Back in May I posted a short video of my Civil War library and related studies. You can see that I am slowly running out of space and, as a result, I have drastically cut back on the purchasing of new titles. Most of what comes my way, however, are complimentary copies from publishers and authors who hope to have their books reviewed on this site. I am going to update the list of books received every few weeks.
Stratford Hall will be hosting what promises to be an exciting and educational weekend seminar on Robert E. Lee as military commander on January 22-24, 2010. The program will be led by historians, Gary Gallagher and Peter Carmichael. The weekend includes a trip to Gettysburg for a tour of the battlefield. Not only are Gallagher and Carmichael two of the most respected historians in the field, but they are also extremely knowledgeable battlefield guides. I’ve had the opportunity to spend time with both so do not miss this opportunity. Gallagher will present a talk on Friday evening, titled “The Most Important Confederate: General Lee’s Impact on the Battlefield and the Home Front” and both Gallagher and Carmichael will lead a discussion on Sunday morning about primary sources related to Lee and the campaign. Civil War enthusiasts and teachers alike should consider attending this program.
I graciously accepted a very kind offer to take part in the conference as the “official” blogger. Can’t wait!
I‘ve seen this video around, but have never seen any clips from it until now. This has got to be one of the most convoluted and confusing documentaries that I’ve ever seen. After the glaring mistake of identifying March 1864 as the year that the Confederate Congress authorized the enlistment of slaves and within six minutes the video moves freely between discussions of slave loyalty to the master class before the war to slaves volunteering for service in the Confederate army to slaves serving as labor in the army. I have no idea who is being interviewed and I suspect they have done little or no research on the subject – at least nothing that I could find. The director, Stan Armstrong, is a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans (what a surprise). Click here for a short article on Armstrong’s interest in the subject. It turns out his great-great grandfather “took his black son to war.” I have no clue what that is supposed to mean. Enjoy.
I didn’t have much more to say about this issue until I read John Stoudt’sresponse to my last post. [By the way, I love the fact that I can now link to your profile page if I want to single you out.] Stoudt asks if the Biblical justifications of slavery by Thornton Stringfellow, James Henley Thornwell, Robert Dabney, Benjamin Palmer, and others should not count as examples of American Exceptionalism. Well, that depends. If our goal in teaching this concept is to impose our own assumptions about the significance of American history than perhaps not, but if the focus is on how Americans at different times understood their nation than it seems to fit in with the “City Upon a Hill”, “Manifest Destiny”, and the “White Man’s Burden” and Cold War ideology.
I had one of those moments today in my Civil War course where a student said something that helped me understand a document from a completely different perspective. We are in the middle of a week-long discussion of the coming of emancipation in the summer of 1862. We are following the ebb and flow of battle in Virginia and along the Mississippi and tracking the changes taking place throughout the United States surrounding the push toward emancipation. One of the more interesting documents we read this week was a Congressional address by Ohio Democratic Congressman Samuel S. Cox. On June 3, 1862 Cox delivered a blistering condemnation of emancipation and outlined a horrific picture of what would happen to the good people of Ohio in the event of a general emancipation. It was difficult to read, though it is crucial for my students to understand the strong racist views that white Northerners held at this time.
Today we read Lincoln’s famous response to Republican newspaper editor, Horace Greeley, who urged Lincoln to move more quickly against slavery. We all know Lincoln’s response to Greeley in which he carefully explains how slavery relates to the overriding goal of preserving the Union. I asked my students to think about who Lincoln was addressing in this response and what he was trying to accomplish. A number of interesting points were raised in terms of Lincoln trying to find a middle ground by satisfying the Democrats focus on Union and a growing Republican interest in emancipation. We also discussed the extent to which Lincoln was trying to force those on the extremes to acknowledge that they may have to give up something in return for the preservation of the Union. At one point one of my students asked if Lincoln was trying to set the terms of what it means to be committed to the cause and the nation. In other words, that Lincoln may have been trying to define the language of patriotism and loyalty. With Cox in mind she suggested that Lincoln was forcing him to defend a position that may end up satisfying his own personal/local priorities even if that meant losing the war. I assume we could apply the same line of reasoning in reference to those on the opposite side who were so focused on ending slavery without considering the possibility that this may not bring about the preservation of the Union. To be completely honest, I never thought of this.
I always have to remember to control my facial response when a student says something that I find truly insightful. The last thing I want to do is stifle further discussion. With all of the talk about mischievous teachers steering their students in ways that reflect our own political values it’s nice to be able to point to an example where it’s the student who steers the teacher. As far as I am concerned, it’s not about us anyway.
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"Levin is both superb scholar and public historian, showing us a piece of the real war that does now get into the books, as well as into site interpretation.” –David W. Blight, Yale University