It is not hard to understand the flurry of support for colonization during the Civil War. Notwithstanding the opposition of radical abolitionists, colonization presupposed emancipation, and whenever talk of emancipation arose, so too did talk of colonization. The more difficult question to answer is why it came to so little. In the modern world, wars of unification, especially civil wars inflamed by ethnic nationalism, commonly lead to forced population transfers and sometimes genocide. The Civil War in the United States was certainly a war of national unification, and the Republicans exhibited more than their fare share of ethnic nationalism. Nor was the idea of forced expulsion unheard of in the United States. Most Republican policymakers were old enough to remember the brutal “removal” of the southeastern Indians during Andrew Jackson’s administration. And during the Civil War itself the Union army forcibly expelled some ten thousand whites from their homes in Missouri. The same army systematically uprooted tens of thousands of slaves from their plantations to relocate them in areas safe from the reach of their former masters. And yet not a single emancipated slave was involuntarily “removed” from the United States in the wake of emancipation. (p. 281)
Oakes goes on to suggest an explanation, but for now I am going to leave you with just the excerpt.
With the Future of Civil War History conference right around the corner it should come as no surprise that I’ve had Gettysburg on my mind. I am also looking forward to a return visit in June for the annual Civil War Institute, which will focus on the battle of Gettysburg. With the 150th anniversary just a few months away you would think that publishers would want to cash in on the general public’s interest in this specific battle. It goes without saying that no other Civil War battle looms larger in the nation’s collective memory.
In one way or another the papers acknowledge that we are well positioned to engage the general public about the experiences of black soldiers at various battle sites. The challenges are many, including those mentioned here such as how we respond to misinformation, the continued influence of the movie Glory, and the continued hold of the Lost Cause interpretation of the war. Edward Zwick’s Academy-Award winning movie about Col. Robert Gould Shaw and the 54th Mass. Vol. Infantry is coming up on its 25th anniversary, but I am unconvinced of its continued influence, especially among younger Americans. Hari Jones makes a compelling case re: the movie’s inaccuracies and the extent to which it distorts our understanding of the relevant history, but I tend to see these oversights as opportunities in our classrooms and in other educational settings. All Hollywood movies about history are fraught with interpretive problems. We need look no further than the movie Lincoln. In the case of black soldiers, however, these issues are exacerbated by decades of neglect at NPS sites as well as the intentional distortion of the historical record for racial and partisan purposes. [click to continue…]
For years, I imagined Private Cullen riding a magnificent stallion, attacking the Yanks with his saber, carbine and Colt. In my mind’s eye, he wore gauntlets, a gray felt hat with a jaunty plume, and black boots that reached to the knee. He was, in every sense of the word, a fearless Southern cavalier.
But this week, well, reality struck. I had contacted The Confederate War Department, an online service that researches military records. I had hoped to get all sorts of thrilling information; instead, I discovered that my ancestor first went AWOL, then he deserted in June 1863 — and was never heard from again.
Regardless, he probably could have told some amazing tales. The Fourth Regiment, Kentucky Mounted Infantry, organized at Bowling Green, Ky., in September 1861, had 213 men disabled at the Battle of Shiloh, and then it fought at Baton Rouge and Jackson. As part of the Army of Tennessee, it fought at Murfreesboro, Chickamauga, and the Atlanta Campaign. It lost 21 percent of the 275 men engaged at Chickamauga…
All things considered, I’m glad Private Cullen deserted. If he had been killed at Chickamauga, I wouldn’t be here today.
For those of you who harbor such fanciful thoughts about an ancestor that you know nothing about I highly recommend that you pick up a copy of Howard Bahr’s The Judas Field: A Novel of the Civil War. You have to admire Cullen’s honesty. Not everyone could have chatted with Robert E. Lee or charged fearlessly over the earthworks. And it’s reassuring to know that the Confederate War Department is still active.
Earlier this week I received my author copies of the latest issue of The Civil War Monitor, which contains my essay on Confederate camp servants. As I’ve said before, I am very excited about this particular piece. It encompasses some of what I am trying to address in the first chapter of my book on the same subject. [click to continue…]
I highly recommend taking the time to watch this video in its entirety. It follows a group of black seniors to Yellowstone National Park. Along the way there is a discussion of why black Americans have apparently lost touch with the history of our national parks, nature and the joys of reconnecting. It’s an incredibly touching film and in my mind Ranger Shelton Johnson is a superstar.
If you want a sense of how obsessed some Confederate heritage advocates are about the battle flag look no further. I came across this gem of a thread on the Confederate Flaggers Facebook page earlier today and it doesn’t disappoint. Billy Bearden is an active Flagger and on occasion will share a thought or two on this site. I like having him around. Once in a while he offers something worthy of reflection, but this clearly represents a walk off the deep end.
No one on this page seems to know why the Covington (Tenn.) chapter of the SCV chose to remove the battle flag from the cemetery in favor of a First National Flag and as far as I can tell no one has bothered to ask. I actually don’t have a problem with the display of battle flags in Confederate cemeteries. It seems to me that the people who are offended by the symbol are not likely to visit and if its presence helps those who wish to commemorate/remember these men than so be it. Perhaps the group removed it because the battle flag has proven to be too much of a distraction from the men they wish to honor. Perhaps the group understands that their ability to reach out to the broader community will be hampered by all the negative attention that particular flag will likely generate. Ultimately, what is more important, debating the divisive history of the flag or sharing the stories of the men the SCV are committed to honoring and a time when that project is under assault?