On January 5, 2013, director Steven Spielberg, historian Doris Kearns Goodwin, and screenwriter Tony Kushner returned to Richmond, Virginia, where “Lincoln” was filmed, to discuss the process of “Bringing History to Life on Film” before an audience of 4,200. Moderated by Tim Reid.
Time for a little crowdsourcing in preparation for a simulation on Lincoln and Fort Sumter that my students will perform a week from this coming Tuesday. The overall idea is to have my students play the role of cabinet advisers and I, of course, will play Lincoln. Since I only have nine students we should be able to have a pretty lively discussion/debate. Yes, I am going to show up dressed like Lincoln and don’t worry as I will come prepared with plenty of responses that begin with, “That reminds me of a story…” Their responsibility is to advise me on what to do about the situation at Fort Sumter in the period following Lincoln’s inauguration. Should it be resupplied or abandoned?
I want to use the opportunity to have students consider the question from multiple perspectives and in light of recent events leading to Lincoln’s inauguration. Based on the available evidence they will also have to argue as to the likely consequences of Lincoln’s decision for the nation. Among other things, I want them to think about the differences between the Lower and Upper South, material differences between North and South, political differences in the North, Union, Southern Unionism, and disagreements in Lincoln’s cabinet. Their packet will include both primary and secondary sources. I’ve already put together a few things that I’ve used for various purposes in the past.
Secondary Sources (short excerpts)
- Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals
- James McPherson’s Battle Cry of Freedom
- David Potter’s The Impending Crisis
- Maury Klein’s Days of Defiance
Primary Sources (short excerpts)
- Lincoln and Davis Inaugurals
- Lincoln on Southern Unionism
- Crittenden Compromise
- Speeches from Virginia’s Conditional Unionists
- Positions of Lincoln’s Cabinet members
- Horace Greeley Editorial
- Advice from Winfield Scott
- Correspondence with Major Robert Anderson
- Newspaper Editorials
- Letters and Diaries (George Templeton Strong)
This is just a start, but I would really appreciate any suggestions you might have. Please be as specific as possible and include sources. I am especially interested in online sources because they are easily accessible.
You may remember that a few weeks ago Virginia Flagger Tripp Lewis was arrested on the grounds of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts following a conflict with museum security. This recent incident reflects a pattern of behavior in this group. It’s a desperate plea for attention and a clear indication that very few people are listening or care enough to advocate in one way or another for the group. I’ve said from the beginning that I respect their right to protest, but at this point I see no clear road leading to success. In fact, the tactics of Mr. Lewis and others have only worked to marginalize the Flaggers.
The following video was filmed before Christmas on the grounds of Richmond’s Oakwood Cemetery. It is an important cemetery for those who care about the proper treatment of Confederate graves. In the video Lewis raises a Confederate flag on cemetery grounds to replace those which have mysteriously disappeared. From there he takes us inside a small office that oversees the grounds.
Lewis is clearly looking for a fight. Unfortunately for him, no one in the office has the least bit of interest in what he insists is a case of vandalism and disrespect. At the tail end of the video Lewis is encouraged to end his little stunt and leave. Even worse, I have no doubt that they did not ask the female employee for her permission to post the video. Knowing that this video was filmed before Christmas helps to place the VMFA incident in proper perspective. Given that his mild-mannered approach did not work, Lewis decided to step it up a notch in front of the museum. Again, no one cared about his crusade, but in this case he confronted the wrong people.
One of the things that I find particularly interesting about Winsmith’s letters home is the attention he gives to reporting on the conduct and overall well being of his men. This is not surprising given his rank of captain and command of a unit raised in and around Spartanburg, South Carolina. Winsmith clearly assumed responsibility for his men and understood that family and friends on the home front would be interested in their progress. You find references to the men under his command who were wounded or killed in battle along with instructions on how to forward back pay to next of kin in the case of the latter. Other times Winsmith asks family members to check in on families with loved ones in his unit.
While Winsmith highlighted the bravery and sacrifice of his men, more often than not, the references to his men are in connection to their desertion from the army. From the beginning of the war Winsmith struggled to maintain the integrity of his company. He had little patience with deserters or conduct that fell short of the discipline and sacrifice that was necessary to achieve independence. At times the list of names is long and in some cases the names re-appear over the course of the war.
It should have been obvious to me from the beginning as to why Winsmith went out of his way to list these individual names in letters to his father, mother, and sister. No doubt, Winsmith hoped that these names would be passed through the community and ultimately tip local authorities and/or shame the individual and family. Following Jefferson Davis’s amnesty proclamation to deserters Winsmith had this to say.
Well, everything is yet going on quietly with us. My deserters are doing very well, and I hope their conduct may have impressed a salutary lesson upon them. Bill Taylor says he will do the thing that is right now. I expect they will all be thankful to the President that he has offered them pardon. I see that deserters at home, except Harrison have repented of their conduct, and will come back with Lt. Bearden. (August 7, 1863)
And a few days later he had this to say.
You are right in supposing that the deserters will be pardoned under the President’s proclamation; i.e. all who return within 20 days. I learn from your letter that Arch Harrison has delivered himself up and would return voluntarily to camp. I have heard that Bob Bogan has taken to the woods again. Lt. Bearden has not written me one word whether he has arrested Thomas and Smith. The only one he has arrested is Taylor. (August 10, 1863)
Depending on how this project proceeds it may be helpful to map out where the men referenced in the letters lived in relationship to the Winsmith home at Camp Hill. Muster records may also shed light on whether there was any causal connection between this form of public shaming and desertion in his unit specifically. Finally, in reference to the names that appear regularly it may be interesting to know whether Winsmith judged between his parents and sister as to who was more closely connected to the individual and family in question.
Those of you in the Richmond area should make it a point to check out Ray Carver’s one-man show, “Gettysburg 1963” which will premier at the Gayton Kirk Presbyterian Church on Saturday February 23. I was invited to participate in a panel discussion following the show, but the organizer didn’t realize that I no longer live in Virginia. It’s times like these that I really miss the Old Dominion. There is just so much going on in the Richmond area alone.
Here is a little taste to wet your appetite.
I would love to see more museums and other historical institutions use social media to share lessons learned from visitors. Here are two short interviews with participants, who attended a talk on the Emancipation Proclamation at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit. They are, indeed, voices of the Civil War – our voices.
John Christopher Winsmith was what historian Jason Phillips refers to as a “diehard rebel.” Throughout the war, Winsmith never wavered in his enthusiasm for the cause. He believed that it was incumbent on everyone in the Confederacy to make the necessary sacrifices in the army and on the home front. In letters that routinely characterized the Lincoln and the Yankee army as “invaders” and “abolitionists” it is clear that Winsmith viewed the struggle as a war to protect slavery. Winsmith’s father, who served in the state legislature in 1860, introduced the following resolution immediately after Lincoln’s election to the presidency:
That this General Assembly is satisfied that Abram Lincoln has already been elected President of the United States, and that said election has been based upon principles of open and avowed hostility to the social organization and peculiar interests of the slave holding states of this Confederacy.
The father fully supported the war effort by purchasing Confederate bonds as well as his sons efforts to earn promotion.
It looks like next year I will once again be teaching my Civil War Memory course. I’ve already begun to think about readings as well as class visits to Boston. The class was very popular in Virginia and I especially enjoyed our tours of Richmond, including Monument Avenue, Hollywood Cemetery and Tredegar. At this point I am hoping to organize two separate day trips.
- Mount Auburn Cemetery
- Harvard’s Memorial Hall
- Civil War Memorial on Cambridge Common
- Update: How could I forget the Boston Public Library
- Robert Gould Shaw Memorial
- Soldiers and Sailors Monument on Cambridge Common
- Lincoln/Emancipation Statue, Park Plaza
- Civil War Monument in Jamaica Plain
We shall see whether it is possible to fit in two separate trips. Either way, these are the places that I hope to have students think about in connection to the memory of emancipation and Union, the role of the citizen soldier in the war, and especially the remembrance of death and sacrifice. Feel free to suggest additional sites.