April 9, 1865

The surrender of Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia on April 9, 1865 effectively ended the Civil War and  slavery in the United States.  Why are we no longer "expected to join in singing Patriotic songs" to mark the occasion?

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Remembering Lee: A Response to Brendan Wolfe

Brendan Wolfe, who both blogs at the Biederbecke Affair and works as the editor of the VFH’s Encyclopedia Virginia [Encyclopedia Virginia Blog], responded to my last post with an incredibly thought-provoking question.

Per your instructions, I clicked when I was finished crying, and now I want to make a comment about your post regarding Lee’s decision to resign from the Army and accept a commission from Virginia.  I sympathize with your efforts to bring more balance to the historical consideration of this moment; I even sympathize with your tendency to chide men like Al Stone for their myth-steeped take on the Civil War.

But with the name of your blog in mind, I’m wondering if you could take the discussion a step further: What does this “rewriting” of Lee’s decision say about how and why we remember the Civil War?  Perhaps we are too quick to turn to “honor” as an explanation, but don’t we have a cultural (and for a time even political) need to exonerate Lee? To bring him back into the American fold by not judging his decision too harshly, by not — as unnamed critics do in the
newspaper article you link to — calling him a traitor?

The myth of Lee may be bad history but it’s also played an important role in putting the country back together again.  I know there are all sorts of caveats and potential objections to that last statement, so I’m curious to know what you think.

My response follows.

[click to continue…]


I Feel His Pain…

though I am not quite sure whether it’s Al’s or Robert E. Lee’s.  Click here when you are finished crying.

Update: Just a few of the sources that Al Stone uses to interpret R.E. Lee.

Gods and Generals by Jeff Sharra

Killer Angels
by Michael Sharra

The Last Full Measure
by Jeff Sharra

The South was Right
by James & Walter Kennedy

A view of the Constitution of the United States of America
by William Rawle

When in the Course of Human Events
by Charles Adams

Republic of Republics
by Bernard J. Sage

Anyone surprised?

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Florida’s Confederate Plates Bill Dead in the Water

[Hat-Tip to John Maas]

It looks like Representative Don Brown’s bill to offer Confederate plates to Florida’s residents is going nowhere.  Here is what Brown had to say:

It is not about racism, it’s not about slavery, it is about an acknowledgement that many of these people’s families have documented that they had friends and family or family who lost their lives fighting for a cause they believed in.

Fair enough, but why not honor your Confederate heritage  in a way that does not involve defacing a sacred symbol?


What Should Be Done With the Electric Map at Gettysburg?

So, I’ve been reading about the plans of the National Park Service at Gettysburg to shut the lights out permanently on the electronic battlefield map that has been used since 1973 to introduce visitors to the broad contours of the battle.  Since I only visited Gettysburg for the first time in the mid-1990s I am not holding onto any sentimental feelings that go back to family vacations.  I do understand and appreciate those people that are holding onto such memories and I especially appreciate the desire on the part of the exhibit designer’s family to see it preserved.  I agree that it is an effective teaching tool, but that can easily be accomplished, and can no doubt be done more effectively, with today’s technology.  What I don’t understand is why people are so surprised by this decision.  Did anyone really believe that room would be made for this exhibit in a brand new visitor center?  More to the point, given the limited budget that the NPS works with and the ways in which available funds could be applied it would seem to me to be irresponsible to save it.  Does anyone have a figure on how much it will cost to store it properly beyond plans to cut it up into small pieces and store it in a barn?

The website created to pressure the NPS doesn’t offer any suggestions whatsoever and instead takes a personal shot at Superintendent, John Latschar.  Actually, he’s right on the money, “It’s 100% antiquated.”  He went on to say in a recent interview that, “From an architectural standpoint, it takes up an immense amount of space and we have consistent problems with school kids falling asleep.”  Let’s get real, this is not a “national icon” but an exhibit whose time has come and gone.  I do think, however, that there is a great deal of significance that can be attached to the exhibit in terms of the history of how the battle has been interpreted and remembered by the NPS.

Click here for an overview of the new visitor center.