John C. Calhoun, Roy Moore and a Monument to a “Crime Against Humanity”

Reports out of Charleston today indicate that the city’s commission to add a contextual panel to the John C. Calhoun has been finalized. Not surprising, this has been a contentious process from the beginning. It ended with the decision to remove what some people believe to be the most important reference to the monument as a “relic of the crime against humanity.” [click to continue…]


John Coski Explores Richmond’s Monument Avenue

Few people are better positioned in former capital of the Confederacy to discuss its commemorative landscape than John Coski. I always enjoy listening to John talk about the history of the city that he loves and knows so well. This is a very accessible and though provoking discussion that explores the history and memory of Richmond’s Monument Avenue.

I added this video to my #CivilWarMemorySyllabus page, which includes a wide range of resources intended to assist educators and others who are interested in the ongoing debate about Confederate monuments as well as the relevant history. Those of you in the classroom, who will soon be teaching the Civil War-era and want to address this debate in some fashion, will find numerous op-eds, panel discussions, lectures, and primary sources.

Finally, I want to leave you with an interesting story out of Bolzano, Italy. In recent years the town has struggled with what to do with a frieze that includes Benito Mussolini located in one of its public buildings. Rather than remove it the city challenged the public to come up with creative ways to deal with what many people find offensive. The city chose well and offers a route that other communities may choose to implement in some fashion.


The Myth of Northern Unity

Myth might be too strong a word, but we have a tendency to minimize or overlook entirely the extent to which the loyal citizenry of the United States remained bitterly divided over key policies of the Lincoln administration, especially emancipation. Perhaps it would be more accurate to describe this tendency as a blind spot.

Our popular memory of the war assumes a high degree of Northern unity and support for Lincoln throughout the war. This can be explained, in part by the deification of Lincoln as well as the singling out of Copperheads as representing the extent of anti-Lincoln sentiment. The Copperheads are easy to dismiss owing to their “radical” and potentially “disloyal” policies and/or relatively small numbers. [click to continue…]


The Confederate General Who Fought For Black Civil Rights

I’ve been thinking quite a bit about William Mahone over the past few months in light of the ongoing debate about Confederate monuments and the overall question of how we should understand the history and memory of the Confederacy. There are a number of challenges associated with writing a biography of Mahone, including the legibility of his writing, but there is so much source material to work with and now more than ever seems like an opportune moment to jump back in and try to make sense of it. [click to continue…]


What To Do About Confederate Monuments? Ask the Kids

I recently returned from a trip to Charleston, South Carolina, where I spent time with a group of high school students contending with the ongoing debate over Confederate monuments. Over the past two years I have worked with teachers and students from all over the country, but Charleston presented its own unique challenges. This is the city where the fire of secession was first kindled. Roughly 40 percent of the enslaved Africans brought to what became the United States arrived on nearby Sullivan’s Island. The first shots of the Civil War were fired at Fort Sumter, overlooking Charleston. Monuments celebrating the Confederate cause define the city’s commemorative landscape. They include a monument to John C. Calhoun, who famously boasted that the institution was nothing to apologize for, that it was a “positive good.” About a block away from the Calhoun monument on June 17, 2015, Dylann Roof murdered nine people during a prayer service at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church.

You can read the rest of my latest op-ed at Bunk History.

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New to the Civil War Memory Library, 11/29

Kristin Brill ed., The Diary of a Civil War Bride: Lucy Wood Butler of Virginia (Louisiana State University Press, 2017).

William C. Cooper, The Lost Founding Father: John Quincy Adams and the Transformation of American Politics (Liveright, 2017).

Ryan W. Keating ed., The Greatest Trials I Ever Had: The Civil War Letters of Margaret and Thomas Cahill (University of Georgia Press, 2017).

Caroline Moorehead, A Bold and Dangerous Family: The Remarkable Story of an Italian Mother, Her Two Sons, and Their Fight Against Fascism (Harper, 2017).

Michael D. Robinson, A Union Indivisible: Secession and the Politics of Slavery in the Border South (University of North Carolina Press, 2017).

Jarret Ruminski, The Limits of Loyalty: Ordinary People in Civil War Mississippi (University Press of Mississippi, 2017).

Russell Shorto, Revolution Song: A Story of American Freedom (W.W. Norton, 2017).

Adam I.P. Smith, The Stormy Present: Conservatism and the Problem of Slavery in Northern Politics, 1846-1865 (University of North Carolina Press, 2017).


My 2017 Best Picks for The Civil War Monitor

Thanks once again to Terry Johnston for inviting me to share a few of my favorite Civil War books from 2017 with the readers of The Civil War Monitor. [click to continue…]


*Searching For Black Confederates Soldiers* Is Off To the Publisher

I suspect there are a few of you out there who will be happy to hear that today I finished my book project on the history of Confederate camp slaves and the evolution of the myth of the black Confederate soldier for the University of North Carolina Press’s. Searching for Black Confederate Soldiers: The Civil War’s Most Persistent Myth is just under 70,000 words and 300 double-spaced pages.


To be completely honest, I am at a loss for words right now. This project should have been completed much earlier. As many of you know, I have set this project aside more times than I care to acknowledge. On the other hand, the delay has given me the opportunity to explore the black Confederate myth in connection to the ongoing debate about Confederate iconography. There turned out to be a good deal of material to work with. One of things that kept me going is that in the end I knew that I would regret not finishing this book.

We are still a long way from an actual book. The good people at UNC Press must decide if they even want it. Assuming it gets through the front gate, the manuscript will then go out to an independent reader(s) and will be returned with extensive comments. I am very much looking forward to this process. One of the things that I desperately need is a set of new eyes to review what I have done. I benefited from my book group here in Boston with the earlier chapters, but I need people to look at the manuscript in its entirety and to point out things that I missed and where the argument and narrative can be improved.

I have heard nothing but great things about the editorial staff at UNC Press. I am also looking forward to working with the editors of the Civil War America series. Peter Carmichael, Caroline Janney, and Aaron Sheehan-Dean are all talented historians and I have been the beneficiary of their advice and editorial review on previous projects.

Thanks to all of you for your continued patience. I will certainly keep you up to date as we move through the next stages.