This historical pageant was performed back in May at Boston’s Tremont Temple as part of the “Freedom Rising” symposium. It tells the story of a young black woman who must write a history essay on an American abolitionist. Her Haitian father impresses on her the importance of Toussaint Louverture, but her instructor forces his student to stick to the textbook. The rest of the show highlights Louverture’s influence on the abolitionist community in Boston and the Civil War. Danny Glover plays Louverture.
It’s well worth watching, but it once again highlights just how central abolitionism is to this city’s Civil War memory. You would think that the abolitionists were always in the majority and even celebrated here in Boston.
One reason why the final two years of the Civil War is so difficult to commemorate is that it offers little in the kinds of dramatic battles that still captivate the imaginations of so many. Many of us are seduced by the success of Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia and how close they brought the Confederacy to independence. Whether we acknowledge the inevitability of Confederate defeat or not and with the benefit of hindsight, the final two years of the war appear to be a gradual deterioration of all things Confederate.
The other factor is that it becomes much more difficult to ignore the challenges and messiness of Reconstruction, which is well under way during those final two years. While it can be argued that our popular memory of the war has undergone a positive shift in recent years, our understanding of Reconstruction remains in the dark ages. It will be very sad indeed if the Civil War 150th ends in 1865. [click to continue…]
It’s a question that is on my mind right now as I work to complete an editorial for the Atlantic. 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? It will be interesting to see whether President Obama accepts an invitation to speak at Gettysburg in November.
It seems to me that the war in 1864-65 takes the kind of turn that is not easily framed in the form of commemorations and celebrations. We shall see.
Update: Those of you in Virginia may want to check out the upcoming Nat Turner Rebellion Symposium.
I learned of this planned movie about Nat Turner from my twitter feed and via this blog post. It’s hard to know what to make of the movie website. There is a script, but the casting call is open to anyone who wants to audition over YouTube. The trailer, which echoes some of the gratuitous violence of Django, will likely disturb some of you. Whether we ever see this movie in the theaters is anyone’s guess. At this point that might be a good thing.
With not much else going on today I thought I would pass along the news that I’ve agreed to join the faculty for the 2014 Civil War Institute at Gettysburg College. This will be my third straight year taking part and I couldn’t be more thrilled. I am especially excited given that the focus of next year’s institute is right up my alley.
As it stands it looks like I will be giving a talk on the battle of the Crater and historical memory as well as leading a break-out session, dine-in session, and a workshop for the scholarship students. It’s a full plate, but it promises to be a lot of fun. Additional historians who have already signed on include Caroline Janney, John Hennessy, Brooks Simpson, Frank O’Reilly, Barton Myers, Robert E.L. Krick, Megan Kate Nelson, and Allen Guelzo.
The year’s institute was sold out, so it might be a good idea to register early, which you can do by clicking here.
Today my wife and I spent the day on Georges Island in Boston harbor. I gave a brief presentation for the National Park Service on Boston’s Civil War memory, which went really well. Afterwards, we spent some time walking through Fort Warren.
A number of prominent Confederate officials, including James Mason, John Slidell and Alexander Stephens were held as prisoners for various periods of time. In addition, Richard Ewell, Isaac Trimble, Simon Bolivar Buckner and a small number of Confederate soldiers were also held as prisoners during the war.
I knew all of this, but what truly surprised was this monument to those Confederates who died as prisoners, which was dedicated by the Boston chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy in 1963. Yeah, that’s right, there was a UDC chapter in Boston. [click to continue…]
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…]