New to the Civil War Memory Library, 11/19

Civil War WestsThree of the books below reflect my recent interest in the West during the Civil War era, which I know next to nothing about other than having read Ari Kelman’s brilliant book about the Sand Creek Massacre. I am currently working on a little project that involves an almost complete run of the Second Colorado Cavalry’s camp newspaper published in 1864 and 1865. What I find interesting is the way in which the Civil War and growing concerns on the frontier with Native Americans begin to overlap by the end of the war. I will share more about this project in the coming weeks as it begins to come together. Thanks to my fellow Book Squad members, Megan Kate Nelson and Heather Cox Richardson, for the suggestions.

Adam Arenson and Andrew R. Graybill, eds., Civil War Wests: Testing the Limits of the United States (University of California Press, 2015).

Leornard L. Richards, Who Freed the Slaves?: The Fight over the Thirteenth Amendment (University of Chicago Press, 2015).

Hampton Sides, Blood and Thunder: The Epic Story of Kit Carson and the Conquest of the American West (Anchor, 2007).

Andrew L. Slap and Frank Towers, eds., Confederate Cities: The Urban South during the Civil War Era (University of Chicago Press, 2015).

Elliott West, The Contested Plains: Indians, Goldseekers, and the Rush to Colorado (University Press of Kansas, 1998).

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A Confederate Heritage Gaffe

Earlier today I was interviewed by a local NPR station in Atlanta on the situation at Stone Mountain. The story and interview should be available tomorrow morning. While plans for a monument to Martin Luther King, Jr. appear to be on hold, an exhibit on black Union soldiers is moving forward. Our conversation focused on this exhibit and the significance of its location on the grounds of Stone Mountain.

Over the weekend a relatively small rally took place at Stone Mountain to protest the King monument. Those in attendance offer another example of why the very people who claim to defend the memory of Confederate soldiers and the flag have done more than anyone else to provide the impetus for communities to remove reminders of the Confederacy from public places. [click to continue…]

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Do We Need Another Biography of Custer?

My latest essay at The Daily Beast is a review of T.J. Stiles’s new book, Custer’s Trials: A Life on the Frontier of a New America. I’ve read and thoroughly enjoyed his other two biographies of Jesse James and Cornelius Vanderbilt. In all three biographies Stiles explores the challenges each individual faced adjusting to some of the most dramatic changes that took place in this country during the mid-nineteenth century. I am not sure that this framework helps to explain Custer as opposed to his previous two subjects, but it is a solid effort. Books about Custer is a cottage industry and I have no doubt that some historians will nitpick a few oversights, but I didn’t see anything that threatens Stiles’s overall interpretation. It’s a fast read and well worth your time.

This is my third essay at The Daily Beast. I really enjoyed the exposure I gained writing for the Atlantic, but editorial changes have made it more difficult to publish. The editors have welcomed all of my suggestions thus far and two more essays are planned, one on the 150th anniversary of the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment as well as a review of PBS’s new series, “Mercy Street.” I hope at some point soon to expand my focus beyond the Civil War. One of the nice things about writing for TDB is that I don’t have to deal with comments that quickly spiral off the deep end, not to mention the fact that writing for TDB is a paying gig. 🙂

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It Was Ten Years Ago Today

Ten years ago today I wrote my first blog post. Below is a screenshot of what the site looked like during that first week. I couldn’t help but chuckle as I explored the page. At first glance it looks so incredibly flimsy and bare, but that is only in light of what has changed over the last decade. What you see remains the core of the site. For much of its life I thought of Civil War Memory as a blog, but I now think of it as a website that contains a blog. This is, in part, a function of how blogging platforms like WordPress have evolved over the years, but it has much more to do with the way in which blogging has transformed my life as an educator and historian.

Screenshot of Civil War Memory (November 2005)

In 2005 there were just a few of us blogging the Civil War as you can see in the screenshot’s blogroll. Ten years later there isn’t enough time in the day to read them all. Many of them are incredibly thoughtful. It’s especially encouraging to see so many students at the undergraduate and graduate levels sharing their research on blogs. The debate over the place of social media in education and the historical profession has thankfully subsided. If I contributed even a tiny bit to its spread as a platform for historians and students of history than my time here was worth it. [click to continue…]

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A Quick Word About Historiography and Popular History

I am charging through T.J. Stiles’s new biography of George Armstrong Custer, which I agreed to review for The Daily Beast. I’ve read his previous biographies of Jesse James and Cornelius Vanderbilt and enjoyed both immensely. It’s always challenging to read a popular Civil War title and those of us immersed in the field know why. We can’t help but judge the author’s grasp of historiography. It’s already happening with Stile’s Custer biography.

I’ve heard from a number of people who are frustrated by the author’s interpretation of George McClellan. Stiles relies very heavily on Stephen Sears’s book on the Peninsula Campaign, Antietam and his biography of McClellan. He also utilizes Richard Slotkin’s recent book on Antietam, which received very mixed reviews. To be fair, Stiles’s grasp of the relevant literature is broader if you take the time to peruse the endnotes, but his understanding of McClellan is certainly weighed down by Sears and Slotkin. [click to continue…]

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New to the Civil War Memory Library, 11/03

Stiles CusterDavid T. Dixon, The Lost Gettysburg Address: Charles Anderson’s Civil War Odyssey (B-List History, 2015).

Mark Dunkelman, Patrick Henry Jones: Irish American, Civil War General, and Gilded Age Politician (Louisiana State University Press, 2015).

Harold Holzer and Norton Garfinkle, A Just and Generous Nation: Abraham Lincoln and the Fight for American Opportunity (Basic, 2015).

Noeleen McIlvenna, The Short Life of Free Georgia: Class and Slavery in the Colonial South (University of North Carolina Press, 2015).

Stacy Schiff, The Witches: Salem, 1692 (Little, Brown, 2015).

T.J. Stiles, Custer’s Trials: A Life on the Frontier of a New America (Knopf, 2015).

Zoe Trodd and John Stauffer, Picturing Frederick Douglass: An Illustrated Biography of the Nineteenth Century’s Most Photographed American (Liveright, 2015).

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Did White Northerners Abandon Reconstruction?

Update: After you finish reading this post check out Brooks Simpson’s thoughtful response to Gordon-Reed’s essay.

One of the most common tropes embraced in reference to the post- Civil War period is the idea of a ‘white Northern retreat from Reconstruction.’  For many, the shift occurred during the mid to late 1870s for a number of reasons, including the threat of labor strikes, the fulfillment of Manifest Destiny or the realization that the South’s racial problems could only be solved locally. Reconstruction’s abandonment followed significant gains on the civil rights front from the passage of three constitutional amendments to military intervention that led to black political action. The white North’s abandonment of Reconstruction points inextricably to missed opportunities and our own inability to deal honestly with deep racial problems. [click to continue…]

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Civil War Memory’s Fall Peak

Here is a pic of one of my favorite Civil War soldier monuments at Forest Hills Cemetery here in Boston. It’s about two miles from my home and as we are just about past the peak of the Fall foliage season it was the perfect day for a walk. Oh, and the temperature today hit 70 degrees. The sculptor of this particular monument – one of the earliest monuments to be dedicated after the war – is none other than Martin Millmore.

Martin Millmore

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Ole Miss Made It Clear, Southern Miss Should Do the Same

The decision yesterday to remove the state flag from the campus of the University of Mississippi followed votes by the Student and Faculty Senates. In the case of the University of Southern Mississippi all it took was a decision by President Rodney D. Bennett earlier this morning. Here is his statement:

I have chosen to raise American flags on all University of Southern Mississippi flagpoles to remind the University community of what unites us. We have all chosen to work, study and live in a country in which debates like those around the state flag of Mississippi can take place and ideas can be civilly expressed and advanced. While I love the state of Mississippi, there is passionate disagreement about the current state flag on our campuses and in our communities. I am looking forward to a time when this debate is resolved and USM raises a state flag that unites us.

I can’t help but think that this is a rather hollow statement on the part of the president. Mississippi’s current state flag is certainly controversial and divisive but the president can’t seem to bring himself to state why. It is possible that as USM’s first black president, Bennett wanted to avoid injecting race into this issue, but, of course, that is exactly what this is about. Perhaps it doesn’t need to be laid out in such explicit terms, but I believe more is required given the absence of any vote by the student senate or campus debate that preceded the president’s decision in Oxford.

If you can’t state openly what this controversy is about on a college campus, where can you?

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Ole Miss Students Pound Last Nail Into Confederate Flag’s Coffin

Update: University of Southern Mississippi removed the state flag from campus earlier today.

On July 20, 2015 the Confederate battle flag was lowered from the statehouse grounds in Columbia, South Carolina following an order issued by Governor Nikki Haley. Regardless of which side you were on many believed that the move was purely political to help with her own national ambitions. Questions surrounding the governor’s motivation make it difficult to place the decision within a broader historical context that stretches back to 1962 when the Confederate flag was first raised atop the statehouse. On the other hand, the order this morning at the University of Mississippi to remove the state flag (which includes a Confederate flag in its design) from campus must be acknowledged as a crucial moment in that institution’s long and complex relationship with the flag.

According to historian John Coski the University of Mississippi adopted the flag “as an all-but-official school symbol” in the early 1950s and was embraced “with distinctly political undertones” coinciding with the rise of the Dixiecrat Party. The waving of Confederate flags, the singing of “Dixie” and the presence of the Colonel Reb mascot became staples of Ole Miss football games. During the height of the Civil Rights Movement the flag was picked up by students as their symbol of resistance against school integration. [click to continue…]

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