You Are Not a Real Historian

CivilWarDiary

Today we have a guest post from my good friend, Garry Adelman. This is a topic that comes up practically every time we run into one another and one that Garry promised to write up as a guest post. Later this week I will spend some time with Garry on the Gettysburg battlefield, where I will show him the location of the “Harvest of Death” photograph. He is going to be very surprised.

For the second time, I find myself on my friend Kevin Levin’s blog but this time to deliver some bad news to his historian readers: You are not a real historian. Do you want to know why? Because you don’t keep a diary or a journal.

This is your duty.  Create that thing that historians crave—real, firsthand accounts.  What if people in antebellum or Civil War America decided that newspaper accounts and other forms of public media were a sufficient representation of the past? Where would we be then? [click to continue…]

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Crater Book Reviewed in North Carolina Historical Review

crater, North Carolina Historical ReviewI am certainly enjoying this run of positive journal reviews of my Crater book. Don’t worry, I plan on sharing the negative reviews as well. The latest is an enthusiastic review from Fitzhugh Brundage in the North Carolina Historical Review (January 2013) and it feels pretty damn good. One of my favorite recent studies of historical memory is Brundage’s The Southern Past: A Clash of Race and Memory. I also highly recommend his book on the history of lynchings in the New South. I couldn’t be more pleased that once again Brundage picked out the section on Mahone as the important contribution to the literature. He also makes some interesting suggestions on places worthy of further investigation such as the extent to which the wartime response to the Crater on both sides was already a product of previous encounters. That is definitely worth some thought. Thanks to Christopher Graham for providing me with a copy of this review.

I still have plenty of signed copies available for sale that you can purchase at a discount for $25. As someone who grew up on the Jersey Shore I am certain it will make for some enjoyable beach reading.

Some battles are inordinately interesting, whether because of their drama or their impact. In the case of the Battle of the Crater, fought on July 30,1864, on the outskirts of Petersburg, Virginia, almost everything about it was extraordinary. It began with a massive explosion of a mine dug under Confederate trenches, included desperate hand-to-hand combat between black Union soldiers and enraged Confederates, and ended with the summary execution of many unarmed Union soldiers. The battle simultaneously hinted at the character of future trench warfare and demonstrated the continuing grip on archaic Napoleonic tactics. Thus, although the battle was neither especially bloody nor a turning point in the war, contemporaries and subsequent observers have assigned to it uncommon import. [click to continue…]

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Touring Gettysburg With Carol Reardon and Tom Vossler

I am hoping to have a bit of time to take Carol Reardon’s and Tom Vossler’s new Gettysburg guide out for a test run next week at the CWI. The book is right up my alley given its emphasis both on what happened during the time of the battle as well as the many postwar battles over memory. Here is a taste of that approach in a series of videos that Reardon and Vossler recently did for CSPAN. First up is the North Carolina monument.

123rd New York Infantry & Culp’s Hill

24th Michigan (Iron Brigade)

Finally, here is David Thompson’s (Civil War Monitor magazine) interview with Allen Guelzo about his new Gettysburg book. This is a book that I recently finished and highly recommend. David was kind enough to give me the opportunity to ask a couple questions of Prof. Guelzo. I suggested he ask whether beliefs in American Exceptionalism have hampered our understanding of the battle and the war as a whole and whether it is fair to measure every new Gettysburg book with Coddington’s classic work.

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Georgia Historical Society Interprets Cleburne’s Plan

Thanks to Eric Jacobson of the Battle of Franklin Trust for sending along this image of the GHS’s new marker interpreting Patrick Cleburne’s plan to arm slaves for the Confederate army. This should give you some things to think about as you compare this marker with that of the Georgia Historical Commission’s which I posted earlier today. I shared a short video of the marker’s dedication back in 2011. Given my criticisms re: the GHC’s text you can probably surmise which one I prefer. How about you? What goes into an effective historical marker?

cleburne marker, black confederates

Eric also pointed out in a comment re: the marker to Clark Lee (previous post) that the text is verbatim to what is on the Find-a-Grave website. It would be interesting to know which came first. No doubt there is a perfectly reasonable explanation for this. 🙂

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The Georgia Civil War Commission’s Black Confederates

Update: Once again, thanks to Andy Hall for doing the leg work of looking into the documentation behind the claim that Clark Lee was a Confederate soldier. No surprise by what he did not find to support such a claim nor that what is available points to a very different picture of Lee’s presence in the the army.

I have no doubt that the Georgia Civil War Commission has done some excellent work in the area of battlefield preservation, but this is the kind of website that troubles me as both a historian and especially as a teacher. Check out the following two panels that the commission has unveiled in recent years.  The list of members does not include anyone prominent in the field of Civil War history and given what I have to share with you I am not surprised one bit to find Charles Kelley Barrow’s name on this list. Barrow is a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans and has been a vocal advocate of the black Confederate narrative over the years.

The first panel tells the story of Confederate General Patrick Cleburne’s plan to enlist slaves into the army.

Cleburne black Confederate

It is clear that not much thought went into this text. No mention is made that not only was Cleburne’s plan immediately rejected by President Davis and others, he was ordered not to discuss it further. Also conveniently left out is any sense of just how controversial this plan was throughout the Confederacy as it was debated in the army, on the home front and in Richmond at the very end of the war as a means to stave off defeat. [click to continue…]

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“Heritage, Not Hate”? Ask Medgar Evers

byron-de-la-beckwith-confederate-flag-2011-11-2-16-52-33On this day in 1963 Medgar Evers was assassinated. His murderer, Byron De La Beckwith, is shown here in front of his Mississippi home in 1990. Click here for some incredible photographs of Medgar Evers on the civil rights trail and following his death.

As for this photograph, it should give you some idea as to why reasonable Americans (both black and white) have little patience for the public display of the Confederate flag. Petty chants and bumper stickers announcing “Heritage, Not Hate” do nothing to erase the history of this banner.

Just ask Medgar Evers.

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