I want to take a minute to respond to Brooks Simpson, who has apparently misinterpreted a recent post of mine in which I ask whether the Civil War Sesquicentennial is over. Here is the offending passage that seems to suggest that I don’t believe that the years 1864-65 offers anything significant to commemorate.

We’ve commemorated the trifecta of our Civil War Sesquicentennial, which in my mind includes Emancipation, Gettysburg, and the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry. Other than the 150th anniversary of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, what else is there to acknowledge?

What I was attempting to get at in the above passage is that for many Americans the summer of 1863 represents a high point in the Civil War. In the follow-up post I briefly mentioned why I believe it might be difficult to generate the same level of enthusiasm that we’ve seen over the past two years. I attempted to convey this point this out on Sunday and earlier today (and here) on Brooks’s blog. [click to continue…]

Update: Nice to see the twittersphere having some fun with this story. Check out #FOXNewsLitCrit.

I absolutely love this FOX News interview with Reza Azlan, who is the author of a new book on the historical Jesus. The interviewer clearly did not read the book nor did she have any interest in discussing its content. Instead, she chose to focus on the fact that the author is a Muslim who chose to write a book about Jesus. That, apparently is unfathomable to this reporter. Fortunately, Azlan stood his ground and underscored the absurdity of the assumptions driving the interview. [click to continue…]

This historical pageant was performed back in May at Boston’s Tremont Temple as part of the “Freedom Rising” symposium. It tells the story of a young black woman who must write a history essay on an American abolitionist. Her Haitian father impresses on her the importance of Toussaint Louverture, but her instructor forces his student to stick to the textbook. The rest of the show highlights Louverture’s influence on the abolitionist community in Boston and the Civil War. Danny Glover plays Louverture.

It’s well worth watching, but it once again highlights just how central abolitionism is to this city’s Civil War memory. You would think that the abolitionists were always in the majority and even celebrated here in Boston.

4-reconstruction-cartoon-grangerOne reason why the final two years of the Civil War is so difficult to commemorate is that it offers little in the kinds of dramatic battles that still captivate the imaginations of so many. Many of us are seduced by the success of Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia and how close they brought the Confederacy to independence. Whether we acknowledge the inevitability of Confederate defeat or not and with the benefit of hindsight, the final two years of the war appear to be a gradual deterioration of all things Confederate.

The other factor is that it becomes much more difficult to ignore the challenges and messiness of Reconstruction, which is well under way during those final two years. While it can be argued that our popular memory of the war has undergone a positive shift in recent years, our understanding of Reconstruction remains in the dark ages. It will be very sad indeed if the Civil War 150th ends in 1865. [click to continue…]

It’s a question that is on my mind right now as I work to complete an editorial for the Atlantic. We’ve commemorated the trifecta of our Civil War Sesquicentennial, which in my mind includes Emancipation, Gettysburg, and the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry. Other than the 150th anniversary of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, what else is there to acknowledge? It will be interesting to see whether President Obama accepts an invitation to speak at Gettysburg in November.

It seems to me that the war in 1864-65 takes the kind of turn that is not easily framed in the form of commemorations and celebrations. We shall see.