I know I promised to stay away until January, but I don’t really consider this to be a violation of my blogging hiatus. My review of Will Greene’s book, Civil War Petersburg: Confederate City in the Crucible of War (University of Virginia Press, 2006), is included in the most recent issue of the journal, Civil War History [December 2009, (pp. 504-05)], and I thought I might pass it on for those of you who need a quick Civil War Memory fix.
Although most Civil War enthusiasts are no doubt familiar with the ten-month campaign that enveloped the city of Petersburg between June 1864 and April 1865 few can say much about how its civilian population, both black and white, experienced the changing conditions wrought by war. The increase in the number of community and regional studies has led to rich insights into the ways both white and black southerners experienced the hardships of war on the home front. In addition to studies of the home front historians such as Frank Towers and Louis S. Gerteis have examined the extensive growth experienced in urban communities during the final two decades of the antebellum period and beyond. A. Wilson Greene’s Civil War Petersburg straddles both of these categories and the result is the most scholarly study of the Cockade City to date. [click to continue…]
“In this comedy of political values Honest Abe’s home town puts a teacher on trial for asking ‘Was Lincoln Gay?’ Told in three acts – the audience decided the order – we see the events surrounding the ‘Trial of the Century’ through the eyes of the prosecution, the defense and the big city reporter.”
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.