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Additional Reflections on North and South Magazine

Now that I’ve had some time to reflect on yesterday’s post I wanted to take a few minutes to share a few thoughts that I probably should have included in the original entry.   I want it to be crystal clear that my comments are a function of my long-standing support and admiration for Keith Poulter’s work with North and South since its inception back in 1997.  I remember the excitement I felt when the first issue hit the newsstand, which included articles by Stephen Sears, Geoffrey Perret as well as an interview with Shelby Foote.  Poulter laid out the goals for the magazine in his first editorial:

The articles in North and South will be fresh because they will be based in most cases on ongoing research.  In these pages you will get a preview of what will be in next year’s books, not a rehash of what was in last year’s.  You will get accurate history because our writers are in most cases professional historians, rather than professional writers with little background in history. (Issue #1, 1997, p. 5)

Issues to follow included articles by Charles Dew, James McPherson, William Freehling, Gary Gallagher, as well as other top-notch professional historians.  I never paid much attention to the other Civil War magazines as they tended to tell the same tired stories about the same battles and leaders.  N&S offered non-traditional topics without losing the focus on the military; perhaps it would be more accurate to suggest that the social history served to reinforce and render the military even more intelligible for a readership that probably tends to steer clear of non-military topics.  I wrote numerous book reviews between 1998 and 2002 and appreciated the chance to try my hand at writing.  When I began teaching American history and the Civil War N&S proved to be an ideal source and one which I continue to utilize on a regular basis.  There is no better way to introduce high school students to the latest interpretations within the field.  I even wrote an article about this for the Organization of American Historians publication, Magazine of History titled "Using North and South Magazine in the Classroom."

What I value most about the magazine is that it functions as a bridge between academic historians and more general Civil War enthusiasts.  Academics constantly tout the virtues of making connections with the general public and Poulter has provided an ideal format.  His success and influence can be seen in the recent changes that both America’s Civil War and Civil War Times have made in terms of content.  Simply put, there is way too much crap out there on the internet that poses as serious Civil War scholarship; somewhere out there in that pile is where Bradley’s piece belongs.  I would like to believe that the Bradley publication is a fluke and that N&S will maintain its high standards and continue to offer solid analytical history that is both well written and entertaining. 

How Did This Article Make It Into North and South Magazine?

It's bad enough that the latest issue of North and South magazine (Vol.10, No. 5) arrived completely mangled, but then I forced myself to wade through a god-awful article on the U.S. Army's targeting of Southern civilians by Michael R. Bradley ["In the Crosshairs: Southern Civilians Targeted by the US Army" pp. 48-61].  The article is essentially a handful of accounts that detail some pretty horrific encounters in northern Alabama, Middle and West Tennessee and central and western Kentucky.  There is little distinction made between region and time and there is almost a complete lack of analysis.  Here is Bradley's argument:

That story is one in which the United States army deliberately targeted Confederate civilians and prisoners of war in a war of vengeance; it is a story of unlawful killings on a much greater scale than Fort Pillow; it is a story which reveals a policy decision reached by the United States government to kill without mercy.  Human life became exceedingly cheap during the Civil War, and the United States Army was the first to discount its value. (my emphasis, p. 48)

Now before some of you out there assume some vaguely defined anti-southern bias at work let me assure you that I am well-versed in the literature on Union military policy in the South.  I recommend Mark Grimsley's Hard Hand of War as essential reading, which of course, Bradley fails to reference.  This is a very important topic and it would be nice if more historians addressed it, but to do so involves careful analysis and the utilization of a wide range of sources.  Bradley relies almost exclusively on the O.R. and Provost Marshall's Records along with a smattering of postwar records and a few wartime accounts.  In other words, the sources utilized for this piece are weak. [Note: Drew Wagenhoffer offers a similar assessment of Bradley's book on the subject which was published by Burd Street Press.]

It's hard to make sense of most of Bradley's examples of Union atrocities against southern civilians.  His accounts raise all kinds of questions that he has no interest in exploring.  The language is overly emotional and prevents Bradley from making any sense of the complex dynamics that must have been at work depending on the time and place of the incident.  Let me give you one example that should make my point sufficiently clear.  After discussing Major General Robert Milroy – who is characterized as a "failure as a battlefield commander" and as a result "took out his frustrations on the civilian population under his control" – Bradley examines the policies and command of Fielding Hurst in West Tennessee. Bradley correctly notes that Hurst was "a prominent farmer and one of the largest slaveholders in the counties along the Tennessee River" but makes no effort to unpack its significance.  In other words, he says absolutely nothing about how the violence which he unleashed on Confederate units reflects deep-seated tensions that no doubt can be traced back to the antebellum period.  Unfortunately, Bradley just lumps this story in with all the others as an expression of a policy formulated at the highest levels of government which he never even thinks of corroborating.  He completely ignores the fact that Hurst as well as others discussed in his article are white southerners. 

Bradley completely goes off the deep end as he tries to stitch together some kind of conclusion.  He anticipates Reconstruction with the following:

The end of the war did not bring an end to the violence.  The seeds sown by the killing of civilians by U.S. forces produced the bitter fruit of the Reconstruction struggles and provided emotional fuel for the rejection of the goals the Radical Republicans adopted for the Freedmen. (p. 59)

For Bradley Reconstruction is to be understood as the white North v. the white South even though right under his nose is the evidence that would allow him to draw more sophisticated distinctions and observations about the postwar period.  For someone who studies the war in the area of Tennessee, Kentucky and northern Alabama it is unfortunate that he is apparently not familiar with the work of Stephen V. Ash.  But wait, it gets better:

Was the targeting of Confederate civilians and, on occasion, prisoners-of-war, a policy of the United States government?  Did these actions have the approval of the Lincoln Administration?  Before the war began some extreme voices in the North had approved the idea of a slave revolt which would involve the deaths of hundreds, even thousands, of people in the South.  The paradigm invoked was the revolt which led to the creation of Haiti at the beginning of the nineteenth century, a race war in which no mercy was shown on either side.  John Brown espoused the idea of mayhem, despite which Brown's supporters proclaimed him a martyr to a holy cause.  This attitude shows there existed a core group espousing such extreme hatred of Southern whites that wholesale deaths were thought a desirable end.  At the beginning of the war Lincoln tried to hold these extreme views at arm's length, but the seed had been planted and the war nourished them.  The belief that Confederates could and should be exterminated was accepted by some United States soldiers early in the war, as events in north Alabama and at Murfreesboro show.  (my emphasis, p. 59)

Bradley closes by noting that this topic has been neglected by Civil War historians.  He should have said that he didn't bother to survey the historiographical terrain in this area.  Studies by Mark Grimsley, Stephen Ash, Michael Fellman, and John Marszalek would be a great place to start. 

What bothers me most is that somehow this article made it into the pages of North and South. The publication of Bradley's piece is perhaps a sign that editorial standards at the magazine need to be tightened. 

As for me I may be switching subscriptions next time around.

Playing Civil War Soldiers in a Lost Cause Driven Market

Thanks to Brooks Simpson for picking out such a heart-warming early Christmas gift for me.   Brooks offers a brief comment on the failure of a toy company to include black soldiers in its depiction of the fighting at the Crater:

If all the soldiers involved represented in such toy sets and model sets to commemorate certain battles are white, that leaves an impression on the viewer, collector, or child playing with toys.  It’s not as if there are not Union black Civil War model soldiers: there are sets representing the 54th Massachusetts, for example.  But play is one way in which people get interested in history, and if companies who manufacture these models fail to include black soldiers when it would be appropriate to include them, kids (and adults) might conclude that all Civil War soldiers were white.  This need not be the case: toys do leave impressions.

I couldn’t agree more with Brooks on this issue, but I do find it interesting that he is surprised that toy companies have not made historical accuracy their top priority.  After all, companies that market Civil War related items are concerned with appealing to as broad a customer base as possible and that base is historically rooted in a Lost Cause interpretation of the war.  We are more likely to see black Confederates before we see black and white Union soldiers at the Crater.  I’ve written numerous times about the decision on the part of the producers of the movie Cold Mountain to delete a scene set after the Crater fight which shows an angry Confederate shoot a severely wounded black man at close range.  Can there be any doubt as to why that was done?

Those of you interested in the continued influence of the Lost Cause on Civil War culture will want to read Gary Gallagher’s forthcoming book, Causes Won, Lost, & Forgotten: How Hollywood and Popular Art Shape What We Know About the War [(UNC Press) Amazon shows a release date of March 22, but UNC tends to release books earlier.]  He includes an entire chapter which provides a statistical analysis of recent popular artworks and magazine advertisements.

Works of art produced for the Civil War markets in the past twenty-five years would warm the hearts of former Confederates who laid the groundwork for the Lost Cause tradition.  To a quite astonishing degree, Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, and the soldiers they commanded have emerged triumphant in the world of contemporary painters and sculptors.  The subjects the artists select, as well as many of the interpretive materials that describe their pieces, mirror the original Lost Cause art of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.  In some ways, recent artworks have gone beyond those of the Lost Cause era by emphasizing the religious devotion of southern leaders and, in a few disturbing cases, placing black soldiers in Confederate ranks.  The St. Andrew’s Cross battle flag also appears more prominently and frequently, rendering current art more readily identifiable as Confederate than many paintings and prints of the immediate postwar decades.  Largely absent are important elements of late-nineteenth century artworks devoted to the triumphant Union.  Most obviously, Ulysses S. Grant, William Tecumseh Sherman, and Philip H. Sheridan, together with their victories, occupy a decidedly secondary position that belies their position in northern conceptions of national triumph. (p. 136)

Between 1962 and 2006 Gallagher found roughly 1,700 advertisements in the pages of three popular Civil War magazines with decidedly Confederate subjects.  During that same time-frame there were only 600 devoted to the Union.  Here is the breakdown by decade:

1960s    10 Confederate, 4 Union

1970s    59 Confederate, 12 Union

1980s    408 Confederate, 81 Union

1990s    919 Confederate, 118 Union

2000-05    300 Confederate, 118 Union [statistics can be found on p. 138]

There is very little recent Civil War art devoted to battles that involve USCTs.  I have a giclee edition of Troiani’s painting of the Crater hanging in my office which shows black Union soldiers standing defiantly in the face of an attack by the 6th Virginia of Weisiger’s brigade.  While Americans have no doubt become more aware of the service of black Union soldiers since the release of Glory in 1989 I suspect that we are still far from the subject becoming an object of our imagination.

Brooks mentioned that soldiers in the 54th Massachusetts have been molded into toy soldiers.  Let me go out on a limb here and suggest that this has more to do with the popularity of Denzel Washington and Morgan Freeman than it does with actual history.  It is Washington and Freeman who humanized these men for most people and made them acceptable or marketable in this case.  However, to the extent that USCTs can be purchased in various forms we are unlikely to see them depicted accurately in battle.  Who is going to purchase a black Union soldier bayoneting a Confederate or a scene at the Crater after the battle which shows a black soldier being executed?  In the end, the state of the market reflects what most Civil War enthusiasts are comfortable with.

Hey Brooks, I will be expecting my present in the mail.

“Will try to get the letter off to day. I was up after coons all night so want to sleep to day.”

1_2 2_2

Description: "And ’twill live in song and story, Though its folds are in the dust" is printed at right.  The back has a great description:  "One of the most pleasing as well as spectacular features of the great re-union of C.S.A. Veterans, which was held in Richmond in May-June 1907 for the purpose of participating in the exercises incident to the unveiling of the Jeb Stuart & Jefferson Davis Monuments, was the arrangement and costuming of 600 school children in the form and colors of a Confederate battle flag.  The children occupied a stand within the Lee Monument enclosure, and aroused the greatest enthusiasm by their singing "Dixie" and other Southern Airs". 

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!