Gary Casteel’s previous projects include a sculpture of Jefferson Davis holding hands with his biological son and “adopted” black son, Jim Limber. That project satisfied the fantasies of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, which as far as I know still cannot find a home for it. From the fantasy of southern paternalism we move to one of the most popular narratives of our Civil War memory: Brother against Brother. Not surprisingly, the inspiration for this latest piece stems from a story handed down through the Casteel family:
Casteel says that his own family had two ancestors – brothers – who actually fired at each other from opposing armies during the Battle of Gettysburg, according to family history that has been handed down through generations. It was not until about a year after the War that the brother who fought as a Confederate eventually showed back up at the other’s farm. It had apparently taken a year for him to come to grips with the fact that the South had lost. But the delay in returning apparently was not long enough to heal the emotional wounds; the two brothers began to fight about the War’s outcome and eventually parted ways forever. The Union soldier in “Brothers” is wounded and wearing a head bandage, and is clutching his brother. The Confederate soldier is shown in a reciprocal embrace, but his one fist remains clenched. Casteel says that he portrays the Confederate as the one who finds it hard to let go of the fact that his brother is a Yankee. “Hard to accept the fact that his world is now changing.”
I also heard stories from my parents and grandparents of relatives fighting one another during the Civil War, even though the family didn’t arrive at these shores until the early twentieth century. At least one Levin had his home burned down by Sherman.
Why can’t we move beyond this ridiculous little narrative thread that tells us nothing about the horrors and consequences of war? Let’s stop playing Civil War and get serious; after all, this is supposed to be art. It looks like something out of a Civil War soap opera or Mort Kunstler painting. Does anyone know if this statue is going to be placed on NPS-owned land?
The latest post by Ta-Nehisis Coates beautifully captures the frustrations that many African Americans experience when visiting America’s Civil War battlefields and specifically those places where African Americans participated. A recent visit to the Petersburg battlefields, including the Crater, by Coates and his children highlights the continued challenges facing museums, the National Park Service, and other historical organizations in working toward a narrative that acknowledges the contributions of African Americans and situates the Civil War within the broader history of freedom and race. When you take a moment to step back it is shocking to think that a war that resulted in the end of slavery and emancipation of 4 million people would be remembered in a way that divorced the descendants of those very people from being able to fully engage and consume the historic sites from that struggle. And yet, that is where we are on the eve of the Civil War Sesquicentennial. Before proceeding here are a few passages from Coates’s post:
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[My review of John Schmutz's recent book on the Crater is now up at H-Net]
The last several years has witnessed a sharp increase in the number of studies focused on the final year of the Civil War in Virginia and specifically the Petersburg Campaign. Much of this can be traced to a renewed scholarly interest in the evolution of the conflict from “limited” to “hard” war, the role of emancipation in redefining the purpose of the war, and a general consensus among historians that the post-Gettysburg period cannot be understood simply as leading directly to the Confederate surrender at Appomattox in April 1865. Given this sharp increase in attention to the Petersburg Campaign–plus the popularity of the movie Cold Mountain (2003), which included a vivid recreation of the battle–it should come as no surprise that historians would take a much closer look at the Battle of the Crater, which took place on July 31, 1864. The novelty of the mine explosion, the use of an entire division of United States Colored Troops (USCT) in the attack, and the close-quarter fighting that ensued present the historian with the ideal case study for understanding the broad parameters of the war in 1864.
This study by John F. Schmutz is the most recent and the most thorough contribution to this growing body of literature on the Crater. Readers looking for a detailed account of the ebb and flow of battle as well as the broader strategic and operational decisions involved will be pleased. Schmutz has mined an extensive amount of archival sources as well as published accounts and provides a minute-by-minute account of the battle. His account includes the challenges involved in the construction of the mine, the destruction of the early-morning explosion of the mine, and the bloody fighting which followed. Although the author’s attention to tactical detail is impressive, the lack of detailed maps that might have focused on the regimental level and taken into account the complexity of Confederate defenses renders the narrative at times difficult to follow.
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Are you tired of the continued attack on American culture by liberal academic and public historians who present history in a way that conflicts with your cherished notions of the Civil War and Southern history? Well, head on down to Jacksonville, Florida to the Museum of Southern History. Although it claims to be a museum of Southern history, from the looks of the photographs there is nothing on display beyond the Civil War years. What you will find, however, are exhibits that just present the facts with no accompanying interpretation. Incoming board president, Ben Willingham, put it this way: “We’ve been fed political correctness[.] We’ve dumbed down society. It’s all in the Congressional Record. The facts are there. It’s not about beliefs.” Although it is not attributed to Willingham, it looks like he also suggested: “The men said the Civil War was about money, not slavery, and that African-Americans owned slaves. The first slave owner was a black man in Virginia.”
Well, I am pleased to see that some of the most important questions within the fields of Civil War and Southern history have been put to rest. Given that the Sons of Confederate Veterans hold their meetings in the museum, I have no doubt that other important questions will also be answered.
By the way, is that a little black Confederate doll in the display case next to what appears to be a naked Confederate soldier? What’s that about?
I‘m a little late in posting this, but wanted to point your attention to the three finalists for this year’s Frederick Douglass Book Award that is sponsored by Yale’s Gilder-Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance and Abolition.
The finalists are Thavolia Glymph for Out of the House of Bondage: The Transformation of the Plantation Household (Cambridge University Press); Annette Gordon-Reed, The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family (W.W. Norton and Company); and Jacqueline Jones, “Saving Savannah: The City and the Civil War (Alfred A. Knopf Publishers). The prize comes with a generous check of $25,000. I’ve read both Annette Gordon-Reed’s book (a National Book Award winner) and Glymph’s study. Although the publisher sent me a copy of Saving Savannah, I have not had a chance to look through it. My money is on Glymph’s Out of the House of Bondage.