John Stauffer Lectures on Black Confederates at Harvard

Harvard Yard

Tomorrow morning I will head over to Cambridge for a talk on the subject of black Confederates by Professor John Stauffer.  Here is the abstract for the talk:

“Black Confederates” is one of the most controversial ideas of the Civil War era and American memory more generally. Today, neo-Confederates claim that thousands of blacks loyally fought as soldiers for the South and that hundreds of thousands more served the Confederacy as laborers. These claims have become a staple among Southern heritage groups and are taught in some Southern schools. Their function is to purge the Confederacy from its association with slavery and redeem the white South from guilt over its past. In this they have been partly successful: according to a recent poll, 70% of white Southerners continue to believe that the Confederacy was motivated by states rights rather than slavery.

Academic historians, in reaction to these claims, have totally dismissed the idea that more than a handful of African Americans could have served as Confederate soldiers. To suggest otherwise, they say, is to engage in “a pattern of distortion, deception, and deceit” in the use of evidence.

But according to African Americans themselves, writing during the war, thousands of blacks did fight as soldiers for the South. In my presentation, I assess and contextualize the sources, examine case studies of blacks fighting for the Confederacy, and explain how and why it happened and how Northern black leaders understood this phenomenon. Along the way I reveal the richly diverse ways in which blacks acted on their understandings of freedom.

It goes without saying that I am looking forward to attending this event and you can expect a full report here at Civil War Memory.  Still, I am not quite sure what to expect.  I don’t want to put too much stock in an abstract, but who might Stauffer be referring to beyond Frederick Douglass’s widely quoted claim of blacks fighting in the Confederate army?  And what does this fact about African American perceptions during the war have to do with recent assessments by academic historians as to the veracity of some of the more outlandish claims emanating from certain camps?  We have seen plenty of cases of “distortion, deception, and deceit” – not to mention incompetence.  Stay tuned.


Gettysburg on History—Love It, Hate It, Here it Comes Again.

The following guest post is from Garry Adelman.  Garry is the author, co-author or editor of more than 30 Civil War books and articles including his latest work, Manassas Battlefields Then & Now. He has been a Licensed Battlefield Guide at Gettysburg for 16 years. He is vice president of the Center for Civil War Photography and works full time as Director of History and Education for the Civil War Trust.

With the History Channel’s Gettysburg show scheduled to re-air on Wednesday August 31, I thought Civil War Memory the perfect place to post an insider’s perspective about the creation, production and reactions to the docudrama. Thanks to my friend Kevin for allowing me to be a guest blogger.

I first became involved in the project at its outset in June 2010. History asked the Civil War Trust for help with its proposed Gettysburg docudrama, but: they did not want to try to include the entire battle; they did not want to focus on the usual characters and; they wanted to make it highly personal. I was tapped for the job. I said I would help in any way I could and added that my personal goal was to help them make “something that didn’t suck.”

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Civil War Weather

"The Mud March" by Mort Kunstler

I trust that all of you along the east coast have made the best of this nasty weather and are safe. I am particularly concerned about my small contingent of “fans” in the Virginia Beach – Suffolk area, though I trust that they are also doing just fine. Here in Boston it is raining and a little windy, but so far nothing too serious at all – just a very wet Sunday morning.

With all the talk about the weather over the past few days it occurred to me that perhaps we have much to learn about its influence on campaigns as well as the physical and psychological well-being of the men in the ranks.  Yes, we have plenty of descriptions of various kinds of weather, but it seems to me that the analytical side of our understanding may fall short.  Perhaps I am just ignorant of the literature.

A few studies stand out.  Robert Krick recently published, Civil War Weather in Virginia, which offers a handy chronology of weather information in the Washington D.C. – Richmond corridor.  George Rable, Fredericksburg! Fredericksburg! includes a fine chapter on how the weather influenced the failed Mud March following the battle of Fredericksburg.  More recently, Kathryn S. Meier published, “No Place for the Sick: Nature’s War on Civil War Soldier Mental and Physical Health in the 1862 Peninsula and Shenandoah Valley Campaign” in The Journal of the Civil War Era (June 2011).  What else do you recommend?  I am not just thinking about weather, but broader environmental issues as well.

Finally, I recently learned that Ken Noe’s next book will focus on weather related issues.  Perhaps he can give us a sense of what he is up to.


The Second Annual Tom Watson Brown Book Prize

I am usually pretty good about staying on top of new Civil War titles.  Many of the university presses send me advanced copies for the blog, which helps to save money and keep me on top of the historiography.  Somehow, this title fell through the cracks.  Not only did it escape my attention, but I just learned that Mark W. Geiger’s book, Financial Fraud and Guerrilla Violence in Missouri’s Civil War, 1861-1865 (Yale University Press, 2010) has been selected by the Society of Civil War Historians as this year’s Tom Watson Brown book prize winner. The award comes with a check for $50,000.

Above you will find a short video of Professor Geiger discussing his new book.  Geiger will accept his award and give a talk at the SCWH dinner, which takes place as part of the annual meeting of the Southern Historical Association.  It’s always a good time.




Is Robert K. Krick a Southern Historian?

Over the past three days I’ve come across two references that place Robert K. Krick, squarely in the camp of Southern historians.  The reference is meant not simply to denote field of interest but a “pro-South” or “pro-Confederate” bias.  As many of you know Krick worked for 31 years as the chief historian at Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania National Military Park.  These claims are made with apparently no attempt at verification; it’s as if his body of scholarship speaks for itself in terms of his place of birth.  Of course, Krick is not native to the South; rather he was born and raised in California.  Before proceeding let’s be clear that Krick’s work on the Army of Northern Virginia is essential reading for any Civil War enthusiast.  In short, few people know more about Lee’s army than Krick.

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