The Civil War Institute Embraces Reconstruction 150th

Reconstruction Banner

Good news for those of you who will not be in attendance. C-SPAN just informed me that they will be broadcasting LIVE on June 18 and will tape sessions on Friday (6/17) & Sunday (6/19) for future airings.

In a little less than two weeks I will drive to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania for the Civil War Institute’s annual conference. This will be my fourth year as a member of the faculty and as always I am super excited. For the past five years the conference theme tracked the Civil War sesquicentennial. Compared to the conferences overseen by Gabor Boritt, which tended to focus narrowly on military topics, Peter Carmichael – who came on board as the institute’s director back in 2010 – has pushed participants to consider the war within a much broader context.

That vision led Pete back in 2012 to propose a conference devoted solely to Reconstruction the memory of the Civil War. I suspect that many of us wondered whether such a focus could be pulled off given the history of the Institute. The other issue question was how to integrate site tours, which are a staple of these gatherings. Recently the CWI staff announced that this year’s conference is SOLD OUT. You heard that right. Somewhere around 400 people paid good money to spend five days thinking about Reconstruction. [click to continue…]

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Roots, Fort Pillow, and the Legacy of Racial Violence

Roots, Fort PillowI thoroughly enjoyed the re-make of Roots. Rather than comment on the entire series, which plenty of others have already done, I want to say a quick word about the inclusion of the massacre of black soldiers at Fort Pillow, Tennessee in the final episode. The original series did not include this scene nor as far as I can recall did it include any reference to the massacre of black soldiers during the war.

For the purposes of this post I am not going to quibble with whether the scene accurately captured the battle or the massacre specifically. Those of you looking for a solid history should read Brian S. Wills’s recent book, The River Was Dyed with Blood: Nathan Bedford Forrest and Fort Pillow. What matters is that it occurred and that it was included. For many viewers it will likely be their first exposure to this aspect of the war. The scene plays a crucial role in the series and it is essential to understanding the antebellum roots of wartime violence and its anticipation of extra-legal and state-sanctioned violence throughout the postwar period. [click to continue…]

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William Mack Lee Conned the UCV & SCV

William Mack Lee Headstone

William Mack Lee’s Headstone

A few people have inquired as to the likelihood that the Norfolk County Greys Chapter, Sons of Confederate Veterans or the national organization will take steps to correct the history reflected on the headstone that was recently dedicated to William Mack Lee. The SCV claims, among other things, that WML was a cook and servant to Robert E. Lee. I wouldn’t hold your breadth.

This headstone dedication fits neatly into a disturbing trend involving the appropriation of the lives of former slaves by the SCV and United Daughters of the Confederacy to reinforce their own agenda that goes back decades. We saw it in the placement of a Southern Cross of Honor in front of Silas Chandler’s grave and more recently in the dedication of a headstone and marker to Weary Clyburn in North Carolina. [click to continue…]

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PBS’s Black Confederate Problem

Andrew and Silas Chandler

Andrew and Silas Chandler

Update: Here is another clip in which Ms. Berry shares that thousands of black men fought as soldiers with the Confederate army. The full segment can now be viewed (begin at 10:30 mark), which does a better job of handling the history of James and Charles Dearman.

We all remember the debacle that took place on The Antiques Roadshow back in 2010 when appraiser Wes Cowan attempted to interpret the famous tintype of Silas and Andrew Chandler. Thankfully, PBS corrected the problem a few years later on an episode of History Detectives.

Unfortunately, it looks like PBS has once again found a way to butcher the history of African Americans and the Confederacy in their new series, Genealogy Roadshow. In this short video Kenyatta D. Berry suggests that “many African Americans were forced into fighting for the Confederate army.” This certainly would have been news to actual Confederate soldiers and civilian leaders. [click to continue…]

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Remembering Southern Unionism on Memorial Day

george henry thomasMy latest column at The Daily Beast hopefully sheds a little light on those white and black Southerners, who for one reason or another chose to remain loyal to the United States during the American Civil War. With all the talk about the dangers of erasing history in connection with the public display of Confederate iconography, we have forgotten that the monument building that helped to prop up and perpetuate the Lost Cause also contributed to erasing the lives of a significant number of Americans, whose service and sacrifice helped to preserve this Union and end slavery.

Just a thought on this Memorial Day.

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