Remembering Louis Martin

Louis MartinA couple of years ago Mike Musick – who as many of you know was for a long time the go-to guy for anything Civil War related at the National Archives – contacted me about a recently discovered photograph of Louis Martin of the 29th U.S.C.T. He kindly arranged to have a copy of the photograph and pension application sent to me, which eventually ended up in my Crater book.

At that point the photograph was still not available online. I remember staring at it for what seemed like hours when it first arrived. You can clearly see why. In many ways this image served as a visual reminder of why I thought it was important to use the battle of the Crater as a case study on race and historical memory in American history.

I did a bit of research into his postwar life, but found very little. I knew the year he died and that he struggled with alcohol, but I was unsure as to where he was buried. There is also a question about Martin’s necklace and whether it has an African origin. [click to continue…]

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“Confederate Kids Have No Rights The Courts Are Bound to Respect”

Today Chief Trial Counsel Kirk Lyons of the Southern Legal Resource Center announced that the Supreme Court will not hear a case involving Candice Hardwick, who ten years ago was sent home for wearing a t-shirt to school with a Confederate flag. He is apparently quite upset about the court’s decision given his firm belief that his client has a rock solid case.

I have to say that I am very disappointed that we have been deprived of the opportunity to hear Kirk Lyons argue in front of the highest court in the land. As for precedent, Lyons argues that this “case is a lot like the Dred Scott decision.” He goes on to suggest that, “Confederate kids have no rights the courts are bound to respect.” Oh, what fun.

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Intentionalism vs. Structuralism in the Classroom or Abraham Lincoln to the Rescue

I walked out of my Holocaust class earlier today both incredibly frustrated and energized. This has by far been my most enjoyable classroom experience this year. I am learning a great deal from the readings and from a wonderful group of students. The class is structured around a few central questions, including how the Nazis gained power in 1933, how they solidified this power, and, ultimately, how the Final Solution was implemented. [click to continue…]

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Kanye West’s Confederate Heritage

Kanye WestNo, it’s not a new Dixie Outfitters design for the bad-ass biker in you that wants to show off your Confederate pride. In fact, it’s a t-shirt design for Kanye West’s Yeezus Tour. West’s publicity team is marketing a number of times that features the Confederate flag.

This is not the first time that African Americans have appropriated the flag for their own use. A Confederate flag draped over the grim reaper is quite suggestive. Perhaps it symbolizes the death of the Confederacy and racism. I have no idea.

It’s encouraging to think that young black and white Americans, who purchase this shirt will help to blur to the point of non-recognition the history of this flag’s connection to a failed revolution to perpetuate slavery and history of racism and violence.

In other words, they will flag it into oblivion.

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Have You Really Read Battle Cry of Freedom?

McPherson Battle Cry of FreedomThis past week The Daily Beast did an interview with James McPherson to mark the 25th anniversary of the release of Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era. As we all know it was a bestseller when it was first published in 1988 and remains the go to book for those looking for a reliable survey of the Civil War Era. That is quite an accomplishment.

While it is likely the single most popular Civil War book published in the past two decades I sometimes wonder how many people, who own it or who throw out the name in polite conversation, have actually read it in its entirety. At just under 900 pages it is quite demanding.

I first purchased the book in 1995. At the time I was just beginning to explore the period and everyone recommended that I start with McPherson.  I don’t mind admitting that I never really got around to reading it in its entirety until I took a graduate school class in historiography in 2004. On numerous occasions I committed myself to reading it only to be distracted by another book or even a shorter McPherson essay that summarized aspects of the larger study. Of course, that did not stop me from recommending the book to others.

Part of why I resisted had to do with the mistaken assumption that Battle Cry is no more than a survey, heavy on narrative and short on analytical rigor. That certainly is not the case.

So, who else is going to come clean?

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