Daily Archives: March 11, 2011

What Does Civil War Memory Sound Like in French?

Update: Gilles Biassette interviews Peter Carmichael in La Croix.

Last Friday I spent the afternoon with Gilles Biassette, who writes for La Croix in France.  He spent a few days in the United States talking with people about the Civil War Sesquicentennial.  We talked about a wide range of topics as we walked through Lee and Jackson Parks, the Confederate cemetery at the University of Virginia and the campus itself.  Gilles asked excellent question and I even had the chance to ask him about historical memory in France.  Of course, there is always the concern that a reporter will butcher what I have to say, but I think it turned out really well.  It seems appropriate that a French publication would express interest in our Civil War given that Europe closely monitored the events of 1861-65.

Mais cette passion américaine n’est pas que militaire. Comme l’atteste le nouveau musée de Gettysburg.

Ils l’ont refait il y a quelques années, explique Kevin Levin, professeur à Charlottesville et auteur d’un blog très riche sur la guerre de Sécession et sur son héritage, Civil War Memory. Avant, il y avait des murs couverts d’armes, et le reste tournait autour des mouvements de troupes… Maintenant, il n’y a plus qu’un échantillon de la collection d’armes du musée. À la place, une excellente exposition sur l’esclavage, le rôle des femmes, les conditions de vie à l’époque. Ce qui n’a pas plu à tout le monde ! Des gens ont râlé, disant qu’un musée sur une bataille, c’est fait pour parler de la guerre, pas de l’esclavage….

L’image d’un Sud esclavagiste combattant au nom de la liberté a de quoi faire bondir… « Ce type d’argument est repris par ceux qui veulent minorer le problème de l’esclavage, poursuit Kevin Levin. On entend même, depuis quelques années, certains prétendus historiens assurer que des Noirs se sont battus côte à côte avec les Blancs dans l’armée sudiste. Mais il n’y a absolument aucun élément qui prouve ceci ! Ce qu’on sait, en revanche, c’est que certains militaires étaient partis se battre avec leurs esclaves, présents sur le front pour accomplir leur travail d’esclaves….

La guerre de Sécession est toujours une passion américaine, précise Kevin Levin. Mais cet intérêt est beaucoup plus émotionnel qu’intellectuel : cette guerre permet surtout aux Américains d’établir un lien avec leurs ancêtres, de ressentir le passé.

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Black Confederates in Massachusetts?

I haven’t done a Civil War Roundtable talk in some time, but I almost always enjoy the experience, especially the Q&A with folks who share my passion for this history.  Today I accepted an invitation from the North Worcester County Civil War Roundtable to give a talk on black Confederates.  The talk is scheduled for October 11.  I couldn’t be more pleased as this will be my first talk in my new home of Massachusetts.  My talk is going to explore the evolution of the black Confederate narrative over the past few decades through a close look at the story of Silas Chandler.  I am also going to talk about the perils of digital sources, which I recently explored in my NYTs op-ed piece.

One of the things I worried about was moving to a place outside of my main interest in the Civil War, but I am now much more confident that I can find outlets in which to share my fascination with the history of the South and the Confederacy.  Perhaps I can establish myself as the go-to guy on certain topics, especially during the next few years.  I am hoping to schedule a few more talks on this subject at least through the next year or two.  As soon as I get established in Boston the plan is to finish up the black Confederate book.  I’ve been collecting source material and sketching out ideas.  While I want to write a scholarly study I also want to explore how this narrative has played out in popular culture.  Think of it as: academic study meets “Confederates in the Attic”.  I am hoping to work with one of the major publishers on this one.  Once I finish this book I am going to look into writing something about the Robert Gould Shaw memorial in Boston.

Upcoming Talk on Black Confederates:

“Searching for Black Confederates in History and Memory” Historical Society of Western Virginia, Roanoke, Virginia, April 2011.

“Black Confederates and Media Literacy in the Classroom” Civil War Preservation Trust Annual Teachers Institute, July 2011.

This Is Not a Confederate Flag

Things are a bit slow around here as I continue to pack up my library and work to get the house ready to show.  I have to say that I’ve begun to embrace the downsizing of my library.  I’ve never had a bibliophile’s attachment to books; rather, they have always held an instrumental value based on the information contained.  It really is time for me to embrace more practical methods made possible through digital sources.

In the news it looks like our favorite “Redneck” has, in fact, been fired from his bus drivers position.  I feel bad for the guy, but it’s hard not to think that he brought this on himself given the regulations of his employer.  Ken Webber will be represented in court by the Charlottesville-based Rutherford Institute.  In my ten years living in this city I’ve not once heard of this organization.

Let’s just get one thing straight: Mr. Webber is not flying a Confederate flag.  He is flying a banner that resembles a Confederate flag.  It’s a salient distinction in this case.  There is no evidence that Mr. Webber is a racist and beyond the casual language of “states rights” and rhetoric of individual freedom there is no evidence that this has anything to do with the Civil War.  And, from what I can tell, this has nothing to do with anything resembling a “heritage” violation or attack on “the South.”

There is nothing to see here.  Look Away, Look Away…