A Train Wreck in the Making

Earlier this week I introduced you to Byron Thomas, who is considering joining the Sons of Confederate Veterans.  It looks like the research that will be necessary to establish his connection with a Confederate soldier will have to wait as Byron needs to write an essay on Robert E. Lee.  Now being enrolled at a state university in South Carolina one would assume that Byron would ask a librarian and/or the history department for references.  Instead, Byron is asking the good folks at the SHPG for their recommendations.  This is a train wreck in the making and wrong on so many levels.

We’ve seen this group in action when it comes to doing history.  If this is for a history class, Byron is going to be eaten alive by his professor.

Here is a wonderful example of what happens when we fail to train students on how to utilize the Internet.  We all know it can be a powerful tool when used correctly, but the vast majority of students have little training on how to search for information and evaluate individual websites.  We also need to train our students on how to do historical research.  It needs to begin in middle school, if not before, and continue right through college.  If Byron’s professors are simply assigning history essays without any training than they deserve to have to read what is likely to be produced as a result of what we see here.

And what we see here is basically the equivalent of approaching strangers on the street and asking them for reliable sources.  How sad.

[Byron, if you are reading, start with these references from the Virginia Historical Society.  Your library is likely to have most of these titles.  Talk to your librarian and not the SHPG.  Good luck.]

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Smithsonian’s “The Civil War and American Art” Exhibition

A new exhibition on Civil War era paintings opens today at the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C.

“The Civil War and American Art” examines how America’s artists represented the impact of the Civil War and its aftermath. The exhibition follows the conflict from palpable unease on the eve of war, to heady optimism that it would be over with a single battle, to a growing realization that this conflict would not end quickly and a deepening awareness of issues surrounding emancipation and the need for reconciliation. Genre and landscape painting captured the transformative impact of the war, not traditional history painting.

The first video is an overview, but the embed used here includes six more videos on individual paintings that follow automatically.  Enjoy.

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Richmond is for Lincoln

I am hoping to catch Spielberg’s Lincoln movie this weekend.  My plan is to write a review, but please don’t expect a narrowly-focused critique of how well the film reflects current Lincoln/Civil War historiography.  Such an approach almost always fails to capture the intention of why people make movies and why we go to see them.  As a historian and teacher, what I look forward to seeing is theatergoers and students who are sufficiently moved to learn more by picking up a book or traveling to the historic sites themselves.

The state’s department of tourism has already created a website that allows visitors to follow Lincoln’s movie and historical footsteps through Richmond and Petersburg.  They are assuming that the movie buzz will bring people to Richmond.  I assume the NPS will be offering guided tours and other materials to help tourists navigate their way through these two cities and we can assume that other historical institutions in the area will also benefit from increased traffic.

The tour offers a blend of Hollywood and history, with Richmond standing in for Washington, D.C., and historic Petersburg portraying itself. Lincoln spent a good deal of the final days of the Civil War in both cities. As emancipated people cheered, he famously walked the streets of the smoldering former capital of the Confederacy in April 1865 as it fell to Union forces. Lincoln also spent about two weeks in Petersburg, home to the longest military siege on American soil. Its architecture still bears the scars of the war, including cannonballs embedded in brick facades.

I just love the idea of visitors walking Richmond’s streets with Lincoln on their mind just as thousands did when he visited the city in April 1865.  It’s, after all,  American history, folks.

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Should Byron Thomas Join the Sons of Confederate Veterans?

Byron Thomas made a name for himself not too long ago by hanging a Confederate flag in his dorm window at the University of South Carolina – Beaufort.  Since then he has utilized YouTube to promote his own vision of a post-racial society.  Some of it is worth watching and some of it is not.  Today Byron discusses the discovery of an ancestor, who he believes fought as a soldier in the Confederate army.

I really want to join the Sons of Confederate Veterans because Benjamin Thomas a Black Confederate just might be my ancestor and I want to honor him. Benjamin Thomas got a state pension from the state of South Carolina, so he definitely isn’t no make believe character. I really want to join, because I’ve been to some SCV meetings and I love what they stand for. They DON”T SUPPORT/STAND FOR any form of racism. They are no where near a racist group.I just want to honor my past ancestor that fought for the south, that’s all. America I want to join, but I’m not sure my family will like it, so can yall help me out!!! Kill People with Kindness and May God Bless America.

You get the sense that Byron hasn’t done much research at all on his ancestor.  The direct answer to his question is obviously, yes, he should honor his ancestor.  The only question that remains – assuming the relation is substantiated – is whether Benjamin Thomas will be honored for who and what he was during the Civil War.

[click to continue…]

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Military Executions in Stonewall Jackson’s Command

I thought we had run through all the talks and panels from the 2012 Civil War Institute, but it looks like I overlooked Peter Carmichael’s excellent talk on military executions in Stonewall Jackson’s command.  This talk is based on an essay that Pete published some time ago in the Virginia Magazine of History and Biography some time ago.  It is well worth your time.

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