New to the Civil War Memory Library, 11/29

Before moving to Boston last year I sold somewhere around 700 books.  If you live in the Charlottesville area you are likely to find most of them at Daedalus Used Books on 4th street downtown.  Now as I look around the shelves are beginning to fill up once again.

Jason Emerson, Giant in the Shadows: The Life of Robert T. Lincoln, (Southern Illinois University Press, 2012).

Josesph Glatthaar, Soldiering in the Army of Northern Virginia: A Statistical Portrait of the Troops Who Served under Robert E. Lee, (University of North Carolina Press, 2011).

Amy S. Greenberg, A Wicked War: Polk, Clay, Lincoln, and the 1846 U.S. Invasion of Mexico, (Knopf, 2012).

Clayton E. Jewett, ed. The Battlefield and Beyond: Essays on the American Civil War, (Louisiana State University Press, 2012).


The Complexity of Race

This weekend I head to upstate New York for a conference sponsored by John Brown Lives!  On Friday evening I will host a public screening of the movie Glory at the Palace Theater in Lake Placid for the general public and the following day will do a workshop on the movie for area history teachers.  [There are still slots available if you are in the area and interested.  You do not need to be a teacher to attend.]  I am putting together a little packet for each teacher that includes a selection of Col. Robert Gould Shaw’s letters that will hopefully help them to think beyond the movie.

This little passage to wife Annie caught my eye:

There is a blue-eyed, yellow haired, white-skinned, black preacher out here, who has great influence among the blacks.  He wants to go as chaplain, and I think I shall take him; he looks so much like a white man, that I don’t believe there would be much prejudice against it.  I think I should care very little for public opinion, if it did no harm to the regiment.  It would be out of the question to have any black, field or line, officers at present, because of public sentiment.  It ruined the efficiency of the Louisiana coloured regiments…. [March 17, 1863]

There is quite a bit to unpack in this brief passage.

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Correction to My New York Times Article

It’s always nice to hear from readers who take the time to share how much they enjoy your work.  Though it’s a bit more painful to read, I also appreciate readers who point out my interpretive shortcomings and downright factual errors.  That is just what happened in response to my essay about John Christopher Winsmith, which recently appeared in the NYT’s Disunion page.   Last week I received an email from a gentleman in Spartanburg, SC, where Winsmith was raised.  I should point out that this individual is currently researching Winsmith’s father and has uncovered a good amount of information.  Earlier this year I shared the first year of Christopher’s wartime correspondence.

In the article I point out that Christopher was commissioned as a lieutenant in Company G of the Fifth South Carolina Volunteer Infantry.  Later in the essay I noted that he was elected as captain of another unit in 1862.  It gives the impression that he was an officer throughout this period.  It turns out he was not.  I don’t mind admitting that I was just a bit startled when it was pointed out that Winsmith resigned from his position in the Volunteer Infantry in June 1861 in hopes of getting a commission in a regular Confederate unit.  That did not happen.  It means that for a significant period in 1861 and 1862 Winsmith served as a private.  He also kept his servant, Spencer, with him, which as many of you know is highly unusual.  I had forgotten about this and to say that I am just a little embarrassed would be an understatement.

A few days ago I finally located my Winsmith files where I was surprised to find that I had jotted down just that transition in rank back in 2010.  What it comes down to is that I had not refreshed myself sufficiently about Winsmith’s early wartime career when I went to write about a select number of letters concerning his relationship with Spencer for the NYTs piece.  There is nothing factually wrong in the article (Winsmith was most likely appointed to the rank of captain rather than elected.) but it is misleading.  My correspondent believes that the acknowledgement of Winsmith’s time as a private has and effect on how we interpret his relationship with Spencer.  I am not so sure about that, but I will continue to think about it.

My original goal with the letters was to see them published in the University of Tennessee Press’s “Voices of the Civil War” series.  It is an incredible collection of letters, but it’s been slow going.  All of the letters are transcribed, but still need to be edited.  The upside to all of this is that my correspondent and I are now talking about publishing the letters together.  Stay tuned.


Review of Lincoln at the Atlantic

Thanks to my editor, Jennie Rothenberg Gritz, for cobbling together an appropriate movie review from my last few posts for my column at the Atlantic.  She saved me a couple of hours of work that I don’t have this week.  For this historian and history educator, the amount of coverage that this movie has received is incredibly encouraging.  I’ve heard from folks from all over the country who have seen the movie and who have reported that audiences applauded at the end.  They applauded even in places like Alabama and Mississippi. :-)  Let’s face it, the release of this movie will be remembered as the most important event of the Civil War Sesquicentennial.  If you are interested in reading more reviews and commentary, I highly recommend Donald Shaffer and Louis Masur.


Review of the Museum of the Confederacy – Appomattox

What follows is a guest post by Thom Bassett, who recently took a trip to Virginia to explore Civil War battlefields and other sites.  He took the time to visit the new MOC museum at Appomattox and sent along this review.  Thom teaches at Bryant University in Providence, R.I. He has written numerous essays for the New York Times Disunion blog and is currently working on a novel about William Tecumseh Sherman.

It’s unfortunate that in the minds of many the Museum of the Confederacy’s newly opened branch at Appomattox is associated exclusively with the ginned-up controversy about display there of the Confederate battle flag. For one thing, the museum staff seem heartily sick of the issue and those who protested the museum’s design: As I carefully began to ask about it during my visit this weekend, one of them interrupted me to scoff, “What the hell else did they want? We put the damn state flags outside!”

For another, and more important, the MoC-Appomattox overall is a superb example of sophisticated, accessible, evocative, intellectually honest public narrative about the Civil War. While it’s in some respects still very much a work in progress, the museum nonetheless already meaningfully informs and engages the public about the war and its significance today.

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