“To Be a Southerner & Believe in the Union Does Not Make One a Traitor.”

Here is an interesting little scene from the television series North and South in which Robert E. Lee convenes with Jefferson Davis about a host of military problems early in the war. In discussing the North’s strategy to strangle the Confederacy’s trade with the rest of the world Davis calls General Winfield Scott a traitor. Lee will have none of it: “To be a Southerner and believe in the Union does not make one a traitor, sir.”

The portrayal of Lee here definitely goes beyond the popular view of the reserved and self-controlled gentleman. We get the standard line about believing slavery to be immoral, but we also see Lee urge an aggressive offensive strategy, which falls in line with recent scholarship. I may have to find the time to watch this series in its entirety.

[Uploaded to YouTube on February 2, 2014]

Are These the Men Who Burned Columbia, South Carolina?

Burning of ColumbiaThis weekend the Wade Hampton Camp, Sons of Confederate Veterans will mark the anniversary of the bombardment of Columbia, South Carolina with a reenactment. The SCV hopes to remind local residents of the destruction wrought by the Union army. According to Don Gordon:

It’s important that we actually understand the true history of our city. We were fighting against the invading army that had burned every town that they came through.

The camp’s website devoted to the burning of Columbia reinforces their preferred narrative: “The responsibility for the burning of Columbia rests on the shoulders of Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman, commander of the Federal forces.” Of course, anyone who has bothered to study this event knows that there are any number of questions surrounding what took place on February 17, 1865. Continue reading

A War of Liberation and Empire

One of my favorite books of 2013 was Ari Kelman’s A Misplaced Massacre: Struggling over the Memory of Sand Creek. Kelman’s analysis of the history and memory of the Sand Creek Massacre in 1864 serves to remind us that the western boundary of the Civil War took place far west of the Mississippi River. For me, the book’s importance comes down to how it challenges a relatively recent and popular memory that places liberation at the center of the narrative. But what happens when we frame the war years around the federal government’s policies on the frontier before during and after the war?  Continue reading

Boston’s Civil War Memory: A Student’s Reflection

Mount Auburn CemeteryIn response to the tour of Boston’s Civil War monuments that I took with my class last Thursday, I asked them to take some time and write up a short reflection about their experience. Overall, the short essays are very reflective and in some cases quite surprising in terms of what they came away with. Here is one example.

The field trip we took through Boston last week transformed my view of how the North, and specifically Boston, commemorated the Civil War. I hadn’t fully realized before this how prominent memories of the Civil War were and were aimed to be, through the monuments, in the few decades after. The monuments, I realized through looking at them, were supposed to be seen on a regular basis by people walking by, so that the Civil War still filled the consciousness of Boston and the North. It seems to me that the commemorators wanted this for two reasons: 1. They wanted to commemorate the people who died, and 2. The monuments could garner support for the causes of the war and for unity. And they could justify the war in a way, making the deaths of the soldiers seem noble and pulling Boston together under a mindset of unity and American pride. I was surprised that there were actually multiple monuments commemorating blacks and women who served in the war. I’ll discuss my favorite three monuments: the sphinx, Harvard’s Memorial Hall, and the Shaw Memorial. Continue reading