Few Thoughts About Confederate Iconography at #AASLH2015

Confederate Monument, Charlotte

Yesterday’s session on the role of public historians in the ongoing debate surrounding Confederate iconography at #aaslh2015 went extremely well. We had a full house and the comments were incredibly thoughtful. I love that the participants didn’t wait for the allotted time at the end of the session. They jumped right in, which suggests that public historians have a great deal on their minds and want to be engaged.

The question of how to proceed, however, is less than certain. I sensed a fairly sharp split among the audience and even the panelists. On the one hand there is the push for context and interpretation along the narrow lines of some form of wayside exhibit. This can take many forms, but the basic assumption at work here is that historical context has the potential to defuse the strong emotions on both sides by neutralizing the site. In providing historical context we acknowledge that what may have at one point represented a community no longer does so without removing it and offending those who still find meaning in its presence. [click to continue…]

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Cold Harbor to the Crater: Hot Off the Presses

forthcoming, September 2015The official release date is a little over a week away, but Amazon is currently showing Cold Harbor to the Crater: The End of the Overland Campaign as in-stock. This is the latest release in UNC Press’s Military Campaigns of the Civil War series following an eight year lull. This latest volume is edited by Gary Gallagher and Caroline Janney. The volume includes an essay of mine, which focuses on how white Union soldiers responded to fighting alongside USCTs at the Crater. This is research that should have made it into my book on the Crater.

Here is a list of contributors and the titles of their essays: [click to continue…]

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The Washington Post “Airbrushes” Debate About Confederate Iconography

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The editorial team at The Washington Post has decided to jump into the debate surrounding Confederate iconography. Unfortunately, they provide little more than the standard platitudes and offer nothing for communities that are in the midst of what is a highly emotional and divisive discussion.

At the center of the argument is the assumption that the changing of a name or removal of a monument represents the “airbrushing” of history. The term is never defined, but the author appears to believe that any alteration to a community’s commemorative landscape involves a conscious effort to look away or ignore history.  [click to continue…]

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Evaluating the Civil War Sesquicentennial

Confederate Monument, Charlotte

Some of you who are interested in the question of how to evaluate the Civil War sesquicentennial may find the following panel discussion worth your time. The panel is from a conference that took place in Virginia over the summer and was filmed by C-SPAN. You will see some familiar faces. It should come as no surprise that the events in Charleston and the subsequent debate about the Confederate flag occupied a good deal of attention and it was interesting to hear how different people are thinking through some of these difficult issues.

My only concern is that at one point mid-way through the discussion, the topic of the vandalism of Civil War monuments appeared to be framed in terms of how whites and blacks think about and remember the Confederacy. The implicit assumption at work seems to be that African Americans are responsible for the defacing of Civil War monuments. I have yet to see any evidence suggesting that African Americans are more likely than whites to vandalize Confederate monuments.

Yes, a number of Confederate monuments have been spray-painted with “Black Lives Matter,” but regardless of what you think about the organization, it could just as likely have been carried out by a white individual. It’s time we move beyond this tired trope.

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In the Studio With Andrew and Silas Chandler

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There are only a handful of images of Confederate soldiers and officers with their slaves or camp servants. The famous tintype of Andrew and Silas Chandler is the most famous, but it is also one of the most unusual images. The photograph of the two was likely taken in August 1861 right around the time Andrew enlisted as a private in the Palo Alto Guards, which became Company F of the 44th Mississippi Infantry, Army of Tennessee.

Most photographs of master and slave show the former sitting with the slave standing behind and just slightly out of focus. Andrew and Silas sit side by side. Both occupy center stage. More importantly, both men are armed. Andrew wears a typical private’s jacket and holds a pinfire pistol while a revolver is nestled in his belt. Tucked into what appears to be Silas’s Short or Shell jacket is a pepperbox, which leaves his large left hand free to grip a rifle across his lap. To complete this unusual scene, both men wield large bowie knives in their right hands.

It is likely that the weapons are studio props. [click to continue…]

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