A Response to Ted Savas

I feel a need to respond to this before I head out tomorrow. Back in February I shared the jacket description for Stephen Hood’s new book about John Bell Hood. I suggested that it was just a bit over the top given the claims that the author makes about previous Hood scholars. The book would somehow show that previous scholars ‘ignored or suppressed facts sympathetic to Hood.’ In other words, these scholars were engaged in nothing less than a hatchet job. [click to continue…]

Civil War Road Trip

Chickamuagua by Tom Redman“I am following the river down the highway to the cradle of the Civil War.”

Tomorrow I fly to Nashville to help lead a group of history teachers on a 10-day Civil War road trip to Washington, D.C. The trip is funded by the Teaching American History program and organized by the Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition at Yale. It promises to be an exciting and educational experience for all involved. I was asked to help out as a historian/guide. My main responsibility is to talk with the teachers at the end of the day, help them to synthesize what they learned, and how it might apply to the classroom. Once in Virginia I will be more involved with leading some of the tours. [click to continue…]

New Summer Fashions from Dixie Outfitters

Dixie OutifittersUpdate: Brooks Simpson provides additional analysis.

Check out the new summer t-shirt line from Dixie Outfitters. The company has already created custom t-shirts in response to the popularity of H.K. Edgerton and the Virginia Flaggers. Now it is coming out with a new shirt for the members of the Southern Heritage Preservation Group or as Brooks Simpson calls it: “the gift that keeps on giving.” The only thing missing from this shirt is some of the group’s greatest hits from their comment threads.

I love that the shirt seems to include the states of Kentucky and Missouri in the Confederacy as well as what became the state of West Virginia. Remember, it’s about heritage, not history.

This has me thinking. Perhaps I should come up with a t-shirt design for the Civil War Memory community. Hmmm…I wonder what it would look like.

New To the Civil War Memory Library, 08/02

W. Caleb McDanielMy reading has been all over the place this summer, though much of it has been centered on the history of the Holocaust and Germany, which I will teach for the first time this year. I’ve also decided as a new transplant to Boston that it is time to look more closely at the abolitionist movement.

Joseph Ellis, Revolutionary Summer: The Birth of American Independence, (Knopf, 2013).

Julie Roy Jeffrey, Abolitionists Remember: Antislavery Autobiographies and the Unfinished Work of Emancipation, (University of North Carolina Press, 2008).

Barbara Krauthamer, Black Slaves, Indian Masters: Slavery, Emancipation, and Citizenship in the Native American South, (University of North Carolina Press, 2013).

W. Caleb McDaniel, The Problem of Democracy in the Age of Slavery: Garrisonian Abolitionists and Transatlantic Reform, (Louisiana State University Press, 2013).

Joanne Pope Melish, Disowning Slavery: Gradual Emancipation and “Race” in New England, 1780-1860, (Cornell University Press, 1998).

Henry McNeal Turner, Freedom’s Witness: The Civil War Correspondence of Henry McNeal Turner, (reprint, University of West Virginia Press, 2013).

Bruce Watson, Bread and Roses: Mills, Migrants, and the Struggle for the American Dream, (Penguin 2005).

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Where Are All the Black People?

Emancipation Day Parade, Richmond, Va

Emancipation Day Parade, Richmond, Va

One question that often comes up when discussing the scope of the current Civil War Sesquicentennial is why so few African Americans appear to be taking part. The question arose this past June at the Civil War Institute and the previous year as well. I’ve also heard it in connection to battlefield commemorations such as the Gettysburg 150. The question itself is packed with assumptions about the kinds of events and activities that define this sesquicentennial.

One thing that folks who worry about this issue most likely need to get over is that African Americans will never flock to battlefields in significant numbers. And whether we like it or not, the reason has everything to do with the Confederate flag. It is packed with meaning (much of it from the civil rights movement) that sends a clear message to the African-American community: You are not welcome here. [click to continue…]

The Battle of the Crater and Reconstruction Memory

crater lovellToday I read a very thoughtful post by John Rudy at his Interpreting the Civil War blog. He added his voice to the recent chorus of posts on the challenges and importance of properly commemorating the final two years of the Civil War. I agree with much of what he has to say.

But the war after Gettysburg morphs into that long, bloody, messy slog across Virginia or Tennessee and Georgia. It changes from prisoner exchanges into prison camps and the bloodiest ground on the American continent. Politics gets ugly, as Peace Democrats make a true, concerted effort (and nearly succeed) at unseating one of modern America’s most beloved historical figures. Battles become racialized, as men are massacred in battle not simply because of the color of their uniforms, but because of the color of their skin. The war gets ugly.

I’ve expressed optimism from the beginning and continue to hold out hope for the final two years, though I agree with John that it is going to be a challenge. This is, indeed, not your grandfather’s Civil War, but as Brooks Simpson rightfully notes, that does not mean that we should declare victory. I’ve noted multiple times, for example, that we need to reign in our embrace of an emancipationist narrative that is much too reductionist. I see it all the time here in Boston. You would think that everyone was an abolitionist, though the monuments in and around the city tell a slightly different story. [click to continue…]

149 Years Ago Today

Battle of the Crater Painting

The battle of the Crater was fought 149 years ago today. Here is a letter written by Henry A. Minor, who served as a surgeon with the 9th Alabama Volunteers. The 9th Alabama took part in William Mahone’s counterattack, which proved to be decisive in achieving a Confederate victory that day. The letter is one among scores of Confederate accounts I have in my collection that didn’t make it into my book. It offers a great deal of detail as to what transpired on that day and how the battle was assessed.

H.A. Minor to sister, M.A. Moseley: Field Hospital, 9th Alabama Regiment near Petersburg, Va., August 1, 1864 [Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, Va.]

We have been here over six weeks, have had several fights with the enemy but as I have written to Brother Lute concerning all up to the middle of July, I will only tell you of one we had the day before yesterday.  I send papers giving an account of the affair and will be very brief in my remarks.  Peter was not in the charge, he being a sharp shooter.  He with his comrades were left to hold the line on our right while the Division went to the center to retake our lost position.  It is said to have the most brilliant charge of the War, the charge of our brigade.  The line was kept properly, the men moved rapidly and quietly reserving the fire until close up and then delivering it with terrible effect.  Here for the first time our men fought negroes.  The Yankees put the negroes in the front and are said to have forced them forward.  The massacre was terrible.  The ditches were almost filled with dead.  Men had to walk on the dead, could not find room for their feet.  Such a sight was never seen before. [click to continue…]

A Quick Response to Brooks Simpson

I want to take a minute to respond to Brooks Simpson, who has apparently misinterpreted a recent post of mine in which I ask whether the Civil War Sesquicentennial is over. Here is the offending passage that seems to suggest that I don’t believe that the years 1864-65 offers anything significant to commemorate.

We’ve commemorated the trifecta of our Civil War Sesquicentennial, which in my mind includes Emancipation, Gettysburg, and the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry. Other than the 150th anniversary of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, what else is there to acknowledge?

What I was attempting to get at in the above passage is that for many Americans the summer of 1863 represents a high point in the Civil War. In the follow-up post I briefly mentioned why I believe it might be difficult to generate the same level of enthusiasm that we’ve seen over the past two years. I attempted to convey this point this out on Sunday and earlier today (and here) on Brooks’s blog. [click to continue…]