Can You Afford Not To Use Social Media?

When it comes down to it much of the success that I’ve enjoyed as a teacher and historian over the past few years is the result of social media. I’ve taken full advantage of it from regular updates on this blog to Facebook and Twitter.  Each platform has a slightly different focus.  The blog functions as an extension of my classroom; Facebook allows me to stay in touch with old and new friends, and Twitter provides an ideal way to share and receive information in short bursts with people who share a common interest.  However, what they all have in common is they provide an effective means of remaining on the radar screens of current and future friends and colleagues.

The past few weeks provide a number of examples to support such an observation.  Back in August I was contacted by a publisher, who was interested in commissioning a book on the subject of black Confederates.  The contact was the direct result of my writing on the subject on this site.  This past week I was contacted by the Smithsonian Institution about the possibility of offering a series of lectures for one of its spring programs.  Again, the contact was the result of this site.  And this week I completed an abstract for an SHA session that was organized by a regular reader of the blog as well as a Facebook friend.  The point here is not to toot my own horn, though I would like to think that the quality of posts here as well as my published work have something to do with my limited success.  Rather, it’s to point out how little it matters apart from the broader goal of sharing an interest and scholarship with the public.

The mistake that people make is in thinking about social media as a way to build community.  Some of you who have been around for a while know that not too long ago I was fixated with creating a Civil War Memory community.  At one point or another I included Google Friend Connect and even a widget for the Civil War Memory Facebook page in the sidebar.  Somehow I envisioned readers connecting with one another and continuing discussions in various online spaces.  I now see this as completely misguided.  There are no Online communities; in fact, it demeans the very concept of community.

In the end, social media affords the user the opportunity to build an AUDIENCE.  My audience includes roughly 1,000 regular readers of Civil War Memory, 738 friends on Facebook, 350 members of the CWM Facebook page, and 490 Twitter followers.  In the context of my role as a teacher and historians, all of these people have the potential to respond in various ways to what I produce online.  They can shreak in horror, laugh, agree, or disagree.  These same people can also, “Like,” “link,” and “retweet.”  Oh…and they are also potential customers for a book about the battle of the Crater and historical memory that may or may not be published.

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Happy Richard Poplar Day

Petersburg’s favorite “black Confederate” is being honored today for his loyal service to the Confederacy.  Richard Poplar’s story is probably quite interesting given the racial dynamic of Petersburg, but like everyone else that the SCV and UDC get their hands on, his story will be reduced to one of loyalty to his comrades and sacrifice for the cause.  His 1886 obituary states the following:

When the Sussex Dragoons were formed at the beginning of the war, and when they became Company H, of the Thirteenth Virginia Cavalry, Richard attached himself to the command.  The Sussex Dragoons were a wealthy organization, and each member of the company had his own servant along with him.  From April 1861, until the retreat from Gettysburg, Richard remained faithfully attached to the regiment.

The reference to Poplar as having “attached himself” to the unit suggests that he did not enlist as a soldier, which is not surprising given that the Confederate government explicitly denied free blacks the opportunity to serve.  Unfortunately, Poplar’s stone indicates that he was, in fact, a soldier.  What I would like to know is, assuming that this stone looks fairly new, what was there before and what did it say about Poplar?  Yes, I know that the H.E. Howard volume on the 13th Virginia Cavalry lists Poplar as a private, but has anyone actually seen his enlistment papers?  He may, in fact, be a bona fide black Confederate soldier.  That would make his story even more interesting, but all I’ve seen are documents related to his capture at Gettysburg on Footnote.com.

And, finally, why do these headstones fail to indicate service as a black Confederate given that so many believe that there has been an active cover-up by various groups?

Here is the 2004 proclamation for Richard Poplar

This day, 18 September 2004 is proclaimed Richard Poplar Day in Petersburg, Virginia:

WHEREAS, Richard Poplar, a highly honored Petersburg “Colored Confederate Soldier” and American veteran was buried with full military honors at Memorial Hill, Blandford Cemetery, Petersburg, Virginia in 1886,
WHEREAS, Richard Poplar served as a nationally known chef at the historic former Bollingbrook Hotel in Petersburg, Virginia,
WHEREAS, Richard Poplar served in Co. H, 13th Virginia Cavalry, the famous Sussex Light Dragoons, with extraordinary distinction,
WHEREAS, Richard Poplar spent 19 months as a Prisoner of War at Fort Delaware and Point Lookout, Maryland , and he NEVER turned his back on the South, his beloved Virginia, or his comrades,
WHEREAS, Richard Poplar was a man of deep unshakeable faith, and conviction,
WHEREAS, Richard Poplar provided commended honorable aid and comfort to the Prisoner Of War reserves (The Old Men and Young Boys) who were captured at the First Attack on Petersburg on 9 June 1864,
WHEREAS, along with all his comrades, Richard Poplar will be honored forever on Petersburg’s Memorial Day, the 9th of June, and appropriately on our National Memorial Day,
WHEREAS, Richard Poplar serves as a shining example to all Petersburg natives and all mankind,

Today, we honor our own Private Richard (Dick) Poplar on this 18 September 2004. This day will continue the reflection of Richard’s accomplishments for posterity.

May his life, heroism, and memory serves as a beacon to greatness for Petersburg, for our country, and for the world.

[signed] Annie M. Mickens, Mayor of Petersburg, Virginia
18September2004

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Museum of the Confederacy Discontinues Sale of Black Confederate Toy Soldiers

I never doubted for a moment that the Museum of the Confederacy would do the right thing and pull these ridiculous items from their shelves.  Thank you.  Just another reason why I fully support the mission of the Museum of the Confederacy.

In addition to this situation, Civil War Memory was instrumental in bringing about the removal of poorly-researched information sheets on black Confederates at Governors Island in New York City.

The power of blogging in action.

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New Kunstler Print

Mort Kunstler’s latest print beautifully captures a crucial moment in the life of the Army of Northern Virginia.  The scene takes place in Orange County, Virginia following the army’s defeat at Gettysburg.  Kunstler vividly depicts the men in the army marching down main street, while Lee, Longstreet, and A.P. Hill discuss something.  As you can see, this is the exact moment in the war when both Lee and Hill simultaneously gestured with their right arms.  Longstreet, as usual, looks befuddled.  It’s hard to believe that this is the first print to depict this moment in the war.  If you are in the area you can meet Kunstler in person on Saturday at the Orange County Courthouse.

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The Carpetbagging Yankees

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