I recently came across a microfilm reel that included a reprint of a Senate debate from 1907 on just this question. The pamphlet was put together by Edmund S. Meaning of the University of Washington for the purposes of clarifying the official name of the war. Meaning had heard Senator Benjamin Tillman present a speech in which he described the war as “The War Between the States” as the official name adopted by the federal government. Meaning contacted Tillman and asked for documents related to the Senate debate and discovered that in fact the name adopted was “Civil War.” Here is an excerpt from that Senate debate for your consideration. The debate took place on January 11, 1907 and can be found in the Congressional Record of that date, pages 929 to 933. [click to continue…]
A few years ago I was approached about getting involved in the founding of a new Civil War museum in Spotsylvania County. I was appreciative of the offer, but declined owing to some of the unanswered questions that still lingered. Well, Executive Director Terry Thomann managed to open his museum and even had plans to expand into a 3-story building. The musuem had an attractive website with a number of exhibits scheduled, but this past weekend Thomann decided to close up shop and move to Fredericksburg. Thomann is moving to Fredericksburg not to educate, but to entertain by opening a gift shop: “We have a great book section, lots of interesting historical toys and books for children and many historical gifts that both locals and tourists will love.” Does downtown Fredericksburg really need another gift shop?
Thomann plans on opening a museum in the downtown area, but it is almost impossible to see how he can compete with the Fredericksburg Area Museum and Cultural Center which is a must see if you are in the area. Before Thomann can do anything it looks like there remains some outstanding lease issues with Spotsylvania County. [click to continue…]
Perhaps I’ve spent too much time studying how Americans have used public spaces to commemorate and remember their past, but I don’t get overly emotional around statues and other such sites. My first thought is almost always about the people – including the profile of the individual/group – who chose to shape a particular landscape with some kind of commemorative marker and the values that they hoped to impart to the public. In addition to the intentions of those who established the site there is the history of how the space is interpreted and consumed by subsequent generations. In all honesty, I rarely think about the object being commemorated. In short, for me public spaces of historic remembrance are almost always about the living. In most cases the objects themselves have little to do with shaping public behavior, especially if they sit atop pedestals. You can have a barbecue, play chess, or engage in polite conversation without ever considering the namesake of the location. [click to continue…]
I try to keep this running list of new titles confined to this blog’s subject matter. Professor Holton was one of my professors while in graduate school at the University of Richmond. I worked with him on an independent study and got a chance to read a section of his Adams biography in manuscript form. Since then I’ve eagerly awaited its final publication. My relationship with Abigail Adams is very complex. I’ve always found her history to be intriguing; however, since the HBO series I’ve had a major crush on Laura Linney, though I can’t tell how much of it is directed at Linney as opposed to Adams. Luckily, I have a very understanding wife who is helping me to work through all of this. If you thought you knew everything there is to know about Abigail Adams you will want to read this book.
Woody Holton, Abigail Adams (Free Press, 2009).
Michael Perman, Pursuit of Unity: A Political History of the American South (University of North Carolina Press, 2009).
Kirk Savage, Monument Wars: Washington, D.C., The National Mall, and the Transformation of the Memorial Landscape (University of California Press, 2009).
William L. Shea, Fields of Blood: The Prairie Grove Campaign (University of North Carolina Press, 2009).
I know, I know, I know…you don’t want to hear any more about Richard Dreyfuss. [see here and here] Well, this will probably be it.
There seems to be a generational divide regarding Dreyfuss’s speeches. While Dreyfuss himself has admitted that he has had difficulty reaching out to high school kids an older generation seems to be lapping up his doomsday scenarios about the future of this nation and the supposed incompetence of our youth. But isn’t that the way it always is?: “Every generation thinks it;s the end of the world.” [Wilco] Dreyfuss received a standing ovation earlier this week in Gettysburg after speaking at the annual commemoration of Lincoln’s address. Geez, what a surprise given the profile of his audience. I would love to know how many in the audience attended these same exercises when they were in high school? More to the point, Dreyfuss’s perception of our youth clearly reflects no interaction with the very people that he claims to be so concerned about:
Tell Steve Jobs and Bill Gates to help us create games that make us more thoughtful and able to think things through instead of wasting the computer power that sent us to the moon and back on the blood-splatter of gangster video games.
And there you have it. [click to continue…]
I‘ve never been a fan of tearing down our Civil War monuments because I tend to think that such a move only works to make us feel better. Although the removal of monuments reflects the very same political, economic, and social conditions that led to their being initially placed in prominent spots it almost always fails to address a controversial past that has helped to divide a community. One alternative is to add some kind of marker to the historic site that educates the visitor as to why a statue was placed in a particular spot and that offers a more complete interpretation of the event/individual being commemorated. This is what the citizens of Frederick, Maryland have done with a prominent statue of Chief Justice Roger Taney that was dedicated in 1931. Now visitors can read a small plaque that outlines the infamous ruling in the Dred Scott v. Sanford as well as its long-term consequences. Not only does it educate, but it gives voice to both Dred and Harriet Scott as well as a community whose past has all too often been ignored.