Tomorrow is the 150th anniversary of Stonewall Jackson’s death. What follows is a short essay I originally intended for my column at the Atlantic. Unfortunately, my regular editor is out on maternity leave and there was no way to get it posted in time. No big deal. Here it is for your consideration.
The commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the battle of Chancellorsville (May 1-3, 1863) last week means but one thing: Next stop, Gettysburg! But before Civil War enthusiasts can shift their attention to what is still commonly referred to as the “High Water Mark” of the Confederacy there is one loose narrative thread from the Chancellorsville campaign that needs to be brought to a conclusion. Eight days following his accidental wounding at the hands of his own troops in the early evening hours of May 2 General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson died. News of his death sent the Confederacy into national mourning and for some it raised profound questions about its future and whether God had forsaken their cause. Jackson’s death left Robert E. Lee without one of his most talented and trusted subordinates. His final days in battle and on his deathbed have never really diminished in our popular memory of the war. [click to continue…]
Update: I’ve sold two copies of the book in the past hour. I guess there is no such thing as a negative review. 🙂
I have to say that I really thought my book’sAmazon page was going to be flooded with negative reviews from day one of publication. I even spent some time strategizing over how I might respond, but the negative reviews never appeared. Better late than never. Up until three days ago there was only one review posted. In the last few days one very positive review appeared and today I noticed the following review from “silver dollar”. [click to continue…]
There doesn’t seem to be any let up in the number and range of Civil War memory studies published or soon to be published this year. As someone who has contributed to this body of scholarship you might expect that this brings a smile to my face and you would be correct. That said, I do think we need to be wary of a tendency that is at the center of this particular genre.
Implicit in the act or performance of historical memory is the assumption that the event or individual in question ought to be remembered. Historians of Civil War memory don’t simply focus their readers on a dead past they dig down to show why something was forgotten and why it ought to be remembered and perhaps even celebrated. We cast a moral lens on the generation that supposedly ignored or intentionally dismissed some aspect of the past and we make a moral claim on our own generation as to its importance.
I am reminded of this having just finished a brand new book on the subject that I need to review for one of the Civil War magazines. It’s a solid book and one that I will recommend, but it did raise for me the question of whether historians can go too far in making claims on our own sense of justice regarding the contentious ground between forgetting and remembering. I was certainly guilty of this in my early research on William Mahone. Not everything needs to be remembered or given a prominent place in our collective memory.
More importantly, not everything that is forgotten is a moral injustice. That’s tough for a historian of Civil War memory to appreciate especially if we assume a role as something akin to a moral crusader who sets out to bring moral balance to the historical universe. A bit of hyperbole, perhaps, but I don’t mind admitting that I need to be much more attentive to this tendency in myself.
Thanks for taking the time to read yesterday’s post and for your comments. As I stated in my response this is a subject that I’ve written and lectured on extensively over the past five years. The popularity of the black Confederate narrative highlights both the extent to which history has become democratized and the increased use of the Internet as a research tool. Many people first learn about this subject through the print and/or online newspaper, which offers a non-critical and often flawed account of the complex history involved.
Today Cleveland.com [associated with the Cleveland Plain Dealer] is running a textbook example of how the myth of the Black Confederate soldier is spread. Start off with what appears to be an unusual story of two black individuals who play Confederate soldiers. Treat them as authorities in the relevant history and fail to do any preparation as a reporter that might allow you to ask a few penetrating questions about historical literacy and you’ve got yourself a nice little human interest story.
From the article:
Estimates of their number, varying from several hundred to more than 10,000, are debated among Civil War historians.
Jones, 51, of Youngstown, noted, “If we can honor the black Union soldiers who fought, we can honor the black Confederate soldiers who fought.”
Jones said that famed black abolitionist Frederick Douglass noted in 1861: “There are at present moment many Colored Men in the Confederate Army doing duty not only as cooks, servants and laborers, but real soldiers, having musket on their shoulders and bullets in their pockets, ready to shoot down any loyal [Union] troops.”
Jones utilizes the biographies of past black Confederate soldiers Holt Collier and John Wilson Buckner for first-person portrayals. Collier was in the Battle of Shiloh, then served in a Texas cavalry unit. Buckner served with a South Carolina artillery unit and was wounded in the battle for Fort Wagner in 1863.
Given these few passages we can safely assume that their research involved little more than a scan of websites.
I give you the new president of the National Rifle Association. Let’s just put aside for a second that from all appearances this guy is just bat shit crazy. [Sorry, but that really does seem appropriate given the level of paranoia expressed in this video.] Jim Porter doesn’t need a weapon. He needs a diagnosis.
What I find interesting is Porter’s level of comfort in expressing his preferred interpretation of the Civil War in New York state. I suspect that very few people in this audience had any issue with his reference to a War of Northern Aggression and the close connection drawn between why the Confederacy fought the war and the reasons why it is necessary to arm and train the American populace in the use of firearms. In other words, this is a perfect example of politics trumping the extent to which regional identification still shapes Civil War memory.
Today is the anniversary of one of the bloodiest days of fighting of the entire Civil War. Those of you who visit Chancellorsville today will enjoy an insightful tour and interpretation of the final day’s fighting at Chancellorsville that took place in the area around the clearing between Hazel Grove, Fairview, and the Chancellor House. The overwhelming majority of the roughly 30,000 casualties suffered that day between the two armies took place in this area on May 3, 1863. While Stonewall Jackson’s daring flanking maneuver and its successful assault, which resulted in the collapse of the Eleventh Corps, damaged the Army of the Potomac the day ended with the two wings of Lee’s army split off from one another and facing much larger enemy forces in their respective fronts. A Federal counterattack was still possible and Lee knew it. Throughout the morning of May 3, Lee’s army fought to reunite its two dangerously divided wings.
Interestingly, many visitors to Chancellorsville never walk the May 3 ground or if they do they fail to appreciate its significance. For many, a visit to Chancellorsville begins and ends at the visitors center, whose location reinforces a Jackson-centered narrative that highlights his flanking maneuver, assault, and accidental wounding on the very same ground. You can replay the series of events that led to Jackson’s wounding at the hands of his own men and imagine to your hearts content those counterfactual scenarios that keep the general alive at least through the first day’s fighting at Gettysburg. [click to continue…]
This story out of Hot Springs, South Dakota is truly bizarre and sad. Recently a couple of African Americans veterans, who were being treated for PTSD at a VA Hospital, complained about a display that included Confederate flags. Yeah, this is in South Dakota of all places. At the time the flags were removed and then later placed back in the display. Today the hospital decided to remove the flags once again.
To ensure the Hot Springs VA Medical Center is a place of healing for all Veterans, the Confederate flags will be removed from the Freedom Shrine display, located in the rotunda of the main building. This action is consistent with continued accomplishment of the medical center’s core mission, which is to provide quality health care services to Veterans. We thank everyone for their interest and concern for our Veterans and apologize to anyone offended by the display.
Again, why there are Confederate flags in a VA Hospital in South Dakota is anyone’s guess. First, shame on the VA staff for returning the flags once these men complained. As might be expected the Confederate heritage whackos are out in full force complaining about another heritage violation. These people have absolutely no class, patriotism, and they lack sympathy. These are men who served their country and are currently being treated for wounds sustained in the line of duty. If removing those flags from a display helps to ease their pain, than so be it. Is that really too much to ask given their service and sacrifice for this nation? [click to continue…]