Aha! An early-20th century version of "fake news."

Cunningham didn't work solely on behalf of Confederate veterans. Obituaries noted his campaign to raise funds for a bust in Indiana for Union Colonel Richard Owen, who aided Confederate prisoners at Camp Morton. "... it is the most satisfactory undertaking of a lifetime," wrote Cunningham, "and I have learned a lesson of profit by associating with Hoosiers."

In eulogizing Cunningham, Dr. James Vance referenced Confederate Veteran and the role it played "in giving to the world a fair and impartial account of the great struggle between the states." Added Vance: "Sumner Cunningham was first a southerner. The South was his passion, and he worshiped it."

Cunningham, "the historian of the South," was buried in Willow Mount Cemetery in Shelbyville, Tenn., his boyhood home. "He felt the heart throbs of the South," reads the inscription on the bronze plaque on his grave.

In 1932, 19 years after its founder's death, Confederate Veteran ceased publication. In the 21st century, it lives on digitally.

Sumner Cunningham served in the 41st Tennessee, rising to sergeant major. 
"He gathered the history of his people written in tears but radiant with glory," reads the inscription 
on Sumner Cunningham's memorial in Willow Mount Cemetery in Shelbyville, Tenn. 
Cunningham's memorial is about 25 yards from the Confederate section in Willow Mount Cemetery.

-- Have something to add (or correct) in this post? E-mail me here.


-- Confederate Veteran, January 1913February 1913.
-- Indianapolis Star, Dec. 21, 1913.
-- Nashville Tennessean, Dec. 21, 1913Jan. 8, 1914.
-- Tennessee Encyclopedia, accessed online June 12, 2019.

1 comment:

  1. Truly a son of the south. RIP Sumner Cunningham.