Home From Petersburg

I want to thank Mark Snell and Denise Messinger of the George Tyler Moore Center for the Study of the Civil War and Will Greene and the rest of the staff at Pamplin Park for putting on a wonderful conference on the Petersburg Campaign.  It was nice to see so many familiar faces and I especially enjoyed making new friends.  It was indeed a busy three days and we spent a great deal of time in the sweltering heat, but it was well worth it.  I thoroughly enjoyed meeting and listening to fellow speakers, Chris Stowe and Earl Hess.  It was truly an honor to be on the same line up with Chris and Earl.  I was quite pleased with the response to my paper, which analyzed the Confederate response to the presence of U.S.C.T.’s at the Crater.  Speaking of that subject, I just reviewed the page proofs for the essay which will appear in the October issue of Civil War Times.  Dana Shoaf and company did a fabulous job of preparing the essay for publication and I look forward to hearing what people think.

In addition to the presentations we toured extensively around Petersburg.  For me it was an opportunity to familiarize myself with a campaign that I’ve had a great deal of difficulty understanding.  I think it’s safe to say that no one knows more about the city of Petersburg and the campaign than Will Greene.  He took us to City Point, the Crater, Weldon Railroad, Hatcher’s Run, White Oak Road, Five Forks, as well as the breakout battlefield at Pamplin Park.  There is something exciting about watching someone like Will, with such extensive knowledge, develop a narrative that makes sense of very complicated troop movements and then places those movements within a broader context for a public audience.  Not only is Will’s knowledge both broad and deep, he outlasted all of us by the end of what was an incredibly hot Saturday.

I encourage all of you to visit Pamplin Park if you happen to find yourself in the area.  The exhibits are well done and the grounds include some of the best preserved earthworks that you will see in the area.  I also highly recommend their film, “War So Terrible.” I have some things that I want to say about this film, so I am going to wait until later this week.  Finally, those of you looking for a summer Civil War seminar should seriously consider joining Mark Snell and the rest of the gang.  It’s a wonderful group of people, who enjoy one another’s company and who are well read in the history of the Civil War.  It looks like next year the conference will move to West Virginia to focus on the earliest battles while in 2012 the seminar will head southeast once again to focus on the Peninsula Campaign.  Check out the center’s website and get yourself on their mailing list.  You won’t be disappointed.

OK…back to work.

[Photo of me at the Crater]
0 comments

Off to Petersburg

I just put the finishing touches on my paper and accompanying visual presentation for the George Tyler Moore CenterPamplin Park Conference that begins tomorrow afternoon.  Back in 2007 I took part in this conference, but this is the first year that Mark Snell and the rest of the gang at Shepherd University have decided to take the conference on the road.  Teaming up with Will Greene and Pamplin Park was a smart move given that the conference has sold out.  We will spend three days exploring the battlefields around Petersburg and discussing the experiences of the men in the trenches.  Will Greene is the scholar-in-residence and will be be leading the tours.  Additional presentations will be made by Earl Hess, Christopher Stowe, Dennis Brandt, Walter Powell, and Mark Snell.

You may remember a series of posts I did last summer that explored the ways in which the Confederate response to the presence of USCTs at the Crater connected to the challenges of maintaining slavery during the antebellum period as well as reports of slave rebellions both in the South and Caribbean.  Since then I’ve developed these ideas for inclusion in the first chapter of my Crater manuscript as well as in an article that will appear in the October issue of Civil War Times.  I am going to present a version of that article on Friday.  I want the audience to think beyond the trenches as did the soldiers themselves.  It is important to remember that during the final year of the war the Army of Northern Virginia was defending a civilian population.  Many of the men in Mahone’s Virignia brigade were from Petersburg and the surrounding counties.  Aaron Sheehan-Dean makes a compelling argument in Why Confederates Fought: Family and Nation in Civil War Virginia (UNC Press, 2007) that during that final year soldiers and civilians grew increasingly alienated from one another.  He suggests that many of the men believed that civilians had failed to appreciate the sacrifices that Lee’s men were making on a daily basis outside of Petersburg.  I argue that the Crater reinforced their connection with the home front and served to remind civilians of just what was at stake in the event of a Confederate defeat.  I am looking forward to the opportunity to try out some of these ideas on Friday.

While I am looking forward to seeing a number of old friends, I am especially looking forward to meeting Earl Hess for the first time.  Back in 2004 I conducted some research on William Mahone for a seminar class at the University of Richmond.  It’s funny how word gets around, but somehow Chris Calkins, who was then the chief historian at Petersburg National Battlefield Park (PNB) found out about it and suggested to Prof. Hess that I might be able to help gather source material for his study of the Petersburg campaign.  I was more than happy to help out since I was planning on turning that essay into an M.A. Thesis on historical memory and the battle of the Crater.  Professor Hess had me working at the University of Virginia, Virginia Historical Society, Library of Virginia, Museum of the Confederacy, and PNB.  The source list was extensive and provided me with a great start on my own project.  It definitely saved me a great amount of time and ultimately went into what I consider to be a pretty good thesis.  It will be nice to be able to thank Prof. Hess in person.  By the way, Prof. Hess is slated to release his own study of the Crater in September. That makes four books on the Crater in the last few years, but why do I have a feeling that Hess’s book will be the best of the lot.

I hope to blog a bit from Petersburg, but from what I understand there is a happy hour scheduled for each night.

15 comments

Summer Camp With the Sons of Confederate Veterans

What do you do for your child after a full year of indoctrination in the public school system where they are taught that the Confederacy was evil and the war was about slavery?  You send them to Summer Camp with the SCV for a “true” history of the war.  According to an advertisement:

There is no question that the youth of today must run a terrible gantlet, and that many are struck down along the way by one or more of the politically correct influences which flourish in our schools…. Sometimes these youth are from the best homes with strong families and religious training. With even the most conscientious parenting, though, oftentimes (sic) in high school or college, even these best and brightest finally succumb to the liberal, politically correct view of history. This summer you can help turn the tide.

In addition to learning how to fire a cannon and parade/dance in period dress, campers learn lessons in the “Theology of the South During the War.”  Unfortunately, I don’t think the kids will be reading Eugene Genovese’s The Mind of the Master Class or Michael OBrien’s Intellectual Life and the American South, 1810-1860.  Rather, it looks like much of the time will be spent undoing the damage of being taught that slavery was somehow central to understanding what the war was about.  Perhaps the course will be taught by none other than H.K. Edgerton.

Specifically, the teens are exposed to the group’s contention that the Civil War was not about slavery, James said. Too many people have bought into that notion, he said, and wrongly exalt then-President Abraham Lincoln as wanting to end slavery.  Lincoln was “a bigger racist than I ever knew,” James said.  The truth is that the South was fighting for independence and the North was fighting to preserve the Union, James said. Slavery played into the tensions, he said, calling the practice “morally unacceptable.”  But painting the war as being primarily about slavery falsely gives the North the “moral high ground” and makes it seem as if Confederate soldiers were fighting to maintain slavery, James said. He said slavery eventually would have ended on its own, as it has in other countries.  “To attribute the war to something that wasn’t the cause isn’t right,” James said. “We try to tell it like it is.”

Rather than offer summer camp, I would suggest that the SCV organize their own schools.  This way children will be completely removed from the dangers posed by our public schools.

Let’s see, what would that curriculum look like?  For starters, Biology would be replaced with the course Stonewall Jackson taught at VMI.

43 comments

Are You Teaching Social Justice?

I came across the following post at Chris Wehner’s Blog4History site.  We’ve had our share of run-ins in the past, but Chris is a fellow APUS History teacher and somehow he managed to write a regimental history and teach at the same time.  That’s quite a feat.  Chris is a public school teacher and is worried about the influence of left wing ideologues shaping our history curriculum and influencing how our children think about themselves and their relationship to government.  I don’t necessarily have a problem with this.

On the other hand, Wehner’s most recent post on the push to turn classrooms into labs for the teaching of social justice seems to me to be a case of serious hyperbole.  The US Social Forum sounds like a wonderful opportunity for those who are interested in bringing about a certain kind of change to American politics, but it’s definitely not my cup of tea and as far as I am concerned it has no place in the classroom.  Wehner would have us believe, however, that this kind of agenda is infiltrating our public schools.  Now keep in mind that I am a private school teacher so he may be in a much better position to judge this program’s popularity among teachers.  In his post, Wehner claims the following:

This is called teaching for Social Justice and it is not about truth or honesty, it is about radicalism, indoctrination, and propaganda in our schools. And we wonder why our public schools are failing us? There is little learning going on and instead, lots of indoctrination.

They are teaching educators about radicalism and revolution, and they in turn will teach the children!

This is just more data that our educational system is being hijacked by a movement that seeks to do nothing more than fundamentally change this country into something it was never intended to be!

Now, perhaps I need to go back and browse the website more carefully, but where does it suggest that this conference is being marketed to history teachers or any teachers for that matter?  More importantly, how many school districts actually implement programs that fall in line with this agenda?  Wehner fails to provide any facts that would back up his claims.  One thing that is clear is that these conferences are marketed to America’s youth, but that should come as no surprise.  I suspect that I could just as easily find organizations on the conservative side that are engaged in exactly the same thing.  And I have no doubt that I can find accompanying texts for their programs that are equivalent to what William Ayers does in his book on the teaching of Social Justice.   In the end, however, I am still left wondering just how influential any of this is.  For example, how many history teachers actually implemented the curriculum outlined in the History Channel/Howard Zinn collaboration, “The People Speak”?  I’ve seen a few online clips of the show and concluded that it was a complete waste of time.  If the barbarians are actually at the gates than show it.

[click to continue…]

31 comments

What Happens When Your Monument is Hit By a Truck?

This is an interesting story out of Franklin County, Virginia.  Two years ago their Confederate monument, which was dedicated in 1910 was struck by an out-of-control driver and all but destroyed.  Local leaders raised the necessary funds to build a new monument and plan to dedicate it in August only this time around there is also a push to include a marker that acknowledges the Civil War experiences of African Americans.  Just what that experience involved seems to be a matter of some debate.  First, it is difficult to imagine that an additional marker would be on the table had the original statue not been destroyed.  I suspect that a re-dedication on public land at a time when these symbols have come under increased scrutiny is part of what is at issue here.

The community group responsible for this new marker includes Francis Amos, a doctor; Franklin County Circuit Court Judge William Alexander; members of the Jubal Early Chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy; and several other black historians, educators and local leaders.  The marker/pillar would include the following:

In commemoration of the many contributions, service and sacrifices on the home front and on the battlefront by People of Color, enslaved and free, from Franklin County during the War Between the States. (1861-1865).

You couldn’t ask for a vaguer inscription.  In contrast to most Confederate soldier monuments, which clearly state why they fought, died, and sacrificed this marker commits to nothing and yet ensures that any narrative will be framed around a reference to the war that is commonly used by the UDC and other heritage organizations to distance slavery and emancipation from our collective memory of the war.  Florella Johnson, who is the president of the local chapter of the NAACP expressed concern that the additional marker was not enough, though the article does not say why.

[click to continue…]

9 comments