Were Slaves Really Loyal to the Union From the Start?

Having a great time here in Milwaukee at the OAH/NCPH.  I just finished participating in a lively roundtable discussion on the Civil War 150th.  The participants covered a wide swath of the education and public history field and the topics ranged from how to engage the general public to shaping content on the Internet.  Tomorrow morning I am giving a talk on teaching Civil War movies, which should be a lot of fun.

Between all the excitement I wanted to pass on my review of Glenn David Brasher’s new book,The Peninsula Campaign and the Necessity of Emancipation: African Americans and the Fight for Freedom that appeared today in the Atlantic.


Confederate War Socialism

I love it when Richard Williams links to my blog, especially when the point to be made is so trivial and reflective of his own insecurities.  Richard seems to think that I believe the Confederacy to be the “the forerunner to the Soviet Union. They loved centralization of power.”  The closest I came to suggesting such a comparison was in quoting John Majewski, who described the Confederate political experience as “Confederate War Socialism.”  My point was that the Confederate government’s wartime policies do not add up to anything approaching the limited government image that some people choose to remember.

Richard also took the opportunity to remind me (as if anyone needs to be reminded) that the Confederate government never knew anything but war.

Of course, Kevin seems to forget this was a war-time government fighting what they viewed as an invasion. The CSA never knew anything other than a war footing. The war drove every decision and there is no other time nor circumstance with which to compare. That tends to skew any discussion or comparison regarding centralization of power in the Confederate States.

No argument there.  The policies of the Confederate government reflected the needs of a modern state at war.  Unfortunately, Williams seems to be completely unaware of the move toward centralized governments across the western world.  The Confederate experience is not an aberration, but part of a much broader trend, which has been addressed in one way or another by a number of historians, including Paul Quigley, Andre Fleche, and Peter and Nicholas Onuf.  It’s safe to assume that Richard will not bother to read these books.

Finally, I love the fact that Richard makes it a point to identify me as an academic historian.  I guess he has trouble with the books I read or what I write, though I’ve never seen an actual critique of one of my publications.  Today he placed me alongside David Blight, which is quite an honor.  By the way, I recently learned that Blight is going to blurb my forthcoming book on the Crater and historical memory.  I guess I am guilty as charged.  To make matters worse, tomorrow I head to Milwaukee to take part in the annual meeting of the OAH and you can bet that I am going to get in line with my fellow historians.

Thanks for the good laugh, Richard.


Remembering Confederate Conscription

Given my last post I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge that today is the 150th anniversary of the Confederate Conscription Act, which made  all white males between the ages of eighteen and thirty-five eligible to be drafted into military service.  This was the first draft in American history.

It could be celebrated by those who believe that that the Confederate government was justified in instituting any measure necessary to bring about independence from such a corrupt government in Washington.  The problem is that the memory of Confederate heritage tends to avoid any challenge to a vague notion of a principled defense of states rights such as the centralization of power in Richmond that only increased as the war dragged on.

What is lost, however, is any acknowledgment of continued resistance against the Confederate government by such governors as Vance and Brown as well as countless others, who worried about the dangers associated with concentrated power.  Instead folks such as Thomas DiLorenzo rail against Lincoln for his supposedly corrupt efforts and embrace Davis and the Confederacy as counter-revolutionary.  Such a picture completely ignores the rich history of states rights advocacy that continued within the Confederacy itself.


What Would Your Confederate Ancestor Say?

SC Sen. Mike Rose tells fellow senators that if they don’t vote to let the state take over Medicare from the federal government, the ghosts of their Confederate ancestors will be very unhappy with them.  My guess is that this argument has less rhetorical appeal compared to years past.  I would love to have seen the faces of those African American state representatives.

By extension, I think we can safely assume that our Confederate ancestors would also not support voting for Obama this coming November. Here is an older post for those of you who are still convinced that the brief Confederate experiment had anything to do with the protection of states rights.


Visualizing Emancipation

This is one of those days when I desperately wish I was in the classroom teaching my course on the American Civil War.  Yesterday the Digital Scholarship Lab at the University of Richmond released Visualizing Emancipation, which allows you to track individual emancipation events on a timeline.  As it stands you can track different types of emancipation events along, filter results by different kinds of records and even add your own events to the database.

The project will surely yield insights that are not discernible through traditional sources, but what emerges at first glance is the importance of both railroads and waterways as avenues of emancipation as well as the Union army.  Congratulations to Scott Nesbit and the rest of the team at DSL for producing such an incredible resource.

In other news, for those of you in the Richmond area there will be a slew of events on Saturday as part of their Civil War and Emancipation Day celebrations.  Check it out.