Legacy of the American Civil War at the Library of Virginia

A few months ago I was invited by the Library of Virginia to participate in a panel discussion on the legacy of the American Civil War and the release of the New York Times’s collection of Disunion essays in book form. I think they still thought I lived in Virginia and unfortunately I was unable to attend. They asked for a recommendation and I immediately thought of Robert Moore, who blogs at Cenantua. Given his research interests in Southern Unionism I thought his perspective would add an important perspective, which it did. So glad he was able to make it.

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Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought

I love this Amazon feature. You get a sense of the broader community of books that individual titles inhabit. I’ve looked at this feature a couple of times on my own book’s Amazon page. The best example that I’ve found is the Kennedy Brothers classic paean to the Lost Cause, The South Was Right (Pelican Press). You can probably predict the family of books that have been purchased in addition to The South Was Right as well as the assumptions being made about how to understand the cause, evolution and consequences of the Civil War.

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Marching Through Georgia

One of the book projects that I’ve been anticipating for some time now is Anne Sara Rubin’s study of Sherman’s March in historical memory. The book will be accompanied by an innovative digital history project called Sherman’s March and America: Mapping Memory, which she is developing with Kelley Bell. The interactive maps allow users to trace Sherman’s march along a historical map as well as a fictional map that includes places mentioned in books and movies such as Gone With the Wind. The video above (and I suspect others) explores the popularity of Henry Clay Work’s song, “Marching Through Georgia” in the North and around the world. It’s really well done. I can’t think of a better example of the use of technology to enhance the traditional monograph format.

(video uploaded to YouTube on June 11, 2013)

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Talking Lincoln in Civil War History

civil war historyToday I arrived home to find the new issue of Civil War History (September 2013). This most recent issue includes a roundtable discussion that I participated in about Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln. Participants included Catherine Clinton, Allen Guelzo John Neff, Megan Kate Nelson, and Matthew Pinsker. We discussed a range of issues from how well the movie stacks up to recent scholarship to how it might be used in the classroom. Thanks to book-review editor, Brian Craig Miller for inviting me to participate. This is my first time appearing in the pages of CWH apart from a couple of book reviews I wrote a few years ago. It’s a huge honor for me to be included among such a stellar group of scholars.

The last roundtable was eventually made available for free online and I suspect this one will eventually be be posted as well. Of course, I will pass it along at that point.

Postscript: Welcome historian Timothy Orr to the blogosphere. Tim is a dynamite historian, who teaches at Old Dominion University. You can find his blog at Tales From the Army of the Potomac.

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Envisioning Black Soldiers, Not Black Citizens

General Patrick Cleburne’s plan to arm slaves is often highlighted as an enlightened vision of racial progress in the Confederacy, which proves that slavery was incidental to the formation and maintenance of the Confederate nation. As David T. Gleeson explains in his new book, The Green and the Gray: The Irish in the Confederate States of America (University of North Carolina Press, 2013), it’s a bit more complicated.

Cleburne may have been naive about the possibility of emancipation, but not in the importance of slave labor to the Confederacy. Cleburne’s vision was for black soldiers, not black citizens in the Confederacy. On the contrary, their “emancipation” was to be a limited one. While family relationships would be legalized, “wise legislation” would be needed to “compel [former slaves]. . . to labor for a living.” Somewhat ironically, Cleburne drew on the Irish experience he had fled from, concluding in one letter that “writing a man ‘free’ does not make him so, as the history of the Irish laborer shows.” Cleburne understood clearly then that the subordination of blacks would be a key element of the independent Confederacy that he continued to fight for with such gusto. Through his proposal, he believed that “we can control the negroes. . . and they will still be our laborers as much as they now are; and, to all intents and purposes will be our servants, at less cost than now.” To let the North win and the Confederacy be destroyed would, instead, lead to the dreaded racial “equality and amalgamation.” (p. 96)

That’s a pretty straightforward explanation of Cleburne’s proposal, but it got me thinking.

Just how different was the plan to enlist black soldiers in the United States army? Of course the crucial distinction is that freedom in the North was guaranteed by 1865 for all African Americans while Cleburne’s proposal called for a very limited emancipation. However, while African Americans clearly viewed military service as a stepping stone toward increased civil rights, it was certainly far from the majority view in the United States. Certainly, many white Northerners entertained some of the apocalyptic visions of their Southern neighbors regarding the political and social consequences of emancipation. There was nothing inevitable about the passage of the Reconstruction Amendments and we know the sad story of their enforcement throughout much of the country by the end of the nineteenth century.

Just as Cleburne hoped that the Confederacy would be able to maintain a strict racial hierarchy indefinitely even through the disruption caused by military service, it could be argued that much of the history of this country during the postwar period, in part, was a struggle to come to terms with the tension between emancipation/military service and a very deep commitment to white supremacy. Just a thought.

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