Consider the following evidence.
Gary Feis, a contractor from North Carolina on a week-long tour of Virginia battlefields, wore a camouflage cap embroidered with the flag and the words “100% Genuine Rebel.” The flag, he said, was nothing more than “a symbol of a rallying point during the battles, so they could know where their people were.” “People are very ignorant of history in this country,” he said as he perused books, bumper stickers and prints venerating the Civil War.
“There’s obviously a visceral reaction to this wave of cultural cleansing, there’s nothing else to call it,” said Ben Jones, the former Georgia congressman best known as the actor who played Cooter on the ’80s series about good ol’ boys in the rural South. “A lot of people have said to me, ‘This reminds me of Nazi Germany in 1933, when they started burning books.’ When you take ‘The Dukes of Hazzard’ off the air, this internationally beloved show, and hint that it is because it is racist . . . it’s a bridge too far.” [click to continue…]
Things have quieted down to the point where I can finally get back to some serious work. To ensure that I get out of the house I renewed my membership at the Boston Athenaeum, which is really a wonderful place to work. In fact, I will likely head down there today in a couple of hours. Over the next few months I will explore opportunities beyond the high school classroom. They include teaching a research seminar at the American Antiquarian Society, helping an organization here in town train local history instructors to teach Reconstruction and looking into volunteering at local historic sites.
On the writing front the big project remains completing my book manuscript on Confederate camp servants and the myth of the black Confederate soldier. The rise of the narrative in the wake of the debates surrounding the Confederate flag have all but confirmed to me that the project is still very relevant to our current conversation about Civil War memory.
I am also working on two smaller projects. The first is a much revised and expanded essay on Confederate military executions. I published a short article in Civil War Times a few years ago, but have decided to return to it to deepen the analysis. This will appear as a chapter in a forthcoming volume of essays published by the Louisiana State University Press. In addition, I am close to finishing a magazine essay on the 54th and 55th Massachusetts regiments that focuses on the period from April to August 1865 in South Carolina. [click to continue…]
It is somewhat amusing to listen to people who have suddenly awoken to the fact that there are monuments to Confederate politicians, generals and common soldiers in their own communities. Many have chosen to voice their outrage by calling for monuments to be torn down and/or removed from public land. Since my recent trip to Europe I’ve become more sensitive to these concerns, though I still maintain that the preferred course ought to be the addition of signage that explains the relevant history of both the object of commemoration and the monument itself. More importantly, a number of communities have already moved to add to their memorial landscapes. Such is the case in Richmond, Virginia. [click to continue…]
If you are a serious student of the Confederate army than you have read, and probably re-read, J. Tracy Power’s book, Lee’s Miserables: Life in the Army of Northern Virginia from the Wilderness to Appomattox (1998). In my mind it is one of the finest scholarly studies ever published about Lee’s army. My hardcover copy is now held together with two rubber bands. Lee’s Miserables was indispensable to me during the writing of my book on the battle of the Crater.
As many of you know for a number of years Dr. Power worked for the South Carolina Department of Archives and History, but he recently took a teaching position at Newberry College. This transition has made it easier for Dr. Power to share his views on the ongoing debate about the Confederate flag, which he did in the form of a short essay published on his academia.edu page last month. I only noticed it earlier this evening. [click to continue…]
I am just about finished reading Ta-Nehisi Coates’s new book, Between the World and Me, which is essentially an extended letter to his son, Samori. It’s incredibly powerful. Coates reveals a world – from the violence of the streets of Baltimore to police brutality – that I will never fully understand. What I truly value in his writing, however, is the way he weaves the past into his observations about his own childhood and the current racial environment. At times the present and the past are indistinguishable in his hands. [click to continue…]
Yesterday my wife and I returned from a ten-day trip to Europe that included stops in Vienna, Prague, and Frankfurt. I love traveling through Europe and having the opportunity to absorb myself in its rich history. This trip was no exception, though I have to admit that I never completely disengaged myself from events surrounding the Confederate flag. I followed the news closely and read a good deal of blog posts and other commentary. The news of the lowering of the flag in Columbia was covered in many European newspapers.
As always my trips overseas provide fresh perspective on my favorite historical subject. Our time in Prague proved to be an eye opening experience on so many levels. The city is overwhelming from its sheer beauty to its rich cultural history. In Germany I can’t help but think and read about WWII. In Prague it was the Soviet occupation, life under communism and the painful transition to democracy by the early 1990s. I was curious as to how the Czech people remember communism in public spaces. In Prague, at least, they don’t. [click to continue…]