Here is another excerpt from The Civil War Trust’s interview with Gary Gallagher. Here Gary responds to a question about the impact of the sesquicentennial in comparison with the centennial.
I think it’s been anemic. I don’t think many states have done much. Virginia’s done a great deal with a series of what they call Signature Conferences. There’s a state agency devoted to the sesquicentennial. They’ve had these conferences at different universities–one on emancipation; one on military affairs; we’re going to do the last one here at the University of Virginia in 2015 on the memory of the war. A book is published from each of the conferences, and there’s a website and various ancillary benefits. So I think Virginia’s done by far the best job of any state. Pennsylvania’s done a little; North Carolina’s done a little. Tennessee’s done a lot more than most. But most states have done absolutely nothing. And I think part of it is that the Civil War still can become very controversial very quickly because you can’t talk about it without talking about race. Or you shouldn’t, because slavery and issues related to slavery are so central to the coming of the war and the conflict itself. And that part of the history of the war can be so fraught, even in 2013, that it’s just easier not to do it. Which I think is too bad.
There was a lot more going on in the centennial, although it got embroiled in all kinds of racial problems as well, as I’m sure you know. There was still segregation in 1961. The national commission met in Charleston early on, which was ridiculous. It’s a vastly different world – although some people pretend it isn’t – from what it was in 1961. But there’s not nearly the attention [now]. There was a national Civil War centennial commission then that had all kinds of publications; sponsored all kinds of things. There’s nothing equivalent to that now. But then you still have the governor of Texas talking about secession as an option!
Needless to say, I completely disagree with Gary’s assessment because he places too much emphasis on the activities of state commissions. In fact, I am convinced that if you look at the local level it is likely that the number and scope of activities over the past few years far outstrips the centennial.
What do you think?
I don’t know when this interview with Gary Gallagher took place, but this little comment caught my attention in response to the question of where further research is most needed.
I’m not sure there is a big hole in the literature that’s just crying out to be filled. What’s interesting is that a book occasionally will come out, and you’ll think, “Wow!” I think that applies to my student Adrian Brettle’s topic, Confederate expansionist ambitions. Why hasn’t somebody written about that? We know a good bit about antebellum southern expansionist sentiment, but the wartime continuation of that sentiment has gone largely unexplored.
The desire to unite all the slaveholding states into one nation has been discussed in connection with Confederate military strategy, but I would love to read something that connects to the antebellum period. After all, the sectional rift was essentially over the expansion of the nation into the western territories and we know that many in the Deep South looked south for additional territory to expand.
Confederates had every reason to believe that they would be victorious in the war so it would not be surprising to learn that politicians and other leaders discussed expansionist opportunities that would arise as a result.
College of Charleston
Ultimately, the question of whether Lt. Gov. Glenn McConnell becomes the next president of the College of Charleston will be decided by school officials. McConnell is one among three finalists for the position. Whether or not McConnell is selected will tell us a great deal about the legacy of the Confederacy in Charleston and the state as a whole. Can a popular politician who is a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans and has openly supported the flying of the Confederate flag on statehouse grounds successfully serve his alma mater and steer the college toward its stated goal of increased diversity?
That Charlestonians are even debating this issue is fascinating, but I suspect that he will be appointed. If McConnell’s commitment to keeping the memory of the Confederacy alive in South Carolina does not constitute a sufficient reason to look elsewhere does that mean that we can expect these activities to continue?
Update: Within thirty minutes of posting I was contacted by the editor of a major university press: “Let’s talk.” I take this as a positive sign. Stay tuned.
The other day I outlined the final chapter of my book on Confederate body servants and the myth of the black Confederate soldier. The chapter focuses specifically on the rise and spread of this narrative leading to and especially through the sesquicentennial years. It’s by far the most interesting chapter and will likely be a good deal of fun to write. As you might imagine the chapter borrows heavily from this blog, which over the years has offered the most sustained critique of this myth that you will find anywhere on the Internet. [click to continue…]
Update: Producer/director Chris Wheeler responds to this post.
The good folks at Great Divide Pictures were kind enough to send me a complimentary copy of their forthcoming series, Civil War: The Untold Story, which tells the story of the war in the West. I’ve watched the first two episodes on Shiloh and skimmed the rest. Overall, it’s a solid production. The digital maps are well done and the reenacted battle scenes are entertaining. The narrative effectively weaves together a big picture of the cause of the war and its various stages with focused coverage of both the strategic and tactical decisions in the field. Stories about individual soldiers, civilians, and slaves drive home the human experience. So, overall the series is well worth watching. [click to continue…]