I had a wonderful time last night up in Fredericksburg where I presented a talk on Confederate military executions to the Rappahannock Valley CWRT. About 45-50 people showed up for the dinner and talk. Before dinner I had a nice chat with historian Richard L. Dinardo. As for the talk they were very attentive and their questions were first rate; the group has given me plenty to think about. I was both surprised and pleased to see that the group uses evaluation forms for each speaker, which makes it easier to decide if there will be a return performance in the future. Given the number of dreadful speakers I’ve heard at my roundtable I made sure to take a copy to give to our president. There is nothing worse than knowing that you gave up a couple of hours in the evening for nothing. Luckily I didn’t have to wait for the evaluations to get a sense of whether I would be asked back next year; I am already on the schedule for March 2008.
On a different note I was horrified to see the continued urban sprawl that is making its way west along Rt. 3. The shopping malls are popping up everywhere. One of my favorite stops whenever a give a tour of the Chancellorsville battlefield is the Zoan Church. Now I haven’t been to Fredericksburg in about a year, but there is a brand new up-scale community right behind the church. There seems to be no end to it and, more importantly, there doesn’t seem to be a way to stop it.
It was a long drive home, but definitely worth it.
Just a note to remind those of you in the Fredericksburg area that I will be speaking tonight at the Rappahannock Valley Civil War Roundtable. [Click here for details.]The topic will be Confederate military executions. From Confederate Veteran (June 1899) by Mercer Otey:
“It was in this movement, and shortly after I had enrolled in the battery as a private, that I witnessed a sight that clung to me for many a long year. Five Confederate deserters who had been recaptured in the mountains of West Virginia had been tried by court-martial, convicted, and sentenced to be shot. It was their second offense, and no palliating circumstances could be offered. The old Stonewall Brigade, to which they belonged, was drawn up in a three-sided square, the five men blindfolded, knelt at the head of five pits; the firing squad, half of whose guns contained blank and the remainder ball cartridges, stood at twenty paces distant; a solemn silence pervaded the scene, while the August sun blazed down on that band of veterans of many a bloody battle. They had braved death on half a score of fields, and cared little for cannon’s roar or musketry rattle, but now it was different; their nerves were not strung to that tension that is caused by the excitement of battle, and which generally superinduces indifference. This looked so cold, so deliberate, almost murder; but the discipline of the army must be maintained” After marching next to the bodies, “My knees grew weak and the tears came gushing to my eyes as I remembered that far away in their mountain homes perchance some loved others and babes would watch in vain the return of these men who had sacrificed honor and life for their sakes”
There has been a great deal of talk in the Richmond newspapers surrounding negotiations between the Museum of the Confederacy and the Virginia Division Sons of Confederate Veterans. Under the leadership of Brad Bowling the group proposed taking control of the museum’s board of directors as a way of beginning the process of addressing the museum’s financial problems and news that it is considering a move. Before saying anything more I want to assure all of you that according to a reliable source the museum is not and has no plans to talk with the SCV.
In a recent issue of the Richmond Times-Dispatch Bowling admitted that if they were given the opportunity to run the museum they would close the doors for six months, reorganize the staff (we know what that means) and keep the museum in Richmond along with its name. He also took the opportunity to state openly that under new guidance museum curators would be prevented from creating exhibits that it believed to be "politically correct." I assume the SCV would bring along their own "curators." In other words, the museum would stop doing serious public history. More to the point Bowling wants to turn the museum into a "shrine to the Confederacy" which he believes was the original purpose of the museum. Notice the lovely religious overtones. Families would gather inside the MOC not to learn about the history of the South, but to pray.
It is important to keep in mind that not everyone in the SCV supports Bowling’s goals. There are plenty in the rank and file who are quite content with the management at the MOC and its agenda. It is important for these people to voice their concerns and try to reign in Bowling and others who are currently engaged in what appears to be a publicity campaign for the SCV rather than concern surrounding the MOC. They may be doing more damage to the future of the MOC than they care to admit.
Again, the important point for now is that the MOC is not and has no plans to talk with the SCV about any type of involvement in the management of its operations.
I was wondering this morning how long it might take for reviews of The View From the Ground: Experiences of Civil War Soldiers to appear. I decided to do a search and found a very short review in the Charleston Post and Courier. The review was written by Richard Hatcher who works as a historian for the NPS at Fort Sumter and is co-author of an excellent book on Wilson’s Creek. I was struck by his evaluation of the book and given that the review is so short it is presented here in full:
The title suggests this book is composed of a series of letters, diary or journal entries, or even reminiscences of Union and Confederate soldiers. It is not. It is, in fact, a collection of nine academic essays on a number of contemporary issues soldiers faced.
These essays cover a variety of subjects, each of them between 18 and 20 pages. Union soldiers’ views on slavery and race and the manner in which Christians handled temptations of camp life present two general subjects. Discussions of how soldiers of the Fourth Texas Infantry accepted their officers, and which states’ troops deserved or earned the honor of victory at the Battle of the Crater represent more specific topics. Nine separate authors have contributed to this work, and while their styles differ widely, each reads as if it was directed toward an academic audience and not widespread Civil War readers.
It is likely that ‘The View From The Ground’ will appeal only to a limited number of readers outside the ranks of professional Civil War historians.
First let me say that as a descriptive claim Hatcher may in fact be right that this volume will only appeal to a select group of readers. That said, for the life of me I don’t understand why anyone would agree to review any book in a popular newspaper if all that is to be said is tantamount to: This book isn’t for you. Now maybe I am being overly sensitive given that I am a contributor to this volume, but Hatcher’s comments touch on one of the primary motivations behind my research and this blog. I have no doubt that there are plenty of people whose interest in the Civil War is simple entertainment and storytelling; however, there are just as many people who are willing to think critically and take their knowledge to the next level.
Instead of simply acknowledging what may in fact be descriptively true why not suggest that those people who are looking to deepen their understanding of soldier life would do well to consult this book. After all aren’t many people interested in the religious and political lives of soldiers? If you can’t say that the essays would help deepen understanding in these areas than say why, but to suggest that only fellow academics will find these essays interesting implies that there is no room for the general reader to further their understanding. I do not write only for fellow academics. Assuming that my Crater manuscript sees the light of day I would be appalled to read a review implying that the study is suitable only for people who have advanced degrees, teach in a college or university or happen to live in the Northeast.
A newspaper review is going to reach a wide audience; why not encourage people to broaden and deepen their understanding of the Civil War whenever possible. God knows we desperately need it.
[Hat-Tip to GreeneSpace]
On February 22 I posted an item in response to National Review writer David L. Schaefer who criticized the NPS for part of its website on the Lincoln Memorial which contextualizes the building and commemoration of the site. The article "Deconstructing the Lincoln Memorial" cites one short page of the website and generalizes from there in terms of the NPS’s failure to consider Lincoln’s emancipation record and role in saving the Union. Even after a cursory scanning of the website it was clear that the NPS offers a fairly sophisticated account of the history of Lincoln and goes far in establishing his importance to the overall history of the country. Unfortunately I learned today that the specific page referred to in the National Review piece has been deleted.
Of course there is no way to know whether it is coincidence, but I suspect that pressure was placed on the NPS to delete it. It’s disappointing to know that a poorly written article by someone who clearly had his conclusions drawn about the politics of the NPS could have this much influence on an institution that takes its responsibility of interpretating America’s historic places seriously. We need to understand our memorials and other public sites not simply as memorials to the past, but as reflections of the individuals and society that created them. Why would this be any different for the Lincoln Memorial?