One of my favorite places to take students in Charlottesville was the University of Virginia’s Confederate Cemetery. It was a short walk and it allowed me to talk about wartime hospitals as well as postwar mourning and the evolution of the Lost Cause. I encouraged my students to look at and think about the headstones and to pick up trash. The men were buried in long trenches and when the cemetery was dedicated there were no individual headstones. That gradually changed and in recent years the local SCV has organized to order new markers from the federal government. The project continues, in part, with the financial support of the federal government. It’s a program that I contributed to on more than once occasion while in Charlottesville. [click to continue…]
I’ve spent quite a bit of time watching others at the Shaw Memorial. Visitors marvel at Augustus Saint-Gaudens’s beautiful bronze relief of Shaw and his men marching to their glorious deaths outside of Charleston, SC, but few walk down the steps to take a look at the reverse side. They miss a great deal of what gives this beautiful monument its meaning. [click to continue…]
It should come as no surprise that one of my biggest concerns upon moving to Boston in 2011 was that I would be without a community of fellow Civil War enthusiasts and few places to visit related to the war. After all, I just assumed most Bostonians have always been more interested in that earlier squabble involving something about independence and the British. [click to continue…]
You can’t make this stuff up. I’ve written about Sea Raven Press in the past, specifically in reference to their book on Nathan Bedford Forrest for teens. This particular title, Everthing You Were Taught About the Civil War is Wrong, Ask a Southerner, seems to be the most popular given the number of times I’ve seen it referenced on certain websites. Here is a list of a few of the corrections to what you learned. I’ve highlighted a few of my favorites. I particularly like the claim that Abraham Lincoln both wanted to isolate blacks in their own state and transport them back to Africa. Apparently, these were not mutually exclusive options.
• American slavery got its start in the North
• the American abolition movement began in the South
• most Southern generals did not own slaves, and many, like Robert E. Lee, were abolitionists
• many Northern generals, like U.S. Grant, owned slaves and said they would not fight for abolition
• according to the 1860 Census a mere 4.8 percent of Southerners owned slaves, 95.2 percent did not [click to continue…]
Once again the Civil War blogosphere has descended into the tired debate of who is and who is not a historian. The latest foray into this web of conceptual analysis can be found at Brooks Simpson’s site in response to the recent editorial about Civil War reenacting. I have very little patience for these discussions because they get us nowhere. I’ve had others debate whether I am a historian, which for the most part has been used to question the legitimacy of what I write specifically on this blog as opposed to anything else I’ve done over the past few years.
While I will never lose sleep over this issue, one thing that is not up for debate is my own self-identity as a high school history teacher. You will notice that the old tagline is once again visible under the header. I cracked a little smile yesterday when I decided to do this. When my wife and I first moved to Boston in July 2011 I was excited about the prospect of a year away from the classroom. My goal was to finish the Crater book and make a large dent in the Black Confederates book and a host of other projects. Things didn’t work out as planned. Sure, I finished the book and I was able to stay fairly productive, but there were periods of inactivity and some of it was accompanied by a good deal of depression. No one pushed me to do anything and at times I found it debilitating. [click to continue…]
I’ve known for about a year that there is a movie script about Frederick Douglass that is being bandied around, but this is the first I’ve heard of a movie about Solomon Northup. The movie is based on Northup’s autobiography, which I’ve used numerous times in the classroom. The movie boasts an impressive line-up of actors so it will be interesting to see if it does justice to the book. If you are going to make a movie about slavery Northup’s story is ideal for some of the same reasons that the story of the Amistad proved attractive to Spielberg. Both stories end with freedom. I hope the movie somehow makes it clear that Northup’s story before the Civil War was highly unusual.
The movie hits theaters this coming October.
This Thursday marks the 150th anniversary of the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry’s unsuccessful assault at Battery Wagner outside of Charleston. Though the amount of attention focused on this event pales in comparison with the recent commemoration of the battle of Gettysburg, the event constitutes the “high water-mark” of the black soldier experience in the Civil War and in our popular memory. This is due in large part to the success and continued popularity of the movie, “Glory”. On the one hand, the movie obscures the rich history of those black men who fought for the United States during the war beyond the 54th, but it also opens a door that will hopefully be exploited by those involved in this commemoration over the course of the week. [click to continue…]
For many visitors to Civil War battlefields overseen by the National Park Service the orientation movie provides a much needed overview of the relevant history and a clear statement as to why it is important. Unfortunately, many of these movies are out of date, though in recent years individual parks have worked hard to bring their stories in line with more recent scholarship. Shiloh National Military Park is one such example. The first words spoken in their new movie remind visitors that United States soldiers were engaged in nothing less than the suppression of a rebellion.
I’ve never been to Shiloh. In fact, I’ve not visited any of the battlefields outside of the Eastern Theater apart from the Mobile area. In a few weeks I will be co-leading a group of history teachers from Nashville to Washington, D.C. as part of what I assume is one of the last Teaching American History sponsored programs. I will be leading a few tours in the Virginia – D.C. area, but the 10-day trip will finally bring me to places like Franklin, Fort Negley, Stones River, and Chickamauga. I can’t wait.