Acquisitions, 05/27

I am reading David Blight’s new book on the Civil War Centennial in which he analyzes the writings of Bruce Catton.  While I’ve read chunks of Catton in the past I am embarrassed to admit that I’ve never actually read one of his books from cover to cover.  Well, I just started A Stillness at Appomattox and I can’t put it down.  He was one hell of a writer.

David W. Blight, American Oracle: The Civil War in the Civil Rights Era (Harvard University Press, 2011).

E. Renee Ingram, In View of the Great Want of Labor: A Legislative History of African American Conscription in the Confederacy (Willow Bend Books, 2002).

Brian D. McKnight, Confederate Outlaw: Champ Ferguson and the Civil War in Appalachia(Louisiana State University Press, 2011).

James Marten, Sing Not War: The Lives of Union and Confederate Veterans in Gilded Age America (University of North Carolina Press, 2011).

Timothy S. Sedore, An Illustrated Guide to Virginia’s Confederate Monuments (Southern Illinois University Press, 2011).

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People Want To Be Free

[Hat-tip to Donald Schaffer]

I don’t have much patience for the long-standing debate of who freed the slaves.  The question itself is much too simplistic and sterile.  Why historians have felt a need to single out one factor or engage in wholesale reductionism, in the end, tells us much more about the assumptions we employ than about the complexity of the story of emancipation that needs to be told.  Today is the 150th anniversary of General Benjamin Butler’s letter informing his superiors of three escaped slaves who had made their way to Fortress Monroe.

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Harry Smeltzer, Blogging, and Civil War History

Today I received the latest issue of the journal, Civil War History, which includes a roundtable discussion about the First Battle of Bull Run.  The panelists include John Hennessy, Ethan Rafuse, and fellow blogger, Harry Smeltzer.  [I should point out that both Rafuse and Hennessy manage blogs, but they have published on the battle while it is his blog that singles Harry out as an authority.]  Lesley Gordon’s vision for the journal is beginning to take shape and I couldn’t be more pleased that she is inviting folks from outside the community of academic historians to take part.  The choice to include Harry, whose blog is about First Bull Run, suggests that blogging has the potential to open new doors for those who demonstrate competency in their preferred subject area.  I don’t think it would be a stretch to suggest that what we have before us is an example of peer review.

Most Civil War bloggers do a good job of expressing their passion for the subject.  Very few actually add to our understanding of the Civil War and this is just fine.  The beauty of the format is that one can blog for any reason whatsoever, but it is always nice to see when the hard work leads to new opportunities.

Congratulations, Harry.

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Thank You, Dr. Robertson

Unfortunately, I was unable to attend the recent Virginia Sesquicentennial “Signature Conference” hosted by Virginia Tech and organized by James I. Robertson.  I’ve heard nothing but positive reviews of the event.  As many of you know Dr. Robertson is retiring from his teaching position at Tech this year.  He has touched the lives of many and has added immeasurably to the general public’s understanding of the war.  Here is a short clip of his farewell remarks from the conference.

On a different note, I understand that some of you are having trouble viewing comments on the blog. The trouble seems to be with Internet Explorer. For now, I recommend using Firefox, Google Chrome, or Safari.

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The Ghost of Karl Betts

Update: In it’s first decision since the resignation of half of its committee members, the West Virginia Sesquicentennial Commission denied a funding request from The Guyandotte Civil War Days festival committee. It turns out that the committee invited H.K. Edgerton to give the keynote address. Clearly, the WV commission made the right decision.

Karl S. Betts was the first executive director of the Civil War Centennial Commission and a successful Kansas-born businessman.  His goals were first and foremost to fashion a centennial celebration that would attract patriotic audiences and steer clear of issues related to race.  This meant battle reenactments and parades.  Most of the sesquicentennial commissions, including Virginia, have decided to steer clear of reenactments.  As I understand it, that decision has to do with not wanting to be perceived as celebrating what was a destructive and costly war as well as wanting to focus on more substantive and educational projects.

As far as I know, the West Virginia Sesquicentennial Commission is the first case of a sharp divide between those who want to entertain as opposed to educate.  This report is based largely on an interview done with Professor Mark Snell, who is the vice chairman of the commission.  [I should note that I am good friends with Professor Snell and I trust his judgment.]

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