Can the NAACP Get Right With the Civil War Sesquicentennial?

NAACP Protest in Charleston, SC, December 2010

In a recent post, Ta-Nehisis Coates is critical of the NAACP for its continued boycott of South Carolina as well as its struggle to remove the Confederate flag from state house grounds.  I couldn’t agree more with Coates:

There is something that really strikes me as wrong about urging people to not visit South Carolina on the 150th anniversary of the Civil War. I was listening to the radio a few days ago, and the mayor of Charleston was discussing the significance of the city’s slave ports in American history. I haven’t seen this on paper, but he claimed something like 20 percent of all African-American have an ancestor that came through Charleston. Whether that’s true, or not, you’re talking about a state with a unique place in black history, in particular, and American history at large…. At some point we have to stop telling people what they can’t believe in, and start telling them what they can. At some point we have push a positive view of history, not in the sense of white-washing, but in the sense of something beyond debunking. I don’t know that you can banish the Confederate flag from the South. I don’t know that you can make Tennessee come to terms with Nathan Bedford Forrest. But surely you can shine a light on Ida B Wells, Prince Rivers, Cassius Clay and Elizabeth Van Lew.

[click to continue…]

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How Does This Fit Into the Lost Cause?

Update from a Reliable Source: “One porn catalog mailed out to the Army of the Potomac advertised dildoes. A dildo was found in the wall of a house of a Nantucket captain’s widow. The first vibrator was marketed in 1870. The traveling device salesman sounds perfectly plausible.”

I Guess She Didn't Need Him After All

I just wrapped up a wonderful visit with a former student from Alabama that I have not seen in ten years.  It’s always nice to see how these kids turn out.  Anyway, this student comes from a fairly prominent Alabama family with its share of family stories.  One of those stories struck me as very interesting and I am curious if anyone can recommend further reading.

It turns out that this woman’s great grandfather supplied southern widows with adult novelties in the wake of the Civil War.  I know, I know…this is not something we want to acknowledge at least for those of us who harbor conservative views of women or images of Melanie Hamilton.  It turns out that this drastic change in profession eventually cost him his marriage.  The story has stayed within the confines of the family for the obvious reasons and I have no reason not to believe it, but I am curious if anyone has done serious research on this aspect of widowhood.  I am familiar with Thomas Lowry’s book, but I don’t believe he addresses this.

Given Victorian attitudes toward sex I assume that evidence of such a market would be hard to come by.  What do you think?

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Stacy D. Allen Responds

This afternoon I received a response from Stacy D. Allen, who is the Chief Ranger at Shiloh National Military Park, regarding their photo exhibit on Andrew and Silas Chandler.  As I indicated in the post I never had any doubt that I would receive a response as well as an indication that the necessary changes would be made.

We greatly appreciate you contacting us concerning the Andrew and Silas Chandler photo exhibit at the Corinth Civil War Interpretative Center in Corinth, Mississippi, in conjunction with the continuing research you are performing on the relationship of Andrew and his slave Silas.  Attached is a proposed rewrite I have drafted to replace the incorrect text accompanying the Chandler image on display at the Center, to more accurately reflect Silas’ service as a slave with his master during the conflict. Please feel free to comment on the proposed draft.  We would be most interested to know if your research into the master – slave relationship of Andrew and Silas has discovered whether Silas was or was not present with Andrew at Shiloh?

I looked over the proposed rewrite and can report that the necessary changes were made to reflect their relationship as well as the type of pension that Silas received in 1916.  While Silas indicates in his pension that he accompanied Andrew on August 8, 1861 I cannot confirm that he was present at Shiloh.  Of course, I will keep them updated as my research progresses.  Special thanks to Stacey Allen – a top-notch historian in his own right – and the rest of the staff for giving this the attention that I believe it deserves.  It’s a testament to the hard interpretive work that they do on a daily basis.

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“Can You Run?” by The Steeldrivers

I am not a big bluegrass music fan so a great deal of it related to the Civil War goes unnoticed by me.  Luckily, I have readers who are kind enough to email me with references to the Civil War that they have come across.  This post is the result of just such an email from a reader in Toronto.  The song tells the story of slaves escaping to the Union lines to join the army.  It was written and performed by The Steeldrivers.  Enjoy.

The lyrics can be found below. [click to continue…]

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The National Park Service’s Black Confederates (Part 2)

Andrew and Silas Chandler

Regular readers of this blog know that I have a deep respect for the work of the National Park Service.  Not only do they do an outstanding job of preserving the physical landscapes of many of our most important Civil War sites, but they help us to better understand what took place there and what it means.  For any number of reasons that job has proven to be incredibly difficult over the past two decades.  Still, no one is perfect and as a historical institution they are bound to make mistakes.  Unfortunately, this is one of those instances that must be pointed out given how widely the subject has been misunderstood and even intentionally distorted.

As you can see this is the famous image of Andrew and Silas Chandler, which is often used to buttress arguments concerning the existence of black Confederate soldiers.  It is one of the most popular images that can be found on the many websites on the topic.  In this case the image is part of an exhibit at the Corinth Interpretive Center at Shiloh.  Before proceeding, I should point out that I am currently co-writing an article with the great-granddaughter of Silas Chandler, which we hope to publish in a magazine in the coming year.  The brief description under the image could not be more misleading.  First and foremost, not once is the visitor told that Silas was a slave and not a soldier.  According to the 1880 U.S. Census, Silas was born on January 1, 1837, while Andrew was born on April 3, 1844, which placed them seven years apart rather than two.  It is often suggested that the two boys were childhood friends; however, there is no evidence to suggest such a relationship.  That is not to suggest that the two were not acquainted with one another and it certainly should not prevent us from looking into how this master-slave relationship was shaped by the hardship of war.  Finally, Silas did receive a pension for his participation in the war, but it was not as a Confederate veterans.  Like other slaves Silas received a pension under the “Application of Indigent Servants of Soldiers and Sailors of the Late Confederacy.”  The application clearly indicates servants were not recognized as a Confederate soldiers, but were entitled to a pension owing to his service to his master.

This is not the first time that the NPS has stepped into the black Confederate morass, but let’s hope that as in that case they step up and make the necessary corrections.

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I Hope All of You Have a Merry [confederate] Christmas!

"Confederate Christmas" by Dan Nance

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Best of 2010

Civilians During the battle of Fredericksburg

Unfortunately, this year’s picks are based on a slightly shorter list of books than in the past owing to the amount of time I spent over the summer revising my book manuscript on the battle of the Crater.  However, that didn’t prevent me from reading a fairly large number of books that are worth acknowledging at the end of another year.  Thanks to all of you for taking the time to read, comment, and consider what I have to say.  I have no plans to quit blogging.  In fact, the popularity of this site continues to grow and continues to open up new opportunities for me that I could not have imagined just a few short years ago.  The coming year promises to be another good one on both the professional and personal fronts.  I hope all of you are enjoying the Holiday Season.

Best Civil War Blog: This was one of the easiest choices that I’ve had to make in this category since starting this list.  While there are plenty of good Civil War blogs to choose from only a select few stand out to me as important resources for both scholars and general enthusiasts.  John Hennessy’s Mysteries and Conundrums is hands down the most important Civil War blog in our little corner of the blogosphere.  M&C is the group blog of the staff at the Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park and while Hennessy is the most visible writer other contributors include Noel Harrison, Mac Wycoff, and Eric Mink.  Their blog offers a behind-the-scenes look at the complex process involved in interpreting some of America’s most sacred and controversial historic sites.  The site offers interested readers a primer on how public history is done and it does so by engaging the public as an integral part of the process.  No other website or even published study has taught me more over the past year about the history of the Fredericksburg area, public history, and Civil War memory.  Thanks to John and the rest of the staff for inviting us inside, showing us how it is done, and for providing a blueprint that other historic sites can employ.

Best History Book of 2010: Alan Taylor, The Civil War of 1812: American Citizens, British Subjects, Irish Rebels, & Indian Allies (Knopf, 2010).

Best Overall Civil War History: George Rable, God’s Almost Chosen Peoples: A Religious History of the American Civil War (Littlefield History of the Civil War Era, 2010).

Best Campaign/Battle Study: Earl J. Hess, Into the Crater: The Mine Attack at Petersburg (University of South Carolina Press, 2010).

Best Biography: Eric Foner, The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery (Norton, 2010).

Best Confederate Study: Kenneth W. Noe, Reluctant Rebels: The Confederates Who Joined the Army after 1861 (University of North Carolina Press, 2010).

Best Union Study: Lorien Foote, The Gentlemen and the Roughs: Violence, Honor, and Manhood in the Union Army (New York University Press, 2010).

Best Slavery Study: Stanley Harrold, Border War: Fighting over Slavery before the Civil War (University of North Carolina Press, 2010).

Best Memory Study: Benjamin G. Cloyd, Haunted by Atrocity: Civil War Prisons in American Memory (Louisiana State University Press, 2010).

Best Edited Collection: Paul A. Cimbala and Randall M. Miller eds. ,The Great Task Remaining Before Us: Reconstruction as America’s Continuing Civil War (Fordham University Press, 2010).

Best Social History: Stephanie McCurry, Confederate Reckoning: Power and Politics in the Civil War South (Harvard University Press, 2010).

Some good things to look forward to in 2011: Joseph Glatthaar, Soldiering in the Army of Northern Virginia: A Statistical Portrait of the Troops Who Served Under Robert E. Lee (University of North Carolina Press); David S. Reynolds, Mightier Than the Sword: Uncle Tom’s Cabin and the Battle for America (Norton); James Marten, Sing Not War: The Lives of Union and Confederate Veterans in Gilded Age America (University of North Carolina Press); Wallace Hettle, Inventing Stonewall Jackson: A Civil War Hero in History and Memory (Louisiana State University Press); Brooks Simpson, The Civil War in the East: A Reassessment (Praeger); Gary W. Gallagher, The Union War (Harvard University Press); David Goldfield, America Aflame: How the Civil War Created a Nation (Bloomsbury Press).

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Hardball Strikes Out on Secession

First of all, apologies to South Carolina for the ridiculous national coverage of tonight’s Secession Gala in Charleston.  The coverage reinforces a number of assumptions about regional identification and race that are likely a thing of the past.  Tonight’s episode of Hardball with Chris Matthews is a perfect example of this coverage, which somehow managed to surpass the nuttiness of a recent episode of the Ed Show that featured Al Sharpton.  Matthews decided to interview Thomas Hiter of the SCV and columnist, Eugene Robinson.  All three were equally appalling.  Robinson decided to describe the Confederate attack on Fort Sumter as an “act of terrorism.”  Hiter did the usual dance around the issue of slavery and Matthews through out the hardball question of the night: “Was John Brown a good guy or bad guy?”  As far as I can tell none of these guys understands the history of secession and the Civil War.  To give you a sense of how bad this is, I actually think that Hiter won more points on the history.  And just think how easy it would be to find two guests, who could actually engage in an intellectual discussion.

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