Assessing the Sesquicentennial

It’s probably too late to say anything substantial about the sesquicentennial at this stage, but two recent events suggest that Americans remain interested in the Civil War and continue to travel to various destinations in impressive numbers.  Fellow bloggers Robert Moore and Craig Swain both attended events commemorating the 150th of Antietam and were encouraged by what they saw.  This past weekend John Hennessy attended and spoke at an event built around the famous August 19, 1862 photograph of slaves crossing the Rappahannock River to freedom.  He estimates that anywhere between 300 and 350 people were in attendance.  Finally, it will come as no surprise that Gettysburg is bracing for a large turnout next summer.

We continue to enjoy a steady stream of Civil War books from both academic and popular publishers.  I also get the sense that public history programs related to the Civil War era have continued at a healthy pace.  All in all, I remain very optimistic.  What do you think?

Note: Later today I will be a guest on Civil War Talk Radio with Gerry Prokopowicz (3pm est).  No doubt we will talk a great deal about my Crater book.  I will post a link to interview once it is available on their website.

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Eugene Genovese, 1930 – 2012

Like many of you I was sad to hear of the passing of historian Eugene Genovese earlier today.  I was never formally introduced to the historiography of slavery in graduate school; rather, I relied on various friends and other contacts to point me in the direction of important studies as my interests both widened and deepened.  Genovese’s name continued to appear and it was just a matter of time before I read Roll, Jordan, Roll: The World the Slaves Made.  It took me a long time to read it and even longer to begin to understand it.  I find myself continually going back to it to review sections and even individual sentences.

More recently, I’ve been reading and contemplating his most recent book, Fatal Self-Deception: Slaveholding Paternalism in the Old South, which explores the intellectual world of slaveholders during the antebellum period and through the war.  The book briefly explores the slave enlistment debate and Genovese even offers a few thoughts specifically about camp servants, which is my current research topic.  The following sentence is one that I’ve been struggling with for weeks.  It beautifully captures the complexity of the slave – master relationship in the midst of war.

Body servants may have had as strong a desire for freedom as other slaves, but their fidelity to particular masters cannot be gainsaid. (p. 141)

Genovese forces us to acknowledge that freedom and fidelity were not mutually exclusive desires among this particular group of slaves.  Both the modern day Lost Cause apologists and those who would deny any feelings of loyalty harbored by slaves cling to a one-dimensional view.  The interesting question for me is how camp servant and master negotiated the dangers of camp life, march, and battle and how that resulted in a certain set of expectations between the two and a great deal of disappointment specifically for the slavemaster as the war progressed.

He will be missed.

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Alabama’s Civil War Memory

Selma, Alabama (1965)

I guess we should have seen this coming from a mile away.  In the wake of heated protests from their loyal fans Lynyrd Skynyrd has decided that they will fly the Confederate flag at their concerts.  And just in case you still question their commitment to the flag’s history and meaning rest assured:

Myself, the past members and the present members (that are from the South), are all extremely proud of our heritage and being from the South. We know what the Dixie flag represents and its heritage; the Civil War was fought over States rights.” — Gary Rossington

I guess a southern man does need him around…at least to buy those records.

In other news, the Selma City Council has voted to halt the construction of a monument to Nathan Bedford Forrest until it can be determined who owns the land on which it is to be placed.

And so it goes.

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Debating Emancipation on C-SPAN

Over the weekend C-SPAN televised a panel on emancipation that took place over the summer as part of the Civil War Institute.  Pete Carmichael was kind enough to invite me to take part on this particular panel, though I have to admit that I felt a bit out of place next to my colleagues.  The other panelists included Keith Harris, Anne Marshall, Glenn D. Brasher, and Craig Symonds.

My friends at the SHPG were so excited about my first C-SPAN appearance that one member decided to create a short clip of just me.  Apparently, my emphasis on the importance of acknowledging northern racism is news. I couldn’t ask for more loyal support and I thank them for it.

I do hope C-SPAN plans on televising the CWI panel on blogging, which also included Harris and Brooks Simpson.  Finally, I do want to pass along news of Louis Masur’s new book, which explores the hundred days between Lincoln’s preliminary and final emancipation proclamation.  I am about half-way through and enjoying it.

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RIP Marc Ferguson

Union Soldier in Forrest Hills Cemetery by Milmore

Over the years I’ve come to consider a small number of you as part of my online family.  I read your comments with great interest and I’ve learned a great deal as a result.  Our online communities are all too often shaped by the worst elements in our society such as ignorance, hatred, and  dishonesty.  I like to think that Civil War Memory is a place where you can exchange ideas and engage one another in a thoughtful way.

With that in mind I am sad to report that over the weekend Marc Ferguson passed away.  Marc was a frequent commenter here going back almost to the beginning. I could always count on Marc to leave a thoughtful and challenging comment in response to my posts.  During the research phase of my Crater project he emailed links to online collections and other resources he thought I should check out.  Marc was incredibly helpful when I moved to Boston.  He suggested places to visit and even offered helpful advice once I began to look for employment.

I knew Marc was sick, but we still talked about getting together.  Unfortunately, that did not happen.  I am going to miss having Marc around as I know many of you will as well.  My thoughts today are with his family.

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