A Quick Word About Historiography and Popular History

MD_Antietam_Battlefield

I am charging through T.J. Stiles’s new biography of George Armstrong Custer, which I agreed to review for The Daily Beast. I’ve read his previous biographies of Jesse James and Cornelius Vanderbilt and enjoyed both immensely. It’s always challenging to read a popular Civil War title and those of us immersed in the field know why. We can’t help but judge the author’s grasp of historiography. It’s already happening with Stile’s Custer biography.

I’ve heard from a number of people who are frustrated by the author’s interpretation of George McClellan. Stiles relies very heavily on Stephen Sears’s book on the Peninsula Campaign, Antietam and his biography of McClellan. He also utilizes Richard Slotkin’s recent book on Antietam, which received very mixed reviews. To be fair, Stiles’s grasp of the relevant literature is broader if you take the time to peruse the endnotes, but his understanding of McClellan is certainly weighed down by Sears and Slotkin. [click to continue…]

16 comments

New to the Civil War Memory Library, 11/03

Stiles CusterDavid T. Dixon, The Lost Gettysburg Address: Charles Anderson’s Civil War Odyssey (B-List History, 2015).

Mark Dunkelman, Patrick Henry Jones: Irish American, Civil War General, and Gilded Age Politician (Louisiana State University Press, 2015).

Harold Holzer and Norton Garfinkle, A Just and Generous Nation: Abraham Lincoln and the Fight for American Opportunity (Basic, 2015).

Noeleen McIlvenna, The Short Life of Free Georgia: Class and Slavery in the Colonial South (University of North Carolina Press, 2015).

Stacy Schiff, The Witches: Salem, 1692 (Little, Brown, 2015).

T.J. Stiles, Custer’s Trials: A Life on the Frontier of a New America (Knopf, 2015).

Zoe Trodd and John Stauffer, Picturing Frederick Douglass: An Illustrated Biography of the Nineteenth Century’s Most Photographed American (Liveright, 2015).

2 comments

Did White Northerners Abandon Reconstruction?

Henry_P._Moore_(American_-_Slaves_of_General_Thomas_F._Drayton_-_Google_Art_Project

Update: After you finish reading this post check out Brooks Simpson’s thoughtful response to Gordon-Reed’s essay.

One of the most common tropes embraced in reference to the post- Civil War period is the idea of a ‘white Northern retreat from Reconstruction.’  For many, the shift occurred during the mid to late 1870s for a number of reasons, including the threat of labor strikes, the fulfillment of Manifest Destiny or the realization that the South’s racial problems could only be solved locally. Reconstruction’s abandonment followed significant gains on the civil rights front from the passage of three constitutional amendments to military intervention that led to black political action. The white North’s abandonment of Reconstruction points inextricably to missed opportunities and our own inability to deal honestly with deep racial problems. [click to continue…]

9 comments

Civil War Memory’s Fall Peak

Forrest HIlls

Here is a pic of one of my favorite Civil War soldier monuments at Forest Hills Cemetery here in Boston. It’s about two miles from my home and as we are just about past the peak of the Fall foliage season it was the perfect day for a walk. Oh, and the temperature today hit 70 degrees. The sculptor of this particular monument – one of the earliest monuments to be dedicated after the war – is none other than Martin Millmore.

Martin Millmore

11 comments

Ole Miss Made It Clear, Southern Miss Should Do the Same

mississippi state flag

The decision yesterday to remove the state flag from the campus of the University of Mississippi followed votes by the Student and Faculty Senates. In the case of the University of Southern Mississippi all it took was a decision by President Rodney D. Bennett earlier this morning. Here is his statement:

I have chosen to raise American flags on all University of Southern Mississippi flagpoles to remind the University community of what unites us. We have all chosen to work, study and live in a country in which debates like those around the state flag of Mississippi can take place and ideas can be civilly expressed and advanced. While I love the state of Mississippi, there is passionate disagreement about the current state flag on our campuses and in our communities. I am looking forward to a time when this debate is resolved and USM raises a state flag that unites us.

I can’t help but think that this is a rather hollow statement on the part of the president. Mississippi’s current state flag is certainly controversial and divisive but the president can’t seem to bring himself to state why. It is possible that as USM’s first black president, Bennett wanted to avoid injecting race into this issue, but, of course, that is exactly what this is about. Perhaps it doesn’t need to be laid out in such explicit terms, but I believe more is required given the absence of any vote by the student senate or campus debate that preceded the president’s decision in Oxford.

If you can’t state openly what this controversy is about on a college campus, where can you?

16 comments