From Civil War to ?

58172-art-american-imperialismThis will probably be the last post I write before I put together my final thoughts as an introduction to the panel on interpreting USCTs at Civil War sites that I will be moderating on Saturday at Gettysburg College. I am still thinking about Carole Emberton’s essay, which I briefly touched on a few days ago.  She’s got me thinking about the place of black Union soldiers within a narrative arc that stretches from the Civil War to the Civil Rights Movement and the unquestioned assumption that closely links their service and sacrifice with a postwar reward of civil rights.  Emberton argues that this narrative stood in sharp contrast with a widespread belief that service in the military functioned to tame those characteristics that many white Americans (North and South) believed prevented African Americans from enjoying the benefits of full citizenship.  [click to continue…]

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I’m Not the Only One Thinking About the Future of USCTs

Thanks to my fellow Civil War bloggers for giving me quite a bit to chew on these last few days as I put together some brief opening remarks for the Gettysburg College panel on how USCTs are currently being interpreted and where we go from here.  My own posts can be found here, here, here, and here.

Head on over to Robert Moore’s site for a thoughtful post on USCTs in the Shenandoah Valley.  Moore reminds us that the motivation behind black enlistment was complex and not always captured by the popular explanation that they were simply fighting for freedom.

One can say the local Confederates were fighting for slavery… but that would only be telling part of the truth. One can also say the USCTs were fighting for the chance to be free, but that too would be telling only part of their story. We have complicating factors that make us put on brakes… and pretty darn quick. Were some Confederates fighting to keep slaves, while others were fighting because… and, let’s be perfectly honest with ourselves and history… the boys in blue were “down here”? Absolutely. Of course, there were other Confederates who were in the ranks as well… and some of them didn’t even want to be there in the first place. That being the case, should we not expect the story of the USCTs to be equally complicated?

Jimmy Price adds to one of my recent posts on the difficulties of coming to terms with battlefield atrocities committed by USCTs.  This is something that I am particularly interested in right now.

One cannot approach the topic of US Colored Troops without encountering numerous occasions in which black soldiers were ruthlessly cut down on the battlefield while in the act of surrender. Olustee, Fort Pillow, the Crater, Saltville – the list of places where Confederate troops perpetrated these war crimes goes on and on.

But there is a flip side to this coin, and the way it is presented in the grand narrative can be problematic. Just as one can find numerous examples in Civil War texts that lay out the atrocities committed by rebel soldiers, one can also find the examples of when US Colored Troops went into action shouting “Remember Fort Pillow!” and encouraging their fellow soldiers to “raise the black flag” and give no quarter to any Confederate soldier who sought any.

Emmanuel Dabney, who will join me this weekend for this panel discussion, provides some fruitful sources for those looking for the elusive black voices in the military.  Finally, Craig Swain points to the possibilities of interpreting and commemorating the service of USCTs on the local level.

Thanks to Robert, Craig, Jimmy and Emmanuel for sharing their thoughts on this subject.  They have given me quite a bit to think about, which I hope has a chance to surface during the panel discussion on Saturday.

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Lincoln: Front and Center With Vlade Divac

I’m not sure what to make of this one.  I want to say that this is Vlade Divac, but I can’t be sure. What do you think? OK, so it’s not Divac.  Either way it’s pretty hilarious.

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Disunion Blog To Be Released As a Book

DisunionWithout a doubt my favorite Civil War site over the past few years has been The New York Time’s Disunion column edited by Clay Risen.  Clay has done a fabulous job of publishing thought-provoking essays by scholars and non-scholars alike that both entertain and educate.  The essays cover a broad range of topics and even touch on subjects that typically fall under the radar. Since its debut in 2010 I have had three essays published.  The first addressed the controversy surrounding a Virginia history texbook and a passage about black Confederates followed by an essay on how I use battlefields to teach.  My most recent column explored the relationship between a Confederate officer and his camp servant.

In May the first volume of essays that cover the period between Fort Sumter and Emancipation will be published and I am happy to report that it will include my most recent essay.  I’ve also been asked to write an essay that will discuss how the book can be used in the history classroom.  [click to continue…]

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Carole Emberton Reconsiders the Black Military Experience

ffusctreI’ve been thinking quite a bit about the current state of interpretation re: the history of black Union soldiers during the Civil War and beyond in preparation for the Future of Civil War History Conference, which will take place later this week in Gettysburg.  As I’ve said before, I think there is much to celebrate as we look back over the past 50 years.  The number of scholarly and popular books being published continues at a brisk pace and popular representations of black soldiers can be seen in recent Hollywood movies such as Cold Mountain and Lincoln  and even a historical novel about USCTs at the Crater by Newt Gingrich. Most importantly, many history textbooks now devote significant space to black Union soldiers and their contributions.  Throughout much of the Civil War sesquicentennial USCTs have been front and center in museum exhibits, symposia, in the pages of local newspapers as human interest stories as well as in the form of new monuments and markers. [click to continue…]

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Think I Might Join Sons of Confederate Veterans

sons of confederate veteransIn his report to the SCV’s National Leadership Conference Adjutant-in-Chief Steve Ritchie noted the following:

Adjutant Ritchie then announced what he claimed would be a controversial fact, that there is no national constitutional requirement for proof of lineage/descent from a Confederate veteran for membership in the SCV.  The membership packet required at national SCV headquarters includes a completed application, a check and preferably a type written summary of the applicants information but no paperwork for descent documentation is required by national headquarters.  Membership records are kept as hardcopies at SCV National headquarters.  SCV National does no genealogy verification.  The application requires camp officer signatures to substantiate membership satisfaction and camp requirements vary.  Compiled service records are sometimes illegible or inaccurate and many were lost during the War especially when towns were burned and razed such as in Sherman’s march.  Additional resources include the American Civil War Research database and Broadfoot’s records of Confederate veterans.  UCV and pension records are additional resources.  He highlighted that how an ancestor was separated or location of his burial may be unknown and don’t get hung up on those details when completing the application.

You have to wonder why this point was raised and whether it will lead to changes in recruitment policy on the local level.  Dispensing with the lineage requirement in what is clearly the most vocal Confederate heritage organization would certainly make it easier to fill the ranks and even branch out to welcome the descendants of all those loyal black soldiers, who we can’t quite match up with wartime records.  Apparently, we can blame Sherman for the lack of records.  At the same time it could undercut the organization’s own claims to authority based largely on their lineal descent.  We will have to see how this plays out.

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