Battlefield Preservation or Destruction at Lutheran Seminary in Gettysburg

Update: The above image of the proposed trails was made available by John Spangler of the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg.

Here is a story that should concern all of you about the integrity of the Gettysburg battlefield.  The Lutheran Seminary had embarked upon the construction of a historic trail that looks to threaten some of the most important ground from the fighting on July 1, 1863.  Behind the scenes some preservation groups have expressed reservations, but this story needs to go public and the Civil War community needs to make the Seminary folks aware that their plans for the future are intrusive and a threat to the historic resource that they are committed to protect.  The Seminary Ridge Historic Preservation Foundation held a public information session a few days ago only after the project had commenced and damage had been done to the landscape.  From what I am hearing the panel was unable to address how they reconciled the destruction of the land with their preservation mission.  Their plans also include the construction of trails on the western face of Seminary Ridge.  The Lutheran Seminary cannot simply fall back on the position that this is private property since this project has been partly funded by federal funds.

I don’t know all the details, but at the least the SRHPF should be able to answer questions from those people worried about preservation about how this project will impact the physical landscape of the battlefield.  Below are a few pictures that were sent to me that show some of the construction (or destruction) that has already taken place.  Let’s get the word out.

“It Almost Sounds Like Nazi Germany”

I am usually not surprised to see Civil War-related stories about the continued debate about the Confederate flag or questions about secession make the AP, but this one has thrown me for a loop.  Rodney Steward’s new book, David Schenck and the Contours of Confederate Identity, examines the Confederate policy of sequestration, which was passed in response to legislation passed by the U.S. Congress that allowed for the confiscation of property of those deemed to be disloyal.  David Schenck was one of the agents or receivers for the Confederate government in North Carolina.

Receivers moved to seizing property owned by anyone felt to have Northern leanings.  In one case, property was seized from a North Carolina widow whose son lived in California and was considered an enemy alien. In another, a man who owned Wilmington property was delayed for a time on the Outer Banks behind Union lines. When he finally returned home, his property had been seized and he was turned over to the local military authorities as being a Union sympathizer.

That usually meant people were hanged, Steward said.  “Receivers could order people to give account of their property. And if they find what they are looking for — and even if they don’t sometimes and just made it up — they could issue a writ to seize the property and sell it at auction,” he said.  Much of the property is thought to have gone to the people who turned in neighbors. A large part also ended up with the receivers or an inner circle of ultra-nationalists like Schenck, who left extensive diaries, Steward said.

“In his diary, if you read between the lines, if people complain about the war it’s because they are disloyal and they lack virtue — they are not true to the cause. It almost sounds like Nazi Germany,” Steward said.  Schenck writes about building a new house in Lincolnton “at the precise moment that the economy of North Carolina and the Confederacy wasn’t just getting bad, the bottom was literally falling out,” Steward said.  He estimates Schenck personally seized as much as $50,000, about $2 million in today’s money.

While the Act of Sequestration was to compensate Southerners who had lost property to the Union, Steward says he’s not found any evidence money went to reimburse people.  And he wonders how many New South fortunes may have be built on money taken from fellow-Southerners. The system, he said, hurt the Southern cause at a time when it needed support from everyone.  “I think sequestration in the long run had the effect of crushing the will and creating a profound sense of disillusionment,” he said.

I have to admit that I do not know much about this specific Confederate policy, though it does fit into a broader picture of a centralized government in Richmond that intruded into people’s lives in myriad ways during the war.  Most people today know little about these policies since the Confederate government is commonly thought to be the last bastion of states rights or limited government in the history of the United States.  Even a cursory understanding of the history of the Confederacy is sufficient to call such a picture into question.  Perhaps that is why this particular article has gone viral.

Steward’s book grew out of his dissertation, which he wrote at Auburn University under the direction of Ken Noe.  I suspect it’s worth reading. 🙂

Civil War Memory on Acid

This soldier’s troubles only get worse following his decision to desert from the army. Call it, Civil War memory on a bad acid trip.

Taking Civil War Historians to Court

Here is a little levity to end the work week.  This little exchange from the Southern Heritage Preservation FB Group is worth a good laugh, but it’s also a reminder that many people simply do not understand the first thing about what is involved in historical research.  The scholarship that historians produce is not the result of a process, but simply a reflection of personal bias and nefarious motives.  It’s a wonderful reminder of why education matters.

Perhaps Dimitri Rotov will offer his legal services as prosecuting attorney.

The Future of Civil War History

I am very excited to share what promises to be one of the most educational and entertaining conferences to come down the pike in quite some time.  From March 14-16, 2013 the Civil War Institute at Gettysburg College will host a three-day conference titled, “The Future of Civil War History: Looking Beyond the 150th.”  Peter Carmichael somehow managed to wrangle up roughly 100 historians of all stripes for a wide variety of formal presentations, panels, working groups and field experiences.  The goal is to “facilitate discussions between panelists and the audience about how the historical community can make the Civil War past more engaging, more accessible, and more usable to public audiences as we look beyond the 150th commemorations and to the future of Civil War history.”

Please take some time to browse through the conference website.  There are plenty of opportunities to get involved, including a number of very interesting working groups that will commence in preparation for the conference.  I strongly encourage those of you who teach history, work in some capacity in public history or are just deeply interested in the Civil War era to register soon since spaces are limited.

I am super excited for this event.  It’s a chance to spend time in one of my favorite places and best of all I get to participate.  I am a panelist for a session on how to engage museum audiences and students around issues of Civil War memory and I will be chairing another session on interpreting USCTs at Civil War sites.

See you in Gettysburg.

The Civil War in Art

I’ve spent the past few hours browsing through an incredible website that focuses on Civil War art.  The website is called The Civil War in Art: Teaching and Learning Through Chicago Area Collections.  I am also very happy to have them on board as Civil War Memory’s newest sponsor.  This site is incredible.  Check out this gouache of the assault by the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry at Battery Wagner by Suzanne Schweig Langsdorf, which was done in 1940.  I’ve never seen it before.  When you expand the image on the website there is a feature that opens up a window that allows you to focus on specific sections in great detail.  Each image includes a short description and a set of questions for classroom use.  In addition, the site includes a page of ideas for classroom projects, which will hopefully be expanded in the future.

I can’t wait to use some of these images in the classroom this year.

Interview at Abraham Lincoln Book Shop

A few weeks ago I was interviewed, along with Glenn LaFantasie, at the Abraham Lincoln Book Shop in Chicago.  It was a real honor to be invited to take part in their Virtual Book Signing program.  The interview and book signing was recorded and is now available on their YouTube channel.  The store still has a few signed copies of my Crater book and I encourage you to support the store if interested in a first edition.  All four parts can be found below.

Part 2, Part 3, Part 4

Civil War Memory at Ole Miss

Thanks to everyone who left a comment on the student video about some of the challenges surrounding the place of Confederate memory at the University of Mississippi.  I wanted to share the following comment from Boyd Harris, who is a PhD student in history at Ole Miss:

Thank you for posting this video, Kevin. I am a third year PhD student at the University of Mississippi. Needless to say, this is not the first time I have seen this video. The legacy of slavery, the war, and racism is very apparent on the campus landscape. We have a Confederate cemetery (right behind the basketball stadium) and several statues and markers commemorating the Civil War. The Lyceum (the oldest building on campus) has visible bullet holes from the 1962 riot, when James Meredith needed the National Guard to just register for classes. Even the name “Ole Miss,” which was created in the early 20th century and is a variation on what slaves called the mistress of the plantation denotes the South’s racialized past.

But let me tell you about the students. A lot of the conversation about this video has dealt with Hannah Loy’s views. Have I met people like that here? You bet, but they are in a quickly growing minority. Teaching the American history surveys (History 105/106) has provided me with ample opportunity to observe discussions about slavery, racism, and the Civil War. What amazes me every semester is the eagerness of the students to talk about these complex and difficult topics. The students bring their own observations and biases to the conversation, but more importantly, they also bring a desire to gain further knowledge about their past. I never have to prod my students to discuss these issues. I mostly take on the role of moderator in order to ensure an open and safe environment for these discussions.

I wish I could say that we change everyone’s mind, but of course that is not true. What I can say, however, is that I am seeing progress at the University of Mississippi. In the past two years I have seen Colonel Reb discontinued as the mascot and James Silver honored at the university that shunned him fifty years ago. This year the William Winters’ Institute for Racial Reconciliation will operate a tent in the Grove on game weekends. The goal is to challenge the long held view of African Americans that the Grove is a Whites-only space. Progress will be slow, after all this is Mississippi, but I have witnessed first hand the possibility of change at the University.

Boyd’s comment reminds us of the importance of the generational divide that shapes how Americans remember the Civil War.  The standard narrative can be found in this recent news article that described the sesquicentennial in Mississippi as “angst-filled.”  No doubt, you can find a great deal of strong emotions there, but we should not lose sight of the fact that young Americans are much more open to talking about some of the more difficult questions in an open and honest manner.  I saw this first-hand as a history teacher in Virginia.