Still making my way through Allen Guelzo’s Gettysburg: The Last Invasion. Here is how Guelzo sums up Confederate assaults on July 2 led by James Longstreet and Jubal Early.
So much of the fighting ended in agonizingly near misses for the Army of Northern Virginia–the within-an-inch failure to capture Little Round Top…the last-minute blunting of Barksdale and Wilcox by George Willard’s “Cowards” and the charge of the 1st Minnesota…Ambrose Wright’s bitter moment of abandonment, just shy of Cemetery Ridge..Harry Hays’ Tigers having victory (not to mention captured Federal artillery) snatched from their hands by Samuel Carroll’s helter-skelter counterattack by the Evergreen Cemetery gatehouse and left without support by Rodes’ intertia…and finally the failure to overrun just one Union brigade on Culp’s Hill–that it has become almost a matter of habit to speak of Longstreet’s attack or Early’s assault on east Cemetery Hill purely in the mordant tones of failure. This is not really true. In the first place, although James Longstreet’s corps failed to turn Dan Sickles’ collapse into a complete rout, this was no more of a failure than Stonewall Jackson’s famous flank attack at Chancellorsville on May 2nd. Jackson, like Longstreet, achieved a great initial success; but Jackson’s attack also like Longstreet’s, fell far short of dislodging the entire Federal army (that work had to be completed by Lee on May 3rd). Jackson, like Longstreet, had begun his attack so late that darkness forced him to halt substantially short of their goal. Yet no one has ever suggested that Jackson’s descent on the Union right flank at Chancellorsville was a failure–or at least not in the way Longstreet’s descent on the Union left at Gettysburg would be described. (p. 351)
First, do you agree with Guelzo’s comparison of Longstreet’s assault with that of Jackson’s at Chancellorsville? To the extent that you do agree, does this make it more difficult to talk in counterfactual terms about what Jackson would have done had he been at Gettysburg? In other words, if Longstreet did everything that Jackson accomplished at Chancellorsville than why do we need to imagine his presence at Gettysburg?
Union Soldier in Forrest Hills Cemetery by Milmore
This editorial by Jamie Malanowski, which appeared today in the New York Times, reminds me of Edward Sebesta’s petition to have President Obama end the practice of sending a wreath to the Confederate Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery. In the end it stirs up emotions, but fails to produce anything constructive. Malanowski’s contribution to our collective conscience this Memorial Day weekend is to remind the public that 10 military bases located around the country are named after Confederate generals. And you guessed it, those names need to be changed.
Malanowski begins with the questionable assumption that the “humble idea” of decorating graves “quickly spread throughout the country, and the recognition of common loss helped reconcile North and South.” It didn’t. Decoration Days were incredibly divisive throughout the period between the 1860s and the early twentieth century. Recent studies by Caroline Janney, William Blair, and John Neff suggest why this was the case.
This is a fabulous film from 1963 of the U.S. Army Band and Chorus commemorating the Civil War Centennial. The narrator makes it clear at the beginning that the “Union found itself split in two over the issue of states rights.” There is not one mention of slavery or black Union soldiers exactly one hundred years later. Songs include “Down By The Riverside”, “When Johnny Comes Marching Home”, “We are Coming Father Abra’am”, “Lorena”, “Tenting On The Old Camp Ground”, “The Battle” (new music & spoken word piece), “In the Sweet By-and-By / The Army Bean”, “Yellow Rose of Texas”, “Bonnie Blue Flag”,”Home! Sweet Home!”, “Dixie” & “The Battle Hymn of the Republic”.
The academic journal reviews of Remembering the Battle of the Crater are just beginning to appear. Overall the reviews have been very positive. It’s encouraging to know that historians, who you respect, believe that the time it took to research and write was time well spent and that it constitutes a worthy addition to the broader historiography. I was surprised that the book review editor of The Journal of the Civil War Era asked Earl Hess to review my book given that he contributed a blurb for the back cover. Either way, it doesn’t get any better than receiving Hess’s stamp of approval in this particular journal. I am thrilled with his review.
There are definitely some things I would do different if I had it to do over again. For one thing I would have done a better job of emphasizing the extent to which the 1903 and 1937 reenactments reflected the limits of sectional reconciliation. This would have situated the book more comfortably within a growing body of scholarship on Civil War memory.
The Journal of the Civil War Era (June 2013): 290-92
The Battle of the Crater, fought on July 30, 1864, as part of the third Union offensive during the Petersburg campaign, has drawn a good deal of attention in the past few years. Several books have been published dealing with the military history of the event, which now seems well covered in the secondary literature. Kevin M. Levin, however, has written a study not of the battle itself but of how it has been remembered over the past 150 years, with a special emphasis on the controversial fact that a division of black troops participated in the attack that followed detonation of the mine that created the famous crater. Many of those troops were slaughtered in the counterattack that restored Robert E. Lee’s line outside the city, shot down in cold blood by enraged Confederate soldiers. [click to continue…]