The Governor Considers It A Most Important Command

Statue by sculptor Thomas R. Gould constructed in 1875, Hingham, MA

One of the stumbling blocks that I continue to come up against in researching the 55th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry is in reference to Governor John Andrew.  The problem is especially acute given my interest in the pay crisis of 1863-64.  Andrew played an important role as an advocate for these men, but I am only able to skirt the surface of his involvement thus far.  Unless I am mistaken, the last biography was written in 1904.  I suspect that his pre-mature death in 1867 as well as the general trend of the nation’s collective memory by the end of the nineteenth century has something to do with his disappearance from the historical landscape.

Of course, he makes a very brief appearance in the movie Glory and you will find him referenced in scores of Civil War studies that focus on the organization and deployment of black Union soldiers, but there seems to be little more.  Can anyone think of a more important Civil War era governor?  Andrew is central not only to the inclusion of African Americans in the United States military, but emancipation itself.

I am now toying with writing a Civil War biography of Andrew.  Such a focus would allow me to continue to research black Union soldiers and the story of black citizenship in Massachusetts, but it would also highlight Andrew’s role in this dramatic story.  I suspect there is also room to talk about how Andrew was remembered in connection to emancipation and black soldiers after his death.

[Post title comes from a letter written by Col. Robert G. Shaw on Feb. 4, 1863, which appears in Blue-Eyed Child of Fortune: The Civil War Letters of Colonel Robert Gould Shaw.]

Are You Offended By This?

Update: The bobbleheads have been removed from the shelves at the Gettysburg Visitor Center.

I don’t think it’s right to sell a memorial of him, he assassinated President Lincoln,” said Patrick Nee, a 17-year-old who attends the Tatnall School in Wilmington, Del.

“Maybe there’s a place for these, but not here in Gettysburg,” said their 11th-grade history teacher, Ruth Hiller.

Harold Holzer, perhaps the most prominent Lincoln scholar alive, agreed Lincoln’s death should not be trivialized, nor his killer celebrated with such a souvenir.

“I’m not a fan of censoring things, but I do think there is an awfully sick marketing person who came up with this idea,” Holzer said when contacted for this story. “It’s not a joke that someone who is a murderer and a criminal is celebrated in any way.”

“I would say it’s pretty sleazy. It’s almost like promoting the assassination,” said battlefield visitor Tracy Chronister, of York. “Why would you celebrate that with a bobblehead?”

There is a market for those people who glorify and revel in our Civil War.  We went down this road a long time ago.  I am no more offended by a John Wilkes Booth bobblehead than I am about 90% of the crap that is sold in Civil War gift shops.  All of it trivializes.

A Book That Should Matter More

I just finished The Peninsula Campaign and the Necessity of Emancipation: African Americans and the Fight for Freedom by Glenn David Brasher.  It’s a must read for anyone interested in military history, the process of emancipation, and especially the controversy surrounding black Confederate soldiers.  In regard to this last area of interest it is just the kind of study we need.  Brasher takes seriously the evidence pointing to black participation in Confederate ranks and he offers what I believe are very reasonable interpretations of how they were used and why they constituted such an important part of the Confederate war effort.  It is a solid study.  My hope is to write a formal review some time next week for the Atlantic, but for now let me make one quick point.

As important as this book is to the public debate surrounding BC, it is unlikely to have much impact at all.  People don’t read books.  If they want information they go to the Internet.  It comes down to the fact that print sources play almost no role in this controversy.  This is not meant as an argument against traditional monographs, but it is intended as a call for more of us to find ways to engage a much wider audience through a digital format, especially when the subject matters.

Wouldn’t it have been nice if Joy Masoff clicked on a link to a site that contained the quality of analysis and information contained in this book rather than a Sons of Confederate Veterans site that led her to claim that an entire battalion of black soldiers fought with Stonewall Jackson.

Southern Heritage is Alive and Well in Upstate New York

I had a wonderful time earlier this week in Batavia, New York, where I presented a talk on the battle of the Crater.  Around 70 people showed up for a two-hour presentation.  I spoke for the first hour and fielded questions for the second.  The audience was engaged throughout and asked some excellent questions.

Before the talk I had a chance to chat with a gentleman who sported both a t-shirt and cap with a Confederate flag.  I asked him about his interest in the Confederacy and expected him to say that he was born further south or that he had lived in a southern state at one time.  No, born and raised in upstate New York.  I pressed him a bit further and he did mention the history of Town Line, New York, which voted to secede from the state in 1861.  He asked me whether I believed Confederate soldiers deserved to be officially recognized by the federal government on Memorial Day and I did my very best to avoid giving an answer.

If you are confused, don’t be.  We would do well to remember that many of our most cherished images of the South and the Confederacy are the result of marketing efforts located in other parts of the country.  Karen Cox explores this in her recent book, Dreaming of Dixie: How the South Was Created in American Popular Culture.  Here is a concise overview from H-Net:

Using popular songs, advertising, radio shows, movies, and travel literature, Cox investigates how non-southern Americans came to understand the South in the period from the late nineteenth century through World War II.  Although southerners sometimes had a hand in this process, Cox argues, it was largely non-southerners who marketed and disseminated what the nation came to understand as Dixie. Through a catalog of stock southern images, Madison Avenue, Tin Pan Alley, and Hollywood perpetuated the idea of a romantic, premodern South that appealed to non-southern Americans grappling with the challenges of a modern, urban, industrial world. Southerners, too, capitalized on the connection between mass culture and consumerism and provided non-southern tourists with exactly what they expected of Dixie. These images, of course, also helped sustain beliefs about race that cemented Jim Crow as the southern racial status quo. Ultimately, Cox concludes, “‘Dixie’ was not simply a reference to a region” (p. 36). It was an idea, it was a brand, and, she contends, it was shaped outside the South.

I never did get a sense of why this gentleman so closely identified with the Confederate flag, but that really doesn’t matter.  Dixie Outfitters markets to everyone.