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Commemorating the 54th Massachusetts in the Heart of the Rebellion

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This Thursday marks the 150th anniversary of the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry’s unsuccessful assault at Battery Wagner outside of Charleston. Though the amount of attention focused on this event pales in comparison with the recent commemoration of the battle of Gettysburg, the event constitutes the “high water-mark” of the black soldier experience in the Civil War and in our popular memory. This is due in large part to the success and continued popularity of the movie, “Glory”. On the one hand, the movie obscures the rich history of those black men who fought for the United States during the war beyond the 54th, but it also opens a door that will hopefully be exploited by those involved in this commemoration over the course of the week. Continue reading “Commemorating the 54th Massachusetts in the Heart of the Rebellion”

“It Is An Invasion To End a Rebellion”

For many visitors to Civil War battlefields overseen by the National Park Service the orientation movie provides a much needed overview of the relevant history and a clear statement as to why it is important. Unfortunately, many of these movies are out of date, though in recent years individual parks have worked hard to bring their stories in line with more recent scholarship. Shiloh National Military Park is one such example. The first words spoken in their new movie remind visitors that United States soldiers were engaged in nothing less than the suppression of a rebellion.

I’ve never been to Shiloh. In fact, I’ve not visited any of the battlefields outside of the Eastern Theater apart from the Mobile area. In a few weeks I will be co-leading a group of history teachers from Nashville to Washington, D.C. as part of what I assume is one of the last Teaching American History sponsored programs. I will be leading a few tours in the Virginia – D.C. area, but the 10-day trip will finally bring me to places like Franklin, Fort Negley, Stones River, and Chickamauga. I can’t wait.

Is This Group Ready to Reenact Olustee?

Jimmy Price notes that reenactments of engagements in which black soldiers participated have already taken place, though on a smaller scale. Even in these cases, however, it is not at all clear as to how the racial element was choreographed/interpreted. He also questions whether the general public would only “stomach” reenactments in which African Americans proved victorious. I don’t know.

A number of you have questioned whether a sufficient number of Confederate reenactors could be organized to reenact battles in which blacks took part. Does this video of the 2012 re-dedication of the Florida Division, UDC’s monument on the Olustee battlefield help?

One of the problems that I can’t seem to get around is the clear limitations that a reenactment offers in these specific cases. It’s one thing to be able to simulate some of the violent acts involved, but it seems to me that the crucial component is the understanding of why it happened and how it fits into a broader interpretation of the war as a whole. Perhaps I am going to get into trouble for saying this, but I just don’t trust reenactors to be able to do this. Of course, there are exceptions, but I’ve seen way too many examples of reenactors – both blue and gray – who have skirted the tough questions of race when raised. Perhaps there is a natural tendency to do so in such a setting. Then there is the question of how they should discuss these issues. Perhaps a select few could do a competent job of explaining these issues in character, but whatever benefits are gained from such a presentation its limitations are pretty clear.

I guess what I am saying is that most people need significant interpretive scaffolding before being exposed to such a reenactment and the wide range of emotions that would no doubt surface.

About a Guy Who Wears a Confederate Flag Mask…

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…and just happens to work for a United States Senator.

I guess I could comment on this story about some kook (Jack Hunter) who called himself the “Southern Avenger” and is currently working as the social media director for Senator Rand Paul, but that would be highly opportunist…right? Oh, and that Confederate flag mask is just completely over the top. Check out this lovely editorial with the title, “John Wilkes Booth Was Right” from 2004:

This Wednesday, April 14th, is the 139th anniversary of the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. Although Lincoln’s assassin, John Wilkes Booth’s heart was in the right place, the Southern Avenger does regret that Lincoln’s murder automatically turned him into a martyr.

If you are a patriotic American who believes in the ideals of Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry and George Washington – then you cannot at the same time honor Abraham Lincoln. That’s like praising Jesus and worshipping Satan simultaneously. In fact, the Founding Fathers most likely would have snatched Lincoln up by his beard and hung him from the nearest tree.

And this is some of the more moderate things he has said over the past few years. It’s just way too easy, so I am not going to say anything at all.

Reenacting the Moore’s Ford Bridge Lynching

Pat Young asked in response to a previous post on whether the battle of the Crater ought to be reenacted whether lynchings should be reenacted.  Well, thanks to Bjorn Skaptason, it turns out at least one has been reenacted as an annual event for the past seven years. The event marks the 1946 lynching of two African American married couples near the Moore’s Ford Bridge over the Apalachee River in Georgia. One of the victims was seven months pregnant. [Additional photos can be found here.]

The video is difficult to watch, but it does address some issues related to questions that have already been raised about the challenges of reenacting any violent event with racial overtones such as the Crater.