Author Archives: Kevin Levin

About Kevin Levin

Thanks so much for taking the time to read this post. Scroll down and leave a comment if you are so inclined. Looking for more Civil War content? Join the Civil War Memory Facebook group. and follow me on Twitter. Check out my book, Remembering the Battle of the Crater: War as Murder, which is an ideal introduction to the subject of Civil War memory and the 1864 battle.

The Louisiana Tigers at Gettysburg

Here is my review of Scott Mingus’s excellent book, The Louisiana Tigers in the Gettysburg Campaign (Louisiana State University Press, 2009).  This review is forthcoming in Louisiana History.

Unit histories tend to fall into one of two camps.  The first one, and by far the most prominent in the field emphasizes the battles and campaigns in which the unit participated.  This should come as no surprise given the interest of most Civil War enthusiasts. By focusing on one unit the historian is able to provide a level of tactical detail that is usually absent from broader studies.  The best of the bunch may even be able to point out crucial aspects of a particular battle that work to revise our understanding of its outcome and significance.  At the same time an increasing number of historians are beginning to look beyond the battlefield exploits of individual units to questions surrounding the social, cultural, and political dynamics of the men who served together and endured the hardships of war for long significant stretches of time and away from loved ones.  For these historians, military units such as regiments and brigades reflect the communities from which they were raised and must be explored if we are to understand the experiences of individuals and the overall experiences and effectiveness of the unit.

Scott Mingus’s study of the Louisiana Tigers during the Gettysburg Campaign fits neatly into this first camp.  He offers the reader a brief history of the unit, beginning with the raising of Company B under the command of Major Chatham Roberdeau Wheat in New Orleans in 1861.  Mingus briefly touches on the unit’s early history before the battalion was assigned to the First Louisiana Brigade under the command of Brigadier General Harry T. Hays in 1862.  From there it is a quick jump to the spring of 1863 following the decisive Confederate victory at Chancellorsville.  Mingus does an outstanding job of following the unit on its march north toward Maryland and Pennsylvania and covers the unit’s involvement in the battle of Second Winchester in great detail.  The book’s appendices include Official Reports, casualty tables, weather analysis, and a helpful chronology of the entire campaign.

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Slavery Was a Hot Topic Even Twenty Years Prior to the War

Here is a short video of this year’s Memorial Day ceremony at our local Confederate cemetery on the campus of the University of Virginia.  It’s a few blocks from my school and I bring students to the site every year.  There are over 1,000 soldiers buried here, who died in the Charlottesville hospitals during the war.  Up until a few years ago there were only a few headstones.  The local chapter of the SCV plans to place a headstone for every soldier.  By the looks of things in this video and a recent visit that I made with one of my classes it looks like they are making steady progress.

The video include a short interview with Kimberly Mauch, president of the Turner Ashby chapter, No. 184, United Daughters of the Confederacy of Winchester Virginia.  I find her level of understanding of the war and slavery to be appalling.  A transcript of the Q&A follows the video.

AS A YANKEE- WE GENERALLY ASSOCIATE THE CONFEDERACY WITH SLAVERY. IT’S HARD TO OVERCOME THAT. “I understand that. Yes, slavery was a very hot topic back then you could say, even twenty years prior to that, even, especially in the Kansas-Missouri border states, the abolitionists and all that went on out there. It was fought more- states’ rights started everything, I feel. The South wanted to do things their way and the North wanted to control that and that’s what fueled the fire for South Carolina to secede from the Union to begin with. HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT BEING IN THE UNION TODAY? “I love it.” THINGS WORKED OUT FOR THE BEST? “Who knows what it would be like? Nobody can say it would be better or worse but it’s still a great country.”

Who Is Reverend Herman White?

Yesterday I briefly touched on a story out of Valdese, North Carolina involving Reverend Herman White, who was asked to address a group of students as part of the area’s Founders Day Festival.  Rev. White shared his own version of the region’s history that included stories of loyal and happy slaves and other scenes out of his Lost Cause playbook.  The most disturbing aspect of this story is that the entire situation was easily avoidable.  A number of people associated with the school administration claimed that they could not know what Mr. White would touch on in his remarks.

Unfortunately, even a basic online search would have raised any number of red flags.  This is the same Rev. White who was responsible for the course at Randolph Community College back in 1998 in which he spewed his racist nonsense of happy slaves and tens of thousands of loyal black Confederate soldiers.  Clearly, this man doesn’t belong anywhere near students in a learning environment.  I blame the school officials for not taking the proper steps to do even a simple background check on Rev. White.

Historians Respond to Gov. McDonnell’s Confederate History Month Proclamation

Today I picked up the most recent issue of Civil War Times (August 2010) which includes my editorial on Governor Robert McDonnell’s Confederate History Month Proclamation.  I joined an impressive group that included William Marvel, Susannah Ural, Lesley Gordon, S. Waite Rawls III, Catherine Clinton, Harold Holzer, Harry Smeltzer, and Michael Fellman.  I enjoyed reading the other selections as well as Gary Gallagher’s essay on the controversy.  Readers of this blog won’t find anything new in my submission:

The response to Governor McDonnell’s proclamation reflects the extent to which white and black Americans no longer identify with a Civil War remembrance that fails to acknowledge the centrality of slavery and emancipation to the war in Virginia.  His subsequent apology ought to be understood in light of a dramatic shift in public perception that has taken place over the past few decades.  Changes to the racial profile of local and state governments in the wake of the Civil Rights movement has allowed black Americans to take part in public debate.

A tour of Virginia reveals a historical landscape dominated by monuments that celebrate the common soldier as well as the Confederacy’s political and military leaders.  In addition to remembering the past, these sites reflect the values and racial profile of the ruling party throughout much of the 20th century.  The original proclamation would have us continue to remember Virginia’s Civil War through this narrow lens. On the eve of the Sesquicentennial, Virginians demand a proclamation that commemorates a more accurate and richer past.  In doing so we ensure that 2011 will not be a repeat of 1961. (p. 44)

Apparently, representatives of Sons of Confederate Veterans were contacted, but chose not to contribute to this forum.  I’m not surprised.  Perhaps they were too busy worrying about stories such as the following, which I read about this morning.  Last week hundreds of eight graders from Burke County, North Carolina traveled to hear Rev. Herman White as part of the area’s Founders Day Festival.  The good reverend “asserted that slaves before “the War of Northern Aggression” had more rights than African Americans have today and disparaged the Gettysburg Address as “political garbage.”  You can read more about this travesty here, but I think the response by the local SCV is both incredibly disturbing and helpful in understanding their position on the governor’s proclamation:

The Waldensian Trail of Faith, a local nonprofit organization, sponsors the Valdese-Waldensian Founders Festival. The association’s president, State Sen. Jim Jacumin, said the Burke County Tigers, a Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV) group, recommended — “raved” about — White as a speaker. Jacumin said, “We don’t research. That’s something we don’t do. We don’t have the money or the time to do that… It’s like a pastor who comes to your church and preaches, you don’t research him.” According to Tigers’ chaplain Larry Smalls’ introduction, White is the pastor of Archdale Church of God, has a bachelor’s and master’s degree in ministry and is working toward his doctorate. He said White is a state and national SCV Life Member and has been the SCV N.C. Division chaplain for six years.”  (White) is a purebred unreconstructed Southerner and not ashamed to say so,” Small said, “and Dixie burns in his heart.” Tigers’ adjutant Elgie McGalliard said the organization did not know specifically what White would speak about, but knew he focused on the history of the South.  “He’s a minister; he just talks what’s in his heart,” McGalliard said.

I guess it doesn’t matter that “what’s in his heart” is a lot of racist and historically inaccurate crap.  I would suggest that the above quote nicely encapsulates the SCV’s place on the landscape of Civil War remembrance.  It really is hard to imagine that people still think along these lines.  I don’t know whether to laugh or cry.

“He Was a Little Bit Better Than the Rest of Us”

Those are the words of that great American historian…umm…I mean news anchor, Brian Williams, on Abraham Lincoln.  Who the hell knows what he is talking about.  I caught a few snippets of History’s recent series, “America: The Story of Us” and was disappointed on every level.  Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t expecting much, maybe something with a little more history content than Ice Road Drivers Truckers and Pawn Stars.  This little video on Lincoln sums up the fundamental flaws of this series.

First, who cares what Brian Williams, Soledad O’Brien, Michael Strahan, and Michael Douglas think about Abraham Lincoln and, for that matter, how exactly are they qualified to speak about anything having to do with American history?  According to O’Brien, Lincoln had a couple of conversations with Frederick Douglass before deciding to issue the Emancipation Proclamation.  From Strahan we learn that Lincoln stuck to his beliefs when they weren’t popular.  O.K….I get it.  Even the historian, H.W. Brands, sounds like a complete fool and I’ve enjoyed his books in the past.  According to Brands, there was nothing in Lincoln’s early life that would have pointed to the presidency, as if this were the case with any of our presidents.  Talk about narrative gone bad.  What I find truly hilarious is that the most coherent and historically based commentary in this short segment comes from none other than Rev. Al Sharpton.  If Sharpton had qualified his point regarding Lincoln’s position on black suffrage to a select and educated few he would have nailed it.

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