A Must Read

I don’t usually advertise new books like this, but I wanted to give all of you a heads up regarding Stephanie McCurry’s Confederate Reckoning: Power and Politics in the Civil War South, which is shaping up to be one of the most thought provoking books of the year.  Over the past few years I’ve read a couple of chapters in edited collections and journals, but it is nice to be able to read this study of Confederate politics in its complete form.  I am about half-way through it, but you will be hearing quite a bit about it in the near future.  Here is the book description:

The story of the Confederate States of America, the proslavery, antidemocratic nation created by white Southern slaveholders to protect their property, has been told many times in heroic and martial narratives. Now, however, Stephanie McCurry tells a very different tale of the Confederate experience. When the grandiosity of Southerners’ national ambitions met the harsh realities of wartime crises, unintended consequences ensued. Although Southern statesmen and generals had built the most powerful slave regime in the Western world, they had excluded the majority of their own people—white women and slaves—and thereby sowed the seeds of their demise.

Continue reading

Where Should the New Chancellorsville Vistor Center Be Located?

Note: It looks like I did a poor job of reading Eric’s post.  For some reason I was under the impression that there were plans to build a new VC.  That said, I have heard talk about the possibility of a new location so let’s proceed with that in mind.

The new group blog, Mysteries and Conundrums, authored by NPS historians at Fredericksburg has quickly become my favorite Civil War site.  John Hennessy and the gang have done a fantastic job of sharing the challenges associated with interpreting and preserving some of our most important Civil War ground.  I particularly enjoyed reading Hennessy’s last post in which he asks readers to consider a name change to the Stonewall Jackson Shrine.  Many of the responses reflect deeply held views, but I commend Hennessy for his continued commitment to asking the tough questions.

Eric Mink’s latest post provides some interesting background information on the Chancellorsville Visitor Center; it looks like his next post will let us in on the decision-making process that went into the decision on the location of a new visitor center.  [Update: Just as this was published Eric Mink posted his second installment.]  I’ve brought students to Chancellorsville for the past 8 years and since I am pretty familiar with the battlefield I thought I would take a shot at suggesting a new location.  The best place for a new visitor center would be on ground that covers the fighting that took place on May 3, 1863.

I’ve been bringing students to Chancellorsville for the past eight years and so I am fairly familiar with the ground and have thought quite a bit about how to approach a battlefield tour.  We spend about 5-6 hours touring various sites, beginning at the present VC and proceeding to the Zoan Church, Chancellor House, and the final meeting spot between Lee and Jackson.  From there we walk a bit of the original road that Jackson used for his flank march and discuss tactics and the difficulties associated with fighting in the Wilderness.  We stop at the Flank March spot to discuss ethnicity and the Union 11th Corps along with the effects of Jackson’s attack.  From there we drive back where I do a play-by-play of the events that led to Jackson’s wounding; it’s a narrative that closely follows Bob Krick’s brilliant analysis of this important moment in the battle.  Finally, we make our way over the Fairview where we eat our lunch and discuss the events of May 3.  While there we discuss Stephen Crane’s Red Badge of Courage, which helps us to get at issues related to soldier life.

Continue reading

Edward Sebesta is Back and Without Focus

As he promised in January Ed Sebesta has petitioned President Obama to discontinue the practice of sending a wreath to the Confederate statue at Arlington National Cemetery on Memorial Day.  Actually, this petition goes much further than last year’s in requesting that the federal government “revoke the Sons of Confederate Veterans participation as a recognized charity in the Combined Federal Campaign, deny the SCV permission to host events for the United States Army, and prevent the SCV’s future involvement Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC) programs in America’s high schools.”  In doing so Sebesta has moved away from focusing the nation’s attention on a specific public site in favor of a broader look at the neo-Confederate movement.  Unfortunately, any focus on the monument that Sebesta hoped to maintain is lost and I suspect that most people will not pay much attention to the SCV’s political activities and involvement in JROTC.  Before commenting further, I want to share what I wrote last year:

First, let me say that there is much in this new petition that I agree with.  The SCV promotes a Lost Cause inspired narrative of the Civil War that at times borders on racist.  You can indeed see this on the many chapter websites as well as their bookstore on the national site.  As far as I am concerned the fundamental problem for Sebesta is that President Obama made the right decision last year.  Rather than fuel the debate, which only worked to move interested parties further away from one another, the president sent an additional wreath to the African American Soldiers Monument in Washington, D.C.

Continue reading

Hey Clyde Wilson, I Don’t Believe You!

I know that Professor Clyde Wilson is widely known for his involvement with a number of institutions associated with the neo-Confederate movement such as the League of the South, but this guy was trained as an undergraduate and graduate student in history at the University of North Carolina.  He wrote his dissertation at UNC and went on to write a couple of pretty respectable books, including Carolina Cavalier: The Life and Mind of James Johnston Pettigrew.  Wilson is best known academically for his work on editing the John Calhoun Papers.  I guess what I am getting at is that behind what I can only describe as a commitment to expressing a conservative world view through these organizations there is a well-trained historian.

I have no problem with Wilson wanting to express his political views, but it is incredibly disturbing to see him sacrificing his integrity as a historian to do so?  Consider the following quiz that has been attributed to Wilson at the Confederate Digest site.  [Update: I didn't notice but the source is Lew Rockwell.]

  • What American President launched a massive invasion of another country that posed no threat, and without a declaration of war?
  • What President raised a huge army at his own will without the approval of Congress?
  • What President started a war of choice in violation of every principle of Christian just war teaching?
  • What President said that he had to violate the Constitution in order to save it?
  • What President declared the elected legislatures of thirteen States to be “combinations” of criminals that he had to suppress?
  • What President said he was indifferent to slavery but would use any force necessary to collect taxes?
  • What President sent combat troops from the battlefield to bombard and occupy New York City?
  • What President sent the Army to arrest in the middle of the night thousands of private citizens for expressing their opinions? And held them incommunicado in military prisons with total denial of due process of law? And had his soldiers destroy newspaper plants?
  • What President was the first ruler in the civilized world to make medicine a contraband of war?
  • What President signed for his cronies special licenses to purchase valuable cotton from an enemy country even though he had forbidden such trade and punished other people for the same practice?
  • What President refused medical care and food to his own soldiers held by the enemy country?
  • What President presided over the bombardment and house-by-house destruction of cities and towns that were undefended and not military targets?
  • What President’s forces deliberately targeted women and children and destroyed their housing, food supply, and private belongings?
  • What President’s occupying forces engaged in imprisonment, torture, and execution of civilians and seizing them as hostages?
  • Under what President did the Army have the largest number of criminals, mercenaries, and foreigners?
  • Who was the first American President to plot the assassination of an opposing head of state?
  • Who had the least affiliation with Christianity of any American President and blamed God for starting the war over which he presided?
  • What President voted for and praised a law which forbade black people from settling in his State?
  • What President said that all black people should be expelled from the United States because they could never be full-fledged citizens?
  • What President was the first to force citizens to accept as legal money pieces of paper unbacked by gold or silver?
  • Who was the first President to institute an income tax?
  • Who was the first President to pile up a national debt too vast to be paid off in a generation?
  • Who is considered almost universally as the greatest American President, indeed as the greatest American of all times and as a world hero of democracy?
  • What predecessor is President Obama most often compared to?

Of course, the answer to all of these questions is Abraham Lincoln.  Again, I have no problem with Wilson wanting to express his political views.  Honestly, I could care less about his broader world view.  What I don’t believe is that these questions accurately reflect his understanding of Lincoln and the broader issues related to the Civil War.  The questions are simply too childish and uninformed to be an honest reflection of Wilson’s understanding of the relevant history.  In short, I don’t believe you, Clyde Wilson.

Black North Carolinians Plan to Erect Faithful Slave Marker

A group of historians and other concerned citizens recently lobbied the commissioners of Union County to “recogniz[e] the contributions of 10 black Confederate pensioners, known as colored troops during the Civil War.”  We’ve seen all this before and it doesn’t look like anything will steer certain folks away from making this all too common mistake regarding the conditions under which black Southerners were given pensions after the Civil War.  The assumption seems to be that a pension indicates that a given individual served as a soldier in the Confederate army.  [For some reliable commentary on pensions please read James Hollandsworth, Jr., Robert Moore, and the Library of Virginia.] The group wants to install a small monument to these ten individuals in front of the old courthouse in Monroe.

The most disappointing aspect of this story is to read the words of the descendants of these men who were forced to endure the horrors of war as property, ultimately without any choice in the matter.

Aaron Perry of Charlotte is the great-grandson of one of the pensioners, also named Aaron Perry, a Union County slave who fought with the North Carolina 37th Company D. Although the Confederate States lost, their story should be remembered.  “I think it’s a great thing,” said the younger Perry, 72. “It’s been a long time ago, so I’m not going to overlook that. What’s so bad about it? They’re honoring these 10 North Carolina soldiers for being helpful to their country, even if it was under slavery.  “They lost that war, but my great grandfather helped rebuild the camp at Fort Fisher,” Perry said. “He played his part, even though he was under slavery and somebody else’s command. When you enlist in the service, you’re taking orders from somebody.”

Notice how Mr. Perry completely collapses the distinction between status as a slave and citizen.  In what way was the Confederacy “their country” given the constitution’s provisions that specifically protect the institution of slavery?  Even worse is the failure to distinguish between having to take orders within a military command – a responsibility that under certain conditions is conferred on citizens – and status as a slave which views the individual as an extension of his master’s will.  What could be clearer?

Of course, it should come as no surprise that Earl Ijames is involved in this nonsense.  Ijames works as a curator at the North Carolina Museum of History, which is part of the NC Department of Archives and History.  I guess Ijames couldn’t resist referencing Weary Clyburn, who happens to be his favorite “Colored Confederate.”  Unfortunately, Ijames isn’t even sure whether Clyburn was a slave or a free man at the time of the Civil War.

Between Perry and Ijames we get a sense of the quality of “research” and thought that seems to be behind this project.  I am sad to say that in 2010 we have two African American men, who are essentially hoping to erect a monument to faithful slaves of the Confederacy.  What could be more pathetic?