One of the sessions that I attended at last week’s SHA was a roundtable on Civil War Memory and the Sesquicentennial. It was an excellent panel consisting of Gaines Foster, Suzanna Lee, John Neff, and Robert Cook. The presentations were short which left plenty of time for conversation. The question of how to attract African Americans to sesquicentennial celebrations received a great deal of attention from a number of the panelists, especially Prof. Cook, whose study of the Civil War Centennial highlights the extent to which this particular group was ignored. Prof. Cook suggested that what is needed this time around is a much more inclusive commemoration that does justice to the “Emancipationist Legacy” of the conflict. Well, who would disagree with that? Here in Virginia we’ve already held one major conference on the eve of the Civil War. Panelists touched on questions of race and slavery throughout the various sessions and future conferences will focus even more on the end of slavery in Virginia and its aftermath. There will be no shortage of talk about slavery, race, the home front and every other subject under the sun.
From the beginning of its formation, one of the central goals for the Virginia Sesquicentennial Commission has been educational outreach. It is doing this in a number of ways from organizing conferences to creating mobile exhibits that will travel throughout the state between 2011 and 2015. Included in this is the creation of educational materials suitable for use in k-12 classrooms. This fall Virginia PBS stations will air “Virginia in the Civil War”. This was a joint project between the Virginia Sesquicentennial Commission and Virginia Tech’s Center for Civil War Studies. The documentary is three hours in length and will be broken down into nine 20 minute segments. I couldn’t be more pleased with the commission’s focus on educational materials and this documentary, which will be made available to every public and private school in the state, will surely come in handy.
I‘ve been following this story out of Tennessee [and here] involving a local chapter of the UDC and SCV and their plans to honor 18 so-called black Confederates. I was actually contacted by the author of this article for my position on this issue, which you can read. The author does a pretty good job of presenting the various perspectives. There is always the danger that the reporter will take something out of context or simply fail to follow a line of argument. In this case the author, Skyler Swisher, does a pretty good job. The only thing I take issue with is having my view juxtaposed against Wood’s as two competing interpretations. Simply put, Wood and the UDC are doing poor history. There is really no interpretation to take issue with since it is fraught with basic factual and interpretive mistakes.
This is the second in my series of “Best of” posts that will be shared throughout November in recognition of the four-year anniversary of this blog. The following post appeared on March 23, 2006 and is titled “Why the Civil War Matters”. This post was formally presented at my school as part of the 2006 Virginia Festival of the Book and is one of my favorite pieces of writing.
Americans were exuberant in 1961 at the prospect of the upcoming Civil War Centennial celebrations. It was a chance to unfurl Confederate battle flags and ponder the character and heroism of such iconic figures as Robert E. Lee and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson. Families could watch as re-enactors brought to life memorable battles such as First Manassas and Gettysburg where lessons could be taught about the common bonds of bravery and patriotism that animated the men on both sides. There would be no enemies on the battlefields of the 1960’s.
I had a wonderful time in Louisville at the SHA. It’s a wonderful opportunity to listen to thoughtful presentations and meet up with old friends. When I have time I will share some thoughts about one of the panels on Civil War memory and the Sesquicentennial. Of course, one of the best features of the conference is the book room, which features most of the major publishers that deal in Civil War and Southern history. Most of the books are available at a significant discount. Here is what I picked up this year:
Robert E. Bonner Mastering America: Southern Slaveholders and the Crisis of American Nationhood (Cambridge University Press, 2009).
Paul D. Escott, ed., North Carolinians in the Era of the Civil War and Reconstruction (University of North Carolina Press, 2008).
Leeanna Keith, The Colfax Massacre: The Untold Story of Black Power, White Terror, and the Death of Reconstruction (Oxford University Press, 2008).
LeeAnn Whites and Alecia P. Long, eds., Occupied Women: Gender, Military Occupation, and the American Civil War (Louisiana State University Press, 2009).
So, just as I was finishing packing for my trip to Louisville tomorrow when I received a phone call asking me to moderate a panel on Saturday morning. I will be filling in for Gary Gallagher on a session titled, “The Public Presentation and Interpretation of Slavery and Slave Resistance: A Roundtable Discussion.” It’s a topic that I am very interested in and I was more than happy to accept the request. I was pleased to see John Latschar’s name as one of the panelists, but unfortunately he has decided not to attend. That’s too bad. It would have given me the opportunity to thank him for all of his hard work at Gettysburg. I’ve read through plenty of commentary over the past week by people who have tried to minimize Latschar’s accomplishments at Gettysburg, but all you have to do is listen to those on the inside and you will understand just how important he was in helping to bring about some of the most significant to the physical landscape and interpretation at the park. Who better to talk about the importance of addressing difficult topics such as slavery at our Civil War battlefields and other public sites than John Latschar. Peter Carmichael will be filling in for Latschar.
With the publication of three books on the battle of the Crater in the past two years, one might reasonably ask if there is a need for yet another. These previous treatments (written mainly by non-academic historians) have collectively addressed the tactical complexity of the battle, including the early morning explosion of 8,000 pounds of black powder under a Confederate salient and they have provided an exhaustive account of the close-quarter combat and blood-letting that ensued for close to eight hours on a battlefield that was ripped open by the initial blast. Such a focus is a staple of traditional military history. But as much as we have learned about the nature of combat in the trenches around Petersburg in the summer of 1864 there are key aspects of this battle that have not been sufficiently addressed by the previous literature.
The following post originally appeared on December 12, 2005
Being Ed Ayers
In the most recent issue of North and South there is a very interesting exchange between Ed Ayers and a letter to the editor in the Crossfire section. The writer responded to Ayers’s article, “What Caused the Civil War” which appeared in a previous issue (Vol. 8, #5); the article is essentially a reprint from his most recent book of essays titled, What Caused the Civil War: Reflections on the South and Southern History. I think Ayers is one of the more talented historians writing today. I’ve read through his Pulitzer-Prize nominated book, The Promise of the New South so many times that it has a rubber band around it to keep it together. The only other book in my library in that condition is Plato’s Republic. More recently Ayers won the Bancroft Prize for In the Presence of Mine Enemies which is based on his Valley of the Shadow project out of the University of Virginia.