By Myra Lee Adams Goff
The Sophienburg Museum and Archives and an anonymous donor established a yearly scholarship called the Myra Lee Adams Goff Sophienburg History Scholarship. It would be awarded to one senior from among our six high schools in Comal County. The way the scholarship was set up couldn’t have pleased me more. The winner would have to write a 500 word essay about a person or event, showing their knowledge and interest in the history of Comal County.
We were surprised that there were 108 entries. That’s a total of 54,000 words! Those who helped judge the entries were pleased about the amount of knowledge the students had accumulated. The students that put forth the effort to compete in this contest obviously put in many hours thinking about Comal County.
Brendan Cooper from Smithson Valley High School was chosen not only for his knowledge of the subject, but his choice of a very complicated period in history, the Civil War in Comal County. His entry was not a feature article from which one can learn facts; his entry was one that provokes thinking on the part of the reader. Brendan gave me permission to print his entry, so here it is:
After a long history of establishment and a strongly agricultural base, Comal County remains intact and prosperous. While it may have changed over the years with the migration of peoples and the environmental circumstances around it, it has remained so that it stands today a conducive place to live. From the rolling hill country, to the wide expanses of land now used for development and in some cases the age old profession of ranching, the county provides a diverse and beautiful environment in which to come of age. The land holds us up to walk into our futures.
With all this being said, I find it odd how openly the county was documented embracing the efforts of the Civil War. The land and the institution we know today are hard to place with the obtuse bigotry that I associate with the Civil War. The Civil War was waged over the simple freedom of all men, who also happen to be the audience of the Constitution. The violence and the shrewdness of the war make it seem rather ridiculous in its intensity, since the common fact of equality is an understanding in today’s society. With the knowledge of this county accepting the ideology of the war with an unquestioning handshake perhaps tarnishes the positive outlook on what it provides to me today. Somehow, by establishing the fact that the county supported what I can see to be wrong makes me disagree with the fiber of the institution. Hindsight is often clearer than what is utilized on a daily basis however, and it seems wrong to generalize.
In such a case, both sides should be shown, neither being denied by the other. I will consider then that I could potentially suffer from some sort of bias. I think that in school students are taught the Civil War while wearing a lens. While learning about the war, the North is continually associated with the good and the South with the bad. Because the South lost, we automatically assume that they were in the wrong. In my view the South was wrong and the wrong was righted with the war, but some would disagree. I see that what the South believed in was wrong to an extent in one area: slavery. Often, though, we can forget that the war was mostly political as it consumed the ideas of isolationism of the states. Because of this, the South is vilified and labeled as vile, at least during this time period. The bias I am instilled with has me disagree with the positions of the county at the time, but I can see that here, the correct thing was done for the situation.
This event is important to me and to the county, since if you can’t agree with the place in which you live, who’s opinion is wrong? While it seems to serve to tarnish the county, it actually shows the stability of this county with the state, which promotes only good traits. While it appears vile for Comal to join the fight with open arms, sending troops into battle in this case, may seem discordant with the country, it shows obedience to the state. In the end, the entire South made the same mistake, and it wasn’t for the lack of a moral compass.
The history of the place in which you live can mean the difference between respecting and devaluing it. The fact that Comal County engaged in a war of this type, while shocking, shows its clarity of mind and a solid belief in itself and its own values. It takes courage to rebuke authority, and our county possesses more than enough to make it worth admiration.
My postscript to Brendan’s essay
Locally, much has been written about Comal County’s involvement in the Civil War. The county vote was 239 for and 86 against seceding from the Union and joining the Confederacy. Questions constantly arise; did joining the Confederacy mean that one was in favor of slavery? I don’t think so. Well why, then, did Comal County vote to secede from the Union? Ferdinand Lindheimer, editor of the Neu Braunfelser Zeitung at the time pushed for secession. He certainly didn’t approve of slavery, so why did he lead the way towards secession? Germans in general were against slavery.
Political issues always have hidden agendas. That’s on both sides. Lindheimer was in favor of seceding from the Union because he was a strong believer in states’ rights. This is a very important concept to Germans and to Texans. Since both the North and South were guilty of slavery, what’s the conflict? The Emancipation Proclamation granted freedom to the slaves only in the Confederate states. Or was it a “money is the root of all evil” issue?
Brendan reminds us that this is an unresolved issue, not only here but all over the United States. Those who chose Brendan’s entry believed that regardless of what field he chooses to study, history and writing will be a part of his field. A beautiful plaque with his name engraved on it can be viewed at the Sophienburg.