Another Step Forward

A special Happy New Year and congratulations to the dozens of same sex couples who were able to take advantage of a new law in New Hampshire which recognizes civil unions as of midnight.    What better way to ring in the new year than by acknowledging your love for one another in the eyes of the state and with the "same rights, responsibilities and obligations of marriage without calling the union a marriage."  Hopefully, in the not too distant future we will get over that little hurdle. 


Lt. Col. Theodore Lyman’s New Years Wish

Lt. Col. Theodore Lyman’s entry for January 1, 1864: "How are you New Year?  I do hope I may be spared to the next, and that we may eat our New Year’s dinner with Peace about us!"

I recently purchased Meade’s Army: The Private Notebooks of Lt. Col. Theodore Lyman, which is edited by David W. Lowe.  Many of you are no doubt aware of his letters, but I have to say that this is one of the most interesting diaries that I’ve come across in recent years.  Lyman’s descriptions of fellow officers and of the battlefield are incredibly rich.  The books is part of Lesley Gordon’s edited series for the Kent State University Press.  It is well worth the steep price tag of $45.

Happy New Year!


A Tough Review

Yesterday I completed a review of a new book on the battle of the Crater for the Journal of Southern History.  It was one of the most difficult book reviews I’ve had to write in recent years, in large part, because I could find nothing positive to say about it.  No doubt, the fact that I wrote it for an academic journal shaped my assessment of the book.  I had to critique the formal argument (to the extent that there is one) along with an analysis of how the study contributes to our understanding of the Civil War and fits into the relevant historiography.  Throughout the review I was conscious that I was writing for fellow historians and not a general audience.  This is not to suggest that a reviewer does not have an obligation to offer an honest critique for a non-academic audience, but clearly their interests diverge at some point.  I should note that most of my points would have been included regardless of venue.  Given the dearth of studies on the Crater the book at least provides a basic overview of the important figures involved as well as the planning and execution of the mine along with the flow of battle.  I have no doubt that for most general readers their interest in the battle ends here.

The most difficult part of a negative review is that it falls far from my feelings of admiration for anyone who can complete a book-length work of history – even if I don’t have anything positive to say about it.  I have found it very difficult to muster the kind of focus necessary to finish my own book project on the Crater.  It takes a certain ability to isolate one’s self for long periods of time and to block out potential distractions.  I am not very good at this as I love to play my bass guitar, browse blogs, watch bad television, and hang out with the wife whenever possible.  So, if you happen to be the recipient of a negative review by me know that you have my utmost respect for your accomplishment.


A Humbling Geography Test

[via Timothy Burke at Easily Distracted]

If you have a few minutes (you are reading this blog which suggests that you have plenty of time) check out The Traveler IQ Challenge.  I was both pleasantly surprised by what I know and horrified by what I thought I knew about the location of major cities, capitals, and significant historic sites.  On the world map challenge, and after a few attempts, I managed to complete 9 of 12 levels.  The precision of the placement of the flags and the measurement of how far you are from the actual destination is both rewarding and potentially embarrassing.  I had the most difficulty with Africa and the islands in the South Pacific.  Apart from Egypt and South Africa I was struck by how little I know about the geography of these two places.  Even when I had placed the flag within the correct national boundaries I was usually way off the mark. The nice thing about this little test is that it does help you learn some of the more obscure places; no doubt the unfamiliarity with certain languages makes it extremely difficult to even identify the correct hemisphere.  Finally, the simplicity of placing flags on a map and the race against the clock makes this mildly addicting.  So give it a shot.


Best of 2007

It’s time for the third annual installment of the best in Civil War books and blogs.  This is an opportunity to acknowledge those books that have been both a pleasure to read and which have left me with a great deal to ponder.  Once again this list reflects just a fraction of what I’ve read during 2007.  Congratulations to the winners.  Awards are in the mail.

Civil War Memory’s Hall of Fame: I developed this new category to honor some of my favorite readers.  This blog has attracted some real characters over the past two years and their devotion to this site and conviction that I am at war with all things southern is worth acknowledging.  I had a few people in mind for this award, but in the end I had to go with Jim (a.k.a. Anonymous).  When it comes to loyal readers few can match the amount of time Jim spends on my site or the time it has taken him to write negative feedback on at least 20 history blogs.  I couldn’t ask for better publicity.

Best Blog: HNN’s Cliopatria Note: All that needs to be said is that I begin each day with Ralph and the gang.

Best Civil War Blog: Craig Warren’s Civil War Literature.

Favorite History Book of 2007: Daniel Walker Howe, What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815-1848 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007).  Note: I am only about half-way through the book, but it is already clear that this is the work of a very talented historian.

Best Overall Civil War Military History: Chandra Manning, What This Cruel War Was Over: Soldiers, Slavery, and the Civil War (New York, Knopf, 2007.

Best Campaign Study: Scott C. Patchan, Shenandoah Summer: The 1864 Valley Campaign (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2007). 

Best Biography: Elizabeth Brown Pryor, Reading the Man: A Portrait of Robert E. Lee Through His Private Letters (New York: Viking, 2007).  Note: This is easily the single best volume on Lee.

Best Confederate Study: Jason Phillips, Diehard Rebels: The Confederate Culture of Invincibility (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2007).

Best Union Study: Garrett Epps, Democracy Reborn: The Fourteenth Amendment and the Fight for Equal Rights in Post-Civil War America (New York: Holt Publishers, 2007 [paperback edition]).

Best Slavery Study: David W. Blight, ed., A Slave No More: Two Men Who Escaped to Freedom (New York: Harcourt, 2007).

Best Memory Study: Robert Cook, Troubled Commemoration: The American Civil War Centennial, 1961-1965 (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2007).

Best Edited Collection: John Y. Simon, Harold Holzer, and Dawn Vogel, eds., Lincoln Revisited (New York: Fordham University Press, 2007).

Best Social History: Aaron Sheehan-Dean, Why Confederates Fought: Family & Nation in Civil War Virginia (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2007).

Best Myth Buster: Micki McElya, Clinging to Mammy: The Faithful Slave in Twentieth-Century America (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2007).

Some good things to look forward to in early 2008: Joseph Glatthaar’s, General Lee’s Army: From Victory to Collapse (March), Drew G. Faust, The Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War (January), and William Lee Miller, President Lincoln: The Duty of a Statesman (February).


From My Family To Yours

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!  My favorite holiday image.  The only thing better would be a painting of Stonewall celebrating Christmas with his slaves.

"Janie Corbin and Old Jack" by M. Kunstler


A Clarification of Values

Today I turned down a wonderful job offer to work as an education director for a museum.  The job would give me the opportunity to develop curricular materials for teachers and students, organize conferences and other workshops around the country, and work with some of the most talented Civil War historians in the country.  Since my interview on Tuesday I’ve been wracking my brains trying to figure out what to do.  I could not have been more impressed with the group that interviewed me; their commitment to educational outreach was solidified for me within the first five minutes.  In short, the job would be both challenging and rewarding. The first thing I said to my wife was that it would be incredibly exciting and enjoyable to work with the individuals who interviewed me.  Veteran readers of this blog know that I’ve been looking to reach out beyond the classroom  and this has led to different projects, including the development of exhibits at Monticello as well as presentations on how to teach the Civil War.  In the coming weeks I will begin a book project with my thesis adviser that will help teachers to better utilize Ken Burns’s Civil War documentary in the classroom. 

As I thought carefully about what to do I kept coming back to the same question.   As much as I viewed this particular change in career as an opportunity I wondered whether it would offer an experience comparable to what I get from teaching.  While I would be working with children of various ages it would not be over time.  My job allows me to build relationships with individuals that often outlast the time in the classroom.  A number of my students have gone on to study history and a few have even become teachers.  What I am most proud of is the the number of students who have said that they didn’t care much for the subject of history until my class.  I consider myself very lucky to have found a profession that allows me to spend time studying my passion, which is American history, as well as working with energetic and curious young adults.  I have complete freedom to shape my courses , including electives, and I am encouraged to take chances in developing curriculum.  On most mornings I wake up bright-eyed and anticipating a fun day.  What I love most is the sense of possibility that the classroom offers and a chance to learn something new during the course of the day.  I work with an incredibly talented and caring faculty and while I rarely get to see how students turn out I know I’ve made a difference for many over the years.  How many people can truly admit to this?

I also don’t mind admitting that I enjoy my summers and other vacations.  No doubt the time off makes it possible for me to engage in research and other writing projects – most of which would take a backseat in lieu of a full-time position.  My graduate degree in history from the University of Richmond was paid for entirely by my school and the administration continues to encourage me to attend conferences and other academic functions.  In many ways I lead a life not much different from a college professor.  All I need is a sabbatical and I am good to go.

In the end I still absolutely love the classroom and so that is where I want to be for the near future.   The nice thing about my situation is that I can continue to reach out in ways that  this job opportunity offered and not have to sacrifice what I value.  Hey, my choice also means I will continue to have time to blog, which I know is a horrifying thought for some.  I am truly a lucky guy. 

Enjoy the Holidays.


Responses to Vandalism of Confederate Statue in Montgomery

Perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised at the dearth of reactions to the arrest of three white teenagers for the recent vandalism of a Confederate statue in Montgomery, Alabama.  The rush to judgment sheds light on our assumptions about how race ought to determine how we remember the past. From the Florida Times-Union:

“Well, I was dead wrong in my perception that they were black,.  The fact that they were (white) makes it even more less forgivable because it enabled people to jump to false conclusions.”  — John Napier, former member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans

“I could have betted $100 million that they weren’t black. Black people don’t do things like that.  I knew they were white and they were educated whites because of the Nat Turner reference.” — State Rep. Alvin Holmes, D-Montgomery (African American)

“I tend not to be surprised at anything in this day and time.  I haven’t tried to analyze that little scribbling they did. If indeed that was a reference to Nat Turner, it seems quite strange that high school students would know about that and not about their own history.  There might be some left-wing bozo they’ve been teaching history with.” — Leonard Wilson, division commander of the Alabama Division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans

Hey Mr. Wilson, maybe these kids do consider Nat Turner to be part of their history.  Maybe they don’t draw artificial distinctions around what is worth remembering.