“When Johnny Comes Marching Home”: The Demobilization of the Army of Northern Virginia

I’ve gotten quite a bit done over the past few weeks, including a very rough draft of my essay on the demobilization of the Army of Northern Virginia which will appear in Virginia at War, 1865, edited by William C. Davis and James I. Robertson (University of Kentucky Press, 2010). This has not been an easy project given the dearth of sources that specifically address the journeys home for those who surrendered at Appomattox.  I’ve made good use of a number of published studies that examine the social dynamics of the Army of Northern Virginia as well as community studies.  Overall, I’ve enjoyed playing around with our tendency to draw sharp distinctions between the war and Reconstruction; needless to say that distinction has become much more fluid for me.  Anyway, this should give you a sense of some of the questions I’ve been thinking about.  Feel free to offer your own observations.  More importantly, I would very much appreciate references to any primary and/or secondary sources that you think may be helpful.

Lawrence Taliaferro’s civil war should have ended on very familiar ground when he crossed the Rappahannock River by Fredericksburg shortly after the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia at Appomattox Court House on April 9, 1865.  Instead, Taliaferro was struck by the drastic changes to the landscape.  Abandoned and rusting war machinery littered the ground as well as the bones of old mules and horses.  The surrounding forests had been leveled to serve the needs of warring armies throughout the conflict.  As Taliaferro traversed those final twelve miles to what he hoped would be the comforts of his family’s estate he became disoriented by the numerous paths that obscured a well-known road.  Eventually he lost his way and was forced to ask for directions.  An elderly black man, who Taliaferro later learned was an ex-slave of the family, escorted the confused and tired young man to his home.

Once home Taliaferro reunited with his father and sister and shortly thereafter an older brother who also served in Lee’s army.  With only a mule, horse, and a few ex-slaves who remained with the family the Taliaferro’s began the process of rebuilding their estate by collecting old bones and iron from the surrounding area, which they resold.  The Federal army, in recognition of the family’s hospitality during the war, supplied mules and food, which no doubt furthered the process of rebuilding and perhaps even a sense of optimism that a brighter future was possible.  No amount of succor from the Federal army, however, would have blinded Lawrence Taliaferro as well as his family to the challenges they would face in the immediate future.

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The Civil War: The Re-Enactments

[Hat-Tip to Caleb McDaniel]


Two Weeks Into My

blogging hiatus I have to admit to feeling just a bit lost.  I never realized just how hooked I am to blogging as an outlet.  Don’t be surprised to see a post every few days or so.  I hope my readers don’t think less of me or think of me as weak-willed (lol).


“See You In September” or maybe late August

It’s time for a little break folks.  Since November 2005 I’ve managed to balance blogging with my teaching and research.  Right now I simply have too much on my plate.  I have two major research projects that need to be completed by September, including the Crater manuscript and an annotated collection of the letters of Capt. John C. Winsmith who served in the 5th South Carolina.  In addition, I need to finish a chapter for an edited collection on the demobilization of the Army of Northern Virginia, as well as a few book reviews and encyclopedia entries, and prepare a talk for a conference in Philly in June.   

Thanks to all of you for your continued support.  I look forward to returning to the blogosphere re-energized and with a great deal to discuss.  Have a wonderful summer.


What Is Lee Thinking?

I appreciate the recent comments on memory and R.E. Lee  as I am working to complete an essay on how the Civil War, and the Confederacy in particular, is taught to high school students around the world.  The spectrum is broad and there were a few surprises along the way.  Discussing with students how their peers in other countries learn American history helps to bring important interpretive themes into sharper focus and makes it easier to see them as assumptions worth analyzing.

How about one final image.  This one is titled “The Christian General” by William A. Maughan.  You will be sad to hear that the limited edition print is SOLD OUT.  I’ve said it over and over, but it is worth repeating, that you can’t imagine a painting which depicts Grant or Sherman reading from the “Good Book” to an innocent child.  I can’t help but wonder what is on Lee’s mind as he stares beyond the pages of the Bible.  What do you think?