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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Searching For Edward Porter Alexander and Charley

I’ve said it before but it bears repeating that Edward Porter Alexander’s, Fighting for the Confederacy is a goldmine of information on the Confederate experience.  It has come in handy in just about all of my projects and that is a testament to his attention to detail as well as Alexander’s honesty.  What follows is me playing around a bit with a very, very rough draft of the beginning of an introduction or proposal for my latest book project, which is tentatively titled, Searching for Black Confederates in History and Memory.

At some point during the winter lull of 1861-62, Edward Porter Alexander purchased “two appendages” which remained by his side until the close of the war.  “I had bought a second horse, ‘Meg Merriles,’ a very pretty bay mare with a roan spot on one hip,” remembered Alexander, “& I had hired for an ostler & servant a 15 year old darkey named Charley—a medium tall & slender, ginger-cake colored, & well behaved & good dispositioned boy.”  Alexander’s physical description of Charley next to that of his horse plus his reference to the two as an “appendage” reflects the legal basis of their relationship and one of the many dehumanizing qualities of slavery that comes through in his writing even decades after the war.

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