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…]
Calls to take down the Confederate flag battle flag have quickly extended to monuments to the Confederacy, most of which dot local court houses, parks, and other public spaces. Many have been vandalized with the phrase ‘Black Lives Matter”. The only city that has moved to take down a Confederate monument is Birmingham, Alabama, which did so last night. Other cities, including Baltimore, Memphis, and St. Louis will take up the issue in the coming days and weeks.
My position has remained consistent on the removal of Confederate monuments. Others like Karen Cox, Ethan Kytle and Blain Roberts have staked out their positions, which are well worth reading. Although I tend to resist removal I do not believe that monuments are timeless. Certainly, few Americans take issue with the symbolic gesture surrounding the pulling down of a statue to King George III at the very birth of our Revolution. No collective act more powerfully signaled a break with the past in 1776 short of war? [click to continue…]
I have referenced John Coski’s book, The Confederate Battle Flag: America’s Most Embattled Emblem, more than once over the past two weeks. It is by far the most comprehensive history of the Confederate flag and its place in Civil War memory. For those of you who wish to dig a bit deeper you may want to check out Robert Bonner’s, Colors and Blood: Flag Passions of the Confederate South [Princeton University Press, 2002]. It’s a much shorter book than Coski’s but it it does explore issues such as Confederate nationalism and religion in more detail. [click to continue…]