Richmond is for Lincoln

I am hoping to catch Spielberg’s Lincoln movie this weekend.  My plan is to write a review, but please don’t expect a narrowly-focused critique of how well the film reflects current Lincoln/Civil War historiography.  Such an approach almost always fails to capture the intention of why people make movies and why we go to see them.  As a historian and teacher, what I look forward to seeing is theatergoers and students who are sufficiently moved to learn more by picking up a book or traveling to the historic sites themselves.

The state’s department of tourism has already created a website that allows visitors to follow Lincoln’s movie and historical footsteps through Richmond and Petersburg.  They are assuming that the movie buzz will bring people to Richmond.  I assume the NPS will be offering guided tours and other materials to help tourists navigate their way through these two cities and we can assume that other historical institutions in the area will also benefit from increased traffic.

The tour offers a blend of Hollywood and history, with Richmond standing in for Washington, D.C., and historic Petersburg portraying itself. Lincoln spent a good deal of the final days of the Civil War in both cities. As emancipated people cheered, he famously walked the streets of the smoldering former capital of the Confederacy in April 1865 as it fell to Union forces. Lincoln also spent about two weeks in Petersburg, home to the longest military siege on American soil. Its architecture still bears the scars of the war, including cannonballs embedded in brick facades.

I just love the idea of visitors walking Richmond’s streets with Lincoln on their mind just as thousands did when he visited the city in April 1865.  It’s, after all,  American history, folks.

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Should Byron Thomas Join the Sons of Confederate Veterans?

Byron Thomas made a name for himself not too long ago by hanging a Confederate flag in his dorm window at the University of South Carolina – Beaufort.  Since then he has utilized YouTube to promote his own vision of a post-racial society.  Some of it is worth watching and some of it is not.  Today Byron discusses the discovery of an ancestor, who he believes fought as a soldier in the Confederate army.

I really want to join the Sons of Confederate Veterans because Benjamin Thomas a Black Confederate just might be my ancestor and I want to honor him. Benjamin Thomas got a state pension from the state of South Carolina, so he definitely isn’t no make believe character. I really want to join, because I’ve been to some SCV meetings and I love what they stand for. They DON”T SUPPORT/STAND FOR any form of racism. They are no where near a racist group.I just want to honor my past ancestor that fought for the south, that’s all. America I want to join, but I’m not sure my family will like it, so can yall help me out!!! Kill People with Kindness and May God Bless America.

You get the sense that Byron hasn’t done much research at all on his ancestor.  The direct answer to his question is obviously, yes, he should honor his ancestor.  The only question that remains – assuming the relation is substantiated – is whether Benjamin Thomas will be honored for who and what he was during the Civil War.

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Military Executions in Stonewall Jackson’s Command

I thought we had run through all the talks and panels from the 2012 Civil War Institute, but it looks like I overlooked Peter Carmichael’s excellent talk on military executions in Stonewall Jackson’s command.  This talk is based on an essay that Pete published some time ago in the Virginia Magazine of History and Biography some time ago.  It is well worth your time.

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Secession Fun

Like many of you I am getting a real kick out of reading the secession petitions that are currently flooding the White Houses’s “We the People” website.  In fact, it’s actually downright cute.  Think about it.  Americans from every region of the country requesting that the federal government allow their state to secede.  The fire-eaters from the Deep South are rolling in their graves.

It does give you a sense of how disconnected our understanding of secession has become from the events that took place in the wake of Abraham Lincoln’s election in November 1860.  As a historical concept rooted in the Civil War era it is almost meaningless.  My favorite petition is from the good folks of the state of Washington, who decided to quote the preamble of the Declaration of Independence as justification.  You just can’t beat quoting a document rooted in revolution (as opposed to secession) that specifically points out that, “Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…”  What exactly happened last week?

Ultimately, the image of thousands of Americans logging onto the official website of their government and requesting the right to secede is a sign of this nation’s strength.  I say, sign away.  In fact, I may spend some time this morning signing a few of my favorites.  I may start one for Massachusetts.  Why should we miss out on all the fun.

Finally, a little advice for the most committed secessionists out there.  I seem to remember a reference made by that Republic candidate for president.  What was it?… ah yes, it was a reference to self-deportation.  In other words, don’t let the door hit you in the ass on the way out. :-)

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The Gettysburg Semester at Gettysburg College

What follows is a guest post by Allison (Herrmann) Jordan, who is currently an administrative assistant at the Civil War Institute at Gettysburg College.  Allison shares her experience as a participant in the college’s “Gettysburg Semester,” which is a semester-long immersion in Civil War studies.

I remember sitting in my freshman dorm room in Worcester, Massachusetts.  As a recently declared history major with a newfound passion for the Civil War, I passed spare moments thumbing through a tattered copy of James McPherson’s Battle Cry of Freedom. I was still two years away from taking my college’s Civil War & Reconstruction course (it was only offered every three years).  A simple Google search for “Civil War” + internship” + “Gettysburg,” however, led me to the website for something called The Gettysburg Semester. Instantly intrigued, I discovered a study-away program hosted by Gettysburg College.  It invites undergraduates from around the country to spend a fall semester studying the American Civil War at the Civil War buff’s Valhalla – Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.

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