"Frankly, Scarlett, I don’t give a damn." Most Americans don’t give a damn about the Civil War either, but many who do have a manufactured memory of what has been called the "crucible" of American history. How has popular media manipulated, portrayed, or romanticized the Civil War? How did the war’s veterans, post-war politicians, and interest groups remember the war or reconstruct its memory? Why does the Civil War still conjure sectional, class, and racial tensions? Why has a red, white, and blue flag, garnered with stripes and stars, evoked such emotion through the years? This fascinating period of history still inspires debate and consternation, as well as admiration and respect.
During this long weekend of study and learning, we will focus on the forces which interacted to develop modern memory of the American Civil War. Expert historians will help us to examine how perspectives have been shaped over more than 140 years of input and adaptation by various groups and schools of thought.
John M. Coski of the Museum of the Confederacy in Richmond, Virginia, and author of The Confederate Battle Flag: America’s Most Embattled Emblem, will be with us for the entire weekend to guide the learning process and contribute his expertise during talks and tours. In his keynote lecture, he will identify and elaborate upon some of the variables that account for conflicting memories of the Civil War — using the battle flag controversy as the primary case study for that analysis. John will also chair Sunday’s ever-popular panel discussion, during which much insight and wisdom flows, some questions are settled, and others are ignited.
Kevin M. Levin teaches history at the St. Anne’s-Belfield School in Charlottesville, Virginia, and hosts a blog called Civil War Memory. His extensive background in history and philosophy has given him searing insights into the idiosyncrasies and the implications of Civil War history and memory. In his talk, "The Battle of the Crater, William Mahone, and Civil War Memory," Kevin will examine the ways Southerners reinterpreted this pivotal episode during the Battle of Petersurg throughout the postwar. Memories of the Crater and Confederate Major General William Mahone proved flexible enough to encompass multiple meanings relating to issues surrounding postwar state politics in Virginia, the contentious issue of race, and the drive towards national reunion. By analyzing the various and often contradictory interpretations of important Civil War battles, we more clearly can understand how history is frequently mixed with various elements of public memory and myth.
William Blair is Director of the Richards Civil War Era Center and Professor of American History at Penn State University. Blair’s presentation, "The Politicization of Memorial Days," places the development of memorial holidays, Emancipation Day celebrations, and other remembrances in the context of Reconstruction politics and race relations in the South. His research examines these civic rituals and demonstrates that the politics of commemoration remained far more contentious than has been previously acknowledged. Blair’s analysis shows that some festive occasions that we celebrate even today have a divisive and sometimes violent past as various groups with conflicting political agendas attempted to define the meaning of the Civil War.
Thomas Clemens is a renowned expert on the Battle of Antietam and the editor of the Ezra Carmen papers, a post-war compendium of recollections by the soldiers who participated in the battle. Leading the tour of Antietam National Battlefield, Tom will combine his knowledge of the battlefield and the memories of the battle’s participants to comment on the formation of battle legacy, commemoration, and interpretation.
G. Kurt Piehler is Associate Professor of History and Director of the Center for the Study of War and Society at the University of Tennessee. During his presentation, he will recount American efforts to commemorate wars by erecting monuments, designating holidays, forming veterans’ organizations, and establishing national cemeteries. Kurt’s experience with history and memory is extensive, having worked previously gathering more than 200 interviews with military veterans for the Rutgers Oral History Archives of World War II. He is author of Remembering War the American Way.