Past in the Present

Many of you know that I struggle with the moderation of comments on this site.  On the one hand I hope to promote civil and intellectual discourse, which means that on occasion I have to edit or delete a comment entirely.  At the same time many of these abusive/insulting comments reflect a wide range of perspectives concerning how Americans continue to remember the Civil War.  I deleted this comment, but I thought it might be instructive to post it since it so beautifully captures the emotional aspect of the subject as well as the blurred boundary between past and present.  This comment was offered in response to another reader:

i dont like what you have said the stone moutain carvings show great men from our past. men who fought and died for this great nation. the confederate states should be allowed to break free from the tyrants in D.C. all of the men who dont like our flag are traders or just dirty yanks. its heritage i proudly fly this flag. i would die for this flag. i live in georgia and i am not ashamed of it if anything im dam proud of it. i do not like any yankee talking bad about something he knows nothing about. it was a war of northern agressition. they didnt like the fact that we were trying to leave their union but yet they found it alright to do it to england. why do they have to treat us like cattle telling us we cant leave the grazing fields. i believe we should be free from the north. D.C. has done nothing but give us trouble and i think the southern men should march on D.C. with rifle and saber in hand and show them what they did to us. We refuse to be reconstructed and we dont give a damn what those yankee fucks say.

Thanks for taking the time to comment.

[Image: "Past in the Present" by Dallon August]

Acquisitions, 03/14/10

Debby Applegate The Most Famous Man in America: The Biography of Henry Ward Beecher (Three Leaves, 2007).

Anne J. Bailey, Invisible Southerners: Ethnicity in the Civil War (University of Georgia Press, 2006).

George C. Bradley and Richard L. Dahlen, From Conquest to Conciliation: The Sack of Athens and the Court-Martial of Colonel John B. Turchin (University of Alabama Press, 2006).

Ronald Coddington, Faces of the Confederacy: An Album of Southern Soldiers and Their Stories (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008).

Wilma A. Dunaway, Slavery in the American Mountain South (Cambridge University Press, 2003).

William Freehling and Craig M. Simpson, eds. Showdown In Virginia: The 1861 Convention and the Fate of the Union (University of Virginia Press, 2010).

Elizabeth-Fox Genovese and Eugene Genoves, Slavery in White and Black: Class and Race in the Southern Slaveholders’ New World Order (Cambridge University Press, 2008).

Rod Gragg, Covered With Glory: The 26th North Carolina Infantry at the Battle of Gettysburg (University of North Carolina Press, 2010 [originally published by Harper Collins in 2000]).

Jennifer R. Green, Military Education and the Emerging Middle Class in the Old South (Cambridge University Press, 2008).

Gary R. Matthews, Basil Wilson Duke, CSA: The Right Man in the Right Place (University of Kentucky Press, 2005).

Alexander Mendoza, Confederate Struggle For Command: General James Longstreet and the First Corps in the West (Texas A&M Press, 2007).

Susan E. O’Donovan, Becoming Free in the Cotton South (Harvard University Press, 2007).

Ethan Rafuse, Antietam, South Mountain, and Harpers Ferry: A Battlefield Guide (Bison Books, 2008).

Duane E. Shaffer, Men of Granite: New Hampshire’s Soldiers in the Civil War (University of South Carolina Press, 2008).

Does Your Dentist Teach History?

A couple of years ago I had a parent contact me about the textbook I was using to teach my AP American History course.  I had just switched from The American Pageant to Eric Foner’s new book, Give Me Liberty! The parent was concerned about the political bias of Foner as well as the overall narrative that his child would learn over the course of the year.  I am a huge fan of parents who take an interest in their child’s education so I agreed to meet with him at his earliest convenience.  We never met in person to discuss his concerns, but we did exchange a number of emails.  The first thing I did was ask the parent to give me an idea of what exactly he found troubling.  Shortly thereafter I received a response that focused on the amount of coverage on issues of race.  I read the response carefully, but had difficulty pinpointing the exact problem so I followed up by asking for specific references.  His response was interesting.  The parent pointed to two sections, one on Reconstruction and the other on Jim Crow, which he believed constituted too much attention.  In addition, he also made it a point to remind me that he was not asking me to swap Foner for a book by Rush Limbaugh.  This last comment took me for a bit of a loop.  It concerned me that Rush Limbaugh would actually be considered as an alternative to Foner or for that matter any trained historian. I thought about how to respond to this last comment as I did not want to offend the person, but I finally decided to assert myself since I was hired to teach the course and my school gives me complete freedom to choose appropriate texts for my students.  I said that it was good to hear that he was not making such a suggestion since Rush Limbaugh is not a historian and Eric Foner is one of the most respected scholars in the field.

In addition I asked if the parent’s concern about Foner’s coverage of race extended beyond the number of pages.  In other words, was there a problem with the interpretation itself.  I went on to offer an explanation as to why I chose this particular book.  In fact, one of the reasons I chose this particular text was the amount of coverage of racial issues, which I explained was important to understanding crucial aspects of American history, including the Civil War, the Civil Rights Movement and countless other subjects.  As a historian, however, I understand that thoughtful people can and should disagree about the way in which information is presented and interpreted.  Unfortunately, our conversation never addressed these issues.  I should point out that this parent is well educated and a very successful lawyer.  We eventually met a few weeks later during a parent-teacher night.  We chatted for a bit, but the topic never came up.  I encouraged the parent to contact me at any point regarding concerns about the textbook or any other materials covered in the course.  That never happened and his son went on to score a 5 on the AP Test.

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Engaging Students From Skidmore College

You can imagine my surprise when I returned from my trip to Shepherd University to find an email from Prof. Gregory Pfitzer of Skidmore College.  Prof. Pfitzer is currently teaching an American Studies course that focuses on Civil War Memory and has been using this blog as a resource.  Students are focusing specifically on a series of posts that I did on the Gary Casteel statue of Jefferson Davis and Jim Limber that is currently located at Beauvoir. Prof. Pfitzer thought it might be a good idea for his students to engage me on one of the posts, which I was more than happy to do.  You can follow the discussion here.  I am quite impressed with their enthusiasm as well as their ideas.  Check it out.

Descendents of Silas Chandler Respond

The story of Silas Chandler is one of the most popular black Confederate stories out there on the Web.  You can find it featured on the website of the 37th Texas, the Petersburg Express, on blogs, and you can even purchase a t-shirt of Silas and Andrew at Dixie Outfitters.  A few weeks ago the famous image of “the Chander Brothers” was featured on Antiques Roadshow and not surprising my post on it received a great deal of attention.  There is no evidence that Silas served in Confederate ranks, though that apparently did not prevent the United Daughters of the Confederacy from decorating his grave with an Iron Cross and Confederate battle flag.  Yesterday a descendant of Silas Chandler left the following comment on the blog:

I am the Great Granddaughter of Silas Chandler. The lies being told about Silas fighting in the confederate army keep growing. And that is what they are “LIES”. The majority of the decendents of Silas are also disgusted about all of the lies told about our ancester. Silas was a slave, and did what he had to do in order to survive. I am a Black Chandler who grew up in West Point, Mississippi where it was unheard of to even look at or even speak to a white Chandler. I have a letter signed by the majority of the decendents of Silas demanding the Iron Cross and Confederate flag be removed from Silas’ grave. Signing this letter is the Granddaughter of Silas who is 107 years old and still lives in Long Island, New York. I grew up with my Grandfather, who was the son of Silas. He told us all about Silas and how he saved his money and hid it in the barn and bought his freedom. He also bought the land where he built his house. That record is in the Clay County court house as of this day.

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