A Civil War Museum of Facts and Not Beliefs

24804848EAre you tired of the continued attack on American culture by liberal academic and public historians who present history in a way that conflicts with your cherished notions of the Civil War and Southern history?  Well, head on down to Jacksonville, Florida to the Museum of Southern History.  Although it claims to be a museum of Southern history, from the looks of the photographs there is nothing on display beyond the Civil War years.  What you will find, however, are exhibits that just present the facts with no accompanying interpretation.  Incoming board president, Ben Willingham, put it this way: “We’ve been fed political correctness[.]  We’ve dumbed down society. It’s all in the Congressional Record. The facts are there. It’s not about beliefs.”  Although it is not attributed to Willingham, it looks like he also suggested:  “The men said the Civil War was about money, not slavery, and that African-Americans owned slaves. The first slave owner was a black man in Virginia.”

Well, I am pleased to see that some of the most important questions within the fields of Civil War and Southern history have been put to rest.  Given that the Sons of Confederate Veterans hold their meetings in the museum, I have no doubt that other important questions will also be answered.

By the way, is that a little black Confederate doll in the display case next to what appears to be a naked Confederate soldier?  What’s that about?

2009 Frederick Douglass Book Award Nominees

Out+of+the+House+of+BondageI‘m a little late in posting this, but wanted to point your attention to the three finalists for this year’s Frederick Douglass Book Award that is sponsored by Yale’s Gilder-Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance and Abolition.

The finalists are Thavolia Glymph for Out of the House of Bondage: The Transformation of the Plantation Household (Cambridge University Press); Annette Gordon-Reed, The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family (W.W. Norton and Company); and Jacqueline Jones, “Saving Savannah: The City and the Civil War (Alfred A. Knopf Publishers).  The prize comes with a generous check of $25,000.  I’ve read both Annette Gordon-Reed’s book (a National Book Award winner) and Glymph’s study.  Although the publisher sent me a copy of Saving Savannah, I have not had a chance to look through it.   My money is on Glymph’s Out of the House of Bondage.

David Reynolds Reviews The State of Jones or Why Blogging Matters

It could have been one of those “teachable moments” where the authors of two very different studies of Civil War Mississippi discuss the problem of competing historical interpretations.  Instead, the authors of The State of Jones have done all they can to avoid addressing what are clearly serious problems with their book.  You can find Sally Jenkins responding to negative reviews over at Amazon and various other sites.  More curious is the disappearing act performed by Harvard professor, John Stauffer, who as far as I know has said nothing since his personal attack against Victoria Bynum that was posted here a few weeks ago.  Stauffer’s silence has not worked to their advantage since it has placed Jenkins in the difficult position of having to respond to questions of interpretation and historiography – questions that she is completely incapable of handling.

In the pages of the New York Times we can see the continued fallout from the way Jenkins and Stauffer have chosen to respond to legitimate interpretive challenges.  While David Reynolds is not the first academic historian to review The State of Jones, his review reads more like a synopsis of the debate that played out at Bynum’s Renegade South and here rather than a thorough analysis of the argument.  In fact, while I have no reason to believe that Reynolds did not read the book, he doesn’t critique anything that hasn’t already been raised by a host of readers.  This does not bode well for future reviews of the book and suggests that the blogosphere is now shaping the way even academic historians are viewing this controversy.  Of course, it didn’t have to turn out this way.  As I’ve suggested before, this unfortunate result has as much to do with feelings of defensiveness and pride as it does with not understanding how to engage bloggers and Online readers.  Hopefully, it will serve as a lesson for future authors.

Rethinking the Blogger-Publisher Relationship

If you’ve blogged history (and especially the Civil War) long enough than you should be familiar with the following email form:

I work for [Insert Publisher Here] and we recently published a book I think you might be interested in, [Insert Book Title Here] by [Insert Author Here], a fascinating narrative account about [Insert Civil War Subject Here].  Because of your passion for the Civil War, I thought that you and your readers might like to see this.  Also, if you were interested in seeing a copy of [Book Title] yourself, please send me your mailing address and I would be more than happy to send you a copy.

I get these emails on a regular basis and, for the most part, I don’t mind them.  They clearly reflect the prominence and popularity of the blogosphere and represent an attractive avenue of advertising for book publishers.  And best of all, who doesn’t mind the free books.  I’ve established a fairly rigid book review policy and it goes something like this: I am more than happy to review a book, but I make no promises that it will be mentioned on my site and the acceptance comes with the possibility that it may in fact receive a negative review.  In short, I want to be treated like the book review editor for an academic journal.  It seems to me that as long as the blogger maintains complete editorial control and is capable of evaluating the book along the lines that he/she deems acceptable than there should be no conflicts of interest or ethical questions.

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Gods and Generals in Just Under Five Minutes

For those of you who have never seen the movie, Gods and Generals, here is your chance to view a slightly shorter version.  In just under five minutes you pretty much cover all the bases and the inclusion of theme music by Frank Wildhorn adds just the right touch.  Now, if you will excuse me, I need to finish balling my eyes out.

“The Question of Atrocity” for Richard Slotkin

I am just about finished reading Richard Slotkin’s new book on the Crater, No Quarter: The Battle of the Crater, 1864, and have enjoyed it immensely.  The book is very different from the two previous studies of the battle in that Slotkin provides a much needed analysis of the racial components of the battle rather than a traditional military history.  Yes, there is more to a battle than moving from place to place.  I am in the process of writing up a formal review for Civil War Book Review, but wanted to share something that I learned for the first time.

Although I wish Slotkin had gone a bit further in his analysis of the massacre of USCTs he does an excellent job of presenting both the immediate and long-term conditions that help explain the scale and complexity of the violence.  First, Slotkin correctly references the proportion of dead to wounded in the battle in comparison with other Civil War battles.  On average, the ratio of wounded to dead was 4.8 to 1.  At the Crater, the overall ratio for Union troops was 3.7 to 1, though for black soldiers it was 1.8 to 1.  Slotkin’s analysis of the tactical ebb and flow of the battle reveals a number of moments where soldiers on the battlefield were executed and not just black soldiers.  [It should be pointed out that Slotkin is not the first historian to point this out.  In 1987 Bryce Suderow published an article in the journal, Civil War History, which was later included in a collection of essays on Civil War massacres.]  The first massacre actually occurred by black soldiers in Sigfried’s brigade, who advanced into battle with the cry of “No Quarter.”  According to Slotkin, the battle cry was intended “to overcome that supposed docility and motivate them to fight with absolute determination.” (p. 339)  White officers quickly intervened once their men became engaged with the enemy.

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2009 Jules and Frances Landry Award

9780807134757Congratulations to my friend, Barton Myers, who just found out that his new book, Executing Daniel Bright: Race, Loyalty, and Guerrilla Violence in a Coastal Carolina Community, 1861-1865, has won LSU’s Jules and Frances Landry Award.  Barton recently graduated from the University of Georgia and is now a Postdoctoral Associate/Visiting Professor at Cornell University.  The book is not slated for release until October, but there has been a buzz about it for some time.  Over the past few years I’ve listened to Barton present various chapters at conferences so it will be interesting to see how it has all come together.  Keep in mind that this book is his M.A. thesis.  Barton is truly one of the rising stars in the profession.  Last year he was awarded a Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation Dissertation Fellowship, which came with a generous check of $20,000.  Keep an eye out for his dissertation, Rebels Against a Rebellion: Southern Unionists in Secession, War and Remembrance, which I have no doubt will be published in the near future.

I’ve said before that I do not see any significant change in the high quality of Civil War studies.  Young historians such as Barton guarantee that we will have much to learn and mull over in the coming years.

The Civil War in Atlantic City, New Jersey?

5774_135052528553_768043553_3159593_2128194_nI just returned from a brief trip home to see the folks in Jersey.  My wife and I spent one day walking the beautiful beaches in Ventnor and Margate before meeting up with the family for Chinese food.  With a few hours to kill and a hearty appetite we decided to go for a little appetizer at the world famous White House Subs in Atlantic City – just one of my many old stomping grounds.  Hey, I can get Chinese food anywhere, but where I am I going to find a decent sub outside of Jersey?  Forget about it.

A few blocks past the large parking lot that once included my high school on Albany Avenue, I noticed what appeared to be a typical Civil War monument that you will find in many parks in the northeast.  A quick stop revealed that it was indeed a Civil War monument and I am embarrassed to admit that I never noticed it before.  All I know about it is that the monument was dedicated in 1916.  Given that the city did not exist in the 1860s it would be interesting to know why the community decided to honor the veterans.  Perhaps enough of them moved to the city for health reasons that it was warranted.

I have no doubt that as a high school delinquent I smoked a few cigarettes while sitting at the monument’s base before trying to sneak into the closest casino.