The Retreat of the Confederate Battle Flag Continues

A number of you emailed me a story that appeared in The New York Times about the supposed resurgence of the Confederate battle flag during the 2016 election. It is certainly an attractive narrative for those unfamiliar with its recent history.

There is nothing necessarily wrong with the story. It includes plenty of examples of recent battle flag sightings around the country, interviews with flag supporters and detractors, and the obligatory interview with an academic historian. All good so far. [click to continue…]

“Give Us This Day Our Daily Cotton”

Came across this excerpt from a sermon delivered in 1860 in South Carolina by Rev. William O. Prentiss. The title is, “The Power of Slave Labor.”

Three hundred and fifty thousand white men directing the labor of less than four millions of African slaves, have furnished the material, out of which has been reared this colossal fabric, and it begins to topple to its fall at the first bright promise that their sustaining aid shall be withdrawn. If further proof be required that the labor to which I have alluded, has built up these vast, these important interests, consult the statistics of our country; study figures which no human ingenuity can torture into indorsement of a lie. History shows that the country makes no palpable improvement until the grand staple of the earth’s necessities begins to be reared here, and that its advances are exactly proportioned to the amount and value of the African slave labor employed by us. The whole commerce of the civilized world is based upon this labor; it feeds the hungry, it clothes the naked, it employs the idler, it supports tottering thrones and starving paupers; kings in their diadems, and beggars in their rags, all cry aloud to the god who feeds them, ‘Give us this day our daily cotton.’

And that, my friends, is a mid-nineteenth century interpretation of American Exceptionalism.

My 2016 Best Picks For Civil War Monitor

Once again I had the chance to highlight a couple of my favorite Civil War titles of 2016 for The Civil War Monitor magazine. In addition to my picks, you can read those of A. Wison Greene, Andrew Wagenhoffer, Joan Waugh, and Gerry Prokopowicz. Together we give you plenty of titles to consider.  It’s never easy, but here they are. Thanks to Terry Johnston for the invitation. [click to continue…]

Teaching a Trump Presidential Victory

I would give my right arm to be in a history classroom today. Of course, that raises the question of what we as history educators should do to help our students understand last night’s election results and Donald Trump’s victory. What follows is not in any way intended as a lesson plan. Those will certainly be forthcoming in the near future. For now I want to share a few thoughts about how you should approach your students and what you may want to avoid. [click to continue…]

Steven Hahn’s “War of the Rebellion”

In his new book, A Nation Without Borders: The United States and Its World in an Age of Civil Wars, 1830-1910, historian Steven Hahn dispenses with the popular reference to the “Civil War” in favor of “War of the Rebellion.” Here is why:

I term this bloody episode, as many supporters of the Union did at the time, the “War of the Rebellion” (not the “Civil War”) and treat the “Confederacy” as a rogue rather than a legitimate state, in good part because no other state power in the world ever recognized it (the terms “Confederate” and “Confederacy” are used sparingly; more frequently, I refer to the “rebellious states”).

But the War of the Rebellion was only the largest of many rebellions that either called into question the sovereign authority of the federal government or insisted upon their own claims to sovereignty. These included the resistance of Native Americans to settler colonialism and dispossession, especially in the Second Seminole War of the 1830s and 1840s…the embrace of nullification by reactionary slaveholders in South Carolina in the early 1830s; the efforts of Mormons to limit federal power in the Utah Territory…; privately financed and directed filibustering operations against Cuba, Mexico, and Central America in the 1840s and 1850s…; and the percolation of secessionist sentiment in California, the Midwest, and the City of New York as the Lincoln administration moved to deal with the Confederate rebellion…These would be followed during the War of the Rebellion itself by Native American uprisings in the upper plains, copperheadism…, violent opposition to the draft and the recruitment of African Americans to fight in the Union Army, and resistance to the expansion of federal power more generally. We may, indeed, think of “wars of the rebellions” during the first seven decades of the nineteenth century. (p. 4)

What do you think?

New to the Civil War Memory Library, 11/05

Update: A few weeks ago I mentioned that I had auditioned to host a show for A&E/History. Well, today I learned that I have advanced to the next round of auditions in New York City. This in-studio audition is scheduled to take place in the next three months. Of course, I will keep you updated.

Curating AmericaHerbert P. Bix, Hirohito and the Making of Modern Japan (Harper, 2015).

Douglas Egerton, Thunder at the Gates: The Black Civil War Regiments That Redeemed America (Basic Books, 2016). [Teaser: This is my pick for best book of 2016, which will be announced in the next issue of Civil War Monitor magazine.]

Lorien Foote, The Yankee Plague: Escaped Union Prisoners and the Collapse of the Confederacy (University of North Carolina Press, 2016).

Steven H. Hahn, A Nation Without Borders: The United States and Its World in an Age of Civil Wars, 1830-1910 (Viking, 2016).

Deborah M. Liles & Angela Boswell eds., Women in Civil War Texas: Diversity and Dissidence in the Trans-Mississippi (University of North Texas Press, 2016).

Richard Rabinowitz, Curating America: Journeys through Storyscapes of the American Past (University of North Carolina Press, 2016).

David Silkenat, Driven from Home: North Carolina’s Civil War Refugee Crisis (University of Georgia Press, 2016).

“An Ex-Officer of Lee’s Army…Purged of Southernism”

I just finished re-reading a couple of chapters in Gaines Foster’s book, Ghosts of the Confederacy: Defeat, the Lost Cause, and the Emergence of the New South, 1865-1913 (Oxford University Press, 1987). It is close to thirty years old, but I think it holds up incredibly well next to more recent interpretations of the evolution of the Lost Cause. Foster’s emphasis on the “second stage” of the Lost Cause’s role in smoothing over social and racial tensions in the South at the turn of the twentieth century remains quite compelling. [click to continue…]