Here is something to think about from James Oakes’s Freedom National: The Destruction of Slavery in the United States, 1861-1865.
It is not hard to understand the flurry of support for colonization during the Civil War. Notwithstanding the opposition of radical abolitionists, colonization presupposed emancipation, and whenever talk of emancipation arose, so too did talk of colonization. The more difficult question to answer is why it came to so little. In the modern world, wars of unification, especially civil wars inflamed by ethnic nationalism, commonly lead to forced population transfers and sometimes genocide. The Civil War in the United States was certainly a war of national unification, and the Republicans exhibited more than their fare share of ethnic nationalism. Nor was the idea of forced expulsion unheard of in the United States. Most Republican policymakers were old enough to remember the brutal “removal” of the southeastern Indians during Andrew Jackson’s administration. And during the Civil War itself the Union army forcibly expelled some ten thousand whites from their homes in Missouri. The same army systematically uprooted tens of thousands of slaves from their plantations to relocate them in areas safe from the reach of their former masters. And yet not a single emancipated slave was involuntarily “removed” from the United States in the wake of emancipation. (p. 281)
Oakes goes on to suggest an explanation, but for now I am going to leave you with just the excerpt.
…apparently very little.
With the Future of Civil War History conference right around the corner it should come as no surprise that I’ve had Gettysburg on my mind. I am also looking forward to a return visit in June for the annual Civil War Institute, which will focus on the battle of Gettysburg. With the 150th anniversary just a few months away you would think that publishers would want to cash in on the general public’s interest in this specific battle. It goes without saying that no other Civil War battle looms larger in the nation’s collective memory.
Surprisingly, however, there is very little that is slated for publication this summer. In fact, the only full length treatment seems to be Allen Guelzo’s Gettysburg: The Last Invasion. Brooks Simpson offers a much more concise overview of the battle in his, Gettysburg, 1863 and for those looking for a detailed study of Confederate action on July 2 there is Philip Thomas Tucker’s BARKSDALE’S CHARGE: The True High Tide of the Confederacy at Gettysburg, July 2, 1863. And that’s about it folks.
I really thought that the major publishers, in addition to Knopf, would find some way to squeeze something out of the 150th. Perhaps I have overlooked additional titles. If not, have we hit a wall?
What follows are a few thoughts in response to the position papers of my fellow panelists, who will join me next week at Gettysburg College to talk about how we interpret the USCT experience on our Civil War battlefields. It’s a bit rough, but it should give you an idea of some of the things I’ve been thinking about of late.
In one way or another the papers acknowledge that we are well positioned to engage the general public about the experiences of black soldiers at various battle sites. The challenges are many, including those mentioned here such as how we respond to misinformation, the continued influence of the movie Glory, and the continued hold of the Lost Cause interpretation of the war. Edward Zwick’s Academy-Award winning movie about Col. Robert Gould Shaw and the 54th Mass. Vol. Infantry is coming up on its 25th anniversary, but I am unconvinced of its continued influence, especially among younger Americans. Hari Jones makes a compelling case re: the movie’s inaccuracies and the extent to which it distorts our understanding of the relevant history, but I tend to see these oversights as opportunities in our classrooms and in other educational settings. All Hollywood movies about history are fraught with interpretive problems. We need look no further than the movie Lincoln. In the case of black soldiers, however, these issues are exacerbated by decades of neglect at NPS sites as well as the intentional distortion of the historical record for racial and partisan purposes. [click to continue…]
I got a kick out of this short editorial by Kevin Cullen in Danville, Illinois, who recently went looking for information about an ancestor that served in the Confederate army.
For years, I imagined Private Cullen riding a magnificent stallion, attacking the Yanks with his saber, carbine and Colt. In my mind’s eye, he wore gauntlets, a gray felt hat with a jaunty plume, and black boots that reached to the knee. He was, in every sense of the word, a fearless Southern cavalier.
But this week, well, reality struck. I had contacted The Confederate War Department, an online service that researches military records. I had hoped to get all sorts of thrilling information; instead, I discovered that my ancestor first went AWOL, then he deserted in June 1863 — and was never heard from again.
Regardless, he probably could have told some amazing tales. The Fourth Regiment, Kentucky Mounted Infantry, organized at Bowling Green, Ky., in September 1861, had 213 men disabled at the Battle of Shiloh, and then it fought at Baton Rouge and Jackson. As part of the Army of Tennessee, it fought at Murfreesboro, Chickamauga, and the Atlanta Campaign. It lost 21 percent of the 275 men engaged at Chickamauga…
All things considered, I’m glad Private Cullen deserted. If he had been killed at Chickamauga, I wouldn’t be here today.
For those of you who harbor such fanciful thoughts about an ancestor that you know nothing about I highly recommend that you pick up a copy of Howard Bahr’s The Judas Field: A Novel of the Civil War. You have to admire Cullen’s honesty. Not everyone could have chatted with Robert E. Lee or charged fearlessly over the earthworks. And it’s reassuring to know that the Confederate War Department is still active.
Howard Bahr, The Judas Field: A Novel of the Civil War, (Picador, 2006).
William A. Dobak, Freedom by the Sword: The U.S. Colored Troops, 1862-1867, (Center of Military History, 2011).
Christopher Hager, Word by Word: Emancipation and the Act of Writing, (Harvard University Press, 2013).
Harold Holzer and Sara Vaugn Gabbard eds., 1863: Lincoln’s Pivotal Year, (Southern Illinois University Press, 2013).
Walther Johnson, River of Dark Dreams: Slavery and Empire in the Cotton Kingdom, (Harvard University Press, 2012).
Rhonda Kolh, The Prairie Boys Go to War: The Fifth Illinois Cavalry, 1861-1865, (Southern Illinois University Press, 2013).
Margot Minardi, Making Slavery History: Abolitionism and the Politics of Memory in Massachusetts, (Oxford University Press, 2010).
Joshua D. Rothman, Flush Times and Fever Dreams: A Story of Capitalism and Slavery in the Age of Jackson, (University of Georgia Press, 2012).
John Stauffer and Benjamin Soskis, The Battle Hymn of the Republic: A Biography of the Song That Marches On, (Oxford University Press, 2013).