Virginia Flagger Arrested

It was just a matter of time.  After months of protesting outside of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts over the removal of Confederate flags from the grounds of the “Old Soldier’s Home”/Pelham Chapel the Virginia Flaggers have little to show for their efforts.  All attempts to branch out and get involved in other causes – most notably with the opening of the MOC in Appomattox [and here] – have failed to generate support.

Individual Flaggers have challenged VMFA authorities in the past so there should have been little doubt as to how this situation would turn out.

A few months ago I was contacted by someone at the VMFA to talk about how they might handle this protest.  I didn’t have much to offer beyond suggesting that they wait it out, but I did jokingly suggest that they put together an exhibit on the Confederate flag that utilized the Flaggers as a modernist interpretation/performance.    I believe this more than ever after watching the above video. You gotta love those jeans, jacket and sunglasses.

The Flaggers and associated groups will likely milk this for all it’s worth, but it is nothing more than a sign of the organization’s lack of direction and inability to garner support around the substantive issues.

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How Many Books Did You Sell This Year?

crater kentuckyI’ve tried to be as transparent as possible with sharing my experience in seeing a book manuscript through to publication.  Some of you have been with me since 2007, when I first announced that I might have the opportunity to publish what was then only a Master’s Thesis.  As I got closer to publication I wondered about sales.  I knew going in that the book would likely appeal to a fairly narrow audience.  The Crater is not the most popular Civil War battle and the study of historical memory is perhaps an acquired taste.  My decision to sign with one of the smaller academic presses also tempered my optimism, which is not to say that I in any way regret going with the University Press of Kentucky or that I am disappointed with their work thus far. Far from it.

On occasion, however, I did allow myself to speculate as to how a strong social media presence might translate into book sales.  Since I have no frame of reference it was always difficult to arrive at a number, but I thought that my ability to promote the book through my blog, Facebook page and Twitter feed might provide a model for other authors of academic titles who hope to reach a wider audience.  OK, so I thought that somewhere around 1,000 books sold by Jan. 1 was not out of the realm of possibility.

At this point, I am disappointed to admit that this apparently has not happened.  My publisher informed me that since the book was released in early July 2012 it has sold 621 copies.

Now, it could be the case that this is a pretty good showing for a book such as mine.  As I said, I have no frame of reference.  And I should note that overall I couldn’t be more pleased with how the book has been received by many of you as well as by both magazine and journal reviewers.  That I was able to contribute anything at all to a body of scholarship that has taught me much and provided me with countless of hours of enjoyment is sufficient.

The experience has left me with much to think about as I consider future projects.  I see the book format as one tool in my arsenal through which to share my love of history with the general public.  We will have to see whether I have another one in me.  I certainly hope so.  Working with an academic publisher forced me to respond to my peers, who assisted me in improving both the narrative and various interpretive elements.   It is an invaluable aspect of the writing process and having the stamp of approval from such a publisher hopefully gives me a certain legitimacy as I move further.

That said, I can’t help but wonder whether I might be able to take the experience of working with a traditional publisher and apply it to another approach that might result in greater reach – perhaps self-publishing?  I am willing to consider all options.  After all, I don’t need to publish for tenure or promotion.  As an author I want to produce a product that has integrity and see it in the hands of as many people as possible.  What’s the point of suffering through the process of researching and writing if no one is going to read it?

In the meantime, I recently got the go-ahead from the publisher to sell my book directly.  I’ve been buying books with my author’s discount to sell at speaking events.  I am still in the process of setting up a PayPal account, but once it’s you will be able to buy the book for $25 + shipping.

Thanks again to all of you who have bought the book.

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New To the Civil War Memory Library, 01/11

Ari Kelman

It’s safe to say that 2013 is already shaping up to be a good year for Civil War titles.  I am in the middle of Oakes’s book and really looking forward to digging into new books by Kelman and Levine.  If I am not mistaken we now have the first modern biography of Thomas Nast.

Fiona Deans Halloran, Thomas Nast: The Father of Modern Political Cartoons (University of North Carolina Press, 2012).

Ari Kelman, A Misplaced Massacre: Struggling over the Memory of Sand Creek (Harvard University Press, 2013).

Bruce Levine, The Fall of the House of Dixie: The Civil War and the Social Revolution That Transformed the South(Random House, 2013).

James Oakes, Freedom National: The Destruction of Slavery in the United States, 1861-1865 (W.W. Norton, 2012).

Craig Symonds, The Civil War at Sea(Oxford University Press, 2012).

Daniel R. Weinfeld, The Jackson County War: Reconstruction and Resistance in Post-Civil War Florida (University of Alabama Press, 2012).

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RIP Gettysburg Cyclorama Building

gettysburg

Word came today that the National Park Service will begin demolition of the old Cyclorama building at Gettysburg.  It was just a matter of time.  I never had a real problem with it being there, though I admit it was sort of an eyesore.  I also have no problem with removing it for that reason, but what I have little patience for is that in doing so we are returning the battlefield to its 1863 appearance.  That is little more than a comforting fiction.  If that were the case we would remove all the monuments as well.

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But Are the Accounts True?

black confederate

Today I am working on the final re-write for an article on Confederate camp servants that will be published in an upcoming issue of The Civil War Monitor.  This involves reviewing changes made by the magazine’s editorial staff and responding to questions re: clarity, substance and interpretation.  I am having some difficulty with one particular paragraph that I wrote about accounts of slaves on the battlefield.  Here is what I wrote:

Camp servants who did not or could not escape were exposed to all the dangers of military life, from disease to the battlefield. Accounts of slaves marching into battle alongside masters, assisting them if they were wounded, or securing the body in the event of death, as well as tales of shooting at Yankee soldiers, remain the most contentious aspect of the memory of these men. Many of these accounts come from Confederate veterans’ postwar writings and rarely include the voice of the slave in question. As a result, they tell us much more about white southerners’ ideal version of their former slaves and not the often complex factors that motivated slaves during those moments of grave danger and uncertainty.

It goes without saying that I am not in any way concerned about whether these stories demonstrate that the men in question were soldiers.  That, however, still leaves us with the accounts themselves.  The editors responded with the following comment.

You don’t say whether you believe these accounts are accurate / reliable. I wonder if somehow you might, in a way to separate fact from fiction, as much as possible. And more detail would be nice in the way of quotes / evidence / examples.

The thing is, I do believe the general outlines of these stories.  Camp servants were on the battlefields, they fired weapons at Yankee soldiers, and they rescued masters from the field and even escorted bodies home for burial.  What I have trouble with is moving beyond the realm of personal memory to the question of historical veracity.  None of the stories that I utilize include corroborating accounts between slave and Confederate officer and the vast majority that we do have were written after the war.  Even the few accounts from former slaves leave me with more questions than answers.

The bigger challenge for me in interpreting battlefield accounts involving camp servants is that I struggle with how to reconcile the element of absolute authority that defined the master-slave relationship and the kinds of emotional bonds that were clearly present in certain cases.  It’s a world that I simply do not have much of anything in terms of a frame of reference through which to interpret.  It can hardly be denied that camp servants/slaves were present on battlefields and experienced all kinds of things.  What that experience meant, at the time, for both slave and master as interpreted through postwar sources largely alludes me.

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