Saturday, 19 February 2011

Sumner A Cunningham (1843-1913) - founder of The Confederate Veteran

Sumner A Cunningham
Sumner Archibald Cunningham was the founder, publisher and editor of the Nashville publication The Confederate Veteran.  The magazine was one of the most influential publications of the New South and made Cunningham a central figure in the 'Lost Cause' movement of the late 19th century.

He was born in rural Bedford County, Tennessee, on 21 July 1843 and was of thoroughly Ulster-Scots ancestry on both sides of his family.  His father was John Washington Campbell Cunningham (1812-1855),  his mother was Mary Ann Buchanan (1820-1889) and they were married in Lincoln County, Tennessee, on 13 September 1842.

His paternal grandparents were Humphrey Cunningham (1777-1836) and his wife Margaret Patton (1780-1847).  Humphrey was the son of George Cunningham (1753-1837) of North Carolina and the grandson of Humphrey Cunningham (1730-1806) of Pennsylvania and his wife Rhoda M Simeral (Summerville) (1733-1831), who was born in county Donegal.  Margaret Patton was born in North Carolina and was the daughter of Thomas Patton (1726-1808) and his wife Margaret Erwin.  Her grandfather Matthew Lander Patton (1705-1778) was born in Londonderry and emigrated from Ulster to Pennsylvania.

His maternal grandparents were Samuel Buchanan III (1778-1852) and Rachael Greenfield.  Samuel's grandfather, also Samuel Buchanan (1690-1774), was born in county Tyrone about 1690 and emigrated from Ulster to America with his father, Alexander Buchanan, in 1702.  The name Buchanan is Scottish and the Buchanans probably came from Scotland to Ulster in the 17th century.

The Samuel Buchanan who emigrated from Ulster was the father of John Buchanan, who was born in Washington County, Virginia, in 1721, and the grandfather of Samuel Buchanan III, who was born in Virginia on 13 March 1778.

Sumner A Cunningham's Ulster-Scots ancestors were therefore from Londonderry, Tyrone and Donegal.  They had lived through the troubled times of the Williamite War and the Siege of Derry and they left Ulster in the early 18th century.

With the advent of the Civil War, Sumner A Cunningham joined the local home guard in October 1861 and then in November his unit was assimilated into company B of the 41st Tennessee Infantry in the Confederate States Army.  He saw his first fighting at Fort Donelson the following February but was captured when the post fell and spent several months in Camp Morton in Indianapolis before being exchanged.  After their release Cunningham and his fellow Tennesseans joined General Joseph E Johnston in Mississippi.

The 41st missed the siege of Vicksburg and the subsequent surrender of Pemberton's army but did participate in the siege of Jackson a few days later.  Cunningham then missed two critical battles due to sickness.  While his comrades fought under Bragg at Chickamagua, he was suffering from malaria and when he rejoined them for the siege of Chattanooga, he missed the decisive battle at Missionary Ridge, again because of illness.

Promoted to the rank of sergeant major, Cunningham fought through the entire Atlanta Campaign and Hood's foray into Middle Tennessee, including the battles of Franklin and Nashville, but in December1864 he went home and ended his military service.

In 1872 Cunningham published a limited edition of his reminiscences of life in the 41st Tennessee Infantry, which give a good overall picture of the life of a western Confederate soldier.  This was edited and republished in 2001 by Dr John A Simpson.

After the war Cunningham returned to Shelbyville and worked for a time as a merchant but he had an interest in journalism and he bought and edited the Shelbyville Commercial (1871), Chattanooga Times (1876) and Catersville Express (1879).  In 1883 he started a monthly magazine called Our Day,which was publsihed in New York but directed at southern audiences.  However each business venture ended in financial failure and in 1885 he joined the Nashville American as a staff correspondent.

In 1892 Cunningham was assigned the responsibility for collecting funds to erect a monument to the recently deceased president of the Confederacy, Jefferson Davis, and he established a newsletter to keep patrons informed of the progress of this initiative.  This developed into the Confederate Veteran, which was founded in January 1893 as a monthly magazine to commmemorate the Confederate soldier.  Charging a subscription rate of only one dollar a year, Cunningham made his magazine available to a wide audience and by 1904 it had one of the largest subscription lists in the South, with a readership of 22,000, the majority of whom hailed from the western portion of the former confederacy.  The magazine published reminiscences of former soldiers as well as reports of reunions and memorials and it also reported on the local and regional activities of the United Confederate Veterans and United Daughters of the Confederacy.

Cunningham published and highlighted the forgotten story of Sam Davis, 'the boy hero of Tennessee'.  His efforts to educate Tennesseans on the exploits of Davis led to the construction of a monument on Nashville's Capitol Hill in 1909 and Cunningham considered the Davis memorial the 'crowning glory' of his career.

Cunningham died in Nashville on 13 December 1913 after a brief illness.  He was aged seventy and was seated at his desk, working on a proposed monument to commemorate Daniel Decatur Emmitt, the composer of the famous song Dixie.  He was buried in Willow Mount Cemetery in Shelbyville.

After his death his secretary Edith Drake Pope assumed the editorship of the Confederate Veteran and kept it going until 1932. 

Beginning in 1921 the United Daughters of the Confederacy sponsored the Cunningham Memorial Scholarship at Peabody College in Nashville.
  • John A Simpson, S A Cunningham and the Confederate Heritage: 1994
  • John A Simpson, Reminiscences of the 41st Tennessee: The Civil War in the West: Shippensburg, 2001
  • The Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture

1 comment:

  1. He died on 20 (not 13) December 1913. You can write to me at keyesperry[at] for a copy of the death certificate if you want.