The other day I went through the last books left on the shelves of my parents home and there was one about Stonewall Jackson. Now, as a child I loved that story. Shot by mistake, the brilliant soldier whose death might have turned things? I found it fascinating as a child, not yet delving into the cause of the battle or his beliefs. And Southerners know how to spin a tell [tale]. There’s a reason those live while tales of Grant languish. As an adult, I have to look at the cause he was fighting for, so was his death a sad thing, or thank you Baby Jesus that the dude died.
I love the way her story transitions from the child’s fascination with a key element of the Lost Cause narrative to a more mature reflection that acknowledges that the war was about something and that it mattered who was victorious. Substitute any high level Confederate officer and you arrive at what I take to be her conclusion: “thank you Baby Jesus that the dude died.” It’s not about celebrating any one individual’s death, but it is a simple acknowledgment that ‘death happens’ in war and that it matters who dies. In the case of Jackson’s death it reflects the obvious point that the right side won the Civil War given the consequences of a Confederate victory.
My interview on Studio 360 about Newt Gingrich’s Crater novel is now available. Unfortunately, they decided to go with another guest for the actual airing of the show, but they kept my segment as a bonus track. After listening to myself I can certainly see why. I’ve done a few radio interviews, but I still need to learn to slow down just a bit and choose my words more carefully. You may just want to read my review in The Atlantic. My next essay will be published on Monday, which offers a brief assessment of the Civil War Sesquicentennial.
Thanks again to Michele Siegel and host, Kurt Anderson for inviting me.
It’s nice to see that Ta-Nahesi Coates’s contribution to the The Atlantic’s special Civil War issue is getting so much attention. It nicely sums up why I am now a regular reader of his blog and why last week I went to meet him in person at MIT. Coates’s essay is a very personal and thoughtful reflection on why the African American community appears to have lost interest in the Civil War. The essay tracks the gaping hole in his personal memory of the Civil War as a child to his discovery of it later in life and his subsequent reading of a wide range of primary and secondary sources.
Coates locates a collective lack of interest among African Americans in a narrative that has become all too familiar. Popularized by David Blight in Race and Reunion, this narrative traces a gradual embrace of reconciliation among white Americans by the turn of the twentieth century, an acceptance of the Lost Cause view of the war, and ending with the tragic loss of of what Blight describes as an “Emancipationist” view of the war. From there Coates jumps briefly to the Civil Rights Era and later to such popular interpretations of the war such as Gone With the Wind, Shelby Foote’s three volume history of the war and Ken Burns’s PBS documentary.
There is much to ponder within this framework, but it only gets us so far to understanding what many people working in the public history sector are reflecting on as well. As I read Coates’s essay part of the problem seems to be in the assumption that the process of reunions gradual ascendency functioned to cut off African Americans from memory of the Civil War only to have it re-emerge on the eve of the Civil War Sesquicentennial. The danger here is that Coates runs the risk of painting a picture of blacks as emasculated from history and I know that this is not his intention.
I am beginning to think about my “Best of 2011” list, which will be published at the end of the month. A few of the titles that are likely to be included were recently highlighted as part of a best of list that can be found in the most recent issue of The Civil War Monitor. I had plenty of time to read this year, which has made this year’s list much more difficult to nail down.
With Christmas fast approaching I wanted to thank those of you who have purchased books from Amazon by clicking through my affiliate link in the sidebar. As many of you know, I make a small percentage on each sale and thus far I’ve done fairly well. For the past four quarters I was able to purchase anywhere between 3-5 hardcover books. I just started my latest acquisition, which is Paul Quigley’s, Shifting Grounds: Nationalism & the American South, 1848-1865 (Oxford University Press, 2011).
Enough about what I’ve read. What did you read this year that you can recommend? Of course, I am interested in Civil War books, but please feel free to share anything that you think is worth spending some time with. Thanks.
I was surprised to see an advertisement for North and South magazine in the latest issue of Hallowed Ground that included a special discount to new subscribers. Keith Poulter has a brand new website up, which suggests that he is trying to bring back to life what was once a first-rate publication. Unfortunately, those days have long passed. It is true that when the magazine hit the newsstands back in 1997, it set a new standard for what a popular history publication could be. It regularly attracted some of the top scholars in the field and introduced aspects of the war that had never made it into a popular magazine format.
Looking back it is clear that the most important asset on Poulter’s staff was Terry Johnston and he has just launched The Civil War Monitor, which I strongly encourage you to consider. My N&S subscription recently expired and I have no intention of renewing it, not simply because of the way I was handled as an author, but more importantly because of the declining quality of the content. Perhaps I am being unnecessarily critical, but in this economy consumers deserve information with which to base a decision and I am certainly not the first person to raise concerns. For me it was an investment that went sour and that alone deserves to be made known. I am very happy with The Civil War Monitor and as an author and reader I couldn’t be more pleased with Civil War Times.
We shall see whether Poulter can salvage his magazine.
For those of you up early perhaps you can help me with a short list of politicians who have dabbled in history. I am interested primarily, but not exclusively in the Civil War era. Woodrow Wilson comes to mind in the context of the Civil War and, of course, there is Kennedy’s Profiles in Courage. More recent examples are very much appreciated. Thanks for your help.