Civil War Memory Rhyme

Update: David Corbett offered this alternative over at Walking in the Berkshires:

Kevin the Carpetbagger with his liberal opinions,
Delights in flogging the white Old Dominion,
Sadly, he’s a fish out of water and not a Virginian,
Pity the Civil War Memorist born white and not black,
The priviledged school teacher on the attack,
How different t’would be were inner city student his minons!

I love it  The insecurity is palpable!  Thanks Dave.

Tim Abbott of Walking in the Berkshires fame took on an AAABBA rhyme scheme meme and composed one for Civil War Memory.  Thanks for making my day Tim:

Unique among buffs is this fine Charlottes-villain,
He’s unmoved by manoevers, knows that war’s about killin’,
Black confederate myths to debunk he’s most willin’.
A fresh look at our past offers Civil War Mem’ry,
(And fresh templates as well, he’s gone through 43),
His High School is blessed, makes me wish I were still in! 


2007 Peter Seaborg Award

The George Tyler Moore Center for the Study of the Civil War has awarded the 2007 Peter Seaborg Award to Bruce Levine for his book, Confederate Emancipation: Southern Plans to Free and Arm Slaves During the Civil War (Oxford University Press, 2007).  It will come as no surprise to readers of this blog that I think this is an excellent choice.  Levine’s work represents the most sophisticated analysis of the debates within the Confederacy to arm their slaves and why these stories continue to resonate in certain circles today. 

Finalists include Civil War Petersburg: Confederate City in the Crucible of War by A. Wilson Greene and published by University of Virginia Press; Color-Blind Justice:  Albion Tourgee and the Quest for Racial Equality from the Civil War to Plessy v. Ferguson by Mark Elliott and published by Oxford University Press; John M. Schofield and the Politics of Generalship by Donald B. Connelly and published by University of North Carolina Press; No Party Now: Politics in the Civil War North by Adam I.P. Smith and published by Oxford University Press. 


Wrapping-Up Lincoln

I just finished putting the finishing touches on a test that covers William Gienapp’s biography of Abraham Lincoln, which we finished reading this week.  The book was a huge success, in large part because Lincoln is such an attractive historical figure to study.  We read many of his letters and speeches and really tried to work through his changing views on race and slavery.  With the bicentennial set for next year the country is no doubt going to be saturated with commentary that will have little to do with serious analytical thinking.  I like to think that most of my students are now prepared to wade through much of this nonsense.  They can steer clear of the ahistorical silliness of Thomas DiLorenzo and other Lincoln haters as well as the overly glorified images that students are introduced to in grade school.  As I learned when we first got started with Lincoln many of my students literally believed that his life inevitably led to the freeing of the slaves. 

One way that I’ve been able to engage the enthusiasm level for the secondary sources used thus far is by the sophistication of their questions.  Students struggled to understand the intersection between military affairs and political concerns that Lincoln juggled up to the issuance of the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation.  While it dispelled them of their narrow emancipationist view of Lincoln it did bring them to a place where they could more clearly comprehend his leadership style and political shrewdness.  As a way to more clearly understand the road to emancipation and Lincoln’s changing views on race and slavery I had students create timelines which involved having to post a set of quotations along with relevant events.  I have to admit that I wasn’t sure what would come of it, but it turned out that having everything neatly arranged on a timeline highlighted the contingency of events as well as the causal relationship between events.  Click here, here, and here for a few examples.

I do have a few concerns that have to do with the scope of our study of the Civil War and wartime Reconstruction.  If we were using the traditional textbook we would clearly have discussed the war in much broader terms, especially in reference to the Confederate experience.  As it stands my students have been introduced to the important public and military leaders in the Confederacy and have a basic understanding of some of the central themes.  This has been a concern throughout the year, but I am growing more comfortable with the idea that what they are learning is more meaningful and is much more likely to lead to additional reading at some point down the road.  Next week we will spend a few days looking at Reconstruction and then it is on to a short biography of Franklin Roosevelt by Roy Jenkins, a survey of the Cold War by Ralph Levering, and Harvard Sitkoff’s book on race and the Civil Rights Movement

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Lincoln Prizes Announced

This year’s Lincoln Prize goes to James Oakes, author of The Radical and the Republican: Frederick
Douglass, Abraham Lincoln, and the Triumph of Antislavery Politics
and Elizabeth Brown Pryor, who wrote Reading the Man: A Portrait of
Robert E. Lee Through His Private Letters
.  Each will receive $20,000.

Congratulations to both.  I have not yet read Oakes’s book, but I have read Pryor and consider her book to be the single best volume on Lee ever published.

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Primary Voting (just what the doctor ordered)

I don’t usually get excited about primary votes, but today is different.  Before arriving at school I headed on over to my polling station and cast a vote for Barack Obama.  I don’t mind saying that it felt good to push that button, not because he is black, but because I believe he would make a fine president and he is a black American.  In terms of policy considerations it came down to his stand on Iraq and health care.  In terms of the latter both Obama’s and Hillary’s positions are close, but Obama is more direct when it comes to pulling out U.S. troops from Iraq. 

I am not cynical about public service or politicians, but I am when it comes to the presidency.  The last eight years has been a nightmare, and the American people have no one to blame but themselves.  We elected that ignorant man and then went ahead and gave him another four years.  I am tired of tuning out whenever the president attempts to string together a coherent sentence.  I am tired of being embarrassed for our president.  I am tired of his simplistic view of the world.  I am tired of that silly little laugh of his.  I am tired of the blatant disregard for our Constitution.  I am tired of the sense of privilege that he exudes in all things he does and says.  I am tired of that macho-cowboy look and the "Western White House".  I am tired of young men and women coming home in body bags.  I am tired of comedians poking fun at the presidency.  I am tired of his corrupt vice-president.  I am tired of having to imagine how much of the rest of the world views us.

Perhaps what it comes down to is that I don’t feel tired when I listen to Barack Obama.


The Power of Language

This morning one of my students asked why the Democrats "are so weak on defense."  I responded by asking the student to look up the political affiliation of the president at the beginning of every major conflict in the twentieth century.

Note: I know Eisenhower was president at the very beginning of our involvement in Vietnam, but let’s give credit to Kennedy and Johnson for the significant escalation.

Update: You may have trouble believing this, but the student in question actually came back by the end of the day having completed my little assignment.  She brought a list that included the following:

Woodrow Wilson, Democrat: World War I

Franklin Roosevelt, Democrat: World War II

Harry Truman, Democrat: Korean War

Lyndon B. Johnson, Democrat, Vietnam (I made sure to explain the role that Eisenhower played.)

When she asked why the accusation is so pervasive I asked her to think about the nature of the language.  In other words to think about the role of politics in shaping public perception.  I suspect that we will have another conversation tomorrow.  I will update if anything does indeed transpire. 


Black Confederates: The Standard Formula

Here is a wonderful example of the rhetoric surrounding the myth of black Confederate soldiers.  You can find this story in the pages of The Murfreesboro Post by Shirley F. Jones:

1. Find a historical adviser from the Sons of Confederate Veterans and a “doctor George Smith” but fail to mention that he is a medical doctor.

2. Provide the standard quotes from Ed Bearss and Ervin Jordan even though Bearss never did serious research on the subject and Jordan’s study does not draw broad conclusions about the loyalty and service of black southerners across the Confederacy.

3. Include incoherent/meaningless thoughts by black “historian”:

“Roland Young says that “he is not surprised that blacks fought … some, if not most, would support their country, and that by doing so they were demonstrating that it was possible to hate the system of slavery and love one’s country.””

By the way, who the hell is Roland Young?  Unfortunately, the author of the article can’t tell us because she found and quoted it from a website.  Thanks for the responsible reporting Ms. Jones.

4.Remind readers that Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation only freed slaves in areas that were not under direct military control as of January 1, 1863, as if this has anything to do with the question at hand.

5. Reach for moral parity by suggesting that Ulysses S. Grant owned slaves.  Oh..and throw in that wonderful quote from Frederick to Douglas to Lincoln suggesting that unless he freed the slaves they will fight for the Confederacy.

6. Drive your point home by including names of black men who received a pension from the state of Tennessee.

7. Top it off with a conclusion that implies that the author has done something to bring us closer to uncovering a long lost story:

Blacks fought for the very same reason as whites – to defend their homes and their families. Historical data can sometimes be a matter of
interpretation and the facts can sometimes contradict themselves. But, one must remember that day and time and judge it accordingly, for a man of the 19th century should not be compared to a man of today’s world and evaluated by current standards. Regardless of how black Southerners participated, whether voluntary or involuntary, one thing is certain: the thousands of slaves and free persons of color in the South are the most forgotten group of the Civil War. They, too, should be remembered for the suffering, sacrifices and contributions they made.

Actually, we have a great deal of information about tens of thousands of black southerners who fought with the army – the Union army that is.

Note: Joseph Glatthaar’s General Lee’s Army: From Victory to Collapse is scheduled for release in March and supposedly analyzes the role of blacks in Lee’s army.  I should be receiving a review copy in about a week or two.


Thinking of James I. Robertson During This Difficult Time

I just learned via the Free State of Patrick Blog that James I. Robertson lost his wife Libba this past week.  My thoughts go out to Professor Robertson and his family.  Here is the obituary:

(Libba) Green Robertson, 77, of Blacksburg, died Wednesday, February 6,
2008, at Kroontje Health Care Center. She was born in Danville, Va., on
April 30, 1930, to the late Howard P. and Alma Wells Green. She is
survived by her husband, James I. (Bud) Robertson Jr., of Blacksburg;
daughter, Beth Brown, of Blacksburg; sons and daughters-in-law, James
I. III and Tricia Robertson, of Tega Cay, S.C., and Howard W. and Beth
Robertson, Oakton, Va.; seven grandchildren, David and Heather Brown,
Courtney and Christopher Robertson, Payton, Ethan and Ansley Robertson;
sisters and brothers-in-law, Ann and Jack Walton, of Danville, Bobbie
and Courtenay Harrison, Virginia Beach, and Gayle and Joe Miller, of
Danville. Also grieving is her loyal companion, Bubba. Special thanks
go to loving care-givers, Lorraine Elliott and Lois Hubbard, to the
helpful providers of Good Samaritan Hospice, and to the staff of
Kroontje Health Care Center. Libba never met a stranger or made an
enemy. Funeral services will be conducted at 2 p.m. Sunday, February
10, 2008, in the Blacksburg United Methodist Church with the Rev.
Reggie Tuck officiating. Interment will follow in the Westview
Cemetery, Blacksburg. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to any
children’s charity.
The family will receive friends from 1 to 3 p.m.
and 6 to 8 p.m. Saturday evening, February 9, 2008, at the McCoy
Funeral Home, 150 Country Club Drive, S.W., Blacksburg, Virginia.