What Will You Put Up In Its Place?

I get it.  The Confederate flag is offensive to many African Americans.  What has become something of a mantra within the black community is arguably the clearest example of a collective voice that for far too long was kept silent in discussions about how our Civil War ought to be remembered.  While I support calls to take down Confederate flags in a few select places I tend to resist the idea of tearing things down that provide windows into our nation’s past.  These calls almost always reveal deep frustration and bitterness, but they rarely involve education and understanding.  John Hennessy is correct in pointing out the deep chasm between white and black Americans when it comes to Civil War memory.

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On Antietam and Hot Coffee

This guest post is by Adam Arenson, assistant professor of history at the University of Texas at El Paso and author of The Great Heart of the Republic: St. Louis and the Cultural Civil War, about the Civil War Era as a battle of three competing visions — that of the North, South, and West. More at http://adamarenson.com.

This is the third in a series.

Walking around the Antietam battlefield, envisioning the bloodiest day in U.S. history, one is hard-pressed for a moment of levity. There is Bloody Lane, the cornfield, and Burnside Bridge, a deceptively idyllic crossing of Antietam Creek. (If you don’t know why it looks familiar, glance at the cover of James McPherson’s Battle Cry of Freedom). Site after site is linked to death and suffering, carnage beyond belief.

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Scratch Off Another Black Confederate

Update: Thanks to Andy Hall for sending along the link to the LOC page that includes a reference to David Lowe’s and Philip Shiman’s essay, “Substitute for a Corpse,” Civil War Times, Dec. 2010, p. 41.

One of the websites that I use in my teacher workshops on digital media literacy is a page from the Petersburg Express website, which is maintained by Ashleigh Moody.  It makes for an ideal case study of why teachers and students need to be educated about how to access and assess online information.  If you scroll down to the bottom of the page you will notice one of the best known photographs from the trenches of Petersburg.  It’s a photograph of a dead Confederate soldier, perhaps a member of an artillery unit.  There are at least two photographs of the body and one of them includes an additional body.  Moody refers to it as, “Black and White Confederate Soldiers.”

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Navigating Through the Intersection of 9-11 and Civil War Memory

It’s always nice to have someone who can do a better job of expressing a thought that you are struggling to formulate.  That’s how I feel about this editorial by John Hennessy, which appeared yesterday in the The Free Lance-Star.  I heard John give a version of this essay a few months back as part of a keynote address at a conference on public history at North Carolina State University.  I am pleased to see it in print.  This particular passage jumped out at me:

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An Open Letter To Ann DeWitt

By now you must feel quite embarrassed by your little interpretive mishap over at the Southern Heritage Preservation Group.  Just think about it, an entire unit of “Negro Cooks” in the Confederate army.  Well, on one level it is amusing, but on another it is incredibly disturbing and indicative of the work you have done at your website, Black Confederate Soldiers.  Your expressed goal has been from the beginning to educate and share what you believe are stories that have been ignored for far too long.  While that is a laudable goal your commentary/analysis clearly points to a lack of understanding surrounding the larger issues related to African Americans and the Confederacy and you clearly do not understand how to conduct primary source analysis.  Having access to Footnote.com is a wonderful thing, but without the proper background knowledge the rummaging through documents looking for what you already believe must be there is a walk on the slippery rocks.  Unfortunately, you are being encouraged by a group of people who applaud your every “discovery” but make no mistake, they are equally misinformed and ill-equipped to do the heavy lifting of interpretation.  How do I know this?  Because they would have continued to applaud your discovery of “Negro Cooks” had Andy Hall not come across it.  Your cheer leading squad does not constitute any type of peer review of your methods and interpretation and you desperately need this.

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