Portsmouth, Virginia Embraces Its Southern Unionist Heritage

Last week the Portsmouth Historical Commission passed the following resolution honoring Southern Unionists:

Whereas the history of the Civil War has at times, understandably but mistakenly, been seen as a battle between regions . . .

Whereas in reality the dedication to Union and Emancipation was shared by millions of Americans north and south . . .

Whereas there were many in the states that formed the Confederacy “who in the darkest hour of slavery kept alive in their souls a love of manhood rights, justice, and the unity of the United States of America”

Whereas these men and women who risked everything to preserve the Union are rarely remembered as much as they should . . .

Whereas in Virginia especially, support for Union was so pronounced that the state split itself in two . . .

Whereas many of the people of present day Virginia can also look to the family histories of Unionism of which they can be proud . . .

And whereas the city of Portsmouth was, for much of the war, a haven for Virginia’s Unionists, both black and white . . .

Be it resolved that the City of Portsmouth through its History Commission. . .

Declare May of this year to be Southern Unionist History Month,

Encourage other localities in Virginia and the Commonwealth itself to join in this declaration, and

Provide for various events and information during May to make Virginians more aware of Civil War Unionism in and around Portsmouth, Virginia.

This week the organization asked the city council to adopt the resolution and set aside May as Southern Unionist Heritage Month.  The council was unable to vote on the resolution since it had not been placed on the agenda in time for the meeting.

 

Robert K. Krick Defends Lee From Strawmen

I think it’s time for Robert K. Krick to get a new angle.  How much longer do we have to be subjected to vague references of an “anti-Lee” cabal among academic historians?  In 2007 I was asked to respond to a presentation he gave as part of the University of Virginia’s commemoration of “Lee at 200.”  In it Krick accused academic historians of intentionally distorting the history of Lee through an embrace of psycho-history and an over reliance on interpretation.  It appears that when it comes to Lee: No Interpretation Necessary.  If you want to know what Lee believed, just read his own words.  It appears little has changed in five years.

This past weekend Krick took part in the Virginia Sesquicentennial Commission’s Signature Conference at the Virginia Military Institute.  It sounds like it was a huge success, which I am glad to hear.  Krick used the opportunity to once again go after his fellow historians.  This time, however, he accused them of ignoring Confederate postwar accounts as tainted with Lost Cause mythology.  As one example he cited the following:

One “inane strain” of that criticism, he said, holds that Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee wasn’t really so popular among his troops and Southern citizens at the time.  Nonsense, Krick said.  He offered a maxim about the writing of history that he called Hamlin’s Razor (a riff on Occam’s Razor): “Never attribute to malice what can be adequately explained by ignorance or sloth.”

Can someone please name one historian who has recently made such a claim?  This is nothing more than a strawman argument.  The article does not mention whether Krick had anyone specific in mind and I suspect that he failed to do so.  And I don’t know one historian who brushes off postwar accounts as unreliable.  What a silly thing to say.  The only example Krick could muster was a recent story out of Ohio in which a teacher reprimanded a student for including Confederate sources.  Krick wrote to the teacher and we can only hope that this is the end of the story, but it tells us nothing particularly interesting about how historians treat postwar Confederate sources.

Enough already.

 

Civil War Memory Goes to Yale

This morning I traveled to New Haven, Connecticut to visit with David Blight’s Civil War Memory seminar at Yale.  It was my first time to the campus and I had a wonderful experience.  I had a chance to talk a bit about my research, the blog, and how the Internet is shaping Civil War remembrance.  The students were incredibly thoughtful and I especially enjoyed the opportunity to join in their discussion of a new book of essays edited by Thomas Brown.  They gave me quite a bit to think about.  Thanks so much to Professor Blight and to Brian Jordan [check out Brian's new book on South Mountain] for the invitation.

Afterwards I spent some time with a few of my former students.  It was so nice to see them enjoying and taking full advantage of their college experience at Yale.

All in all, it was a great day.

 

Civil War 150: Mobilizing For War

The latest issue of the Magazine of History will be mailed to subscribers in the coming day and it’s a good one.  This is the second in a series of Civil War themed issues that will be published throughout the Civil War 150th.  This issue focuses specifically on the mobilization of war and includes essays by Joseph Glatthaar, Thavolia Glymph, Louis Masur, and Joan Cashin.  Carol Sheriff served as the guest editor and did a great job of pulling everything together.  I greatly appreciate the invitation to contribute an essay to this issue.

My essay, “Teaching Civil War Mobilization With Film,” offers teachers strategies for introducing this subject through such movies as Gone With the Wind, Shenandoah, and Glory.  I also focus a bit on the importance of treating these films as cultural artifacts that must be interpreted as reflections of the time in which they were produced.  All too often students passively observe films and arrive at the mistaken belief that what they are seeing is history.

A few of us put together a panel based on our essays for the annual meeting of the Organization of American Historians, which meets in a few weeks in Milwaukee.  Stop by and check it out.

Almost forgot one thing.  If you teach American history, you should subscribe to this magazine.  It’s an incredible resource.

 

Sons of Confederate Veterans Dig Up Graves

Removing the stone covering Joseph Hollerman's grave

This is just downright bizarre.  This past weekend in west Raleigh, North Carolina the local SCV dug up and moved the remains of the Holleman brothers, one of who was a Confederate soldier.  According to the story, the graves were marked and were not threatened by any type of encroachment.  The remains of both men were moved to nearby Oakwood Cemetery.  And why did their remains need to be removed?  According to SCV member, Donald Scott:

We know these young men have left their earthly shell.  We want to respect and honor these remains, even though we know their souls are with you. They were Tar Heels. We don’t want them lost…. My heart says this is the right thing.  These boys have been here 150 years. Their blood is our blood.

The only problem with this explanation is that these two men have not been lost.  Other than what Scott’s heart told him there doesn’t seem to be any compelling reason to disturb desecrate these graves.  There is no indication that the people who disinterred the two bodies have any archaeological training.  Joel Holleman wasn’t even a Confederate soldiers.  He was a teacher.  What I don’t understand is why the SCV didn’t make the effort to improve the existing site.  It looks like at least one of the headstones is completely intact.

Perhaps the SCV can turn this into a new reality show along the lines of American Diggers.