John Hennessy on the Legacy of the Civil War

There is no one better at engaging an audience on the topic of the legacy of the American Civil War than John Hennessy. That is all. Watch, enjoy, and reflect.

[Uploaded to YouTube on May 28, 2016.]

12 comments… add one
  • Scott Ledridge May 29, 2016

    I’ve shared the same experience that Mr. Hennessy had after his 2008 slavery talk. What has surprises me is the assumption that my political disposition is determined by my view on history. I must be some leftist, liberal, Obama-lovin’ swine to believe secession was about slavery.

    In a way it parallels with another view that heritage folk have towards white people that have a different view of history than theirs. If you don’t tow the Lost Cause/Heritage not Hate line, you’re a self-hating. Both of these assumptions I just don’t understand.

    • Kevin Levin May 29, 2016

      What has surprises me is the assumption that my political disposition is determined by my view on history.

      Usually, the concern is the other way around that your politics determines your understanding of history. I am criticized for this all the time, but it almost always tells me more about the accuser than anything about me. I don’t doubt that my view of history or more precisely, the kinds of questions that I am interested in, are informed by some of my political beliefs. At the same time I don’t doubt that there are a wide host of factors that influence how I conceptualize history. As far as I am concerned there is nothing controversial or even interesting about this. It is unavoidable. The challenge is in always questioning oneself and the research process.

  • Karen Wieckert May 29, 2016

    There are a few “zingers” about the Civil War that are fascinating. Example — all of the “capital” in enslaved people was greater than the “capital” in industry, RR, etc. in 1860. He brought another … All of the acreage devoted to Civil War commemoration in the US is greater than all acreage commemorating war in all other countries combined.

    He hedged a bit. Does someone have a pointer?

    • Kevin Levin May 29, 2016

      Not sure where you think John “hedged”. That was as risky a talk on Civil War memory that you are going to hear from an NPS historian in such a setting.

      • Karen Wieckert May 29, 2016

        I meant hedged about the total acreage … He said I think that “it is likely” and “I believe it’s true.” He further qualified, e.g., not in cemeteries.

        • Kevin Levin May 29, 2016

          Got it. Sorry about that.

          • Karen Wieckert May 29, 2016

            No problem. I have learned to have a more empathetic understanding than I ever expected for those doing public history around the Civil war. You included…

            • Kevin Levin May 29, 2016

              I appreciate that. It can get pretty hairy at times. John, however, is on the front lines every single day.

      • Dudley Bokoski May 29, 2016

        Mr. Hennessy’s discussion was interesting to me in terms of what he didn’t discuss. He is an historian at what the Park Service designates as a “national military park” who seems to recoil at the idea of focusing on military history at sites which are most noted for the large numbers of people who gathered there to shoot at each other.

        • Kevin Levin May 30, 2016

          Oh, I don’t think that is the case at all. You won’t find a better military historian in the NPS. Military history is safe with Hennessy.

  • Patrick Jennings May 31, 2016

    I imagine that John was right about the acreage dedicated to the memory of the Civil War and all the rest. Here in the US we have sealed off – from further damage, construction or change – almost 100,000 acres dedicated to the Civil war alone. The largest “preserved” sites in Europe and the Pacific are the cemeteries of the American Battle Monument Commission along with the Newfoundland Park Memorials for WWI (about 150 acres in two areas). There is also a somewhat chopped up Waterloo site. Put simply, Europeans tend to “live” with their battlefields rather than set land aside.

    Out in the Pacific one might be able to count entire islands as “monuments” to specific battles, but they are not maintained as such. In fact, my visit to Tarawa broke my heart to see the damage and pollution to that area. The government of Vietnam maintains a few acres at Khe Sanh that I have also visited that has a remarkable interpretive outlook.

    So, as a former National Park Service Historian who once worked with the American Battlefield Protection Program, I can safely say that Mr. Hennessey is pretty much right on.

  • Josh Liller Jun 14, 2016

    I think he’s really spot on about the “my ancestor didn’t…” I see it frequently online. But while the Civil War is the most common and vocal example, I see this in genealogy in general. Many people have an obsession with ennobling their ancestors. Everyone needs to accept than some of their ancestors made mistakes and some were flat out a-holes.

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