Today the Washington Post ran a column by George Will published ten years ago about the state of the Gettysburg battlefield and plans to build a new visitor center.
I opened up the latest issue of one of the major Civil War magazines today and noticed a full-page spread announcing the publication of a graphic novel titled Cleburne by Justin Murphy, which tells the story of his plans to arm slaves. You can read an interview with the author here. Check out these choice quotes from that interview:
Ultimately, Cleburne is not so much about African Americans fighting for the Confederacy, as it is the idea of it, and what that idea ultimately cost the South’s most promising military leader. It is the story of a true underdog who challenged the institutions of the very society he fought to defend.
What many today do not know is that there were a large number of Confederate officers and enlisted men who were opposed to slavery. Every one of General Cleburne’s regimental commanders put their names on his proposal to free and arm the slaves. This was a huge career risk for them and they would not have allied themselves with him unless they strongly believed in his idea. So what then were they fighting for if not to preserve slavery? The truth is many Southerners felt they had no choice but to defend their home states, and others were fighting against what they believed to be an over-reaching Federal government (a problem Americans are still dealing with today).
I’m aware of the political-incorrectness of such a subject and I’m also aware of the sensitivity of the issue. Some historians and educators may speak out against this book and accuse me of fabrication, but I’m ready for them. The truth is I’ve probably spent more hours studying the subject than they ever will. As far as speaking at schools, I will admit it can be difficult to stand in front of a classroom full of black students and try to explain why they should care about someone who (they’ve been told) fought for a government that wanted to keep their ancestors enslaved. It’s an uphill battle and I don’t blame them for being a little suspicious. There’s very spotty evidence for black confederate soldiers, but the proof is still there in the eyewitness accounts, and the concept seems to capture public’s imagination. That is why I have used the image in so much of my advertising.
Murphy's responses are a clear reflection of the sloppiness that often accompanies discussion of so-called black Confederates. First, it is unclear to me why we are so fascinated with Cleburne and his proposal to arm slaves. If I remember correctly, he wasn't even the first; Gen. Richard S. Ewell proposed a similar plan in 1861. Also notice the inference that because an officer supported the plan they must have been anti-slavery or that this plan was meant as a first step towards general emancipation. What Murphy never mentions, of course, is that the plan was debated throughout the Confederacy and throughout much of the war, and from what historians can tell it never really had a chance. That the plan was only passed in the final weeks of the war suggests that few white Southerners were able to contemplate such a development. In fact, the passage of the proposal, along with R.E. Lee's support, was meant as a way to save the Confederacy and slavery and not as a step towards general emancipation.
Murphy also falls into the trap of failing to distinguish between the outlines of Cleburne's plan and the experiences of individual slaves who were present with Confederate armies. Their presence had nothing to do with Cleburne. They served as slaves in various capacities and a few may even have picked up a rifle and fired it at a "Yankee" at one point or another. This ought not to be confused with serving officially as Confederate soldiers, although there may even be some exceptions in this case.
If you are interested in the history of Cleburne and black Confederates I recommend Bruce Levine's Confederate Emancipation: Southern Plans to Free and Arm Slaves During the Civil War and if you would like to learn more about Cleburne himself, check out Craig Symonds's Stonewall of the West: Patrick Cleburne and the Civil War. Finally, here is a brief trailer for Murphy's graphic novel. Enjoy.
You will find his name on a host of message boards, listservs, and other sites. His mission is nothing less than to protect and defend Confederate heritage from anyone who asks questions or offers a view that differs from his own. No, he does not live in the "Heart of Dixie", but in Commack, New York – or as he fondly notes at the end of emails and comments, "behind enemy lines." I've been the target of "Wild Bill" for some time now, but by now I've grown to appreciate his enthusiasm and good humor. Today I received an email from a friend who monitors a number of these message boards and email lists. Today's installment by "Wild Bill" is a real doozy, which you can read in its entirety here. This is my favorite part of the post:
Don’t waste your time trying to debate Levin. He won’t allow it. It would spoil the nice, neat look of his blog. “Thank God for Kevin Levin”, was one of the comments on his blog!! (YIPES!?) Don’t waste your time trying to engage him in debate on neutral territory either. He has nothing to gain by it. And don’t waste time trying to enlighten those who worship at his temple. They are already in. So what to do then? Email him? While it might get under his skin, it isn’t going to change anything. Start a counter blog? Having had a website myself once upon a time, I can tell you that such things are extremely time consuming. Actually folks, there’s a lot more at stake here than simply counter-pointing a blowhard yankee blogger. Levin, you see, is a teacher, the same kind of teacher who teaches your kids to be ashamed of who they are and where they come from. I wish I had a dollar for every Southerner who’s told me that he’s lost one or more children to an educational system which has seen fit to ingrain shame into them.
And there are many Kevin Levins, in public schools and in private ones, all over the South and indeed, all over the country. The way to combat people like Levin is not to challenge them to intellectual duels, which they will not accept because they have nothing to gain, but to challenge them when they try to (and I mean this in the most literal sense) take your children away from you! Remember, you pay their salaries. You pay for your kids to go to the school, be it a private school or a public one. Don’t send your kids to them without first giving those kids the “lowdown” on who they themselves are, and who people like Levin are! And when teachers like Levin try to make your kids ashamed of who and what they are, go pay those teachers a visit and tell them that you pay their salaries and that you don’t appreciate what they are trying to do. I could be wrong, but my gut tells me that such schools as the one Levin teaches in are full of “latchkey children,” (children whose parents simply turn their kids over to the educational system without keeping tabs on what’s being taught).
You will notice that he spends quite a bit of time criticizing me for not allowing certain comments through on my blog. As all of you know I do monitor comments for language as well as content. If the comment contains offensive language or deviates significantly from the topic I delete it. Readers, however, are free to disagree. What "Wild Bill" doesn't tell his readers is that I allowed one of his crude comments through in response to Peter Carmichael's guest post on Confederate slaves. In fact, both Peter and I welcomed "Wild Bill" to respond directly to the content of the post, which he attempted to do, but than failed to follow-up at all. It was clear to us that he simply had nothing useful to say. I couldn't be happier that this blog has brought "Wild Bill" to the point where he feels a need to lash out once again.
Well "Wild Bill", the cat's out of the bag. Anyone who bothers to look can see that you are nothing but a fraud and a liar. It's just more evidence that Civil War Memory is on the right track. By the way, I will be teaching a course on Civil War memory next semester and I plan on using your emails and postings as a case study for a lesson on the divisive nature of remembrance and commemoration. Thanks buddy. Keep them coming.
Note: I've decided to create a new category titled, "Fan Mail" for just this sort of thing.
I first reported on this story back in May when a local chapter of the Sons of Confederate Veterans in Florida decided to erect the largest Confederate flag at the junction of Interstates 4 and 72 outside of Tampa. Well, it looks like a flag measuring 30-by-50 foot was not large enough, so this past Sunday Marion Lamber and the rest of the boys unveiled a new flag measuring 30-by-60-foot. But wait, here's the best part. Apparently, these geniuses have decided to cut up the old flag and sell it in pieces on Ebay to help pay for commemorative plaques which will be situated at the base of the flag pole. Isn't this the same organization that claims to revere the flag as the symbol of courage of their Confederate ancestors? What better way to show your respect than to cut it up into little pieces for profit. I guess this is exactly what their ancestors fought and died for. Oh…and I almost forgot to mention that the old flag was made in China.
What a bunch of hypocrites. Don't hold your breadth for the national office to voice any concern.
I had an absolute blast in New Orleans this past weekend. It was great to see old friends, meet new ones, and listen to people present their research. The best part, of course, is that the meeting was held in the "Big Easy". New Orleans has come a long way since Hurricane Katrina, but it is clear that it is still on the road to recovery. The downtown area is alive with tourists, but the spark of the city is difficult to find. This was my first trip to New Orleans since 2000. I couldn't help but think in comparative terms of before and after as I walked and jogged through the French Quarter each morning. Those residents that have come back and are working hard to bring the city back to life ought to be commended. They love their city and go out of their way to ensure that visitors walk away with at least a flavor of the sites and sounds.
Most of my time was spent away from the conference rooms in restaurants and the occasional bar. Of course, I can't go into full detail about the shenanigans that took place between Friday evening and the wee hours of Saturday morning - reputations are at stake here. Let's just say I was relieved that I was able to get to my talk on time and in relatively good shape.
My session on Civil War blogging went quite well. It was a true honor for me to be asked by George Rable to address the members of the Society for Civil War Historians and to sit on a panel with Mark Grimsley and Anne Sarah Rubin, both of whom have done outstanding work in the field. I've been a member for about four years. The organization has come a long way in that short span of time and I look forward to watching it expand its focus and membership in the coming years. I was especially pleased to meet so many regular readers after the luncheon talk who voiced their enthusiasm for my work here on the blog. What I enjoyed most about the weekend was having the opportunity to spend time with Mark Grimsley to talk about the place that blogging occupies in our respective worlds. We discussed both the potential and pitfalls of the blogging format as well as how it has come to shape (for better and for worse) the way we write and engage in research. Our conversations have given me a great deal to think about and, no doubt, you will see this discussed here in the coming weeks.
The annual meeting of the SHA is by far my favorite academic conference. You get to spend a long weekend with a fairly large group of very talented and passionate historians who are eager to share their work and make new connections. I always leave with a burst of energy, new questions to ponder and some new books to read.
Today I am presenting the following paper at the Annual Meeting of the Society of Civil War Historians in New Orleans, which is meeting as part of the Annual Meeting of the Southern Historical Association. I am speaking along with Mark Grimsley and Anne S. Rubin on topics related to the Civil War and the Internet. The meeting is taking place over lunch which should help to explain the title. Given the time constraints imposed on the three of us there was a great deal that I had to leave out.
There is an ongoing conversation that is taking place covering just about every aspect of the Civil War. Twenty-four hours a day/seven days a week you can sign onto a host of message boards, wikis, chat rooms, social networking sites, listservs, and blogs and discuss just about every conceivable topic related to the Civil War from the ever-popular battlefields and commanders to complex subjects such as secession, slavery, emancipation, politics, and the role of women. The level of interconnectivity and amount of information sharing brought about by the web 2.0 revolution is both a blessing and a curse. It is a blessing in that it allows anyone, regardless of education, to take part in Online discussions and debates. It is a curse because it allows ‘everyman to be his own historian’ regardless of background and education to contribute to the Web. In short, the Web works as a powerful tool to mobilize opinion even if much of it is misinformation.
How about a Civil War print that includes Lee, Jackson, Davis, Sherman, Grant, and Lincoln in prayer together? Would anyone buy it? I am sort of imagining something like what happens on occasion at the end of a football game where members of rival teams briefly join in prayer.
Print by John Paul Strain