Will the Sons of Confederate Veterans Have Any Impact on the Sesquicentennial?

I may be speaking too soon, but it looks like the influence of the Sons of Confederate Veterans on how we remember the Civil War will be minimal as we make our way through the Civil War Sesquicentennial.  Today we learn that plans to place a monument to South Carolina’s decision to leave the Union in December 1860 at the Riverfront Park in Charleston have been scrapped.  There is now talk about placing the monument at a site related to the Hunley.  The monument celebrates this event by completely ignoring the issue that propelled South Carolina out of the Union: slavery.  This weekend the SCV will finally unveil their Davis-Limber statue at Beauvoir.  The decision to locate the statue at Davis’s home came after their decision to pull out of an agreement with the American Civil War Center at Tredegar in Richmond.  Following this move the organization unsuccessfully petitioned the state of Mississippi to accept the statue.  Finally, as we all know the recent decision here in Virginia to set aside April as Confederate History Month was a public relations disaster for the SCV.

Where does this leave the SCV?  As I said up front it may be too early to tell, but their Lost Cause inspired view of the past is clearly on the defensive and bound to be minimized even further.  I guess the only question is how will the organization respond?  The SCV has a role to play in the next few years, but if they hope to have an impact they are going to have to acknowledge that the general public’s understanding of the Civil War has evolved to one that is much more inclusive and open to addressing some of the tough issues at the center of our civil war experience.

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What Did All This Talk About Black Confederates Get Me?

How about a book deal with Westholme Publishing.  That’s right, today I was approached by a representative who wanted to know if I might be interested in writing a book about “black Confederates” and historical memory.  We’re talking 80,000 words (roughly 350 pages) on the role of black Southerners in the Confederate army and a history of how narratives about those roles evolved throughout the postwar period.  I should point out that I have not signed a contract and I made it clear that I will do nothing until my Crater manuscript is finished and mailed to the publisher.  At this point I am hoping to put together a proposal for Westholme some time in June/July.  It should come as no surprise, however, that I am excited about starting this project.  To be honest, I’ve been thinking about just such a project for some time, but wasn’t sure whether I could find a home for it.

I am envisioning a book that takes a close look at the recent resurgence of interest in these stories and how they function in our popular culture and on the eve of the sesquicentennial.  As many of you know I’ve already written quite a bit about this subject on the blog.  While most of the issues to be addressed can be found somewhere in the Archives a book project will give me a chance to tighten up the arguments and hopefully contribute something that will be appealing to both scholars and Civil War enthusiasts.  Best of all, given the paucity of reliable books on the subject I have no doubt that it will fly off the shelves.  It should be a fun project.

[Photo from the 52nd Regimental String Band Scrapbook]
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Calling All Civil War Memory Enthusiasts

I received the following email a few days ago from an undergraduate at UC Berkeley, who is planning to write her senior thesis on Civil War memory.  While I am flattered that this student is asking me for my advice, it seems silly not to tap the interests and experiences of my many readers.  Your responses will serve as a helpful guidebook, not only for this student, but for anyone looking to explore this fascinating topic.  Feel free to suggest readings, subtopics, questions, and anything else that you believe is relevant to this student’s project.  Thanks everyone.

I am an avid reader of your blog, which I stumbled upon several months ago subsequent to some cursory online searches for information on contemporary Civil War memory. I am currently an undergraduate soon-to-be senior at UC Berkeley and am intending to write my senior thesis project on topics in contemporary Civil War memory, particularly the memory of slavery as an institution. I’m planning to look at historical societies and museums, NPS coverage and interviews, art, literature, reenactments, the timely sesquicentennial commemorations, politics and public discourse, and popular culture (from TV to YouTube) in both the North, South, and West. As part of a follow-up on this project, I plan to spend the year subsequent to graduation (and prior to applying to graduate school) writing high school, middle school, and elementary school curriculum as both a corrective to and an exploration of problems in Civil War memory. I know you do a lot of this in your classroom.

As you would know very well, has a comprehensive project like this yet been undertaken — am I being redundant or offering something valuable to this growing field of Civil War memory? If not, is there any literature that you know of on issues of contemporary Civil War and slavery memory (other than Blight, and, well, Tony Horowitz’ Confederates in the Attic)? I hope to contribute something meaningful that bridges the gap between academic and popular discourse on the Civil War and slavery generally — and memory in particular.

I apologize for asking these questions of you, as I know you are busy and this is perhaps asking a great deal — but you are certainly a flagship for a more popular discourse on Civil War memory, and you have certainly raised questions seeking a more academic approach. I hope with a comprehensive senior thesis that I plan to turn into a Ph.D. dissertation that I can start to open that academic discourse, even at the undergraduate level.

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I Just Love the Title

This forthcoming book about Robert E. Lee by John Perry is apparently part of a new series of books on American military leaders published by Thomas Nelson.  The volume on Patton is subtitled: “Tenacity in Action.”  From the book description:

It’s no surprise that Robert E. Lee graduated second in his class from West Point. His four years there were marked by exemplary conduct and nary a demerit. He went on to become one of the most successful generals of the Confederate army during the American Civil War, inspiring his troops with his unselfish character and devotion to duty. Lee’s string of victories earned him praise on both sides of the Mason-Dixon line. He was admired for his tactical success in battle, and even after surrendering to Ulysses S. Grant at the Appomatox court house, his example of conduct for thousands of ex-Confederates made him a legend. After the war, he assumed the presidency of Washington College and devoted the remainder of his life to setting an example of conduct. He remains one of the most distinguished military heroes of all time.

I can definitely feel the “goodness”.

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The Politicizing of Confederate History Month

Unfortunately, I was unable to make the recent Tea Party rally in Richmond, Virginia and it looks like I missed one of the most interesting references to Confederate History Month since the governor’s announcement.  Karen Cooper is an African American postal worker who lives in Chesterfield, Virginia.  Although the video posted below doesn’t include it, apparently she walked toward the podium declaring, “Happy confederate heritage and history month patriots!” [Update: Click here for Cooper’s introduction and opening remarks.]

Ms. Cooper goes on to talk about her decision to vote for President Obama as well as the reasons for her change of position.  Along the way she delivers this little comment about the Founding Fathers:

I love my country. I love our Founding Fathers. They were visionaries. They were not a bunch of racist, sexist bigots. They knew that this country was going to abolish slavery one day and they were right.

I should point out that I don’t have any firm beliefs about the racial beliefs of the Tea Party folks.  I’ve read my share of news stories as well as the most recent poll, which seems to challenge some of the more outlandish claims made about its members.  That said, I am curious as to what Ms. Cooper sensed about what I assume was a predominantly white audience that caused her to make an explicit endorsement of Confederate History Month as well as declare that the Founding Fathers were not racists and that they understood that slavery would one day end.  What exactly does that have to do with the agenda of the Tea Party Movement?  Could it be that Ms. Cooper and Governor McDonnell had similar goals in their support of the proclamation?

What do you think?

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