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New to the Civil War Memory Library, 11/19

Civil War WestsThree of the books below reflect my recent interest in the West during the Civil War era, which I know next to nothing about other than having read Ari Kelman’s brilliant book about the Sand Creek Massacre. I am currently working on a little project that involves an almost complete run of the Second Colorado Cavalry’s camp newspaper published in 1864 and 1865. What I find interesting is the way in which the Civil War and growing concerns on the frontier with Native Americans begin to overlap by the end of the war. I will share more about this project in the coming weeks as it begins to come together. Thanks to my fellow Book Squad members, Megan Kate Nelson and Heather Cox Richardson, for the suggestions.

Adam Arenson and Andrew R. Graybill, eds., Civil War Wests: Testing the Limits of the United States (University of California Press, 2015).

Leornard L. Richards, Who Freed the Slaves?: The Fight over the Thirteenth Amendment (University of Chicago Press, 2015).

Hampton Sides, Blood and Thunder: The Epic Story of Kit Carson and the Conquest of the American West (Anchor, 2007).

Andrew L. Slap and Frank Towers, eds., Confederate Cities: The Urban South during the Civil War Era (University of Chicago Press, 2015).

Elliott West, The Contested Plains: Indians, Goldseekers, and the Rush to Colorado (University Press of Kansas, 1998).

A Confederate Heritage Gaffe

Earlier today I was interviewed by a local NPR station in Atlanta on the situation at Stone Mountain. The story and interview should be available tomorrow morning. While plans for a monument to Martin Luther King, Jr. appear to be on hold, an exhibit on black Union soldiers is moving forward. Our conversation focused on this exhibit and the significance of its location on the grounds of Stone Mountain.

Over the weekend a relatively small rally took place at Stone Mountain to protest the King monument. Those in attendance offer another example of why the very people who claim to defend the memory of Confederate soldiers and the flag have done more than anyone else to provide the impetus for communities to remove reminders of the Confederacy from public places. Continue reading “A Confederate Heritage Gaffe”

Do We Need Another Biography of Custer?

My latest essay at The Daily Beast is a review of T.J. Stiles’s new book, Custer’s Trials: A Life on the Frontier of a New America. I’ve read and thoroughly enjoyed his other two biographies of Jesse James and Cornelius Vanderbilt. In all three biographies Stiles explores the challenges each individual faced adjusting to some of the most dramatic changes that took place in this country during the mid-nineteenth century. I am not sure that this framework helps to explain Custer as opposed to his previous two subjects, but it is a solid effort. Books about Custer is a cottage industry and I have no doubt that some historians will nitpick a few oversights, but I didn’t see anything that threatens Stiles’s overall interpretation. It’s a fast read and well worth your time.

This is my third essay at The Daily Beast. I really enjoyed the exposure I gained writing for the Atlantic, but editorial changes have made it more difficult to publish. The editors have welcomed all of my suggestions thus far and two more essays are planned, one on the 150th anniversary of the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment as well as a review of PBS’s new series, “Mercy Street.” I hope at some point soon to expand my focus beyond the Civil War. One of the nice things about writing for TDB is that I don’t have to deal with comments that quickly spiral off the deep end, not to mention the fact that writing for TDB is a paying gig. :-)

It Was Ten Years Ago Today

Ten years ago today I wrote my first blog post. Below is a screenshot of what the site looked like during that first week. I couldn’t help but chuckle as I explored the page. At first glance it looks so incredibly flimsy and bare, but that is only in light of what has changed over the last decade. What you see remains the core of the site. For much of its life I thought of Civil War Memory as a blog, but I now think of it as a website that contains a blog. This is, in part, a function of how blogging platforms like WordPress have evolved over the years, but it has much more to do with the way in which blogging has transformed my life as an educator and historian.

Screenshot of Civil War Memory (November 2005)

In 2005 there were just a few of us blogging the Civil War as you can see in the screenshot’s blogroll. Ten years later there isn’t enough time in the day to read them all. Many of them are incredibly thoughtful. It’s especially encouraging to see so many students at the undergraduate and graduate levels sharing their research on blogs. The debate over the place of social media in education and the historical profession has thankfully subsided. If I contributed even a tiny bit to its spread as a platform for historians and students of history than my time here was worth it. Continue reading “It Was Ten Years Ago Today”

A Quick Word About Historiography and Popular History

I am charging through T.J. Stiles’s new biography of George Armstrong Custer, which I agreed to review for The Daily Beast. I’ve read his previous biographies of Jesse James and Cornelius Vanderbilt and enjoyed both immensely. It’s always challenging to read a popular Civil War title and those of us immersed in the field know why. We can’t help but judge the author’s grasp of historiography. It’s already happening with Stile’s Custer biography.

I’ve heard from a number of people who are frustrated by the author’s interpretation of George McClellan. Stiles relies very heavily on Stephen Sears’s book on the Peninsula Campaign, Antietam and his biography of McClellan. He also utilizes Richard Slotkin’s recent book on Antietam, which received very mixed reviews. To be fair, Stiles’s grasp of the relevant literature is broader if you take the time to peruse the endnotes, but his understanding of McClellan is certainly weighed down by Sears and Slotkin. Continue reading “A Quick Word About Historiography and Popular History”