The World of Civil War Blogging Just Took a Giant Leap Forward

Union Veterans on Parade

At one point during my visit to Professor Blight’s Civil War Memory seminar at Yale I looked over at Brian Jordan and suggested that he should start a blog.  The next day I logged on for the first time to his new weblog, Grand Army Blog.  Now, I am not going to take full credit for this as it is likely that Brian had been playing around with this idea for quite some time.

So, why am I so excited about Brian’s blog?  First and foremost, Brian is a rising star in the field.  He has already published one book on South Mountain and historical memory as well as a number of journal articles.  I first met Brian last year at North Carolina State University, where the two of us served on a panel on public history and memory.  He is also an incredibly nice guy, but this is not why I am excited about Brian’s blog.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard stories of young scholars who are discouraged from embracing the world of social media, including blogging.  I suspect that this can be explained, in part, by a certain level of anxiety from those individuals who feel alienated and left behind.  Others have expressed legitimate concerns about the value of such endeavors in an academic culture that continues to struggle assigning objective value for purposes of hiring and promotion. Thankfully, this attitude is beginning to change.

As far as I know, Brian’s is the first blog written by a current graduate student with a focus in Civil War history.  His dissertation is tentatively titled When Billy Came Marching Home: Union Veterans and Their Unending Civil War and will address a number of questions related to the challenges that veterans faced in keeping the nation focused on their sacrifice and accomplishments.  Brian’s research has the potential to reach a very broad audience.  We are likely to get an insider’s account as Brian explores and analyzes archival collections, relevant secondary sources, and the more abstract considerations that come with conceptual analysis.  We need more of this.

If he keeps at it, Brian is likely to find that what at first glance appears to be a rather narrow/academic project will resonate among a very broad audience.  His readers will not only be introduced to new primary and secondary sources, but new questions and methods for interrogating the past.  Brian’s published work will be read and debated by academics and history enthusiasts alike.  Most importantly, a vibrant blog site that reaches out and welcomes readers from diverse backgrounds will transform what it means to educate.  I wish Brian all the best with his new digital project and I hope it encourages other young scholars in the field to matter more.

Scalawags and Stink Faces

The first videos from Appomattox are being posted on the YouTube page of the Virginia Flaggers.  In this short video members describe visitors and representatives of the Sons of Confederate Veterans as “scalawags” and “stink faces.”  How very classy.  Apparently, the SCV’s General Executive Committee issued a resolution requesting that all members boycott participating in the opening ceremonies.  A few chose to participate.  What I don’t understand is why the SCV didn’t encourage more to attend: more units, more flags.  In fact, by the looks of it the MOC did nothing to prevent visitors from carrying Confederate flags on the grounds.

This protest reminds me of the situation in Lexington.  In both cases no one is being prevented from waving a Confederate flag.

Crater Page Proofs

I had no idea that reviewing my own page proofs would be this nerve-wracking.  Knowing that this is my final chance to make minor changes before it goes to print has me second guessing myself on every page.  That said, it is nice to see the manuscript in its final form.  Everything came out looking awesome.  The narrative itself comes to 150 pages, which makes it a very manageable read.  I have until April 20 to finish both the final proofreading as well as the index.  We are still shooting for a mid-June release.

A Progressive Attempts to Understand Robert E. Lee

I am about half-way through and thoroughly enjoying Keith D. Dickson’s new book, Sustaining Southern Identity: Douglas Southall Freeman and Memory in the Modern South (Louisiana State University Press, 2012).  It’s not a conventional biography of Freeman; rather, the book explores the influence of the Lost Cause and his father’s military service in Confederate ranks on Freeman’s view of history as well as how his own scholarship (“Memory Framework”) worked to bridge the divide between the antebellum world of his father and the New South.

What I am finding most interesting about Freeman is his close identification and involvement with the southern progressive movement in Richmond.  My only complaint about Dickson’s analysis of progressivism and its emphasis on taxation reform, public education, and public health is that he traces it back to Reconstruction rather than the Readjuster Movement of the 1880s.  In the wake of the Readjuster Movement, Democrats learned to co-opt as much of their political platform that would bring about the necessary reforms without upsetting the region’s delicate racial hierarchy.

Freeman’s writings helped to unite white Virginians around shared stories and values rooted in the past even as they embraced new political and social policies that deviated from those of their predecessors.  While I’ve read Freeman’s biography of Lee and Lee’s Lieutenants, I never connected him with anything having to do with the progressive movement, which I suspect has to do with my observation that those who most closely identify with him today lean to the conservative side.  The book has definitely helped me to better understand how Freeman applied his professional training in history at Johns Hopkins University to the broader goal of anchoring his community’s modern tendencies in a shared past.

So, how is it that a progressive like Freeman was able to write what many conservatives today believe to be the most accurate and unbiased interpretation of Lee?  :-)