There are two Civil War Sesquicentennial memes that get bandied about without any reflection at all. The first suggests that white Southerners are still fighting the Civil War or that they are holding onto a traditional narrative that is being threatened by various external forces. Even a cursory glance at recent commemorative events in South Carolina suggests that the story is much more complex. The second also plays up supposed strict regional differences that assumes a closer, more emotional need to remember the Civil War in the South than the North.
… R-Truth interrupts Vince and Austin. Truth comes out dressed like a Confederate soldier and is singing a tune about Little Jimmy. Truth says he’s supposed to apologize for what he did last week. Vince shows us a clip of Truth berating fans last week. Truth says he’s a good little Truth and apologizes to Big Jimmy, Little Jimmy and the soda he threw. Truth repeats that he’s sorry. Austin says he should be sorry for dressing up like a jackass. Truth says he’s dressed like this because he knows where he’s at – Richmond, Virginia. Truth calls it the capitol of the Confederacy and rambles on, calling the people inbred rednecks. A “you suck” chant breaks out. Truth says the Confederacy “succeeded” from the United States, so tonight, he is “succeeding” from WWE. Truth says they can keep the title match. After tonight, WWE won’t make anymore money off him. Vince asks Truth if R is his real first name and asks how to spell it. They go on when The Miz’s music hits and out he comes. Miz asks “really?” as he walks to the ring.
I am about half-way through Bruce Catton’s A Stillness at Appomattox and I am enjoying it immensely. While I’ve read a few essays and sections of various books this is the first Catton book that I will read in its entirety. It is easy to see why he is so popular and I have a much better sense of how he excited the imagination of an entire generation. Catton was an incredibly talented writer and his sense of narrative is infectious. On a number of occasions I found myself completely immersed in Catton’s world. At the same time I can’t help but reflect on the book as a product of its time.
Given its publication in 1953, Stillness functioned as a wonderful example of a national history of the Civil War. The narrative would have appealed to a wide range of Americans, who had experienced the horrors of WWII and the emergence of the United States as the most powerful nation and self-proclaimed leader of the free world. Increasing tensions during the early Cold War period and a conscious self reflection that emphasized freedom and democracy constitute an important cultural and political backdrop necessary to understand this book’s influence.
The latest issue of the Virginia Magazine of History and Biography arrived this past week and it includes a very thoughtful essay by Aaron Sheehan-Dean, titled, “The Long Civil War: A Historiography of the Consequences of the Civil War.” In September Aaron will take up a new teaching position as the Eberly Professor of Civil War History at West Virginia University. The essay is related to his current research project, which contextualizes and compares the practices of violence in the American Civil War with other civil and national conflicts in the mid-nineteenth century. Consider the following:
Civil War scholars need to write broader histories in both temporal and spatial terms. For too long, Civil War historians have been justly criticized for writing within a deep but narrow and disconnected part of the larger community of scholars studying the United States. The challenge of articulating the long-term effects of the conflict goes to the heart of what Civil War history should accomplish. Writing histories that account for the war’s full impact offers a way to reconnect scholars of the war with those in other fields. It will diminish the possibility of historians ignoring the war because their work concerns seemingly unrelated elements. Beyond the disciplinary advances that such an approach might facilitate, historians have a professional obligation to address the topic more clearly. When our nation weighs entering military conflicts, policymakers consider the costs and benefits of previous wars. Vietnam and World War II have dominated recent discussions of American war making, for good reason, but the Civil War provides an important model as well. It offers a window onto the most pressing questions we face: invasion, occupation, reconstruction, changing war plans, and tensions between military and political goals.
We, in contrast, are almost constantly engaged in presenting ourselves to others, and to ourselves, and hence representing ourselves–in language and gesture, external and internal. The most obvious difference in our environment that would explain this difference in our behavior is the behaviour itself. Our human environment contains not just food and shelter, enemies to fight or flee, and conspecifics with whom to mate, but words, words, words. These words are potent elements of our environment that we readily incorporate, ingesting and extruding them, weaving them like spiderwebs into self-protective strings of narrative. Indeed. . . when we let in these words, these meme-vehicles, they tend to take over, creating us out of the raw materials they find in our brains. (Daniel Dennett, Consciousness Explained1991)