Why We Need History Education: Black Confederate Edition

It should come as no surprise that Representative Benton is a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans.  This past weekend an SCV camp in South Carolina honored a slave for his “service” to the Confederacy.  Unfortunately, his personal history has no significance or meaning beyond the vague references that support the SCV’s narrow and self-serving slave narrative.  Henry Craig,

  • went to war with his master.
  • rescued his master on the battlefield and brought him home safely.
  • remained on the family’s property until the day he died.

Where have we heard this one before?

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William Mahone and the Readjusters to the Rescue

Illustration of a White Member of the Readjuster Party Cajoling a Black Man to Vote

Looks like the Virginia General Assembly has been busy with resolutions about the Civil War era.  Last week I shared Sen. Henry Marsh’s resolution that would set aside a day to honor Abraham Lincoln and today I bring to you another resolution sponsored by Marsh that would honor black Virginians, who served in state government during Reconstruction.  The Senate committee approved the resolution and incorporated it by voice vote into SJR 13 Virginia Constitutional Convention of 1867-1868, recognizing African American representatives. The committee substitute was ordered printed and the resolution will now advance to the floor of the Senate.  I assume that for many Virginians this resolution makes more sense than one meant to honor Lincoln.  I tend to agree, but this resolution distorts a crucial moment in the state’s history.

Our standard narrative of Reconstruction goes something like this:  After the war the southern states were forced to re-write their state constitutions to conform to the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments to the Constitution.  In many of these states these changes were imposed by occupying federal armies.  Between 1865 and 1877 African Americans enjoyed a brief window of civil rights and political privileges that would not be seen again until the civil rights era of the 1950s and 60s.  The Compromise of 1877 left the southern states once again in control of their own futures and quickly instated a series of Jim Crow laws that left their African American population disfranchised and reduced to second class citizens.   In short, the black population was abandoned by the federal government.  This narrative has become so deeply embedded in our collective memory (at least in our textbooks) that we tend to assume that the end of Reconstruction led inevitably to Jim Crow.

Click to continue

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Did Democracy Cause the American Civil War?

Description: A hundred and fifty years ago the first shots of the American Civil War were fired. It was a war that was to result in the deaths of perhaps three quarters of a million people. Yet the United States in 1861 was the world’s first modern democratic nation — a place in which virtually all white men could vote and in which mass political parties vied for votes in noisy and hotly contested elections. What was the relationship between the coming of the war and this kind of democratic politics? Contrary to the assumptions of International Relations specialists who have posited that democracies do not go to war with one another, was this a war made more likely, and, once it started, more bloody, by the principles and practice of popular sovereignty?

Talk was presented by Dr. Adam Smith of University College, London.

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Acquisitions, 02/02

A number of you have emailed me about the possibility of purchasing signed copies of Remembering the Battle of the Crater: War as Murder.  I just agreed to do a book signing at the Abraham Lincoln Book Shop in Chicago on July 28.  You should be able to secure a signed copy through their Virtual Book Signing program.  I am also hoping to coordinate with the Pritzker Military Library while I am in town.

Andrew Fleche, The Revolution of 1861: The American Civil War in the Age of Nationalist Conflict (University of North Carolina Press, 2012).

Brian Jordan, UNHOLY SABBATH: The Battle of South Mountain in History and Memory, September 14, 1862 (Savas-Beatie, 2012).

Wesley Moody, Demon of the Lost Cause: Sherman and Civil War History (University of Missouri Press, 2011).

Sydney Nathans, To Free a Family: The Journey of Mary Walker (Harvard University Press, 2012).

Carol Reardon, With a Sword in One Hand and Jomini in the Other: The Problem of Military Thought in the Civil War North (University of North Carolina Press, 2012).

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Why We Need History Education

Yesterday I spent the day in Virginia Beach working with a group of 4th and 5th grade teachers on how to teach the Civil War.  I was joined by Aaron Sheehan-Dean, who lectured during the morning session on the war through emancipation and I followed up with an overview of how to use Civil War monuments in the classroom.  The workshop was funded by the Teaching American History program, which as many of you know was recently cut by the federal government.  We spend so much time in this country focusing on bad teachers and other problems with public education that we completely ignore the incredible wealth of talent that we have in the classroom.  Here was a program that directly benefited thousands of history teachers throughout the country and it cost next to nothing.  We constantly complain about how little our kids know about American history, but when push comes to shove we do so little to combat it by supporting the very people who are working on the front lines in your neighborhood classrooms.

Well, this is what that gets you.

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