United Daughters of the Confederacy in Boston?

Fort WarrenToday 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…]

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More Selective Outrage Over Confederate Heritage

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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…]

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The Other Side of the Robert Gould Shaw Memorial

Shaw Memorial, 54th MassachusettsI’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…]

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Hey Boston, Embrace Your Civil War Memory

georges_island_fort_warrenIt should come as no surprise that one of my biggest concerns upon moving to Boston in 2011 was that I would be without a community of fellow Civil War enthusiasts and few places to visit related to the war. After all, I just assumed most Bostonians have always been more interested in that earlier squabble involving something about independence and the British. [click to continue…]

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“True Slavery Was Never Practiced in the South”

EverythingYouWereTaught-COVER-2012You can’t make this stuff up. I’ve written about Sea Raven Press in the past, specifically in reference to their book on Nathan Bedford Forrest for teens. This particular title, Everthing You Were Taught About the Civil War is Wrong, Ask a Southerner, seems to be the most popular given the number of times I’ve seen it referenced on certain websites. Here is a list of a few of the corrections to what you learned. I’ve highlighted a few of my favorites. I particularly like the claim that Abraham Lincoln both wanted to isolate blacks in their own state and transport them back to Africa. Apparently, these were not mutually exclusive options. 

• American slavery got its start in the North
the American abolition movement began in the South
• most Southern generals did not own slaves, and many, like Robert E. Lee, were abolitionists
• many Northern generals, like U.S. Grant, owned slaves and said they would not fight for abolition
• according to the 1860 Census a mere 4.8 percent of Southerners owned slaves, 95.2 percent did not [click to continue…]

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What’s In a Tagline?

keep-calm-i-m-a-history-teacherOnce again the Civil War blogosphere has descended into the tired debate of who is and who is not a historian. The latest foray into this web of conceptual analysis can be found at Brooks Simpson’s site in response to the recent editorial about Civil War reenacting. I have very little patience for these discussions because they get us nowhere. I’ve had others debate whether I am a historian, which for the most part has been used to question the legitimacy of what I write specifically on this blog as opposed to anything else I’ve done over the past few years.

While I will never lose sleep over this issue, one thing that is not up for debate is my own self-identity as a high school history teacher. You will notice that the old tagline is once again visible under the header. I cracked a little smile yesterday when I decided to do this. When my wife and I first moved to Boston in July 2011 I was excited about the prospect of a year away from the classroom. My goal was to finish the Crater book and make a large dent in the Black Confederates book and a host of other projects. Things didn’t work out as planned. Sure, I finished the book and I was able to stay fairly productive, but there were periods of inactivity and some of it was accompanied by a good deal of depression. No one pushed me to do anything and at times I found it debilitating. [click to continue…]

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“12 Years a Slave” Trailer

I’ve known for about a year that there is a movie script about Frederick Douglass that is being bandied around, but this is the first I’ve heard of a movie about Solomon Northup.  The movie is based on Northup’s autobiography, which I’ve used numerous times in the classroom. The movie boasts an impressive line-up of actors so it will be interesting to see if it does justice to the book. If you are going to make a movie about slavery Northup’s story is ideal for some of the same reasons that the story of the Amistad proved attractive to Spielberg. Both stories end with freedom. I hope the movie somehow makes it clear that Northup’s story before the Civil War was highly unusual.

The movie hits theaters this coming October.

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Commemorating the 54th Massachusetts in the Heart of the Rebellion

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This Thursday marks the 150th anniversary of the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry’s unsuccessful assault at Battery Wagner outside of Charleston. Though the amount of attention focused on this event pales in comparison with the recent commemoration of the battle of Gettysburg, the event constitutes the “high water-mark” of the black soldier experience in the Civil War and in our popular memory. This is due in large part to the success and continued popularity of the movie, “Glory”. On the one hand, the movie obscures the rich history of those black men who fought for the United States during the war beyond the 54th, but it also opens a door that will hopefully be exploited by those involved in this commemoration over the course of the week. [click to continue…]

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