Governor McDonnell Apologizes

Governor McDonnell issued a statement late Wednesday in which he apologizes for failing to reference slavery in his proclamation.

“The proclamation issued by this Office designating April as Confederate History Month contained a major omission. The failure to include any reference to slavery was a mistake, and for that I apologize to any fellow Virginian who has been offended or disappointed. The abomination of slavery divided our nation, deprived people of their God-given inalienable rights, and led to the Civil War. Slavery was an evil, vicious and inhumane practice which degraded human beings to property, and it has left a stain on the soul of this state and nation. In 2007, the Virginia General Assembly approved a formal statement of “profound regret” for the Commonwealth’s history of slavery, which was the right thing to do.

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Dear Gov. McDonnell: Confederate History Month is Not “Shared History”

Update: I think it is important to point out that the governor’s proclamation is easily eclipsed by the work of the Virginia Sesquicentennial Committee, which has aggressively pushed for an inclusive and education-driven approach to commemorating the Civil War.  I am proud to serve as an advisor to this state-sponsored committee.  Click here for more on this issue.

How do I know this?  Just read Virginia Governor McDonnell’s proclamation:

Virginia has long recognized her Confederate history, the numerous civil war battlefields that mark every  region of the state, the leaders and individuals in the Army, Navy and at home who fought for their homes and communities and Commonwealth in a time very different than ours today[.]

Why does the general public need to be reminded that a war which took place 150 years ago was fought “in a time very different than ours today”?  What exactly is the point in making this explicit?

it is important for all Virginians to reflect upon our Commonwealth’s  shared history, to understand the sacrifices of the Confederate leaders, soldiers and citizens during the period of the Civil War, and to recognize how our history has led to our present[.]

Yes, many Virginians sacrificed during the war.  It would be a mistake, however, to assume that all citizens were loyal to the Confederate government.  But if we are simply referring to those people who resided within the borders of Virginia between 1861-1865 shouldn’t the proclamation reference Virginia’s slave population.  After all, didn’t they also make sacrifices during the war?

all Virginians can appreciate the fact that when ultimately overwhelmed by the insurmountable numbers and resources of the Union Army, the surviving, imprisoned and injured Confederate soldiers gave their word and allegiance to the United States of America, and returned to their homes and families to rebuild their communities in peace, following the instruction of General Robert E. Lee of Virginia, who wrote that, “…all should unite in honest efforts to obliterate the effects of war and to restore the blessings of peace.”[.]

Really?  Can all Virginians, regardless of race, remember a postwar period where peace ruled their communities?  Were the “blessings of peace” extended to “all Virginians?

this defining chapter in Virginia’s history should not be forgotten, but instead should be studied, understood and remembered by all Virginians, both in the context of the time in which it took place, but also in the context of the time in which we live, and this study and remembrance takes on particular importance as the Commonwealth prepares to welcome the nation and the world to visit Virginia for the Sesquicentennial Anniversary of the Civil War, a four-year period in which the exploration of our history can benefit all[.]

Well, who would disagree?  As a history teacher I strongly encourage those interested to study the rich history of Virginia and the Civil War.  What the governor doesn’t seem to appreciate, however, is that the more history one studies the less likely he will identify with the overly simplistic and narrow vision of the war presented here.

Note: Brooks Simpson has also had a go of it over at Civil Warriors.  I also recommend reading Robert Moore’s thoughts at Cenantua as well as Richard Williams.

Skyping With Skidmore

A few weeks ago I was contacted by Prof. Gregory Pfitzer, who is currently teaching a course in American Studies at Skidmore College.  His students are examining various aspects of Civil War memory and as part of their reading Prof. Pfitzer assigned one of my blog posts on the recent controversy surrounding the SCV’s Davis-Limber statue that was supposed to be placed on the grounds at the Tredegar Ironworks in Richmond.  I agreed to respond to their comments.  I did my best to respond to every student and on more than one occasion the give and take resulted in lengthy threads.  The students’ comments were incredibly thoughtful and forced me to rethink some of my own assumptions about this story. [Skidmore comments begin with #17 on March 11]

Prof. Pfitzer and I decided to follow up the assignment with a Skype interview, which we thought would give students a chance to ask further questions about the subject or anything else on their minds about Civil War Memory.

Untitled from Kevin Levin on Vimeo.

OED Online Word of the Day (McClellan)

McClellan, n.

Mar. 2009 Brit. /m{schwa}{sm}kl{ope}l{schwa}n/, U.S. /m{schwa}{sm}kl{ope}l({schwa})n/ Forms: 18- McClellan, 18- M’Clellan, 18-McLellan (irreg.). [< the name of George B. McClellan (1826-85), U.S. army officer and commander of the Army of the Potomac 1861-2.] {dag}

1. U.S. Army slang. McClellan pie n. (also McClellan’s pie) a piece of hard biscuit of a kind issued to troops under McClellan’s command during the American Civil War. Obs. 1863 Brief Narr. Incidents War in Missouri 21 Our fare hard crackers (which we called McClellan pie..), bacon-side, and coffee for breakfast and supper.

1863 Army & Navy Jrnl. 10 Oct. 99 The old soldier who has received more hard knocks and ‘McClellan’s pies’ than fame or greenbacks. 1864 F. C. ADAMS Story of Trooper 587 ‘McClellan pies’, as the soldiers called their hard bread, came to be a luxury.

2. attrib. Designating a type of saddle with a wooden leather-covered frame and a high pommel and cantle, invented by McClellan and formerly used by the U.S. cavalry. Alsoabsol.

1864 Army & Navy Jrnl. 20 Feb. 402 The McClellan saddle seems to be the general favorite. 1866 J. E. COOKE Surry xxii. 83 His saddle was a plain ‘McClellan tree’ strapped over a red blanket for saddle cloth. 1885 W. D. HOWELLS Rise Silas Laphamii. 47 A burly mounted policeman, bulging over the pommel of his M’Clellan saddle, jolted by. 1901 F. NORRIS Octopus I. v. 161 In the corners of the room were muddy boots, a McClellan saddle, a surveyor’s transit, an empty coal-hod, and a box of iron bolts and nuts. 1935 in V. Randolph Pissing in Snow (1976) 85 The McClellan is an old-style army saddle, and there ain’t no horn on it. 1940 W. V. T. CLARK Ox-bow Incidentii. 124 He didn’t have a stock saddle either, but a little, light McLellan. 1981 E. HARTLEY-EDWARDS Country Life Bk. Saddlery & Equipm. 98/3 The earliest McClellan saddles did not have panels.