Pelican Press Does It Again

From the dust jacket:

Nathan Bedford Forrest remains a controversial figure in American history. Because of his days as a slave trader and his involvement with the Ku Klux Klan, the Confederate general is equated with racism. However, many may be surprised to know that he spent the latter days of his life as a pious Christian and an outspoken advocate of African Americans. This spiritual biography follows Forrest on his journey to salvation, focusing on the lesser known aspects of his life. Recalling his youth in the South, his experiences as an unyielding Civil War general, and his final years devoted to his renewed faith, eleven chapters span Forrest’s enigmatic life. Firsthand accounts from the diary entries of those who knew him and photographs reveal an obscure side of the soldier, a side that is often omitted from history books. His radical transformation provides the message that positive life changes are possible.

Who is the Author?: Shane E. Kastler is an ordained Southern Baptist minister who has devoted his life to preaching the gospel of Christ. He received his B.B.A. from Northeastern State University, where he became heavily involved in both the church and campus ministries. Afterwards, he earned his M.Div. from Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, one of six seminaries affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention. Upon graduation, Kastler received the LifeWay Preaching Award, which is presented to a graduate who has excelled in the study and practice of preaching. Having served as senior pastor of the nondenominational First Christian Church of Pleasanton, Kansas, he continues to preach and write. He contributes a weekly religious column, “Seeking Higher Ground,” to the Linn County (KS) News in addition to maintaining two Internet blogs. Kastler lives with his family in Sand Springs, Oklahoma.

…and I decided to pursue an M.A. in history instead – silly rabbit.

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Adventures in American Studies

Today was one of those days that I live for as a teacher.  This year I am team teaching (with two colleagues) a course in American Studies that allows students to earn credit for both English and History during their junior year.  We have 38 students and the class meets four days a week for two periods each day.  Right now we are in the middle of a series of lectures that will give students a skeletal outline of American history, which will allow us to then focus in much more detail on different time periods and subject matter.  The outline should allow students to make connections with other time periods.  I’ve enjoyed the experience thus far and I am thoroughly enjoying our two new spaces, including a large lecture hall and a discussion room.

In addition to other assignments, each trimester students will be responsible for completing a major project.  For their first project students will work with a document from the University of Virginia’s Special Collections Department.  Today was their first trip to the archives.  For this first trip students were introduced to the assignment, the rules and regulations of the archives, and to cap it off the staff brought out a few of their gems.  Next week we return to give the class the opportunity to work a bit with their individual document.  While they are allowed to bring digital cameras with them the class is required to make one additional visit to Special Collections on their own time.

The overall goal of the project is to give students a chance to interpret an actual document on their own to see what they can make of it.  They will have a number of questions to answer, but they will have to think through the significance and meaning of their object.  They will present their findings on a website that they will create.  Most of the documents are broadsides, which are rich in detail and easy to connect to larger events and movements.  The folks at Special Collections were incredibly helpful and enthusiastic and I was especially pleased with the way our students handled themselves.  In fact, this is the first group of high school students ever to come through Special Collections for a class assignment.

The best part of the morning was the showcasing of a few of the archives’ high profile artifacts.  They included an original July 4, 1776 printing of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson’s famous 1820 letter in which he describes slavery as holding “the wolf by its ears”, the vote of Virginia’s Secession Convention, William Faulkner’s original manuscript of The Sound and the Fury, and three different editions of Whitman’s Leaves of Grass.  By far the most interesting artifact was a salesman’s copy of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.  These copies were bound, but did not include the entire book.  Instead, interested parties could get a sense of what the print looked like and could choose different kinds of binding.  The most interesting feature of this particular book, however, is that someone apparently tampered with one of the original plates.  The image can be seen above and I will leave it to you to figure out what is wrong.  Needless to say, the kids got a real kick out of it.

We want our students to see history as much more than something that is simply read in a book and regurgitated in different forms.  This assignment will give students a chance to exercise their imaginations and work toward their own interpretation of the past.  Today was a special day and one that reminds me of just how lucky I am to be a teacher.

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Gettysburg and Battlefield Preservation: Another Perspective

The following is a guest post by Professor Mark Snell of Shepherd University.  Professor Snell is the director of The George Tyler Moore Center for the Study of the Civil War

I will not attempt to debate Professor Cebula, nor try to address most of his points. This debate actually can be traced back to 1863—how much of the battlefield should be set aside to honor the men who fought, bled and died there—and it has been going on ever since. For anyone interested in that history, they should read Gettysburg: Memory, Market, and an American Shrine (Princeton Univ. Press, 2003), by the late Jim Weeks.

Let’s get right to the crux of the matter: Is the site of the proposed casino—the Eisenhower Inn and Conference Center, its adjacent sports complex and Devonshire Village condominiums—a place where Union and Confederate soldiers met in combat? The answer is no. We do know, however, that it was a staging area for Wesley Merritt’s cavalry brigade prior to its fight against the right flank of the Army of Northern Virginia on the afternoon of July 3, 1863. Is that, in itself, worth saving? The question and its answer are irrelevant, since the area has been developed for more than four decades.

Directly across the Emmitsburg Road (US Business Route 15) from the proposed casino are the relic remains of a failed commercial venture known as “Slippy Slide,” a water park which incorporated a blockhouse from “Fort Defiance,” another extinct tourist trap that formerly sat on the Taneytown Road near “Fantasyland,” itself a 1950s-era theme park where the current USNPS visitors’ center now sits. All of these commercial enterprises, and many more, were built in Cumberland Township with the explicit approval of the township’s supervisors, the political predecessors of the ones who recently approved the proposed casino.

For the record, I am not morally offended by a casino that could be located about 1 ½ miles from my farm. My libertarian views tell me that if people want to gamble their money away, so be it. But again, part of me wants to say, “Hey Atlantic City! How are those casinos working out for you now!”

The real issue here is not the casino itself, but the ancillary commercial development that, based on the Cumberland Township supervisors’ past record, is sure to blossom along the Emmitsburg Road. Many years ago, I was a member of the Cumberland Township Planning Commission. I eventually resigned because I believed that the supervisors seemed all too eager to yield to development pressure at the expense of historic preservation, the historic landscape and the historic viewshed.

The area in the immediate vicinity of the proposed casino is zoned “mixed use,” which, according to the Cumberland Township Zoning Ordinance, would include motels (a few older ones and two star establishments already exist there), restaurants/bars, gas stations, convenience stores, automobile/motorcycle dealers and the like. Any number of national and regional franchises could easily install a ready-made business in a very short period of time in order to take advantage of the casino’s clientele. Based on past trends of commercial development that had been approved by the township supervisors, I am deeply concerned that this tendency will continue, this time within a half mile of the South Cavalry battlefield, part of Gettysburg National Military Park. Will the presumed tax revenues—at the expense of the historic viewshed so close to the battlefield—offset the longer-term costs to local government? Ask the good people of Atlantic City, New Jersey, how it has worked out for them. And don’t forget to factor the increased bus and car traffic along the already congested Emmitsburg Road. Will that require widening of the road and perhaps traffic lights?

My main worry, as a taxpayer within Cumberland Township and Adams County, is not with rising taxes. I have witnessed rapid commercial development in the past twenty years, yet my property and school taxes have continued to rise, despite promises that business development would lower my taxes. My greatest concern—the reason that I chose to move to Gettysburg after retiring from the US Army—is the maintenance of the rural and historical environment of the area. Anyone who has visited Harpers Ferry National Historical Park can attest to the burgeoning commercial development between there and Charles Town after a casino was added to Charles Town Races. The landscape along US Route 340 between those two towns only recently—in the past two decades—had been pastoral and rural, too. It no longer looks that way.

To Americans who understand the battle, Gettysburg also is defined by the roads leading there—the military “avenues of approach” that are as much a part of the battlefield landscape as the area currently protected by Gettysburg National Military Park. But those roads, laid out in the 18th and 19th centuries, are fast losing their rural character, as anyone traveling along US Route 30 East or West of the town will see. Can we afford to continue that trend?

One last thing needs to be addressed, which was the starting point for Professor Cebula’s guest blog-posting. It’s obvious that he did not like the CWPT film. I found the film, for the most part, moving and heartfelt, but it is understandable why Dr. Cebula would question the use of “talking heads” such as Stephen Lang, Ken Burns, Matthew Broderick, Sam Waterston and Susan Eisenhower. They are not historians. They do, however, have a passionate interest in the Civil War and Gettysburg, either because they portrayed a Civil War personality on film, or produced an award-winning documentary on the subject or, in one case, spent her childhood weekends in Gettysburg. All donated their services to the Trust. All are recognizable by the American public. If CWPT just filmed egg-headed historians like Cebula and me—or even David Blight—who would want to watch it, and what impact would it have?

Will Gettysburg’s legacy be a landscape littered with crass development, or will we try to restore it to a place of national historic significance, including the areas that buffer the park? President Dwight David Eisenhower (grandfather of Susan) loved this area so much that he bought a historic farm adjacent to the battlefield and retired there. Thinking about his own “Gettysburg address,” he wrote, “When I die, I want to leave a piece of earth better than I found it.” That’s my goal, too.

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Congratulations to the Museum of the Confederacy

Museum officials announced a groundbreaking date of Sept. 23 for the construction of its new facility at Appomattox, which is slated to open in 2012.  This is wonderful news given the museum’s recent financial difficulties owing, in part, to its location in Richmond within the growing sprawl of the VCU Hospital.  Now residents from around the state and country will have even more of an opportunity to view one of the most important collections of Confederate/Civil War-related artifacts as well as a wide range of exhibits and educational activities.  I am looking forward to taking my classes to the new museum.

My only question is whether the museum gift shop will include the black Confederate soldier.

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Teaching Battlefield Preservation

Perhaps the best way to pass on the value of historic preservation among the younger generation is to bring them to these places.  Every year I bring my Civil War classes to at least one battlefield as well as other important sites.  Although we don’t explicitly discuss issues of preservation I know for a fact that many of my students take away important lessons that can only be shared at the actual site.  I have very little sense of whether an inclination to see these landscapes preserved is instilled as a result.  To be completely honest, I’ve never seen it as my responsibility as a teacher to steer them to this position, but I am now wondering how I might go about teaching the history of Civil War battlefield preservation as a form of historical memory.  I am not even sure what it would mean to teach battlefield preservation.

What would a reading list look like for such a course unit?  Joan Zenzen’s study of Manassas comes to mind, but what else?  Remember, I am teaching high school students.  In the end I am much more interested in producing thoughtful students, who can appreciate the bigger picture than I am in a class of preservation advocates.

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