Civil War Memory 101 (Week 1)

Introduction

With so many of you hunkering down in your homes I thought it might be a good idea to move forward with my idea to offer a course/discussion group on twitter on the topic of Civil War memory. I’ve had difficulty focusing on my own research and have been looking for ways to connect with others. I hope you will find this worth your time and I hope it brings a little enjoyment during this difficult time.

This is a course for beginners. We are going to explore a range of topics surrounding how Americans came to terms with and remembered the Civil War. Among the topics include the rise of the Lost Cause, the process of reunion and reconciliation, veterans reunions, commemorating the dead, African-American memory of the war, and, of course, the dedication of monuments. Readings will be relatively light and will serve as an introduction to the scholarship. You will have a sufficient grounding from which to explore further and I will be happy to recommend additional readings.

As to how this discussion will proceed on twitter, I don’t really know. It’s an experiment. I will post questions and allow you to respond. Of course, I will do my best to engage each and every one of you. I suspect other scholars in the field will take part as well. You will have the opportunity to respond to one another as well. We will use the hashtag #CWM101 so that the tweets remain searchable and organized. You can find me on twitter @kevinlevin.

A number of academic publishers have made their titles available free to download through Project Muse. With that in mind I have selected Caroline Janney’s Remembering the Civil War: Reunion and the Limits of Reconciliation as our base text. I don’t know if we will read the entire book, but it will help us get started. In addition, I have selected a couple of primary sources to accompany the reading.

Week 1 (March 29 at 8pm EST)

Read the Prologue and chapter one in Janney’s book and think about the following questions as you make your way through it. I will likely use these questions to get us started, but you should also feel free to come up with your own.

  • How does Janney distinguish between reunion and reconciliation? (from the prologue)
  • Why do you think Janney begins her book about how Americans remembered and commemorated the Civil War with the war itself?
  • According to Janney, “In the postwar years, veterans would wistfully recall how enemy troops had fraternized along the lines and would contend that both rebels and Yankees were true Americans. but the voices of the war told a different story, one of bitter hatred and animosity toward the enemy that would not quickly be forgotten…” (pp. 13-14) It goes without saying that the Civil War was violent, but does Janney’s analysis add anything to the nature and scope of the violence? Why does this matter?
  • How would you characterize the divisions between Americans during the war after reading this first chapter? Does it challenge any of your own assumptions about the war and the nature of the violence that it unleashed?
  • What evidence in this chapter best illustrates the overall argument that Janney makes about how the two sides perceived one another between 1861 and 1865?
  • According to Janney, why was emancipation so troubling to Confederates? How did white Northerners in the military and on the home front respond to it? Did the two responses overlap in any way?
  • In what ways did the deep divisions between Americans during the Civil War anticipate the challenges that they would face during the postwar period?
  • What tensions existed between the rules governing who could be buried in the Gettysburg National Cemetery and the address that Lincoln delivered in November 1863?
  • Why did African-American commemoration of the Union dead during the war trouble Confederates?
  • According to Janney, what factors impeded reunion between Northerners and Southerners by 1865?

Below are some primary sources to accompany your reading.

The Meaning of Union

The Confederacy: Nationalism/Slavery

About the author: Thank you for taking the time to read this post. What next? Scroll down and join the discussion in the comments section. Looking for more Civil War content? You can follow me on Twitter. Check out my latest book, Searching For Black Confederates: The Civil War’s Most Persistent Myth, which is the first book-length analysis of the black Confederate myth ever published. Order your copy today.

53 comments… add one
  • Greg Camacho-Light Apr 1, 2020 @ 11:28

    I’m a bit behind, but I certainly appreciate your clear straightforward, facts based delivery of history Mr. Levin!

    • Kevin Levin Apr 1, 2020 @ 11:38

      No worries. Feel free to join us this Sunday evening.

  • Zeke Mar 29, 2020 @ 16:02

    The Union Volunteer has 30 Stars on his Flag.
    Is that accurate?
    I cannot find a count that verifies this.

  • Buck Cole Mar 29, 2020 @ 16:00

    This is fascinating and happy I found your blog Kevin. I am a retired educator having taught 7th grade Texas History for years. Despite heavy evidence to the contrary the lost cause narrative is still alive and well in my state. I asked parents and students alike to walk 100 yards east of our state capitol building to the Texas State Archives and there they will find all the evidence that the institution of slavery caused Civil War. Two documents proclaim this truth, the Texas Ordinance of Secession and the Declaration of Causes, both written in early 1861.

    • Zeke Mar 30, 2020 @ 6:27

      Sometimes it takes a child.
      On my Town Green in CT, there is just ONE large Monument. It has the names of Town residents who lost their lives in Civil War, and in which Battle.
      Exploring it with Young ones.. I was asked. “Where are the people from the Other Side?”–
      I’m still trying to find an appropriate answer for her. —
      Victors write the History?

  • Meg Groeling Mar 29, 2020 @ 12:05

    Working on it! Thanks.

  • Eileen Tarnowski Mar 28, 2020 @ 6:28

    Have you posted any of the primary sources?

    • Kevin Levin Mar 28, 2020 @ 7:06

      Sorry for the delay. The primary sources have been added.

      • Eileen Tarnowski Mar 28, 2020 @ 7:35

        No apology necessary. Just thought I missed something. Thank you

      • Eileen Tarnowski Mar 28, 2020 @ 9:09

        Thank you so much for these images.

  • John Charles Mar 27, 2020 @ 4:55

    This looks like an interesting project. I read David Blight’s book (Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory) and I’m anxious to see how this course presents the material. Thanks for all the work you do to educate us on this important topic.

    • Kevin Levin Mar 27, 2020 @ 6:48

      Good to have you on board. If you do the reading you will see that Janney challenges Blight’s interpretive framework in significant ways.

      • John Charles Mar 27, 2020 @ 9:16

        Yes, after comparing the two prologues I see what you mean. I’ll be interested in hearing the discussion of these issues as we go forward.

      • Joe sokohl Mar 28, 2020 @ 7:44

        Ooh–that’s interesting! I’ve read Janney’s book twice and gave my hardback copy to Chris Jansing from MSNBC when she was in the neighborhood for the 2016 race, with a “read this if you want to understand the complexity of monuments and reconciliation.” Had the opportunity to meet her at the ACWM reopening, too. I have Blight’s book in a pile of history books (under Foner’s Big Book of Reconstruction 😉 and above Budiansky’s “The Bloody Shirt”). Moving Blight higher in the pile.

  • Suzanne Crockett Mar 26, 2020 @ 8:08

    Thank you for standing up this course. It has been very difficult to change my thinking about the Civil War, tho I am studying to do so. I was ten when the Centennial of the Battle of Brandy Station was celebrated, a mile from my home, and I was brought up to honor and revere the Confederacy. Things began to shift when I became a K-5 librarian for very high poverty children here in North Carolina, and opened my eyes to the terrible effects of white supremacy. I look forward to being enlightened.

    • Kevin Levin Mar 26, 2020 @ 10:22

      Hi Susanne. I hope you enjoy and profit from doing the readings.

  • George Alber Mar 25, 2020 @ 1:29

    I am looking forward to this course/discussion on Civil War memory.

    As a member of the Executive Committee of the Fairfax County NAACP in Virginia, I led a 2 1/2 year community effort to change the name of JEB Stuart High School in Falls Church, VA. In the fall of 2017 The Fairfax County Public Schools School Board voted to change the name of the school. The school reopened in the fall of 2018 as Justice High School.

    The name change was opposed by well-organized opponents who often voiced Lost Cause arguments to defend keeping the name as it was. Because of this I read extensively in the history of the Lost Cause. Sharing that information and history with the School Board was a key element of our advocacy.

    I am now involved in a similar effort to change the name of a second high school in Fairfax County: Robert E. Lee High School. During the Justice High School experience I learned, sometimes painfully and often too late, how important it was to listen carefully to and to understand the arguments against changing the name. From the description of this course/discussion, from following Kevin Levin on Twitter and Blog, and from reading the prologue of Caroline Janney’s book, I am sure I will be better prepared to listen carefully and to understand the arguments for and against changing the name of Robert E. Lee High School.

    Thank you.

    George

    • Kevin Levin Mar 25, 2020 @ 2:12

      Hi George,

      Thanks for all the work you are doing. Great to have you on board.

  • William Feis Mar 24, 2020 @ 17:19

    Hi Kevin

    I love the class you are getting started this Sunday. I have become fascinated with the Lost Cause and it’s reach and have incorporated Civil War memory as a key component of my Civil War course largely because of you and Dr. Janney. I hope to at least follow along with the Twitter course, but we officially kickoff teaching online Monday and by then I fear I’ll be holding my head in my hands and my tears will prevent me from reading clearly. Anyway, the highlight of the rest of the semester is having my students read your new book. It offers so much food for thought I can hardly wait. Good luck with the class!

  • Stephen Longmire Mar 24, 2020 @ 11:35

    I think this will be a wonderful way to learn about the history of the United States. I know that some of
    My relatives fought in the Revolutionary war, but I am not aware of any in the Cival war.

    • Kevin Levin Mar 24, 2020 @ 12:03

      Welcome aboard, Stephen.

  • Edwin Mar 24, 2020 @ 9:49

    I have a question I just wandered. Maybe you all can help. What if the war was not what we were told but really a war of 2 races 2 colors living together. What if it was backwards like people were jealous about the happiness of multiracial family’s I believe we have been lied to I feel they fought to keep races together in same home

    • Kevin Levin Mar 24, 2020 @ 9:52

      Thanks for the question/comment. Perhaps you can provide us with some evidence from the period in question that might illustrate the point you are trying to make. Thanks.

  • Brian Horne (Spinynorman) Mar 23, 2020 @ 18:45

    This is an excellent idea! Can’t wait to chime in. Silver lining for being sheltered in place?

    • Ellen Auchter Mar 24, 2020 @ 4:46

      I am onboard and excited. Thank you so much, Kevin and colleagues. Yes, silver lining playbook.

      • Kevin Levin Mar 24, 2020 @ 5:21

        You are very welcome.

  • Heather Mar 23, 2020 @ 12:33

    I just finished the assigned readings…there’s so much to chew on and will probably have to read them again before the official discussion. So far, I really appreciate Janney bringing out the roles of women in keeping memory. That’s my first big take away that I can express properly. Looking forward to hearing other people’s impressions Sunday. 🙂

  • Yulanda Burgess Mar 23, 2020 @ 7:10

    Thank you. This is an excellent way to spend sheltered time (although I am still going into work…) I don’t twitter but will follow the course outline.

    • Kevin Levin Mar 23, 2020 @ 7:26

      Nice to hear from you Yulanda. I am going to suggest that people who don’t use twitter share their thoughts about the reading under this blog post

  • kelly navies Mar 23, 2020 @ 3:47

    Sounds like a fascinating course. My great-great grandfather and his brother were both officers in the United States Colored Troops, the 73rd and 74th infantry, originally the Louisiana Native Guards. Our family has just recently learned about these ancestors. I’d love to talk about the virtually erased memories of African American soldiers who fought for the Union.

    • Kevin Levin Mar 23, 2020 @ 3:57

      Hi Kelly,

      I’d love to talk about the virtually erased memories of African American soldiers who fought for the Union.

      Thanks for the comment. We will definitely spend some time exploring this very question.

    • Yulanda Burgess Mar 23, 2020 @ 7:17

      Hellllo Kelly! You’ll find the an eraser was placed on the legacy of the USCTs. It’s through an asserted effort that this history is being I would love to hear the story of your ancestors and how you uncovered them.

  • Brian Lovely Mar 23, 2020 @ 3:38

    Yeah, people in Richmond VA (in the 21st century) still refer the Civil War as the War of Northern Aggression.

  • msb Mar 23, 2020 @ 3:28

    I’m in, as well. I’m not a twitter use at present, but I can read along – and the book sounds good.
    I wonder why Lost Causers would want to respond here? Fact free, as usual, one sees.

    • Kevin Levin Mar 23, 2020 @ 3:43

      You are free to share some thoughts in the comments section of this post. I will encourage others to do so as well who are not on twitter. This space might work better for people who want to take the time to write a bit more than what twitter allows. Thanks.

      • Msb Mar 23, 2020 @ 13:58

        Not surprised that you had a solution at hand. Thanks!

      • Barbara Mcclatchey Mar 24, 2020 @ 6:16

        Use of this blog sounds like a good choice for those of us who neither twit nor tweet. I have ancestors on both sides, but after the war was over, they were all still U.S. citizens.

  • tom mayer Mar 22, 2020 @ 22:21

    my g-grandfather fought in the. 11th virginia volunteer regiment, first under johnson and under lee. he fought in every major battle from 1st bullrun through gettysburg and finally at appomattax (sp?). I grew up in virginia where you can still dig up relics and visit cw battle sites.
    by the way, yankees should probably avoid fredricksburg
    if any visit I know a woman that disowned her son for
    marrying a yankee, so the war still goes on on some level.

    • ChampaignChris Mar 29, 2020 @ 12:58

      Tom, what makes someone a Yankee in 2020 America?

      • zcrockett53 Mar 29, 2020 @ 13:34

        Attitude?

      • Zeke Mar 29, 2020 @ 16:04

        I count 10+ generations in Connecticut (yes, descendent of Thomas Hooker, Founder) since 1634.

  • Thomas C Manns Mar 22, 2020 @ 21:35

    I’m in!

  • Diane J. Mar 22, 2020 @ 19:08

    I read through your blog because this page is really vague on where you stand on the war. Its clear from your past postings that you are disinclined to be impartial. Imo you should just come out and state you are a union supporter on this page and not let people who disagree waste their time. No point arguing with a unionist.

    • Kevin Levin Mar 23, 2020 @ 1:20

      Hi Diane,

      If you mean do I support the United States, well, of course I do. We should all be grateful that the United States defeated the Confederacy. I hope that clarifies my position. 🙂

      • Timothy Taino Mar 23, 2020 @ 12:02

        I’m in. In all these years you are the first person to inspire me to even join Twitter. If I can figure it out I will “see” you on Day One.

        • Kevin Levin Mar 23, 2020 @ 12:42

          Great to have you on board.

      • Greg Camacho-Light Apr 1, 2020 @ 11:26

        My thoughts exactly…

    • Rebecca H. Mar 23, 2020 @ 12:52

      Diane J. The same thing could be said about no point arguing with someone who supports the Confederacy.
      We are Americans and we should all support the United States.

    • washingtonsenators01 Mar 29, 2020 @ 21:24

      Diane, you forgot “carpetbagger”. “A unionist.” OMG…

      I am trying very hard to understand what it is you are saying. I’m picking up on a little sarcasm there at the opening, You say he is “not impartial”. How so? In the words of another son of Massachusetts, President John Adams, “Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.” Did Mr Levin misrepresent the facts? If do, how? Be specific, please. I mean this sincerely.

      I am a born and raised Virginian. Several of my ancestors on the maternal and paternal sides fought for the Confederacy. I have no doubt they fought bravely, but to my Gen X eyes they fought for the wrong cause. I’ve heard states’ rights. A states’ right to do what exactly? I have never understood the glory of fighting for the right to preserve a system that holds a group of people against their will, force them to engage in arduous labor and then deny them a share of the proceeds. Please, explain the “glory” in any of this. Again, I mean this in all sincerity. I want to know. Tell me where I got it all wrong.

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