Creating A Usable Past One Gravesite At A Time

Over the past few years I’ve come to appreciate the relationship between historical memory and the control of our public/historical spaces.  The simple act of commemoration can shape the way individuals think about and pass on their collective pasts to future generations.  More importantly, there is a close relationship between those who control history as well as exert political control and vice versa.  I’ve written extensively about this in reference to the way white Virginians commemorated the battle of the Crater and how its particular form both set the boundaries for those who would be welcomed and others who were to be ignored or forgotten.  [For an excellent example of this process see the recent article by Caroline E. Janney titled "Written in Stone: Gender, Race, and the Heyward Shepherd Memorial" in Civil War History (June 2006).

I know I’ve harped on this issue of black Confederates way too much, but it does provide a wonderful case study of how groups create a workable past that satisfies their preferred historical narrative and a narrow set of values that are contained within.  What makes this particular case study of black Confederates so interesting is the complexity of the issue and the failure on the part of its advocates to define their terms.  Take the recent commemoration of a so-called black Confederate soldier’s grave in Tennessee:

On Sunday afternoon at Old Union Cemetery in southern White County, over
180 people gathered to pay a debt owed nearly 80 years. The group included
members of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, Sons of Confederate
Veterans, family and friends, all there to memorialize the service of Pvt. Henry
Henderson, a black Confederate soldier.

Henderson was born in 1849 in
Davidson County, NC. He was 11 years old when he entered service with the
Confederate States of America as a cook and servant to Colonel William F.
Henderson, a medical doctor. Records show Henry was wounded during his service,
but he continued to serve until the war’s end in 1865. He was discharged in
Salem, NC, age 16.

How does a servant or slave enter the service?  Notice that no attempt is made at telling the story from Henderson’s perspective.  And the reason is because his view is ultimately irrelevant as the ceremony has nothing to do with him.  Claiming that he "served" provides a sufficient reason to believe that the U.D.C. is engaged in the invention of a past that it finds comforting or worth commemorating.  Forget about analysis here and any pretense to trying to uncover a richer surrounding this individual.

How far does this distortion go?  U.D.C. officials used the event to offer their own estimates of the number of black Confederates:

The 60,000-90,000 black Confederate soldiers are often called "the forgotten
Confederates," but through the concerted efforts of the Capt. Sally Tompkins
Chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy along with the Sons of the
Confederate Veterans, several graves have been found in the Upper Cumberland and
have been or will be marked.

How exactly was this estimate arrived at?  Even the low end of the estimate is almost impossible to belive given that few white Southerners were even willing to consider the issue of black recruitment until very close to the end of the war in 1865. What we do know is that "[s]ons Dalton and Lee received Henderson’s first and last Tennessee Colored
Confederate pension check upon their father’s death in September 1926."  He is in fact listed as having received a pension though his unit is unknown.   What were the reasons behind the decision to issue such pensions?  We do know is that the on April 9, 1921 the Tennessee State Legislature passed an act which allowed those who served as cooks or servants (i.e., slaves) to file for a pension.  The application needed to include a signature or note from the former owner. 

So, what we have here is a ceremony commemorating a former slave who was brought into the army by his owner.   My guess is that many of the stories referencing black Confederates involve such individuals.  More disturbing is the blurring of the all important distinction of voluntary service and forced participation.  I am actually surprised that this practice isn’t more controversial given that so many Americans place such a high value on military service. 

What I find most disturbing about this story is the involvement of Henderson’s own family whose sincere intention to honor their ancestor has been appropriated for dubious purposes. 

"We’re here to honor him," said his great-grandson, Oscar Fingers, of
Evansville, IN. "I think he would be proud his family has come this far and to
know all we have done." Several other family members made the trip with Fingers
from Indiana for Sunday’s ceremony.

The less than smooth transition from slavery to freedom and continued legal discrimination that involved millions of African Americans that lasted well into the twentieth century is a story that needs to be told.   And the courage displayed along the way is worth celebrating as a quintessential American story.  There is, however, something disturbing about blurring history to create a past worth celebrating that is easier for some to swallow. 

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Lincoln And The Absurd

Over at A Lincoln Blog, Brian Dirck recently acknowledged a gap in Lincoln studies and called for someone to do a study of Lincoln and American humor.  While he cites Benjamin Thomas’s collection of essays I assume that Brian is looking for a more up-to-date study. 

What is it about Lincoln and his legacy that makes people laugh? Personally, I
think it’s the contrast between his dignity and stature, and some sort of
ironically absurd situation.
Or perhaps it’s simple iconoclasm. Anyway, it would
be an interesting subject to research. (my emphasis)

If we draw a distinction between the content of Lincoln’s own humor and the way we perceive him I believe that Brian is on to something here.  In short, he hits on the comedic foundation of what some philosophers call the problem of the absurd.  Here is how the philosopher Thomas Nagel frames the issue in his article, "The Absurd." [From the book Mortal Questions]:

In ordinary life a situation is absurd when it includes a conspicuous discrepancy between pretensions or aspiration and reality: someone gives a complicated speech in support of a motion that has already been passed; a notorious criminal is made president of a major philanthropic foundation; you declare your love over the telephone to a recorded announcement; as you are being knighted, your pants fall down. (p. 13)

Nagel goes on to the more interesting question of whether the desire to take ourselves seriously and the way in which "reality" can force us to step back and question what we do renders our lives meaningless.  According to Nagel, our ability to step back and question what we do in our daily lives does not reduce to meaninglessness, but that is not really important here.  What is important for now is that Nagel seems to acknowledge the humor that resides somewhere between these two perspectives.  And Brian is correct in raising this issue in reference to Lincoln. 

The very idea of a backwoods farmer with little education and an awkward physical disposition residing in the most powerful home in the country during the most serious time in American history is enough to make one laugh.  The image of Lincoln reviewing the troops on horse with his lanky and hairy legs exposed for all the soldiers to see immediately comes to mind.  How about the stories of Lincoln spread out on the hallway floor in his home in Springfield or answering the door in a disheveled state?  No doubt countless other examples abound.  What are your favorites?

The question I have is to what extent – if at all – was Lincoln aware of this tension?  According to recent studies Lincoln was incredibly ambitious, but at the same time he was capable of switching gears with relative ease to poke fun at himself.   I am reminded of his own summary of his military career swatting gnats during the Black Hawk War.  It does seem that Lincoln struggled with trying to balance his ambition – or the seriousness with which he took his public career – with an acknowledgment of the absurd.  And he did so with a very effective comedic vocabulary. 

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John C. Winsmith’s Civil War

The following letter by Captain John Christopher Winsmith appears in the current issue of America’s Civil War Magazine.  This is just a sample of the roughly 265 letters that are contained in the collection which is located at the Museum of the Confederacy.  I’ve mentioned a couple times that I am currently editing the collection for publication.  This letter should give you a sense of why I am so excited about thid project.

Introduction

Between April 14, 1861 and September 28, 1864 John Christopher Winsmith wrote home regularly while away serving in the Confederate army. His letters reveal a deep commitment to the Confederacy, an unshaken belief in the righteousness of the cause, and confidence that military leaders such as Robert E. Lee could be trusted to bring their armies to victory. Like many young Southern men, Winsmith was enthusiastic about going to war. His service as a lieutenant of Company G in the 5th South Carolina and later as a captain of Company H in the 1st South Carolina Infantry tested his commitment to Confederate independence on battlefields throughout the South.

Winsmith was born into a wealthy slave-owning family in Spartanburg, South Carolina. His father was a prominent physician and served in the state legislature from 1856 to 1858 and again from 1860 to 1862. In 1850 and at the age of fifteen Winsmith attended the Citadel Military Academy in Charleston, but did not graduate owing to poor conduct. In November 1851 Winsmith was brought in front of the Board of Visitors for “defraud[ing] a Negro woman by passing to her a copper coin covered with quicksilver for an amount greater than its value.” Though Winsmith was eventually reinstated his failure to return to school eventually led to a decision in April 1852 to drop his name from the register. Failure to graduate did not prevent Winsmith from preparing for his law degree, which he successfully completed in 1859.

While the Civil War may have disrupted his professional plans, Winsmith’s leadership abilities and character were tested on some of the bloodiest battlefields of the war. He saw action at Secessionville, Second Manassas, Antietam, Fredericksburg, and the Siege of Knoxville, Tennessee. As the son of a slave owner Winsmith benefited from the services of two servants, Spencer and Miles.

As the spring campaign of 1864 was set to open Winsmith’s unit was situated in eastern Tennessee before it was called to join Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia to meet the new offensive of the Army of the Potomac and its new commander, General Ulysses S. Grant. Winsmith’s Company H, which was commanded by Colonel Johnson Hagood, was assigned to Brigadier General Micah Jenkins’ Brigade, which was part of Major General Charles W. Fields’ Division of Lieutenant General James Longstreet’s First Army Corps. The letter which follows was written during the height of the “Overland Campaign” and conveys the horror of the fighting at the Wilderness and Spotsylvania. Winsmith’s unit arrived in time to take part in the second day’s fighting at the Wilderness. He witnessed the accidental shooting of Longstreet and notes in glowing terms Lee’s presence on the battlefield. At Spotsylvania, Winsmith’s unit now under the corps command of Major General Richard H. Anderson following Longstreet’s wounding was situated on the Confederate left with Major General Richard S. Ewell’s Second Corps on their immediate right. Jubal Early’s Third Corps (Winsmith did not know that Maj. Gen. Hill had been replaced due to illness) was situated on the Confederate right. Winsmith describes the continuous fighting at Spotsylvania in all of its bloody detail, but his references to Northern newspapers suggests that he understood the price that reports of continued fighting and large numbers of casualties would have on morale just as Abraham Lincoln was preparing for re-election in November. Whilehis letter of the 15th covers the period between May 6 – 15, the armies remained in their positions around Spotsylvania until May 21 before moving south towards the North Anna River.

Near Battlefield, Spotsylvania, Va.
May 15, 1864

My Dear Mother:

Through the mercy of God I have again been spared, after having passed through the most terrible and trying scenes. I, indeed, have cause to be humbly thankful for the protecting care which has been shown me.

I know you have been in great suspense to hear the results of the great battle which have just been fought, and I have endeavored to relieve your uneasiness at the earliest possible moment. The fighting has been so constant, and our movements so continued that I had no opportunity of writing till yesterday; and in fact I judged it best to await the end of the battles before writing, for I know you would still have been uneasy until you knew I was safe to the very last. Accordingly, on yesterday, deeming the battle decided, and having an opportunity to write, I sent a despatch [sic] to Father to be telegraphed from Richmond, and also wrote him by mail. I sent a list of casualties in my Co. to be published in the “Guardian,” on yesterday.

The series of battles which have just been fought, embracing scenes so terrible and consequences of such vast magnitude, I almost feel myself incompetent to give even a faint delineation of them. I will, however, endeavor to give you a running account of what has taken place in immediate connection with our Brigade and Division: Leaving Gordonsville on the 4th inst, late in the afternoon, we marched rapidly towards Orange C. H. and when near there moved to the right towards Chancellorsville. About 11 p. m. we halted, but before daylight on the 5th we were again in motion, marching rapidly all day. We left our bivouac on the morning of the 6th by daylight, and as we moved forward we could hear distantly the small arms of skirmishing, indicating to us that the “ball would soon “open.” On we moved, the firing growing more general. Wounded men followed each other in rapid succession, meeting us as we went in. The enemy was pushing forward his left wing with energy. Our Corps was soon in line, and Longstreet pressed on driving back the enemy’s lines to their log works. This is said to have been the turning point of the battle. Ewell and Hill had successfully repelled all assaults on the day previous, but now the enemy was bent upon turning our right flank. Our arrival was opportune.

Longstreet now planned and executed a dashing flank movement, moving forward his extreme right, and was driving the enemy in terrible confusion and with immense loss, when he was unfortunately wounded, though mistake, by a fire from a Virginia Regt. Gen. Jenkins was killed by the same fire. This occurred quite near our Brigade. There was a pause and almost perfect stillness for a time. Gen. Lee knew something was wrong. In a few moments this Great Chief was among us, calm and noble, a quiet confidence resting upon his face. I saw him then, and will never forget the scene. Maj. Gen. Anderson now took command of our Corps, and on we moved through the Wilderness – formerly a coaling ground, and now densely covered for miles in all directions with a dense growth of small oaks. The enemy had established a line of skirmishers, upon which we pressed hard: we then encountered their line of battle. The 5th Regt on our left wavered, ours faltered. The fire upon us was terrific. Col. Hagood called upon me to act as Field officer and to rally the men of our Regt; many were falling back, others lying down. My exposure was great, but I must do my duty, even if my life should be sacrificed. The Regt was rallied, and on we dashed, driving the enemy from his breast work, and planting our colors. The first in the Brigade – upon his line – the 5th soon came up on our left. The Regt on our right did not come up: We fired upon and fought the enemy there an hour, when we were ordered to fall back. Lt Bearden commanded the Co. after I took command as Field officer. The Co. lost in the movement 2 killed and 5 wounded. We fell back slowly, but the enemy did not pursue. He was whipped badly on our side and also on the left of our lines. Thus the battle of the 6th closed. On the 7th we had skirmishing all day. Our line of battle built strong works, and awaited the attack. I commanded skirmishers on the 7th. There were two wounded in my Co that day. The enemy did not attack. He attempted to cross the river, but was foiled in this. In the evening we learned he was retreating from our front, and falling back upon Fredericksburg. Our Corps moved to the right, marching all night. We arrived near Spotsylvania C. H. on the morning of the 8th. The enemy had been fighting our cavalry. We got into line of battle and moved forward, driving the enemy back in confusion. At 4 p. m. the enemy made a stand, and advanced to meet us. This attack was easily repulsed and we killed, wounded and captured many. On the 9th the fighting continued, and our men are in fine spirits. They have built strong lines and several assaults upon the different parts of our line are repulsed with great slaughter. The enemy leaves his dead in numbers on our front. The cannonading was heavy to day, also. On the 10th there is heavy cannonading and the enemy tries our lines at several points. Our lines are very strong and he loses heavily. Lt Bearden is to day in front, in command of my Co. as skirmishers. Two in that Co are wounded. I have been acting Field officer all the while since the battle of the “Wilderness.” On the 11th there is heavy skirmishing and cannonading all day, but no attack. We have headed the enemy off from Fredericksburg, he is forced to fight, and we can await his attack. On the 12th every thing indicated a general attack upon us by the enemy. He had pushed forward his artillery and rifle pits quite near us. The enemy now advanced in heavy columns, and attacks nearby our whole front. We allow him to come in our immediate front as near as 60 yards, and then a terrible fire from our lines hurls him back. Our artillery thunders upon his retreating and confused lines and his losses are immense. A portion of Ewell’s line was forced from its breastwork but they were regained, and the enemy lost heartily. After we had whipped the enemy on our front, our Brigade was ordered to report to Ewell to reinforce part of his line. We remained there all night, in a heavy rain, but returned to our original line on the 13th. We were now for the first time allowed a little rest and I assure you I enjoyed it very much. On the 14th, yesterday there was only desultory picket firing. In the afternoon, it was discovered the enemy had left his lines in our front. Our skirmishers pressed forward, and occupied his line, capturing stragglers, and any quantity of small arms, clothing, etc. It is reported the enemy is moving his force, and again that he is retreating across the Rappahannock. We moved down last night near the center of our line, where we now are resting quietly, and ready for any development. I have given you a brief outline of the stirring scenes through we have passed. The battles have been terrific. Our loss is large and unprecedented. His forces, I learn are much demoralized. Our men are in the best spirits. The loss in our Regt in killed and wounded is 176 larger than in any Regt in the Brigade. The men in my Co. generally behaved very well.

The Yankees were well supplied with every thing, and our men have had plenty coffee, sugar, crackers etc captured on the field. Blankets, oil, clothes, knapsacks etc were scattered around in rich profusion. I am now writing to you on Yankee paper. On the “Wilderness” battle field, a great many dead and wounded will not be found, the growth is so dense. I saw Yankees badly burnt, fire having spread through the woods. I wish the correspondent of the “Herald” and “World” could see these fields: I think their accounts would not much contribute to volunteering, even for thousand dollar bounties. You will see full accounts in our papers, and can know more of the general details, than I do.  I hear cannonading now, but do not know what movements are going on. I feel satisfied the Yankees will not make much of a fight soon, they having been so badly whipped.  I am quite well, and have stood all the fighting, marching, and exposure well. Miles has been very attentive to me, and has brought me provisions even when it was dangerous to do so. He is attached to me, and has been uneasy all the time. He has made several captures of Yankee [?].

I have not had a letter since we left Gordonsville, but hope to hear from the dear ones of home soon.  The matter of my promotion I think certain, and will be attended to by Col Bratton, as soon as we have a little quiet. I hope I may yet be able to get home soon.  Give my love to Father, Kate and Janie; and to Cousin Carrie and a kiss to Baby, when you write. Tell all the negroes howdye for me. Miles sends howdye to all his people, and to all at home.

your affect. & obt. Son
Christopher

John Winsmith remained with his unit as it continued to engage the Army of the Potomac at the North Anna River, Cold Harbor, and finally around the city of Petersburg where it remained for much of the remainder of the war. Winsmith was severely wounded in the right shoulder in an attack at Peeble’s Farm on September 29, 1864 and did not return to service. He was appointed to brigadier general of state militia in South Carolina in 1865 and served for one year.

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A Quick Thought About Black Confederates and U.S.C.T.’s

I find the "debate" surrounding so-called black Confederates to be quite interesting beyond the analytical questions of evidence and explanation.  While the number of interpretations has waxed and waned over the years we are clearly in a period of resurgence since the early 1990’s.  Is this surprising to anyone?  This resurgence came at just the time that the bitter debates surrounding the placement of the Confederate flag on statehouse grounds and the incorporation of the symbol on state flags were heating up.  The debate about black Confederates provides a way of divorcing the history of the Confederacy from the issues of race.  It fits neatly into the "virgin-birth theory" which suggests that the Confederacy was the result of abstract constitutional and philosophical debate.  The shortcomings of most of these explanations are obvious: they include a tendency to collect any and all stories that place a colored individual in the army on the battlefield without providing any serious analysis as to why that individual was present.  In addition, these interpretations (most of which you will only find on the Internet or small vanity presses) tend to focus on post-war sources, which must be treated very carefully for a number of reasons.

An additional problem that tends to be ignored is the question of what broader historical context could justify the existence of black Confederates.  What historical trend would allow us to better or more clearly understand why large numbers of black Southerners willingly fought for the Confederacy?  This is all the more significant given the very public statements of high-ranking political officials including Jefferson Davis and Alexander Stephens who clearly articulated the racial purpose of their government.  What exactly does it mean to say that black Southerners identified enough with the Confederacy that they were willing to risk their lives?  I have never read a satisfactory answer.  I guess if you are convinced by the Lost Cause interpretation than you are more likely to interpret any evidence as constituting a sufficient explanation.

As I finish my Crater manuscript I am thinking more about how my research connects to how the NPS ought to interpret the battle site.  The presence of African-Americans at the Crater as well as the army as a whole does fit into a broader historical context.  Historians such as Eugene Genovese and others have provided very sophisticated explanations of slave resistance, not simply from the perspective of their white owners, but from a perspective that takes seriously the on-going struggle to attain freedom and civil rights.  Abraham Lincoln may have provided the legal means that made the recruitment of black soldiers possible, but it was the initiative of tens of thousands of free and enslaved blacks who embraced the opportunity to fight. 

From this perspective the story of U.S.C.T.’s at the Crater is both one of promise and tragedy.  The tension between these two positions can be seen in the bravery exhibited by those who fought and were injured or died and the postwar decline into the abyss of Jim Crow and other forms of racial discrimination.  From the broadest perspective it is easy to situate the Civil War and the Crater specifically into a much richer and longer Civil Rights Movement. 

I would love to see the NPS in Petersburg do more to highlight this aspect of the story.  It would, quite possibly, bring more African Americans to our Civil War battlefields as well and the serious study of the subject.

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Major Cuts at Museum of the Confederacy

This morning the Richmond Times-Dispatch reports major cuts at the Museum of the Confederacy.  They include the following:

  • Museum will be closed on Wednesdays between Labor Day and Memorial Day
  • White House will be closed to public tours during the months of January and February
  • Salaries of its full-time employees have been frozen
  • Quarterly magazine will be published three times a year while the annual issue has been "axed"
  • All new exhibits will be postponed indefinitely ("Virginians in the Confederacy" will proceed as it is privately funded)

One wonders what it will take to get the Museum back on its feet.  Each of us can do our part by signing up for an annual membership.  This is a valuable resource for those of us who have a serious interest in the Civil War and the history of the South.  The Museum is in no way a mouthpiece for neo-Confederate organizations.  Their exhibits are first-rate and it houses some of the most important artifacts from American history. 

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Inside the Confederate Nation

The following review is scheduled to appear in Civil War Book Review.  I should say I assume it is set to appear as I sent the draft off a few weeks ago and have not heard anything from the editor.  The review did not make the most recent issue of the magazine.  The main reason I agreed to write the review was that this was the only way I would be able to get my hands on a copy since the book lists for $65.  Those are some “righteous bucks dude.”

Inside the Confederate Nation: Essays in Honor of Emory M. Thomas, Edited by Lesley J. Gordon and John C. Inscoe (Louisiana State University Press, 381 pp., ISBN 0807130990, $65.00 hardcover)

Recipients of a festschrift or honorary collection of essays are a rare breed. They are not simply an acknowledgment of scholarly accomplishments, but recognition of exceptional teachers who impart their own understanding of the past without limiting the imaginations of their students. Such is clearly the case in regard to this present volume, titled Inside the Confederate Nation: Essays in Honor of Emory M. Thomas edited by Leslie J. Gordon and John C.
Inscoe. The contributors are former graduate students, professional colleagues, and notable historians and their essays reflect a wide-range of the application of Thomas’s core ideas which are contained in his seminal studies, The Confederacy as a Revolutionary Experience and The Confederate Nation. While the essays reflect both agreement and disagreement with elements of Thomas’s ideas, collectively they are rooted in the rich interpretive
landscape of Thomas’s Confederacy. While all the essays are worth a close reading, time permits only a brief overview.

At the heart of Thomas’s scholarship is the idea of conflict and change within the Confederate experience. While the goals of the Confederate government were to preserve the South’s antebellum racial and political status quo, the experiences and uncertainties of war forced white Southerners to question and challenge received ideas surrounding gender and familial relationships as they negotiated and weighed the relative significance of state, regional, and national identity. It was the presence of women in the hospitals and factories along with the late approval of limited emancipation that reflects the extent to which white Southerners were willing to sacrifice for the purposes of Confederate independence and the maintenance of their national identity. This question of Confederate nationalism has attracted the attention of a number of historians over the past few decades. Unfortunately, the debate has all too often been framed around the question of whether Southerners created a collective national identity or whether their failure to do so constituted the backdrop for an inevitable failure. Problems abound for this debate, including the relatively dry question of how to conceptually analyze nationalism and what constitutes sufficient nationalism.

Fortunately, the eight essays that constitute the first and largest section of this volume on nationalism concentrate on the empirical question of how Southerners identified with the Confederate nation. Brian Wills examines the morale and nationalistic sentiments of the residents of Virginia, Suffolk and southeastern. Even during periods of Union occupation, according to Wills, residents of the area remained defiant in their refusal to take loyalty oaths and in their disruptions of an attempt to hold elections for the U.S. Congress in late 1862. Keith Bohannon explores the reenlistment option that was open to soldiers in the Army of Tennessee in early 1864. According to Bohannon, “Some soldiers saw reenlistment as not only a reaffirmation of their loyalty to the
Confederacy but also a public statement to southern civilians and the enemy.” (123) While Emory Thomas’s dissertation and first book focused on the transformation of Richmond during the war, David McGee applies his distinction between internal and external revolutions to the wartime transformation of Raleigh, North Carolina. The internal revolution that followed the secession of the state included a “massive shift in the economy, government
interference with private property, slaveowners discussing the possibility of slavery ending, public participation of women in political affairs, and increased involvement of the state and local governments in everyday life.” (54) The shifting of focus from the national to local perspectives highlights the complexity and constantly shifting identifications that waxed and waned in response to such conditions as the demands from Richmond and the presence of Union armies. Taken together the essays tell us much – in the words of historian Gary Gallagher – as to how the Confederacy managed to survive four years of bloody conflict.

Four essays examine the transformation of the family and gender relations during the war. Lesley Gordon explores how nationalism permeated the relationship of an elite young County, couple. Through a close reading of over a hundred letters between Bobbie Mitchell, who served in the army, and Nellie Foundren, Gordon concludes that a strong identification with the Confederacy fueled their relationship, which in turn encouraged their continued support of the Confederate nation. Jennifer Gross traces the increased attention on the part of the legislatures of the states ofThomas Georgia Virginia, North Carolina,
and Georgia to the growing welfare needs of widows and the children of those who had died while serving in the Confederate army. While the demands were initially directed and debated by state governments by 1864 the Confederate Congress had moved in to take responsibility. Gross contends that this shift in responsibility reflected “southerners’ beliefs that the national government should be responsible for their welfare and their suffering.” (219) The wartime experiences of those families who suffered the loss of a father or husband shaped the postwar debate concerning the amount and kind of public assistance that was due those who suffered the most on the home front.

Arguably the war brought about the sharpest disagreements and discussions over the issue of race. The Confederacy was established to protect its “peculiar institution,” however, the changing face of war moved the fault lines closer to positions that few could have imagined just a few short years before. The question of arming slaves and limited emancipation was one such debate. Philip Dillard investigates the debates in both Lynchburg, Virginia and Galveston, Texas; the former community expressed support while the latter resisted. He concludes that the difference lay in the proximity of Union armies and their identification with the war effort. Residents of Lynchburg were directly threatened through much of the war by Union armies and were more closely connected to Virginia’s bloody battlefields. The level of approval of plans to arm slaves, according to Dillard, “show that weary men and women who had seen destruction all about them were willing to make any and all sacrifices that might lead to victory.” (328)

The question of how someone like Charles Francis Adams along with the rest of the North came to perceive Robert E. Lee as a symbol of both reconciliation and reunion is explored by Nina Silber. Although Lee’s biography included traits that went beyond “the typical elements of white southern manhood,” (350) according to Silber, by the turn of the century he had come to be seen as the embodiment of the Victorian concepts of manhood and manly virtue. Adams’s 1907 speech at Washington and Lee University in which he praised Lee as the embodiment of “gentlemanliness” served to help construct the “marble man” image that historians, including Emory Thomas, have worked to correct in recent years.

This is an exceptionally strong collection of essays. They succeed in honoring the scholarship of Emory Thomas by exploring his own ideas even as the contributors apply those ideas to new and fruitful avenues of research.

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