Vindicating Col. Robert Gould Shaw and the 54th


With the 150th anniversary of the burning of Darien, GA approaching one local historian hopes to vindicate Col. Robert Gould Shaw of any responsibility.  We all know the scene in Glory when Shaw orders his men to torch the town only after the threat of court-martial by Col. James Montgomery of the 2nd South Carolina Volunteers.  Montgomery and General Hunter play the perfect villains in the movie, which ultimately leads to a transfer for the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry from hard labor to combat and glory at the base of Battery Wagner in July 1863.  It’s hard to know what McIntosh County historian Buddy Sullivan has planned for the commemoration beyond reminding his community that the raid did not take place during Sherman’s March of 1864 and that Shaw was indeed following orders.

Most of us know about this little incident from Glory and the movie gets a lot right.  Yes, Shaw disapproved of Montgomery’s order to join his unit and burn Darien.  According to historian Russell Duncan, “Shaw believed the action unjustified and disgraceful, and said he could have assented to it only if they had met Rebel resistance.” (pp. 43-44)  Shaw was concerned about the negative publicity that eventually was reported in northern and southern newspapers.  While it is true that Shaw was forced to follow orders it’s not clear whether noting that Col. Montgomery was also carrying out direct orders from General David Hunter will make it into Sullivan’s upcoming presentation.  Better to have a foil with which to vindicate Shaw.   [click to continue…]

Another Gettysburg Book? What Will the Buffs Say?

GettysburgMy copy of Allen Guelzo’s new book, Gettysburg: The Last Invasion will arrive later this afternoon.  I will likely dive right in.  I’ve read all of Guelzo’s books and have learned a great deal.  Yesterday the Civil War Monitor published a review of the book by Will Greene. At first I stayed away not wanting my reading to be influenced, but in the end my curiosity got the best of me.  Greene highly recommends the book, which is a very good sign.

In his review, Greene cites a reference by Guelzo to the likely reception of his book among his fellow academics.

Guelzo, the Henry C. Luce Professor of the Civil War Era at Gettysburg College, belongs to that class of academic historians who, Guelzo accurately notes, consider studies that deal with battles as possessing “a reputation close to pornography” (xvi). His Acknowledgments serve primarily as fair warning to his scholarly colleagues that they are unlikely to approve of this book because it dares to commit almost purely military history.

I think such a concern is misplaced unless Guelzo is referring to the academic world beyond his colleagues in Civil War/Southern studies. My guess is that many, if not most, of his academic colleagues are going to devour this book even if they don’t admit so in polite company.  And those who don’t will certainly not hold it against him.  [click to continue…]

Disunion Now Available in Stores

DisunionThe book of essays pulled from the New York Times’s Disunion column has been out for a couple of weeks now.  It’s a pretty hefty volume that includes over 100 essays on the period between 1861 and the beginning of 1863.  My only complaint is that the table of contents does not list individual essays, which makes it difficult to locate specific topics.  Included is my recent piece on the relationship between John Winsmith and his camp servant Spencer.  I was also asked to contribute an essay specifically for the book on how it might be used in the classroom.  That essay will be included in the e-book version, which is being marketed specifically to history teachers.  You can read the essay for yourself below, but it goes without saying that I highly recommend it, especially if you teach American history and/or the Civil War.

If your high school history class was anything like mine, your instructor relied almost entirely on an unwieldy textbook, with an even more unwieldy narrative – written as if intended to alienate as many students as possible from the serious study of the past. Historical understanding involved little more than the memorization of facts, employed in an essay that closely reflected the textbook and your instructor’s lecture.

Step into a history classroom today, and much of what you see and hear will surprise you. Instructors have access to a wealth of primary and secondary sources, along with new digital tools, all of which have fundamentally changed what it means to study history.  [click to continue…]

Thomas Fleming Plays Civil War Historian

What happens when you bring a radio talk show host, who hasn’t thought about the Civil War since High School and a historian, who has been studying it for five years?  What is truly miraculous is that in the process Thomas Fleming was able to produce “A New Understanding of Why We Fought the Civil War.”  I lost count of the numerous factual mistakes and exaggerations made by Fleming.  Truly horrific, but given Fleming’s popularity I have no doubt that the book will fly off the shelves.  This new understanding basically comes down to the observation that the North and South really didn’t like one another.

Don Troiani’s Black Confederate Soldier

Don Troiani, black ConfederateI do enjoy perusing the Confederate Heritage Facebook pages.  The topic of black Confederates is a favorite among these folks. Many of the images and other references are new to me, but more importantly their handling of this “evidence” serves as a reminder of just how incapable some people are in applying even the most rudimentary skills of interpretation.  Instead, as can be seen in the comments section, these postings do little more than offer reassurance to the true believers and reinforce a strict us v. them mentality.

I am surprised that I have not come across this particular image by Civil War artist Don Troiani.  Most of you know that over the years I’ve owned a number of his prints, including a giclee edition of “Mahone’s Charge” which I used as the cover art for my book.  A few months ago I learned that Troiani painted a USCT.  This particular image is included in Don Troiani’s Regiments & Uniforms of the Civil War on p. 208.  It depicts what Troiani calls a “Black Trooper” in the 4th Tennessee Cavalry at Chickamauga in September 1863. [click to continue…]

An Important Work of Civil War Memory

JanneyCaroline Janney’s new book, Remembering the Civil War: Reunion and the Limits of Reconciliation (University of North Carolina Press, 2013) arrived this past Saturday.  You should be able to pick it up in a few weeks.  I usually wait until I have four or five new books before listing them, but given the focus of this book I wanted to single it out.  This title is the latest release in the Littlefield History of the Civil War Era, which is edited by Gary Gallagher and T. Michael Parrish.  I’ve been looking forward to it for a couple of years now.  The few times I was able to talk shop with Carrie definitely helped as I was researching my own book as did a number of her journal articles published along the way.

It should come as no surprise that I’ve pushed practically everything aside to make room for this one.  Remembering the Civil War promises to be the most comprehensive treatment of Civil War memory since the publication of Blight’s Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory back in 2002.

[click to continue…]

In the Name of Confederate Heritage

Update: Susan Hathaway finally responds to this incident.


My students Interpreting the Jefferson Davis Monument in Richmond

Barring any major development I think it’s time to move beyond this story involving the Virginia Flaggers and their unsubstantiated account of monument vandalism. Some of you are no doubt pleased to hear this. On the face of it this story has about as much value as a soap opera and accomplishes little more than attracting a large number of visitors to the blog. There is certainly a place for such entertainment.

That said, it does reflect a certain narrative thread of recent Civil War memory. Regardless of its origin, both the content of this story and Susan Hathaway’s embrace of it is evidence of this relatively small community’s collective belief that their heritage and beliefs are under assault. What better way of rallying the troops than a story involving one of their own or someone closely identified with the Flaggers defending one of the most important and even sacred sites on Richmond’s Monument Avenue. I don’t anticipate any public explanation on the part of Hathaway and/or Rob Walker Jr. That their community has remained quiet is telling enough. There will be no public demands for an explanation from this community. To do so would be a sign of weakness in the face of this ubiquitous enemy.

Move on people. There is nothing more to see here.

It won’t be long before the colors are raised and calls to “Restore the Honor” are heard on the Boulevard in front of the VMFA.