James Monroe Trotter, 55th Massachusetts
Yesterday I spent the day at the Massachusetts Historical Society examining materials related to the 55th Massachusetts as you suggested. I’m glad I did. As you noted in our conversation last week, no one has written a regimental history of the unit, which is surprising given the incredibly rich written record left by these men. It didn’t take long for me to begin to get a sense of the profile of these men and it certainly didn’t take long for me to grow attached to their story. I guess that is the question: What exactly is their story?
Well, whatever it is, their story is not a traditional narrative framed around bloody battles and popular campaigns. The 55th Mass. saw very little heavy fighting apart from the battle of Honey Hill outside of Charleston in 1864. At the center of their story is the pay crisis, which lasted for over a year. One of the things I want to explore is just how close the men came to mutinying over the pay crisis. Their published newspaper accounts and letters to public officials are very careful to distinguish between their disappointment over not being paid the promised monthly wage and the level of discontent in the unit. The relationship between enlisted men and white officers needs to be examined as well. The letters concerning unequal pay are quite eloquent in the way they frame the overall meaning of the war for these men. This story is as much a battle for civil rights within the United States as it is about a war to preserve the Union and end slavery.
Click to continue
Those of you interested in how the evolution of digital technology has transformed the writing and publication of history will want to check out Writing History in the Digital Age, which is an open-review collection of essays edited by Jack Dougherty and Kristen Nawrotzki. This is an interesting experiment. You have access to a fairly large number of essays and comments can be added to each paragraph. This open review process will continue until Nov. 14 when the editors will select those essays that will be included in the volume.
Click to continue
Click Image for Companion Website
My reading has been all over the place of late. The only book that I’ve completed in this list is Thomas’s new study of the railroad. I highly recommend this book and I encourage you to explore the companion digital history website that includes some wonderful primary sources and further analysis. Click the image.
Official National Park Service Handbook, The Civil War Remembered (Eastern National, 2011).
Tom Moore Craig ed., Upcountry South Carolina Goes to War: Letters of the Anderson, Brockman, and Moore Families, 1853-1865 (University of South Carolina Press, 2009).
Williamjames Hull Hoffer, The Caning of Charles Sumner: Honor, Idealism, and the Origins of the Civil War (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2010).
Richard Reid ed., Practicing Medicine in a Black Regiment: The Civil War Diary of Burt G. Wilder, 55th Massachusetts, (University of Massachusetts Press, 2010).
David S. Reynolds, Mightier than the Sword: Uncle Tom’s Cabin and the Battle for America (Norton, 2011).
Mark A. Snell, West Virginia and the Civil War: Mountaineers Are Always Free (History Press, 2011).
William G. Thomas, The Iron Way: Railroads, the Civil War, and the Making of Modern America (Yale University Press, 2011).
Click here for more books in my Civil War library.
Available from University Press of Kentucky, 06/12
Earlier this week I learned that my forthcoming book on the Crater is now available at Amazon. Get it while it’s almost hot!
The Battle of the Crater is known as one of the Civil War’s bloodiest struggles—a Union loss with combined casualties of 5,000, many of whom were members of the United States Colored Troops (USCT) under Union Brigadier General Edward Ferrero. The battle was a violent clash of forces as Confederate soldiers fought for the first time against African American soldiers. After the Union lost the battle, these black soldiers were captured and subject both to extensive abuse and the threat of being returned to slavery in the South. Yet, despite their heroism and sacrifice, these men are often overlooked in public memory of the war.
In Remembering The Battle of the Crater: War is Murder, Kevin M. Levin addresses the shared recollection of a battle that epitomizes the way Americans have chosen to remember, or in many cases forget, the presence of the USCT. The volume analyzes how the racial component of the war’s history was portrayed at various points during the 140 years following its conclusion, illuminating the social changes and challenges experienced by the nation as a whole. Remembering The Battle of the Crater gives the members of the USCT a newfound voice in history.
“Levin offers something new and valuable in this book. His approach of unpacking the complex telling and forgetting of the events surrounding one battle allows him a focus and specificity that even many very good treatments of historical memory often lack. Remembering the Battle of the Crater stands to make a real and lasting contribution to the field of Civil War memory studies.”–
Anne Marshall, author of Creating a Confederate Kentucky: The Lost Cause and Civil War Memory in a Border State
Impressed Slaves Working on Confederate Earthworks
At the beginning of Tuesday night’s History Detectives episode Wes Cowan offered the following assessment of his Antiques Road Show appraisal of the now famous tintype of Silas and Andrew Chandler:
Guys, I can’t tell you how exciting this is for me. After the Roadshow episode aired there were a lot of questions that were raised about the story. Viewers wrote in droves to question whether the African American in the picture was a slave or a free man and whether so-called black Confederates were a myth. It’s a story and a debate that I also find fascinating.
I was one of those viewers, but I chose to speak out on this blog. Of course, I had been writing about Silas and the broader mythology of black Confederate soldiers for some time, but this particular episode probably did more to push me over the edge than anything else. Here was a chance on national television to debunk many of the wild claims made about the role of African Americans in the Confederacy and essentially a family’s story was allowed to pass as history.
Click to continue