Virginia Delegates Commemorate Confederate History Month…

but probably not in the way that the Sons of Confederate Veterans intended.

Today members of the Virginia Assembly in Richmond wore arm bands to commemorate the sacrifices of Virginia’s slaves.  From the Virginia Politics Blog:

The move was prompted by McDonnell’s proclamation declaring April Confederate History Month. When first issued, the proclamation did not include reference to slavery. McDonnell has subsequently apologized repeatedly for what he called a “major omission” and amended the proclamation to include reference to slavery as an abomination and the cause of the Civil War.

“This is why I can celebrate Confederate History Month,” said Del. Jeion A. Ward (D-Hampton). “I am celebrating the thousands of African slaves brought to this Commonwealth for forced labor and in spite of societal restrictions and countless tribulations, they became some of the most learned men of all time. Yes, they found a way out of no way.”

“I celebrate because they endured unimaginable pain and suffering… I celebrate those who escaped slavery only to return to help others escape, like Harriet Tubman and her underground railroad. She made 13 missions to help rescue other slaves. It is for her I celebrate. I celebrate them all because finally they were able to find a way out of now way. So today I and some of my colleagues wear this black ribbon as a symbol of our profound sadness for the horrors our ancestor faced and had to endure under the institution of slavery. But we also join in are celebrating with you because they finally found a way out.”

At Ward’s motion, the House of Delegates also agreed that they will adjourn today “in the honor and memory of the thousands of slaves who played an important role in the building of the wealth of the commonwealth and for those who called Virginia their home.” The House regularly adjourns in memory of prominent Americans or Virginians. The House agreed it will also today adjourn in memory of civil rights leader Dorothy Height.

SCV Camp in Harrisonburg, Virginia Issues Proclamation

Update: Robert Moore deconstructs the SCV’s proclamation in Rockingham County and Brooks Simpson offers his own response at Civil Warriors.

It looks like the Col. D.H. Lee Martz Camp #10-Sons of Confederate Veterans is not going to allow Gov. Bob McDonnell’s amendment to his Confederate History Month proclamation stop them from grossly distorting the past.  On Saturday the Harrisonburg Daily News-Record included a full-page advertisement from the SCV.  One of my readers was kind enough to mail me a clipping from the paper.  I’m just over the mountains in Albemarle County and this is the first I’ve heard of it.  I love the loyal slave reference toward the end.  What an incredible waste of money.

Town of DAYTON -Town of GROTTOES -Town of MT. CRAWFORD – Town of ELKTON

Whereas: April is the month in which the Confederate States of America began and ended a four year struggle for states’ rights, individual freedom, and local government control, and

Whereas: April is the month in which the Commonwealth of Virginia, after struggling politically to remain with Honor within the Union of States, but being forced by Lincoln’s call for the Militia of the States, upheld her rights as specified in her Constitution, and her ratification of the Constitution of these United States, with the overwhelming support of her citizens by vote, withdrew from the Union on 17 April 1861, and

Whereas: Rockingham County supported the War through the actions of her citizens, numbering some 23,500, both in the military and on the home front – some 3000 men served in the various military organizations raised throughout the County, out of a military aged population of only 4,163, and at least 225 men and boys paid the ultimate sacrifice in response to Duty, Home, and Country; millions of dollars of agriculture were supplied in support of the war effort in Virginia, millions more were destroyed by invading troops during the 1864 Valley Campaign; numerous civilians, both white and black, free and slave, provided support, comfort, and aid to the war effort; three battles of the 1862 Valley Campaign were fought in the County – Harrisonburg, Cross Keys and Port Republic, and

Whereas: Virginia has long cherished her Confederate History and the great leaders, such as General Robert Edward Lee, General Thomas Jonathan Jackson, and General Turner Ashby, and the people of Rockingham County have long cherished her Confederate History and the memory of the men who served in the 10th Regiment Virginia Volunteer Infantry (Bridgewater Greys, Chrisman’s Infantry, Harrisonburg Valley Guards, Mauck’s Company, Peaked Mountain Grays, Riverton Invincibles, Rockingham Rifles), Rockingham Confederates, Harrisonburg Cavalry, Rockingham Cavalry, Letcher Brock’s Gap Rifles, Valley Rangers, Chipley’s Cavalry Company, Sipe’s Cavalry Company, Patterson’s Cavalry Company, Mt. Crawford Cavalry, 58th Regiment Virginia Militia, Rockingham Reserves, and various home guard organizations, who made sacrifices on behalf of the Confederate Cause, and

Whereas: It is vital that Virginians reflect upon the Commonwealth’s past, and honor and respect the devotion of the Confederate citizens, soldiers and civilians, both white and black, free and slave, to the cause of Southern Independence, now

Therefore, we hereby proclaim the month of April 2010 as “Confederate History and Heritage Month” in Rockingham County and encourage our citizens to become more knowledgeable of the role Virginia and the Confederate States of America played in the history of our country.

Proposed and forwarded by
Col. D.H. Lee Martz Camp No. 10-Sons of Confederate Veterans
PO Box 2001, Harrisonburg, 22803

Will the Sons of Confederate Veterans Have Any Impact on the Sesquicentennial?

I may be speaking too soon, but it looks like the influence of the Sons of Confederate Veterans on how we remember the Civil War will be minimal as we make our way through the Civil War Sesquicentennial.  Today we learn that plans to place a monument to South Carolina’s decision to leave the Union in December 1860 at the Riverfront Park in Charleston have been scrapped.  There is now talk about placing the monument at a site related to the Hunley.  The monument celebrates this event by completely ignoring the issue that propelled South Carolina out of the Union: slavery.  This weekend the SCV will finally unveil their Davis-Limber statue at Beauvoir.  The decision to locate the statue at Davis’s home came after their decision to pull out of an agreement with the American Civil War Center at Tredegar in Richmond.  Following this move the organization unsuccessfully petitioned the state of Mississippi to accept the statue.  Finally, as we all know the recent decision here in Virginia to set aside April as Confederate History Month was a public relations disaster for the SCV.

Where does this leave the SCV?  As I said up front it may be too early to tell, but their Lost Cause inspired view of the past is clearly on the defensive and bound to be minimized even further.  I guess the only question is how will the organization respond?  The SCV has a role to play in the next few years, but if they hope to have an impact they are going to have to acknowledge that the general public’s understanding of the Civil War has evolved to one that is much more inclusive and open to addressing some of the tough issues at the center of our civil war experience.

What Did All This Talk About Black Confederates Get Me?

How about a book deal with Westholme Publishing.  That’s right, today I was approached by a representative who wanted to know if I might be interested in writing a book about “black Confederates” and historical memory.  We’re talking 80,000 words (roughly 350 pages) on the role of black Southerners in the Confederate army and a history of how narratives about those roles evolved throughout the postwar period.  I should point out that I have not signed a contract and I made it clear that I will do nothing until my Crater manuscript is finished and mailed to the publisher.  At this point I am hoping to put together a proposal for Westholme some time in June/July.  It should come as no surprise, however, that I am excited about starting this project.  To be honest, I’ve been thinking about just such a project for some time, but wasn’t sure whether I could find a home for it.

I am envisioning a book that takes a close look at the recent resurgence of interest in these stories and how they function in our popular culture and on the eve of the sesquicentennial.  As many of you know I’ve already written quite a bit about this subject on the blog.  While most of the issues to be addressed can be found somewhere in the Archives a book project will give me a chance to tighten up the arguments and hopefully contribute something that will be appealing to both scholars and Civil War enthusiasts.  Best of all, given the paucity of reliable books on the subject I have no doubt that it will fly off the shelves.  It should be a fun project.

[Photo from the 52nd Regimental String Band Scrapbook]

Calling All Civil War Memory Enthusiasts

I received the following email a few days ago from an undergraduate at UC Berkeley, who is planning to write her senior thesis on Civil War memory.  While I am flattered that this student is asking me for my advice, it seems silly not to tap the interests and experiences of my many readers.  Your responses will serve as a helpful guidebook, not only for this student, but for anyone looking to explore this fascinating topic.  Feel free to suggest readings, subtopics, questions, and anything else that you believe is relevant to this student’s project.  Thanks everyone.

I am an avid reader of your blog, which I stumbled upon several months ago subsequent to some cursory online searches for information on contemporary Civil War memory. I am currently an undergraduate soon-to-be senior at UC Berkeley and am intending to write my senior thesis project on topics in contemporary Civil War memory, particularly the memory of slavery as an institution. I’m planning to look at historical societies and museums, NPS coverage and interviews, art, literature, reenactments, the timely sesquicentennial commemorations, politics and public discourse, and popular culture (from TV to YouTube) in both the North, South, and West. As part of a follow-up on this project, I plan to spend the year subsequent to graduation (and prior to applying to graduate school) writing high school, middle school, and elementary school curriculum as both a corrective to and an exploration of problems in Civil War memory. I know you do a lot of this in your classroom.

As you would know very well, has a comprehensive project like this yet been undertaken — am I being redundant or offering something valuable to this growing field of Civil War memory? If not, is there any literature that you know of on issues of contemporary Civil War and slavery memory (other than Blight, and, well, Tony Horowitz’ Confederates in the Attic)? I hope to contribute something meaningful that bridges the gap between academic and popular discourse on the Civil War and slavery generally — and memory in particular.

I apologize for asking these questions of you, as I know you are busy and this is perhaps asking a great deal — but you are certainly a flagship for a more popular discourse on Civil War memory, and you have certainly raised questions seeking a more academic approach. I hope with a comprehensive senior thesis that I plan to turn into a Ph.D. dissertation that I can start to open that academic discourse, even at the undergraduate level.