I am looking forward to visiting Gettysburg this summer to join some friends for a battlefield tour. All of us are interested in seeing what the NPS has done with the exhibits in the new visitors center. I’ve read a number of posts from fellow bloggers who are concerned about the book selection in the gift shop. Apparently, the gift shop is catering to the average visitor who has little need to wade through 20 titles on the fighting at the Wheatfield. I sort of understand the disappointment of the veteran Gettysburg dudes who want the visitors center to be both a popular tourist destination and a place where the most obscure studies are made available, but we shouldn’t make too much of this.
My advice is for the NPS to offer whatever the hell sells and generates money. If that means Newt Ginghrich’s alternative history of the battle and Jennie Wade dolls than so be it. The NPS can easily satisfy its mission of educating the public without having to stock its shelves with titles that appeal to a select few. The NPS ought to include some titles that reflect the contours of the campaign and the broader issues of the war – mission accomplished.
One of the reasons I love teaching American history during the post-WWII period is it affords me the opportunity to utilize a wide range of online primary sources. One of my favorite sites is the Miller Center’s Presidential Recordings. Students can listen to the White House tapes of every president from Franklin Roosevelt onward and they provide a unique opportunity to listen in on "history-in-the-making." One of my favorite recordings is a telephone conversation between Lyndon Johnson and the president of the Haggar Pants Company in August 1964 shortly after the incident in the Gulf of Tonkin. Apparently, Johnson needed new slacks and as president of the United States he decided to order directly from a fellow president. My students always get a kick out of this one.
Today we listened to a few Nixon tapes, one in which he discusses John Kerry’s 1972 congressional testimony with Kissinger and Haldeman [Haldeman was such a sleaze] and the other in which Nixon speculates that Mark Felt is leaking information to Bob Woodward during the Watergate investigations. You can spend hours listening to these tapes.
I’ve never watched the NFL Draft before, but I made an exception this past Saturday as my former student Chris Long went second overall to the St. Louis Rams. I taught Chris his junior year and had a blast doing so. He brought an incredible amount of energy to the classroom and refused to see himself simply as an athlete. Chris was actively involved in just about every discussion, especially when the conversations turned to politics. He clearly made the right move in staying here in Charlottesville to play football and attend school at the University of Virginia; he obviously benefited from the continued guidance of his parents and specifically his father. Whenever I saw Chris in town I made it a point to ask him about his studies before sports and he was always enthusiastic to talk about his professors and classes. The St. Louis Rams have made a great choice. They not only picked up a super athlete, but a team player and active community member. This couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy.
By the way, keep any eye out for Chris’s younger brother Kyle who will play baseball next year for Florida State University. Kyle is a pitcher and is just about as big as Chris. Needless to say he’s got a rocket for an arm.
I can’t report on all of the wonderful public ceremonies during Confederate Heritage and History Month, but this one seems to capture the spirit behind the commemorations. On Friday a small group of local SCV and UDC memories took part in a 21-gun salute in front of the Nathan Bedford Forrest monument in downtown Hattiesburg, Mississippi:
Members of the Sons of Confederate Veterans and the United Daughters of the Confederacy attended. A half-dozen men dressed in period costumes and about four men rode in on Harleys, wearing leather jackets that read “Mechanized Cavalry.” “We’re not re-enactors. We ride bikes,” said Jerry Cooley, 58. The Mechanized Calvary has about 10 members in South Mississippi and about 1,000 nationally, all of them members of the Sons of Confederate Veterans.
And the purpose of it all?:
“We do this to educate the people,” Cooley said. “We know what our ancestors fought for. Our ancestors did not fight over slavery. Both sides had slaves. The Union had slaves. Slavery was wrong,” he said.
Here’s to Education!
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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