Today 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…]
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…]
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…]
Update: Nice to see the twittersphere having some fun with this story. Check out #FOXNewsLitCrit.
I absolutely love this FOX News interview with Reza Azlan, who is the author of a new book on the historical Jesus. The interviewer clearly did not read the book nor did she have any interest in discussing its content. Instead, she chose to focus on the fact that the author is a Muslim who chose to write a book about Jesus. That, apparently is unfathomable to this reporter. Fortunately, Azlan stood his ground and underscored the absurdity of the assumptions driving the interview. [click to continue…]
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…]