Back in Boston after 5 days at Gettysburg College’s Civil War Institute. I am exhausted and recharged. All of my presentations went well and I heard some wonderful talks, a few of which you can find on C-SPAN 3. Here are just a couple brief observations about the conference, which focused on the war in 1864.
There were over 400 people in attendance of which around 250 were new attendees. That’s incredible. It bodes well for the future of the institute and from what I can tell many of these new attendees were relatively young.
What I was most pleased to see was a number of talks that stretched our understanding of the war in 1864. No one better exemplified this than Ari Kelman, who talked about the massacre of Cheyenne Indians at Sand Creek in 1864. Rather than view the war as a question of emancipation and freedom Kelman encouraged the audience to consider the conflict as part of a broader war of empire – a continuation of the process of westward expansion. Crystal Feimster took as her case study the rape of black laundresses by Union officers at Fort Jackson in Louisiana as part of a broader interpretation of a mutiny by black soldiers that took place in 1864. Feimster also noted that this was the first time that black women were able to use a court to address their grievances. Finally, Antwain Hunter explored the threat that armed blacks posed in the Confederate South.
I applaud Peter Carmichael and the rest of the staff for bringing in speakers who push audiences to think anew and challenge old assumptions. There is already talk that in 2016 CWI will focus on Reconstruction. That is certainly good news. The big challenge will be in figuring out what sites to tour since a big part of the conference is on-site education.
Next year the Institute will focus on the final year of the war [registrations form] and to do this participants will spend two days in Petersburg. At this point I will not be joining the faculty, but I certainly will be doing whatever I can to promote the important work of CWI.
With that I want to thank Pete and the rest of the CWI staff for including me on the faculty for the past three years. It has been an incredible experience and a true honor to be included among such fine historians and educators. I can’t think of another place that I would rather be during the third week of June.
Finally, a quick shout out to the Dreamweavers. You guys rock.