Understanding Civil War Statuary

This week my Civil War Memory students will be analyzing early commemorations and memory of the soldiers. We will read an article on the subject by David Blight and analyze early monuments along with their inscriptions and accompanying dedication speeches. I want my students to understand the role that statues played in shaping the memory of the war. Students should understand that the significance and message of the monument depended, in part, on the identity of the sponsor. The power to install and dedicate implied the authority to shape public spaces and define the conduct that deserved to be commemorated. Along with this is the ability to shape and reinforce the meaning and legacy of the war, which worked to reinforce the preferred interpretation of those who organized and dedicated the monument. I put together a slide show presentation for tomorrow and thought you might be interested in two statues in particular.

Some of you may be familiar with the first monument, known affectionately as “Dutchy”, which was unveiled in Elberton County, Georgia on July 15, 1898. There were hundreds of Confederate veterans still living and they declared that the Confederate army never had anything that looked like him or the uniform he wore. It is 22 feet high and the statue is seven feet tall and made of Elbert County granite. The distaste for “Dutchy” grew and on August 14,1900 the people awoke to find that the granite soldier had taken a tumble and was lying on the ground in broken pieces. It is not known to this day who pulled the figure down.

The belief that the statue was “too German” and its eventual destruction suggest that sculptors were expected to portray Civil War soldiers along accepted ethnic lines.

The second monument pictured below, according to Thomas Brown, was the only one constructed in the South by 1920. It is located in West Point Cemetery in Norfolk, Virginia.

This statue points to the gradual disappearance of the “emancipationist legacy” of the war and the service of black soldiers in saving the Union. The difficulty in placing a monument to black Union soldiers in the South had as much to do with limited financial means as it did with the reemergence of white supremacy through Jim Crow legislation.

In terms of my own reading on the subject I’ve relied heavily on Kirk Savage’s Standing Soldiers, Kneeling Slaves (Princeton University Press, 1999).


“Clinging” to Jim Limber

The latest issue of North and South has a hilarious little story about Jim Limber and the Davis family written by Chuck Lyons. Check out some of these references

“Jim was soon treated as a part of the Davis family, a precious part.”

“Joe’ s death led the Davises’ to cling strongly to little Jim.”

Wonderful stuff Chuck – whoever you are.

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A History Lesson Gone Wrong

All good history teachers work to bring the past alive for their students. Yes, it wreaks of cliche, but there is a grain of truth in the attempt to broaden our students’ perspective, to help them to see themselves as part of a broader narrative. In working toward this end we introduce students to a wide range of experiences from traditional primary sources to the sights and smells of the past. Some of the most meaningful lessons are those that provide an opportunity for students to make a personal connection with the past and that connection is often couched in emotion. This is not easy to do, and I don’t mind admitting that I tend to steer clear of these types of lessons, not because of any skepticism regarding the value of emotional identification, but owing to its potential to become a distraction from the historical reference itself. At the same time I believe that the history classroom can be an ideal setting in which students can exercise their other-regarding emotions such as empathy and sympathy. Again, my concern is that it be done carefully and with an understanding that up to a certain age students are self-centered and self-conscious.

With this in mind consider the lesson plan of Haverstraw Middle School teacher, Eileen Bernstein, who, in an attempt to teach the horrors of the slave trade chose to bind the hands and feet of her students and have them crouch under their desks. Her goal was to impress upon them the cramped quarters of a slave ship. As you can imagine some of the parents were very upset with the teacher’s decision after their children came home visibly upset. Unfortunately, there isn’t enough information to gauge how the teacher used this simulation in class. How did she hope to translate the emotion of the simulation where hands and feet are tied and turn it into a history lesson? What questions were the children being asked to consider?

Now I don’t teach middle school-aged kids, but it seems to me that given their emotional maturity it is going to be difficult for the teacher to redirect that emotion from self to other. In other words, how is it possible to get the student to look beyond his/her own feelings and anxiety to consider something historical or remote? Perhaps it is possible as in the famous case of the teacher who, in an attempt to demonstrate the hideousness of racism, divided her class to give the students a sense of what it is like to be discriminated against. However, even if the psychological leap is possible in such a situation, does this simulation have anything at all to do with the life of a slave? Does this in any way assist children in recreating in their minds the reality of the “Middle Passage”?

The teacher in question has apologized for causing any problems with her students, but refuses to apologize for using the simulation in class. I’m just waiting for the next story where the teacher asks her Jewish students to simulate “Sophie’s Choice” upon entering a mock Concentration Camp.


Fredericksburg’s Newest Museum Opens Tomorrow

Tonight my wife and I will be driving to Fredericksburg for a “Gala Reception” in celebration of the grand opening of the Fredericksburg Area Museum and Cultural Center. The museum opens tomorrow and includes a a schedule of talks and other activities throughout the day. Our good friend Sara Poore, who is the director of education for the museum, has been working tirelessly over the past year to get the program up and running as well as the exhibits. We are looking forward to helping her and the rest of the staff celebrate this joyous occasion. The weather should be nice this weekend so if you live in the Fredericksburg area make sure you pay the museum a visit.

Click here for a news item in the Fredericksburg Free-Lance Star.

Note: Next week I will be back in Fredericksburg to deliver the keynote address for the NPS’s commemoration of the battle of Fredericksburg.


2008 Peter Seaborg Award

This year I was asked to serve as a judge for the 2008 Peter Seaborg Award, which is given yearly by The George Tyler Moore Center For the Study of the Civil War at Shepherd University. You can assume, based on the other finalists for the award, that the committee’s decision was not easy. It goes without saying that all of these books are must reads for the serious student of the Civil War. Congratulations to Professor Morgan and the other finalists. From the official announcement:

Dr. Jo-Ann Morgan, Associate Professor at Western Illinois University, received the award for her book entitled Uncle Tom’s Cabin as Visual Culture. Published by University of Missouri Press, Morgan’s work reveals how prints and paintings of Uncle Tom and other characters in the novel shaped public perceptions and how this visual culture offered the country a means of both representing and reinventing its slave past. Morgan is currently working on a journal article, “Topsy and Eva: Race, Place, and the Bipolarity of Black and White in Images of Children,” as part of a larger book project on the representation of African American women in the 19th century.

Other finalists for the Peter Seaborg Award were: Beleaguered Winchester: A Virginia Community at War 1861-1865 written by Richard R. Duncan and published by Louisiana State University Press; Diehard Rebels: The Confederate Culture of Invincibility written by Jason Philips and published by University of Georgia Press; The Road to Disunion: Volume II, Secessionists Triumphant 1854-1861 written by William H. Freehling and published by Oxford University Press; and Shenandoah Summer: The 1864 Valley Campaign written by Scott C. Patchan and published by University of Nebraska Press.


VMI Will March in Inaugural Parade

One of my readers has informed me that the Virginia Military Institute’s entire Corps of cadets will march in Barack Obama’s inaugural parade.  Why is this significant?  The Corps, along with Thomas J. Jackson were present at the execution of John Brown in 1859.  Most notably, the Corps took part in the Battle of New Market in 1864, in a war whose purpose was the perpetuation of slavery and white supremacy.  Even as other military schools transitioned to admitting African Americans into their programs, VMI remained steadfast in refusing to do so until 1968.  Perhaps it’s just another sign of how far we’ve come as a nation.


Civil War – Part 2 (idiotic, but entertaining)


Visit Pamplin Park (by reservation only)

Effective January 2, 2009, Pamplin Historical Park and the National Museum of the Civil War Soldier in Dinwiddie County will be open by reservation only.  Guests wishing to visit the Park may do so by making a reservation forty-eight hours in advance.  Admission fees for non-members will be $100 for a group of up to ten people, and $10 per adult for groups of more than ten.  Park members may make reservations twenty-four hours in advance with no minimum numbers and no admission fee.

Read the rest of the story here.