Ohio Men Cheer For the USCTs at Petersburg

Earlier today I was going through my collection of original Civil War era newspaper and came across an issue of Frank Leslie’s Illustrated from July 9, 1864. The first page includes this wonderful illustration of the charge of General Hinks’s “colored troops” outside of Petersburg in mid-June. Ohio troops cheer them on in the background. It’s a wonderful find as I continue to explore how white Union soldiers responded to the use of USCTs a few weeks later at the Crater.

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It’s a powerful image, but we should proceed carefully in interpreting it. For some it is an image that fits into a popular and satisfying narrative that is framed around slavery, emancipation, military service, freedom, postwar promises of civil rights, and the eventual slide into Jim Crow. From this perspective we may be tempted to dismiss the cheering of the Ohio men as something fleeting or, in hindsight, even insincere. Such an interpretation, however, misses a salient point about white Union soldiers. They were not engaged in a civil rights struggle. [click to continue…]

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How Would You Teach Secession?

Today my Civil War class will continue to discuss the background leading up to Lincoln’s election and the first wave of secession that took place between December 1860 and February 1861. My students are pouring through a collection of documents related to the secession conventions as well as speeches by Alexander Stephens and Jefferson Davis. For Monday they will read a selection from Charles Dew’s Apostles of Disunion: Southern Secession Commissioners and the Causes of the Civil War. [click to continue…]

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A House Divided Cannot Stand… Sing It

In this video singer/songwriter Rob Tobias uses the “House Divided” meme to make a point about our contentious current political environment. The other day I cautioned my students to be wary of the tendency to equate our own cultural and political battles with the Civil War Era. Such connections simply don’t hold up well under close scrutiny.

The video is well done and is probably worth showing to a class on Civil War memory. It’s another wonderful example of how social media is being used to interpret the past and make memory.

[Uploaded to YouTube on January 21, 2014]

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Lee-Jackson Day: Who Is It Good For?

lee-stonewall-jackson-graveI’ve enjoyed reading the comments attached to my last post, which featured Governor Terry McAullife’s first Lee-Jackson Day Proclamation. As readers have noted it contains a couple questionable references, but what I find interesting is just how hollow it sounds. What could you possibly learn about these two men from reading this proclamation if you had no prior knowledge? I would say, next to nothing and yet this is a state holiday.

As it stands the proclamation avoids anything that smacks of controversy. It’s an innocent reminder of a time long past when there was something at stake for a large number of white Virginians in acknowledging the two Confederate warriors and, more importantly, the Lost Cause for which they fought. For most Virginians today who are impacted by the holiday it is little more than a day off from work. With each generation our distance from the war itself grows and the emotional cords fewer. We are likely seeing the last hurrah from a generation that grew up or came of age during the Civil War centennial.

Looking ahead fifty years, I would be very surprised if Virginia and other Southern states continue to acknowledge Lee-Jackson Day.

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Gov. Terry McAullife’s Lee-Jackson Day Proclamation

The new Virginia governor’s Lee-Jackson Day Proclamation is quite telling for both its brevity and especially for what it leaves out. Lee and Jackson are respectively remembered for their contributions to education in the Commonwealth and for their roles as military leaders, but no mention is made of the nation who benefited from that battlefield prowess.

WHEREAS, Generals Robert E. Lee and Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson were native Virginians, having served our great nation and Commonwealth as educators, leaders, and military strategists; and

WHEREAS, Lee served in the United States Army for more than three decades until he left his position to serve as Commander in Chief of Virginia’s military forces and as Commander of the Army of northern Virginia; and

WHEREAS, Jackson taught philosophy and military tactics as a professor at the Virginia Military Institute in Lexington for nearly a decade before serving briefly in the United States Army and later joining the Confederate Army to fight for his native Virginia; and

WHEREAS, Lee dedicated his life after the Civil War to reforming higher education in the South by serving as President of Washington College, now Washington & Lee University, in Lexington, Virginia, where he helped to greatly increase the school’s funding and expanding the curriculum to create an atmosphere most conductive to learning for young men of both Southern and Northern heritage; and

WHEREAS, Jackson’s leadership and bravery enabled him to rally his troops to several improbable victories against opposition forces much larger than his own, and Jackson’s inspired “Stonewall Brigade” fought alongside General Lee’s troops toward another victory even after their leader was fatally wounded on the second day of the Battle of Chancellorsville; and

WHEREAS, it is fitting to recognize Generals Lee and Jackson as two of our nation’s most notable military strategists, as beloved leaders among their troops, as pioneers in the field of higher education and as faithful and dedicated Virginians;

NOW, THEREFORE, I, Terence R. McAuliffe, do hereby recognize January 17, 2014; as LEE-JACKSON DAY in the COMMONWEALTH OF VIRGINIA and call this observance to attention for all our citizens.

Perhaps this proclamation falls in line with previous years, but it seems to me to be an exercise in saying as little about the cause for which they fought as possible.

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