The two seem to go perfect together, but why? Well, I guess in Fredericksburg it is the proximity of the famous battle to the holiday season that makes for such an easy connection. Joyce Smith, a parishioner at Cornerstone Baptist Church, has written a Christmas Civil War drama titled “My Friend, the Enemy” which is based on the Mort Kunstler print by the same name.
According to the news story, Smith “studied the picture for months.” I’m not quite sure what there is to study that would keep one occupied for months, but it culminated in a play that essentially reenacts a meeting between four soldiers on Christmas Day 1862. Stories of Civil War soldiers meeting to trade and talk are powerful narrative threads in our continued obsession with the Reconciliationist Narrative of the war. They make the war palatable. I can only imagine the dialog: (1) What the war is about; (2) Why must we be enemies?; (3) Family and Home… The play ends with a meeting between two soldiers on Christmas Day 30 years after the end of the war followed by the singing of Christmas Carols.
Americans need to believe that their civil war was special, that the violence did not overshadow our faith in “Good Will Toward Men.” I tend to think that we emphasize these stories to make ourselves feel better about what happened and why. It give us a reason not to look too closely at ourselves and our collective past. Our civil war needs to fit neatly under the Christmas tree. When we cross the Rapphannock River we want to see two soldiers peacefully engaged rather than thousands of men crossing on the eve of a bloody battle or fugitive slaves crossing to their freedom. So be it. Take the family to see this one and remember to bring plenty of good cheer and egg nog.
Today is the first day of the new trimester and I am once again teaching a course on Civil War Memory. I have two sections with a total of 12 students. Hopefully, the small sections will make for even more interesting discussions. This is a reference sheet that I put together for one of my Teaching American History talks from a few months back. It includes a few of the scholarly materials that I’ve utilized as well as some ideas for the classroom. Let me know if you try out any of my proposed classroom projects and please feel free to share what you do in your own courses. [click to continue…]
Thomann said he is still interested in talking with the county about opening a new museum, but he also hinted several times that it will take monetary support to make it happen. He said the National Civil War Life Foundation, which was established about two years ago to raise $12 million for a new museum, meets later this month. The members could still decide to try to open a museum in Spotsylvania, Thomann said. [my emphasis]
Perhaps additional information will be forthcoming following the next board meeting, but does anyone really believe that if Thomann’s store is successful that he will give it up in favor of a return to Spotsylvania? You are simply not going to sell as many Mort Kunstler prints there.
Let me state for the record that I love the idea for this museum. Its focus is broad and the emphasis seems to be on education and community outreach. My problem is that as important as Spotsylvania is to the history of the Civil War I just don’t see how a major museum project can work financially. This was the main reason why I resisted getting involved early on. There seeem to be no clear indication as to the future of this project, including the involvement of its director. Under these conditions one wonders how they plan on convincing donors to sign on and given the fact that Virginia has already begun commemorating the sesquicentennial.
Update: Please don’t blame me if the Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star is doing a better job of updating the public on the future of the Civil War Life Museum than the people who are associated with this project.
Looks like Missouri’s Bushwhackers are the latest heroes over at the Lew Rockwell blog. According to Karen de Coster:
Guerrilla forces tend to attract the worst sorts, as well as those who honorably serve the greater cause of independence. As time went on, the focus of the Bushwhackers tended to become more self-serving. This is the natural response to aggressive war, especially a war as evil and crushing as Lincoln’s bloody War Against Southern Independence. Many of the actions of these guerrilla fighters — even the misplaced behaviors — originated in response to the endless brutalities suffered at the hands of the Union Army and federal authorities.
The video offers us the standard Lew Rockwell line (though there is no official connection between the two) that white Southerners perceived the war as one of encroaching federal power. However, as I’ve pointed out before, it completely ignores the fact that the Confederate government went further than the United States in its push toward centralization. Unfortunately, such a description, along with the video, tell us next to nothing about the Bushwhackers, Guerilla warfare or the war in Missouri. It does show that Lew Rockwell will never shy away from distorting the past to make a political point.
Guerilla warfare is one of those areas of Civil War history that has grown in leaps and bounds over the past 15 years. If you are truly interested in this subject you will want to check out books by Daniel Sutherland, Michael Fellman, Ken Noe, Noel Fisher, John Inscoe, John McKinney, to name just a few.
I guess we should have anticipated such a move on this sesquicentennial of John Brown’s raid at Harpers Ferry. It’s an indication that Brown’s reputation has taken a significant turn since the end of the 1960s and that even Virginia may have a different outlook (at least northern Virginia) on this crucial moment on the eve of the the Civil War. While I don’t know much about David Reynolds, I am surprised to find his name attached to this project. As many of you know, Reynolds teaches at CUNY and is the author of John Brown, Abolitionist: The Man Who Killed Slavery, Sparked Civil War, and Seeded Civil Rights, which is one of the best of the recent crop of Brown biographies. Reynolds has not issued a formal statement, but you can read his thoughts in the following news article.
Let’s remember that many Americans we honor had as many or more flaws in their character and behavior: Washington and Jefferson owned slaves, Columbus has been understandably accused of genocide, and Lincoln shared the racial prejudice of his time and long wanted to deport blacks once they were freed.
I have no interest in signing this petition, but it is available here. Interestingly, the Online poll has supporters of a pardon far ahead. I’ve never had an interest in demonizing or celebrating John Brown. That said, I’ve always found those studies that emphasized some kind of psychological imbalance to be completely off the mark. It’s nice to see historians such as Reynolds finally work to place Brown’s plan in its proper context by analyzing the extent to which his plan and actions were influenced by slave rebellions in the Caribbean and elsewhere. That we’ve spent so much time arguing that he was “crazy” tells us much more about the difficulty subsequent generations have had coming to terms with Brown.
I recently came across a microfilm reel that included a reprint of a Senate debate from 1907 on just this question. The pamphlet was put together by Edmund S. Meaning of the University of Washington for the purposes of clarifying the official name of the war. Meaning had heard Senator Benjamin Tillman present a speech in which he described the war as “The War Between the States” as the official name adopted by the federal government. Meaning contacted Tillman and asked for documents related to the Senate debate and discovered that in fact the name adopted was “Civil War.” Here is an excerpt from that Senate debate for your consideration. The debate took place on January 11, 1907 and can be found in the Congressional Record of that date, pages 929 to 933. [click to continue…]
A few years ago I was approached about getting involved in the founding of a new Civil War museum in Spotsylvania County. I was appreciative of the offer, but declined owing to some of the unanswered questions that still lingered. Well, Executive Director Terry Thomann managed to open his museum and even had plans to expand into a 3-story building. The musuem had an attractive website with a number of exhibits scheduled, but this past weekend Thomann decided to close up shop and move to Fredericksburg. Thomann is moving to Fredericksburg not to educate, but to entertain by opening a gift shop: “We have a great book section, lots of interesting historical toys and books for children and many historical gifts that both locals and tourists will love.” Does downtown Fredericksburg really need another gift shop?
Thomann plans on opening a museum in the downtown area, but it is almost impossible to see how he can compete with the Fredericksburg Area Museum and Cultural Center which is a must see if you are in the area. Before Thomann can do anything it looks like there remains some outstanding lease issues with Spotsylvania County. [click to continue…]