The other day I blogged briefly about a disagreement over a reference I made to a “real [book] review” as opposed to what I would call reader feedback on Amazon book pages. Sure, there may be some dedicated Amazon reviewers out there, but I tend not to go there for substantive and thoughtful critiques. It just so happens that earlier today my publisher passed along what is clearly the most critical review of my book published to date. Thanks to Jason Phillips, who is the new Eberly Professor of Civil War Studies at West Virginia University, for reading it and reviewing it for the Virginia Magazine of History and Biography. Jason has a reputation for hard hitting reviews. There are aspects of his review that I agree with and a few with which I disagree, but overall I have no complaints. I certainly think that I could have done much more with the white Northern memory of the battle. I have no intention of writing a formal response here since that would be bad form. My goal is simply to highlight what I think is a pretty good example of a “real review.”
Kevin Levin has selected an excellent subject to study Civil War memory. Among other things, the battle of the Crater marked the first time that units in the Army of Northern Virginia fought (and massacred) United States Colored Troops (U.S.C.T.). Levin insightfully explains how the presence of black soldiers signified everything that Confederates fought for and against without excusing the atrocity. His analysis of the career of Gen. William Mahone, the Confederate hero of the Crater, may be Levin’s greatest contribution. As leader of the biracial Readjuster Party after Reconstruction, Mahone threatened white supremacy and the Lost Cause myth. Levin shows how postwar Virginians’ memories of the Crater not only pitted whites against blacks and northerners against southerners but also former Confederates against each other at a time when political divisions fractured the state. Tracing the memory of the battle into the twentieth century, Levin describes the rise of white memory and efforts, since the civil rights movement, to add a black counter- memory to scholarship and site interpretation. Public historians in particular will benefit from this book. [click to continue…]
This morning I was perusing through the September 1963 issue of Ebony Magazine and came across this remarkable photograph of Medgar Evers and his family on the Vicksburg battlefield. Apparently, they spent a great deal of time on the battlefield. This particular issue centered on the 100th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, which included a story about Evers on why he chose to live in Mississippi.
Outside Vicksburg, in the national military park, which entombs hundreds of Civil War dead–from Mississippi, Illinois, both sides of the struggle–Evers strolls with sightseers over the bones of the dead, is drawn to “our spot” where he and his wife courted, politely answers the questions of a white man, whose ten gallon hat and deep drawl identify him as one of the “enemy.” (pp. 146-47)
I am happy to join with you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation.
Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand, signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of captivity.
But 100 years later, we must face the tragic fact that the Negro is still not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languishing in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land.
And so we’ve come here today to dramatize an appalling condition. In a sense we’ve come to our nation’s capital to cash a cheque. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men would be guaranteed the inalienable rights of “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness. . . .
While this week marks the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington it is also the 50th anniversary of the passing of W.E.B. Du Bois. It is unfortunate, though not surprising that he has all but been forgotten to our memory of the long civil rights movement. Was there anyone more important and for such a significant amount of time through the first half of the twentieth century? I make it a point to introduce Du Bois in my classroom every year, usually through one of his essays or a selection from The Souls of Black Folk.
At least he has not been entirely forgotten in his home town of Great Barrington, MA. The photograph above comes from a local eight grade class, which recently spent some time exploring a local public mural done in honor of Du Bois.
Du Bois on Robert E. Lee: ” “Either [Lee] knew what slavery meant when he helped maim and murder thousands in its defense or he did not” — From an essay on Lee (1928)
Most of these books were purchased during my Civil War road trip earlier this month. Some of you may have noticed that I set up an Amazon affiliate page that lists books in my library. As always, my small cut from your purchase comes in the form of a book credit.
Richard Blackett, Making Freedom: The Underground Railroad and the Politics of Slavery, (University of North Carolina Press, 2013).
Larry Daniel, Battle of Stones River: The Forgotten Conflict Between the Confederate Army of Tennessee and the Union Army of the Cumberland, (Louisiana State University Press, 2012).
David Gleeson, The Green and the Gray: The Irish in the Confederate States of America, (University of North Carolina Press, 2013).
Eric Jacobson (with Richard A. Rupp), For Cause & for Country: A Study of the Affair At Spring Hill & the Battle of Franklin, (O’More Publishing, 2008).
John Lundstrom, One Drop in a Sea of Blue: The Liberators of the Ninth Minnesota, (Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2012).
Mark Schneider, Boston Confronts Jim Crow, 1890-1920, (Northeastern University Press, 1997).
Steven Woodworth, Six Armies in Tennessee: The Chickamauga and Chattanooga Campaigns, (University of Nebraska Press, 1998).
Donald Yacovone and Charles Fuller eds., Freedom’s Journey: African American Voices of the Civil War, (Lawrence Hill Books, 2004).
Ted Savas can’t seem to let things go. Now he is upset that I don’t consider reader feedback on the Amazon page for his new book on John Bell Hood to constitute a “real review.”
PS: Someone might let Levin know that some “real reviews” on the Hood book have appeared on Amazon.
Sorry, but I am looking for a little something that goes beyond paraphrasing the dust jacket to actually evaluating the interpretive structure of the book itself. I don’t care whether that takes place in an academic journal, popular magazine or even a blog post. I also don’t care whether the author is a Ph.D in history or a high school dropout. [click to continue…]
One of the places that I still need to visit in my neighborhood is the Forbes House in Milton. In the 1920s the home was owned by Mary Bowditch Forbes, who amassed a sizable collection of Civil War and Lincoln related memorabilia. The family were strong Unionists during the 1860s and were responsible for the construction of a number of gunboats and the organization of the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, Company A.
In 1924 Mary welcomed local G.A.R. members to the house to unveil an exact replica of Lincoln’s boyhood home. The film portion of the video begins at the 2:40 mark. It’s well worth your time. You will even notice an African-American G.A.R. member, which I know will warm the heart of Barbara Gannon. Enjoy.
During my last visit to the American History Museum in Washington, D.C. I got to see their Changing America exhibit on the Emancipation Proclamation and March on Washington. It was predictable from beginning to end. The exhibit was divided between the two key events in an overall narrative that highlighted America’s inevitable embrace of freedom and civil rights. It’s as watered down an exhibit as you can get and no doubt appealed to our sense of ourselves as exceptional and heroic. Visitors leave the 1863 side with little understanding of Reconstruction and Jim Crow, but with the echo of that overused phrase: “The Promise of Freedom.” It’s a phrase that fits comfortably within an overall narrative that points to the possibilities of freedom in the form of civil rights and an acknowledgment of the sacrifices made by blacks for the preservation of the Union. [click to continue…]