With the removal of the Confederate battle flag from South Carolina’s State House grounds, the subject of the Civil War and the Confederacy has recently been in the news. No matter where you side on the issue, there’s no denying that the Confederate army was chock full of funny names, from Jubal Early to Bushrod Johnson to Vestal Coffin. Fabulous!
But today’s funny-named fellow of note is Moxley Sorrel, Brigadier-General in the “Provisional Army of the Confederate States,” aka The South. Born to one of Savannah’s wealthiest businessman and a mother from the famous Virginia Moxleys, Gilbert Moxley Sorrel was destined to shine. His childhood home was called the Sorrel Weed House (not a drug den). In fact, I do declare that it is one of the finest examples of Greek Revival architecture in the entire United States. And to be clear–sorrel is a perennial herb. The tart, lemony flavor can be used for salads, soups, and sauces.
In 1861, the 23-year-old Sorrel left his job as a bank clerk and entered the Confederate Army as a private, reporting to Brigadier-General James Longstreet (yes, they were both ultimately B.G.’s, not to be confused with Bee Gees). Longstreet wrote that the young Sorrel “came into the battle as gaily as a beau, and seemed to receive orders which threw him into more exposed positions with particular delight.” Indeed, he rather fancied getting his war on. Later that year, he made captain, and was promoted to major the following year.
By 1864, big-bam-boom, he became a B.G. Wounded in two battles, Sorrel survived the War Between The States with the reputation as one of the best staff officers in the Confederacy.
But his talents as a writer rivaled his talents on the battlefield. Sorrel wrote Recollections of a Confederate Staff Officer, published posthumously in 1905, full of wonderful characterizations of fellow officers.
Of the night he met Ulysses S. Grant (originally Hiram Ulysses Grant), the 18th President of the United States (and the dude on your $50 bill), he wrote:
|Grant was in excellent form, looked well and talked well; his glass was not touched. Fresh from his tour around the world he had much to say. He had been deeply interested in Japan and talked incisively of that wonderful country, really a monologue of a full hour, the table intent and absorbed in the fresh observations that fell from him. Then it became time for his departure to meet a public appointment, and we rose to bow him out. Resuming our seats and attention to the old Madeiras, we agreed that for a silent man Grant was about the most interesting one we had recently found.|
By the way, the “old Madeiras” was a fine wine. For more than 150 years, no other wine rivaled it in the eyes of connoisseurs. Every public event—from the signing of the Declaration of Independence to George Washington’s Inauguration—was toasted with a glass of Madeira (per www.rarewineco.com).
Sorrel died in the summer of 1901, but the Sorrel Weed House is still open for public tours, should you so desire.