I know I promised to stay away until January, but I don’t really consider this to be a violation of my blogging hiatus. My review of Will Greene’s book, Civil War Petersburg: Confederate City in the Crucible of War (University of Virginia Press, 2006), is included in the most recent issue of the journal, Civil War History [December 2009, (pp. 504-05)], and I thought I might pass it on for those of you who need a quick Civil War Memory fix.
Although most Civil War enthusiasts are no doubt familiar with the ten-month campaign that enveloped the city of Petersburg between June 1864 and April 1865 few can say much about how its civilian population, both black and white, experienced the changing conditions wrought by war. The increase in the number of community and regional studies has led to rich insights into the ways both white and black southerners experienced the hardships of war on the home front. In addition to studies of the home front historians such as Frank Towers and Louis S. Gerteis have examined the extensive growth experienced in urban communities during the final two decades of the antebellum period and beyond. A. Wilson Greene’s Civil War Petersburg straddles both of these categories and the result is the most scholarly study of the Cockade City to date. [click to continue…]
“In this comedy of political values Honest Abe’s home town puts a teacher on trial for asking ‘Was Lincoln Gay?’ Told in three acts – the audience decided the order – we see the events surrounding the ‘Trial of the Century’ through the eyes of the prosecution, the defense and the big city reporter.”
The two seem to go perfect together, but why? Well, I guess in Fredericksburg it is the proximity of the famous battle to the holiday season that makes for such an easy connection. Joyce Smith, a parishioner at Cornerstone Baptist Church, has written a Christmas Civil War drama titled “My Friend, the Enemy” which is based on the Mort Kunstler print by the same name.
According to the news story, Smith “studied the picture for months.” I’m not quite sure what there is to study that would keep one occupied for months, but it culminated in a play that essentially reenacts a meeting between four soldiers on Christmas Day 1862. Stories of Civil War soldiers meeting to trade and talk are powerful narrative threads in our continued obsession with the Reconciliationist Narrative of the war. They make the war palatable. I can only imagine the dialog: (1) What the war is about; (2) Why must we be enemies?; (3) Family and Home… The play ends with a meeting between two soldiers on Christmas Day 30 years after the end of the war followed by the singing of Christmas Carols.
Americans need to believe that their civil war was special, that the violence did not overshadow our faith in “Good Will Toward Men.” I tend to think that we emphasize these stories to make ourselves feel better about what happened and why. It give us a reason not to look too closely at ourselves and our collective past. Our civil war needs to fit neatly under the Christmas tree. When we cross the Rapphannock River we want to see two soldiers peacefully engaged rather than thousands of men crossing on the eve of a bloody battle or fugitive slaves crossing to their freedom. So be it. Take the family to see this one and remember to bring plenty of good cheer and egg nog.
Today is the first day of the new trimester and I am once again teaching a course on Civil War Memory. I have two sections with a total of 12 students. Hopefully, the small sections will make for even more interesting discussions. This is a reference sheet that I put together for one of my Teaching American History talks from a few months back. It includes a few of the scholarly materials that I’ve utilized as well as some ideas for the classroom. Let me know if you try out any of my proposed classroom projects and please feel free to share what you do in your own courses. [click to continue…]