Spielberg’s Lincoln and the Sesquicentennial

Over the weekend I took some time to answer a few questions about Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln as part of a forum for the journal Civil War History.  The roundtable discussion that will come out of it will be published in the September 2013 issue.  One of the questions focused on the movie’s connection to the sesquicentennial.  I offered a few thoughts, but one thing I noted is that we shouldn’t ignore the fact that it was filmed in Richmond and Petersburg.  It appears that both communities embraced the opportunity to host a film about Lincoln.  Of course, we can attribute much of the enthusiasm to the financial benefits that both cities enjoyed, but it is worth acknowledging that in the former capital of the Confederacy there were no major protests undertaken re: the filming of a movie about Lincoln.  Lincoln was welcomed in Richmond 150 years ago and it is nice to see that this is still the case.

The Virginia Department of Tourism has set up a website that allows visitors to trace Lincoln’s steps through Virginia.  Today I came across this collection of videos that focuses on Petersburg and vicinity, which provides visitors with even more information.

“It is altogether fitting and proper that we should this.”

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Best of 2012

KantrowitzThe end of my first full year of living in Boston and what a year it’s been.  It should come as no surprise that the highlight of the past year was the publication of my first book in June.  I’ve always loved the social aspect of doing history, whether its teaching in the classroom, working with history teachers or lecturing in public.  I’ve met some wonderful people this year and I thank each and every one of you for purchasing a copy.  Based on the few notices I’ve received from the publisher it looks like sales have been brisk.  I am hoping that my royalty check at least allows me to take my wife out for a really nice dinner next month.

As for 2013 I am looking forward to working with the Massachusetts Historical Society on some programs for teachers as well as the Massachusetts 150 Commission.  On the writing front I am hoping to complete the Confederate camp servants book and finish up with editing the letters of Captain John Christopher Winsmith.  We shall see.  For now I want to thank all of you for continuing to visit Civil War Memory.  It’s hard to believe that I’ve been at this thing called blogging for over seven years now.  Happy Holidays to you and your family.

…and now to the list.

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What Did You Read This Year?

Screen Shot 2012-11-29 at 7.14.11 AMAs I did last year I thought I might give you a chance to share what you enjoyed reading in the area of Civil War history over the past year.  It doesn’t have to have been published this past year and feel free to share something outside the field entirely if you feel moved to do so.

In the meantime here is a taste of my “Best of 2012″ list.  Even though I am only halfway through it, I am giving the Best Biography award to Jason Emerson’s, Giant in the Shadows: The Life of Robert T. Lincoln (Southern Illinois University Press, 2012).  I never thought that I would find myself engrossed by the story of Lincoln’s only son to survive to adulthood, but this is a fascinating story.  It was Spielberg’s Lincoln that drove my curiosity.  While the movie offers somewhat of a corrective to Lincoln’s relationship with his wife it offers a very traditional picture of an estranged father-son relationship.

Emerson offers a very different interpretation of this relationship, one that includes a great deal of fatherly affection.  The author also makes a convincing case that Lincoln talked seriously with his son about issues related to the war during his visits home from Harvard.   In fact, it is likely that father and son were engaged in conversation before Lincoln headed off to Ford’s Theater.  You can’t help but sympathize with Robert Todd in the period immediately following his father’s death as he was forced to assume the role of father figure to Tad and caregiver to his aggrieved and increasingly unstable mother.  On top of this he decided not to return to Harvard and instead intern at a Chicago law firm.

I knew that Robert was present at the assassination of President James Garfield and that he was in Buffalo, NY when President McKinley was shot, but I did not know that he was saved on a train platform before his father’s assassination by non-other than Edwin Booth.

This is a big book, but I promise that you will be well rewarded.

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Thanks National Park Service

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The above image was posted on the Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania County Battlefields National Military Park’s Facebook Page.  The accompanying caption reads:

We ended at a point where no Union soldier 150 yrs ago today ever reached. What a poignant end to a marvelous, powerful day. Thanks to all who came out today and followed along on Facebook. We must not forget the sacrifices that took place on these days.

I just wanted to take a second to thank all the good folks in the NPS at Fredericksburg, who have just finished up what must have been an exhausting and exhilarating week marking the momentous events that took place there 150 years ago this week.  You won’t find a more talented and passionate group of public historians.  Now get some rest because you guys are on again in five months.

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Fredericksburg 150

Bonus Posts on Fredericksburg and the Richard Kirkland Story: Is it True?, Mac Wycoff Responds, Does it Matter?

Fredericksburg

Today is the 150th anniversary of the battle of Fredericksburg. Back in 2008 I delivered the keynote address for the National Park Service’s annual commemoration of the battle.  In it I reflected on the meaning of the battle and why I bring students to these sites.  I thought it might be worth running again given the date of its original publication and I hope it leaves you with something to think about on the anniversary of one Civil War battle.

Stepping onto the bus in the early morning hours with my students, bound for one of the areas Civil War battlefields, is still my favorite day of the year. For me, it is an opportunity to reconnect with a history that has given my life meaning in so many ways. It’s also a chance to introduce this history to my students, many of whom have never set foot on a Civil War battlefield. Visits to battlefields such as Fredericksburg provide a venue in which to discuss what is only an abstraction in the classroom and offer students and the rest of us a chance to acknowledge a story that is much larger and more remote compared to our individual lives and yet relevant in profound ways.

I suspect that my class visits to battlefields have much in common with what bring you to a place like Fredericksburg. We want to understand what happened here, why it happened, and what it means that it happened. We are compelled to do so. My students and I walk this hallowed ground and try our best to piece together what are often conflicting accounts of the ebb and flow of battle. At the same time we struggle to understand and honor the courage of the men who fought and “gave the last full measure of devotion.” Some of those stories are well known, such as the one depicted in this beautiful monument dedicated to Sergeant Richard Kirkland of the 2nd South Carolina Volunteers, who in the heat of battle chose compassion over violence and hatred or the combination of fear and steadfastness that animated Sergeant Thomas Plunkett of the 21st Massachusetts, who carried his regimental colors into battle only to receive a direct hit by a Confederate shell which cost him one arm and part of another – his blood forever staining the regiment’s flag.

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