William Mahone Spends Night With “Deformed People”

In a letter written in 1890, William Mahone recalled spending the night before the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia at Appomattox Court House with an unusual family.

We marched all next day and went into camp in the evening not far from Appomattox Co. Ho. in the most God forsaken neighborhood or can well conceive. My Headquarters were
in a miserable log hut occupied by a family of deformed people – that made one shudder to behold, and whose deformity and condition forcibly suggested that we were near the end. My waggons rich with supplies for a campaign had been captured. It contained nearly a full house of all that one needs [for] sustenance and comfort and my [ ] had been captured and we had no [ ]. The bed in this miserable cabin on which I remember to have spread my oil cloth and blanket was only about four feet long.

Would love to know more about this particular family.

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Are Blog Comments Ruining Your Neighborhood?

blogThe staff at Popular Science thinks so, which is why it was announced yesterday that they are turning off the comments option on their blog site. As a blogger who is approaching his 8th anniversary I can certainly appreciate their concerns, but I don’t believe that discontinuing allowing comments is the solution.

The magazine’s online content director builds her case by referring to a recent study, which showed that a “fractious minority wields enough power to skew a reader’s perception of a story.” Even we accept the study’s findings, this at most suggests that the site’s moderating policies need to be tightened. It’s not all or nothing. In fact, a quick perusal through older PS posts suggests that very little was done to moderate and in the few posts I surveyed I saw not one staff comment. [click to continue…]

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Silas Chandler Redux

Silas Chandler

Descendants of Silas Chandler Reading About Their Famous Ancestor

You didn’t really think that I would allow the publication of a column on Silas Chandler in The New York Times to pass without comment, did ya? Thanks to Ronald Coddington for bringing the story of Silas (r) and Andrew (l) to the Disunion blog. [Ron and I shared a stage last year at the Virginia Festival of the Book to discuss our research.] As many of you know it is the story of Silas and Andrew that launched me down the road of taking the myth of the black Confederate soldier seriously. My relationship with Myra Chandler Sampson and our subsequent essay published in Civil War Times about her famous ancestor reinforced for me on so many levels why it is important that we correct these stories of loyal and obedient slaves that continue serve the interests of a select few. [click to continue…]

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Let’s Talk About the Confederate Flag

Screen Shot 2013-09-24 at 6.55.44 PMThe Virginia Center for Inclusive Communities has a made available what it calls a discussion guide for those who are looking to host a conversation about the Confederate flag that is slated to be raised on private land off of I-95 this weekend. I am not sure who is going to take advantage of this, but I appreciate their sincere interest in encouraging meaningful dialog within the Richmond community and beyond. The guide includes a short article by historian John Coski outlining the history of the Confederate flag followed by a list of guidelines on running a discussion and suggested questions.

This project takes its place alongside the ongoing series of discussions organized by the University of Richmond’s “The Future of Richmond’s Past.”  This should serve as a reminder that there is a place in Richmond where one can meaningfully come to terms with the region’s rich history and heritage without alienating one another.

You can find and download the document here.

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The Civil War Is Our History

clioMany of you know that I have a personal connection to 9-11. I lost a cousin on that horrific day. It should come as no surprise that I care very deeply about how my cousin and the history are remembered by the nation as a whole and, more specifically, by the 9-11 Memorial Museum.

Though my interest is very personal, in no way do I believe that I occupy a privileged position when it comes to discussing/debating how 9-11 ought to be remembered. Every American has something at stake regarding this question. It is our history. I wouldn’t even know where to begin to argue that I enjoy anything close to a monopoly on this question of remembrance and commemoration.

With that in mind I have to wonder what kind of distorted and arrogant view of the past would warrant someone to suggest that an ancestral connection to a Civil War soldier is necessary to engage in questions of commemoration and memory. Somebody is going to have to explain to me what that argument looks like. What exactly is the source of this privileged access?

My memories of 9-11 are still fresh. I experienced that day and its aftermath in a way that very few people will ever understand and I will carry that personal connection with me for the rest of my life.

What do you carry 150 years later that trumps such a connection and that places you in a position that you feel comfortable dismissing the myriad ways in which the past matters to each of us? The Civil War is everyone’s history and heritage.

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