Well, my summer has officially started and it promises to be quite busy. I have a couple of talks to give, a number of writing projects to finish, and somewhere in between, I need to relax and do nothing at all. I am loathe to add anything to my plate, but I would have been foolish not to accept an invitation to be interviewed for a documentary on the history and memory of “black Confederates.” The director of the documentary teaches at East Carolina University.
The project is in the beginning stages so I don’t have much to report. Admittedly, I was skeptical after receiving an email from one of the director’s assistants, but a couple of phone conversations alleviated my worst fears. My biggest concern is not having control over my interviews, specifically in terms of how they will be edited and placed in the documentary. As you all know this is a controversial and widely misunderstood subject and the last thing that I want to see happen is my own words used to further some of the more pernicious myths. Even with those concerns, however, I still think it would be a mistake to pass up this opportunity.
This is an incredibly helpful video that compiles all of Shelby Foote’s interviews from Ken Burns’s The Civil War. I use The Civil War extensively in my elective courses on the Civil War and Civil War Memory. It is still in my mind the best Civil War documentary available.
Unit histories tend to fall into one of two camps. The first one, and by far the most prominent in the field emphasizes the battles and campaigns in which the unit participated. This should come as no surprise given the interest of most Civil War enthusiasts. By focusing on one unit the historian is able to provide a level of tactical detail that is usually absent from broader studies. The best of the bunch may even be able to point out crucial aspects of a particular battle that work to revise our understanding of its outcome and significance. At the same time an increasing number of historians are beginning to look beyond the battlefield exploits of individual units to questions surrounding the social, cultural, and political dynamics of the men who served together and endured the hardships of war for long significant stretches of time and away from loved ones. For these historians, military units such as regiments and brigades reflect the communities from which they were raised and must be explored if we are to understand the experiences of individuals and the overall experiences and effectiveness of the unit.
Scott Mingus’s study of the Louisiana Tigers during the Gettysburg Campaign fits neatly into this first camp. He offers the reader a brief history of the unit, beginning with the raising of Company B under the command of Major Chatham Roberdeau Wheat in New Orleans in 1861. Mingus briefly touches on the unit’s early history before the battalion was assigned to the First Louisiana Brigade under the command of Brigadier General Harry T. Hays in 1862. From there it is a quick jump to the spring of 1863 following the decisive Confederate victory at Chancellorsville. Mingus does an outstanding job of following the unit on its march north toward Maryland and Pennsylvania and covers the unit’s involvement in the battle of Second Winchester in great detail. The book’s appendices include Official Reports, casualty tables, weather analysis, and a helpful chronology of the entire campaign.
Here is a short video of this year’s Memorial Day ceremony at our local Confederate cemetery on the campus of the University of Virginia. It’s a few blocks from my school and I bring students to the site every year. There are over 1,000 soldiers buried here, who died in the Charlottesville hospitals during the war. Up until a few years ago there were only a few headstones. The local chapter of the SCV plans to place a headstone for every soldier. By the looks of things in this video and a recent visit that I made with one of my classes it looks like they are making steady progress.
The video include a short interview with Kimberly Mauch, president of the Turner Ashby chapter, No. 184, United Daughters of the Confederacy of Winchester Virginia. I find her level of understanding of the war and slavery to be appalling. A transcript of the Q&A follows the video.
AS A YANKEE- WE GENERALLY ASSOCIATE THE CONFEDERACY WITH SLAVERY. IT’S HARD TO OVERCOME THAT. “I understand that. Yes, slavery was a very hot topic back then you could say, even twenty years prior to that, even, especially in the Kansas-Missouri border states, the abolitionists and all that went on out there. It was fought more- states’ rights started everything, I feel. The South wanted to do things their way and the North wanted to control that and that’s what fueled the fire for South Carolina to secede from the Union to begin with. HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT BEING IN THE UNION TODAY? “I love it.” THINGS WORKED OUT FOR THE BEST? “Who knows what it would be like? Nobody can say it would be better or worse but it’s still a great country.”
Yesterday I briefly touched on a story out of Valdese, North Carolina involving Reverend Herman White, who was asked to address a group of students as part of the area’s Founders Day Festival. Rev. White shared his own version of the region’s history that included stories of loyal and happy slaves and other scenes out of his Lost Cause playbook. The most disturbing aspect of this story is that the entire situation was easily avoidable. A number of people associated with the school administration claimed that they could not know what Mr. White would touch on in his remarks.
Unfortunately, even a basic online search would have raised any number of red flags. This is the same Rev. White who was responsible for the course at Randolph Community College back in 1998 in which he spewed his racist nonsense of happy slaves and tens of thousands of loyal black Confederate soldiers. Clearly, this man doesn’t belong anywhere near students in a learning environment. I blame the school officials for not taking the proper steps to do even a simple background check on Rev. White.