“It Almost Sounds Like Nazi Germany”

I am usually not surprised to see Civil War-related stories about the continued debate about the Confederate flag or questions about secession make the AP, but this one has thrown me for a loop.  Rodney Steward’s new book, David Schenck and the Contours of Confederate Identity, examines the Confederate policy of sequestration, which was passed in response to legislation passed by the U.S. Congress that allowed for the confiscation of property of those deemed to be disloyal.  David Schenck was one of the agents or receivers for the Confederate government in North Carolina.

Receivers moved to seizing property owned by anyone felt to have Northern leanings.  In one case, property was seized from a North Carolina widow whose son lived in California and was considered an enemy alien. In another, a man who owned Wilmington property was delayed for a time on the Outer Banks behind Union lines. When he finally returned home, his property had been seized and he was turned over to the local military authorities as being a Union sympathizer.

That usually meant people were hanged, Steward said.  “Receivers could order people to give account of their property. And if they find what they are looking for — and even if they don’t sometimes and just made it up — they could issue a writ to seize the property and sell it at auction,” he said.  Much of the property is thought to have gone to the people who turned in neighbors. A large part also ended up with the receivers or an inner circle of ultra-nationalists like Schenck, who left extensive diaries, Steward said.

“In his diary, if you read between the lines, if people complain about the war it’s because they are disloyal and they lack virtue — they are not true to the cause. It almost sounds like Nazi Germany,” Steward said.  Schenck writes about building a new house in Lincolnton “at the precise moment that the economy of North Carolina and the Confederacy wasn’t just getting bad, the bottom was literally falling out,” Steward said.  He estimates Schenck personally seized as much as $50,000, about $2 million in today’s money.

While the Act of Sequestration was to compensate Southerners who had lost property to the Union, Steward says he’s not found any evidence money went to reimburse people.  And he wonders how many New South fortunes may have be built on money taken from fellow-Southerners. The system, he said, hurt the Southern cause at a time when it needed support from everyone.  “I think sequestration in the long run had the effect of crushing the will and creating a profound sense of disillusionment,” he said.

I have to admit that I do not know much about this specific Confederate policy, though it does fit into a broader picture of a centralized government in Richmond that intruded into people’s lives in myriad ways during the war.  Most people today know little about these policies since the Confederate government is commonly thought to be the last bastion of states rights or limited government in the history of the United States.  Even a cursory understanding of the history of the Confederacy is sufficient to call such a picture into question.  Perhaps that is why this particular article has gone viral.

Steward’s book grew out of his dissertation, which he wrote at Auburn University under the direction of Ken Noe.  I suspect it’s worth reading. :-)

Taking Civil War Historians to Court

Here is a little levity to end the work week.  This little exchange from the Southern Heritage Preservation FB Group is worth a good laugh, but it’s also a reminder that many people simply do not understand the first thing about what is involved in historical research.  The scholarship that historians produce is not the result of a process, but simply a reflection of personal bias and nefarious motives.  It’s a wonderful reminder of why education matters.

Perhaps Dimitri Rotov will offer his legal services as prosecuting attorney.

The Future of Civil War History

I am very excited to share what promises to be one of the most educational and entertaining conferences to come down the pike in quite some time.  From March 14-16, 2013 the Civil War Institute at Gettysburg College will host a three-day conference titled, “The Future of Civil War History: Looking Beyond the 150th.”  Peter Carmichael somehow managed to wrangle up roughly 100 historians of all stripes for a wide variety of formal presentations, panels, working groups and field experiences.  The goal is to “facilitate discussions between panelists and the audience about how the historical community can make the Civil War past more engaging, more accessible, and more usable to public audiences as we look beyond the 150th commemorations and to the future of Civil War history.”

Please take some time to browse through the conference website.  There are plenty of opportunities to get involved, including a number of very interesting working groups that will commence in preparation for the conference.  I strongly encourage those of you who teach history, work in some capacity in public history or are just deeply interested in the Civil War era to register soon since spaces are limited.

I am super excited for this event.  It’s a chance to spend time in one of my favorite places and best of all I get to participate.  I am a panelist for a session on how to engage museum audiences and students around issues of Civil War memory and I will be chairing another session on interpreting USCTs at Civil War sites.

See you in Gettysburg.

The Civil War in Art

I’ve spent the past few hours browsing through an incredible website that focuses on Civil War art.  The website is called The Civil War in Art: Teaching and Learning Through Chicago Area Collections.  I am also very happy to have them on board as Civil War Memory’s newest sponsor.  This site is incredible.  Check out this gouache of the assault by the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry at Battery Wagner by Suzanne Schweig Langsdorf, which was done in 1940.  I’ve never seen it before.  When you expand the image on the website there is a feature that opens up a window that allows you to focus on specific sections in great detail.  Each image includes a short description and a set of questions for classroom use.  In addition, the site includes a page of ideas for classroom projects, which will hopefully be expanded in the future.

I can’t wait to use some of these images in the classroom this year.