Was/Is Secession Constitutional?

Please don’t hold your breath for an answer to this question.  To be honest, I don’t really have any interest in debating it nor do I really care whether secession was/is constitutional.  I suspect that apart from law school classes our answers to this question as both a historical and present proposition is largely determined by whether one believes that secession is necessary to correct some social or political problem.  While I certainly see plenty of social and political problems that need to be dealt with, at this point it seems to me that they can be best addressed within our present constitutional framework.

I’ve always found the passionate identification with those white southerners who advocated Southern nationalism and secession in the years leading up to the Civil War to be disingenuous or at least open to scrutiny on a number of counts.  In certain circles the question is debated in the abstract, but what I find troubling about the way I see many people play this game is the tendency to place themselves in a direct line to specific historical actors.  They play the role of rightful inheritors of a certain argument or movement and in the process blur the distinction between the present and the past: In short, “What was their fight is our fight.”

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The Last Word

On this final day of 2011 I thought I would hand things over to you.  What stands out in your Civil War memory from the past year and what are you looking forward to in the coming year?

See you in 2012.


Newt Gingrich Pushes For Monument at the Crater Battlefield

Mahone's Counterattack by Don Troiani

Well, not really.  It looks like a reporter for the Petersburg Progress-Index just finished reading Newt’s Civil War novel on the battle and decided to follow up on a call to place a monument to United States Colored Troops, who fought at the Crater. Gingrich and his co-author, William Forstchen wrote in their afterward that the staff at the Petersburg National Battlefield,

are delighted to work with us to fulfill a long-held dream of ours to see a monument placed on the site of the Crater in memory of the thousands of USCTs who fought on that field. As far as we can have been able to find out, not a single battlefield monument to any USCT regiment exists on ground they fought for. We hope to rectify this long-overdue honor and acknowledgment.

Of course, anyone who has actually taken the time to visit Petersburg knows that there is a monument to black soldiers at the site of their successful assaults on the city, which took place in June 1864.  It’s hard to know what to make of their supposed “long-held dream” given that discussions between Newt’s literary agent, who happens to be his daughter and the NPS lasted only for a few months.  In short, as far as I can tell there are no serious talks to speak of here.

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Best of 2011

A Sad Note

Fireworks Over Boston

This Holiday Season has been particularly difficult for my former colleagues and students and the close knit community that is the St. Anne’s – Belfield School in Charlottesville, Virginia.  Although I am no longer working there I join them in mourning the loss of some wonderful people.  Today I learned of the death of a student from the class of 2008, who fought a long hard battle against cancer.  Katie was a wonderful student and always had a smile on her face.  No doubt, many of you heard about the horrible plane crash in northern New Jersey last week that took the lives of four members of the Beckwith family.  They were a member of the St. Anne’s – Belfield family.  My thoughts go out to the families and friends during this very difficult time.

What a Year

I have quite a bit to be thankful for as we close out 2011.  It’s been one hell of a year.  First and foremost, my wife and I celebrated our ten year wedding anniversary.  In March I learned that we would be moving to Boston to take advantage of an exciting career opportunity for my wife.  The transition was incredibly smooth and I absolutely love living in the city.  It’s never boring when you are married to an incredibly talented and ambitious woman.  I haven’t gotten as much writing done as I anticipated, but I am making progress on a number of fronts.  In a few weeks I will begin the process of trying to secure a teaching position for next year, but I am still leaving my options open.  I’ve made a number of connections in the area so it’s anyone’s guess as to what I will be doing in the coming months.

The Book

I am in what I believe to be the final stages of getting the Crater manuscript ready for publication.  The press sent me the final edits last week and I should have it completed by Jan. 13, which will be followed by the indexing and review of the final proofs.  It should be smooth sailing from here on out.  The book listing at Amazon has a June 21 release date, but I am hoping that it will be available earlier.  Thanks to those of you who have already purchased it.  It means a great deal to me.

In the Hopper

In addition to getting the ms. ready for publication I am working on a number of other projects that I hope to finish by spring.  The first is a historiographical essay on the war in Virginia in 1861 for a 2-volume collection that is being edited by Aaron Sheehan-Dean.  On the black Confederate front I was recently asked to write an essay for The Journal of the Civil War Era, which I hope to complete by the end of January.  In addition, I hope to get back to work on researching my regimental history of the 55th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry.

And Now to the Books…

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The Education of Eric Jacobson

Over the past few weeks I’ve taken a front seat to an interesting debate between Eric Jacobson and the members of the Southern Heritage Preservation Group.  Eric is the historian and chief operating officer for The Battle of Franklin Trust.  His organization has taken the lead in working to educate the general public on the importance of preserving our Civil War heritage.  This debate or conversation is instructive for those of us interested in how various individuals and groups attempt to come to terms with this crucial and divisive moment in American history.  In short, consider this an exercise in a not so peaceful tango between heritage and history.

Funny enough, Eric’s first post comes in a thread that started in response to a question that was posed to me by Jimmy Shirley, who asked about why many northerners were unwilling to allow the southern states to go in peace.  I thought it was a reasonable question, but as in so many cases I simply did not have the time to go into detail with my response so I suggested he check out Russell McClintock’s, Lincoln and the Decision for War: The Northern Response to Secession, which is the single best study on the subject.  That apparently wasn’t satisfactory which led to a post on the SHPG board.

Eric attempted to offer some help, but it wasn’t long before he was challenged with some of the standard responses offered to folks who do not fall in line.  One of the officers insulted Eric with the following: “Eric A Jacobson….just another Levin Tool…. Still, this one might be worth keeping around for a bit, it does seem to be a good source to bounce theories off of….as long as he behaves like a good little boy.”  Eric later shared with the group that he had been contacted via email by the same individual: “Jimmy, Great points and worthy of sound debate. We can talk again at another point. Now this morning I awoke to a gem of a private message from one —- —-, who suggested I am involved the Aryan Nation. Now that’s a new one, but typical of ongoing ignorance and outright stupidity when it comes to discussions such as this. So I’ll be signing off now, having made an effort to have reasonable discourse.”  [Just for the record, I have never met Eric in person and the only correspondence that we’ve had took place on this blog some time ago.]

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