One of the things that I am looking forward to with my upcoming move to Boston is the opportunity to meet new people and join new organizations. I’ve been overwhelmed by the number of historical institutions in the Boston area as well as the wide range of programs and workshops that are available to the general public. I’ve already joined the Massachusetts Historical Society and I can’t wait to dive into their incredibly rich archival collection and attend some of their programs. Over the past few weeks I’ve been scrambling to read as much Massachusetts history as possible. I am currently reading Richard D. Brown’s, Massachusetts: A Concise History, T.H. Breen’s, American Insurgents, American Patriots: The Revolution of the People, and Michael Rawson’s, Eden on the Charles: The Making of Boston.
I am also hoping to set up as many speaking engagements as my calendar will permit, which should also give me the chance to meet some new people. With that in mind I ask that you consider me for a presentation to your Civil War Roundtable, historical society seminar, and especially teaching workshops. I’ve set up a page with additional information. I look forward to hearing from some of you.
I wrote this essay so long ago that I almost forgot about it. The other day I learned that the final volume [link to Amazon] in the Virginia at War series edited by James I. Robertson and William C. Davis is now available for pre-order and is slated for publication in November. I was asked to contribute an essay on the demobilization of the Army of Northern Virginia. That is an incredibly broad topic and with my word limit I had to think carefully about how to narrow my focus. In the end I decided to look at the first few weeks following the surrender at Appomattox and specifically at the experiences of the men as they walked home. The research process was difficult owing to the fact that so few men kept a record of their journeys home. Here is a taste.
“When Johnny Comes Marching Home”: The Demobilization of the Army of Northern Virginia
Lawrence Taliaferro’s civil war should have ended on very familiar ground when he crossed the Rappahannock River by Fredericksburg shortly after the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia at Appomattox Court House on April 9, 1865. Instead, Taliaferro was struck by the drastic changes to the landscape. Abandoned and rusting war machinery littered the ground as well as the bones of old mules and horses. The surrounding forests had been leveled to serve the needs of warring armies throughout the conflict. As Taliaferro traversed those final twelve miles to what he hoped would be the comforts of his family’s estate he became disoriented by the numerous paths that obscured a well-known road. Eventually he lost his way and was forced to ask for directions. An elderly black man, who Taliaferro later learned was an ex-slave of the family, escorted the confused and tired young man to his home.
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After six long years, I am pleased to announce that the University Press of Kentucky will publish my first book, Remembering War as Murder: The Battle of the Crater. Yesterday I received an email indicating that the manuscript received the unanimous approval and enthusiastic support of the press’s editorial board. The book will appear in their series, New Directions in Southern History, which is edited by Peter Carmichael, Michelle Gillespie, and William Link. If everything goes as planned the book should be available by Spring 2012.
I am looking forward to working with Kentucky during what will no doubt be a hectic next few months, but I am already confident that they are going to do a first-rate job. Back in 2007 I published a chapter in a book of essays on Civil War soldiers edited by Aaron Sheehan-Dean and I have another piece that is slated to appear in the final volume of their Virginia at War series, edited by James I. Robertson and William C. Davis.
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I’ve taken a great deal of heat for much of my commentary on how Civil War battlefield preservation is typically framed for public consumption. The most recent example can be found here. This morning I read John Hennessy’s description of a recent NPS event that marked the anniversary of Stonewall Jackson’s wounding at Chancellorsville on May 2, 1863. Some background for the event:
The program had its genesis in an article that appeared in one of the Civil War magazines (I believe Blue and Gray, but could be wrong). The writer had earlier done celestial calculations showing how and why the tides at Tarawa had been so exceptionally and disastrously difficult during the amphibious landing there in November 1943. His latest calculations showed that the arrangement of celestial bodies on May 2, 1996 would match precisely those of May 2, 1863, the night of Stonewall Jackson’s wounding at Chancellorsville–same moonrise, same moon phase, etc. Though amazed that anyone had the time to figure such a thing out, the park staff–atuned to subtle connections like that–thought it was all pretty cool, and so we decided to do a program at the site of Jackson’s wounding that night, May 2, 1996. We issued the standard press releases about the event and prepared for it like a hundred others.
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The PBS show, History Detectives, has completed filming an episode on Silas Chandler in West Point, Mississippi. A few weeks ago I mentioned that I would be taking part in this show, but I recently learned that producers decided to take the story in a different direction and would not need my assistance. I was a bit disappointed, but ultimately I just hope they get the story right. Well, I have it on good authority that not only did they correct the mistakes made on the Antiques Road Show episode, but that investigators uncovered additional material that puts the nail in the coffin of the story that the Sons of Confederate Veterans and others have spread on their websites and other materials for years. The show is scheduled to air in July or August.
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Matt Isham has published a thoughtful post in which he assesses the black Confederate controversy over at A People’s Contest. While I appreciate Matt’s positive assessment of the attention that I’ve given the subject over the past few years, his critique misses the mark. Consider the following:
Of course, the person who has done yeoman work on this issue is Kevin Levin at Civil War Memory. He has challenged black Confederate mythmakers with vigor and gusto for several years now and shows no signs of slowing down, as he will be publishing a book on this subject soon (find his latest post on the topic here). Levin consistently has pointed out the basic historical illiteracy of the mythmakers, particularly their inability to understand how 19th century Americans conceived of citizens, slaves, and the citizen-soldier.
This, of course, is all well and good, especially the heavy lifting Mr. Levin has done on this issue. After all, it is one of the most important aspects of our mission as educators to expose the public to the fraudulent nature of such myths as the black Confederate story. I wonder, however, if historians are not in danger of sinking down into the mire of this debate by continuing to pay attention to every continued claim from the mythmakers and supporters and every rebuttal in the blogs and the news media. To be honest, I’m not sure where I stand on this, but I feel as though this debate is beginning to yield diminishing returns. Surely, the public has been educated about the debate and the shortcomings of the black Confederate thesis. Carrying on the debate with members of the Sons of Confederate Veterans and other true believers yields nothing, for they are resolved to support their position regardless of whatever evidence and logical analysis is marshaled to expose the fallacy of their belief.
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Update: 50 Cent learns more about the history of slavery and South Carolina during Reconstruction.
Rapper 50 Cent and MTV recently revealed a clip from his upcoming Rock Doc titled “50 Cent: The Origin of Me,” which features 50 Cent traveling to Edgefield, South Carolina, in search of his roots. In one clip, the rapper encounters an elderly woman, who explains the significance of the Confederate Flag to 50 Cent, who appears visibly irritated with the conversation. “People really don’t understand what’s going on at that period of time,” the elderly woman told 50 Cent. “Black citizens in this country really needs to study the history, because it’s just as much the black ancestry as it is the White ancestry.” Despite 50’s explanation for the Confederate flag being seen as racist and why it offends many people, the woman acted as though there were no valid reasons for taking offense to it, saying that it has to do with black ancestry as well as white ancestry. “She’s offering her truth- what‚ she’s accepted as the truth based on information given to her, but I don’t agree with it,” 50 Cent said.
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Willie Tarver, of Wadley, made concrete gravemarkers in the mid-1960s before moving to large-scale concrete and metal figurative sculptures. Tarver’s sense of humor is visible in works like Cap Lee #3, which melds the artist’s features with those of Robert E. Lee. [source]