Remembering Lt. Stephen Atkins Swails

Unfortunately we don’t see this particular image often enough.  If a black Civil War soldier makes the news it is usually the result of an SCV chapter trying to make a point about loyal black Confederates. Descendants500  Well, perhaps a few happened to find themselves on the front lines given that thousands of black slaves supported the various Confederate armies in various capacities.  In this photograph the descendants of Lt. Stephen Atkins Swails of the 54th Massachusetts stand alongside blue-clad reenactors along with a flag (on the far left) that belonged as much to Swails as it did any white soldier.  With the help of amateur historian Billy Jenkinson, Swails’ remarkable story is now part of the history books.  Following the war Swails remained in South Carolina and was eventually elected to the state legislature as a Republican.  Michele Hewitt Webster, Swails’ great-great-granddaughter had this to say:

"I think that he’d have to be disappointed that what he had done in this country, that his history — the history of our people — were not included along with everything else."

His political career was over by 1877 following an assassination attempt and the end of Reconstruction.  Swails secured a job in Washington, D.C. and died in 1900.  With the help of the African-American Historical Alliance a five-foot tall blue granite memorial was recently unveiled at Swails’ grave-site. 

Civil War Memory Nominated For Best Individual Blog (Cliopatria)

Thanks to fellow Revise and Dissent blogger Alun Salt for nominating this blog for a Cliopatria Award.  I was so impressed with the nomination that I decided to post it here.  Given the competition out there I don’t have a chance in hell of winning, but it is nice to know that there are people out there who think so highly of this project. 

I think a good blog is going to be regularly updated, thoughtful and
capable of surprising the reader, so my vote goes to Kevin Levin’s Civil War Memory.

All I ‘know’ about the American Civil War is what I’ve heard in largely
dire documentaries. The ones where someone with a croaky Southern
accent reads something like "Things got so bad we wuz pulling our own
teeth to use them fer shot, but that didn’t matter cuz we wuz fahting
for Liberty."

Kevin’s blog makes the Civil War a much more textured and interesting
event than the cartoon version that we get on the other side of the
Atlantic. You can dip into any week in the archive and pull out a gem.
With no effort at all I can point you at Remembering Memorial Day, Blacks in Gray or "Enough is Enough" or Confederate Military Executions. He’s also very good on the process of making history. From just this week we have Balancing Interpretation, Celebration, and Entertainment In Public Spaces, How Wide Is The Gap Between Professional Civil War Historians And The General Public? and Interpreting Slave Narratives.

The war may have been the Union versus the Confederacy, but reading
Kevin’s blog makes it clear that the modern United States has its
history on all sides of the war.

I will eventually nominate my favorite blogs, but there are so many that I don’t even know where to start.  So head on over to Cliopatria and say something nice about your favorite bloggers.  They deserve the kind words.

Interpreting Slave Narratives

Today my AP students will be interpreting two slave accounts from the WPA Narratives.  Many of you are no doubt familiar with these accounts and the challenges involved in using these sources.  Unfortunately, all too often these sources are used by people who have little analytical skill and/or are interested in picking those accounts that reinforce their own assumptions.  We follow this exercise up with a excerpt from Eugene Genovese’s Roll, Jordan, Roll: The World the Slaves Made.

The first interview was conducted by Jessie Butler who interviewed Susan Hamlin at 17 Henrietta Street, Charleston, South Carolina

On July 6th, I interviewed Susan Hamlin, ex-slave, at 17 Henrietta street, Charleston, S.C. She was sitting just inside of the front door, on a step leading up to the porch, and upon hearing me inquire for her she assumed that I was from the Welfare office, from which she had received aid prior to its closing. I did not correct this impression. and at no time did she suspect that the object of my visit was to get the story of her experience as a slave. During our conversation she mentioned her age. "Why that’s very interesting, Susan," I told her, "If you are that old you probably remember the Civil War and slavery days." "Yes, Ma’am, I been a slave myself," she said, and told me the following story:

"I kin remember some things like it was yesterday, but I is 104 years old now, and age is starting to get me, I can’t remember everything like I use to. I getting old, old. You know I is old when I been a grown woman when the Civil War broke out. I was hired out then, to a Mr. McDonald, who lived on Atlantic Street, and I remembers when de first shot was fired, and the shells went right over the city. I got seven dollars a month for looking after children, not taking them out, you understand, just minding them. I did not got the money, Mausa got it." "Don’t you think that was fair?" I asked. "If you were fed and clothed by him, shouldn’t he be paid for your work?" "Course it been fair," she answered, "I belong to him and he got to be get something to take care of me."

"My name before I was married was Susan Calder, but I married a man name Hamlin. I belonged to Mr. Edward Fuller, he was president of the First National Bank. He was a good man to his people till de Lord took him. Mr. Fuller got his slaves by marriage. He married Miss Mikell, a lady what lived on Edisto Island, who was a slave owner, and we lived on Edisto on a plantation. I don’t remember de name cause when Mr. Fuller got to be president of de bank we come to Charleston to live. He sell out the plantation and say them (the slaves) that want to come to Charleston with him could come and them what wants to stay can stay on the island with his wife’s people. We had our choice. Some is come and some is stay, but my ma and us children come with Mr. Fuller.

We lived on St. Philip street. The house still there, good as ever. I go ’round there to see it all de time the cistern still there too, where we used to sit ’round and drink the cold water, and eat, and talk and laugh. Mr. Fuller have lots of servants and the ones he didn’t need hisself he hired out. The slaves had rooms in the back, the ones with children had two rooms and them that didn’t have any children had one room, not to cook in but to sleep in. They all cooked and ate downstairs in the hall that they had for the colored people. I don’t know about slavery but I know all the slavery I know about, and the people was good to me. Mr. Fuller was a good man and his wife’s people been grand people, all good to their slaves. Seem like Mr. Fuller just git his slaves so he could be good to dem. He made all the little colored chillen love him. If you don’t believe they loved him what they all cry, and scream, and holler for when dey hear he dead? ‘Oh, Mausa dead my Mausa dead, what I going to do, my Mausa dead.’ Dey tell dem t’aint no use to cry, dat can’t bring him back, but de chillen keep on crying. We used to call him Mausa Eddie but he named Mr. Edward Fuller, and he sure was a good man.

"A man come here about a month ago, say he from de Government, and dey send him to find out ’bout slavery. I give him most a book, and what he give me? A dime. He ask me all kind of questions. He ask me dis and he ask me dat, didn’t de white people do dis and did dey do dat but Mr. Fuller was a good man, he was sure good to me and all his people, dey all like him, God bless him, he in de ground now but I ain’t going to let nobody lie on him. You know he good when even the little chillen cry and holler when he dead. I tell you dey couldn’t just fix us up any kind of way when we going to Sunday School. We had to be dressed nice, if you pass him and you ain’t dress to suit him he send you right back and say tell your ma to see dat you dress right. Dey couldn’t send you out in de cold barefoot neither. I ‘member one day my ma want to send me wid some milk for her sister-in-law what live ’round de corner. I fuss cause it cold and say ‘how you going to send me out wid no shoe, and it cold?’ Mausa hear how I talkin and turn he back and laugh, den he call to my ma to gone in de house and find shoe to put on my feet and don’t let him see me barefoot again in cold weather."

When de war start going good and de shell fly over Charleston he take all us up to Aiken for protection. Talk ’bout marching through Georgia, dey sure march through Aiken, soldiers was everywhere.

"My ma had six children, three boys and three girls, but I de only one left, all my white people and all de colored people gone, not a soul left but me. I ain’t been sick in 25 years. I is near my church and I don’t miss service any Sunday, night or morning. I kin walk wherever I please, I kin walk to de battery if I want to. The Welfare use to help me but dey shut down now, I can’t find out if dey going to open again or not. Miss (Mrs.) Buist and Miss Pringle, dey help me when I can go there but all my own dead."

"Were most of the masters kind?" I asked. "Well you know," she answered, "times den was just like dey is now, some was kind and some was mean; heaps of wickedness went on just de same as now. All my people was good people. I see some wickedness and I hear ’bout all kinds of t’ings but you don’t know whether it was lie or not. Mr. Fuller been a Christian man.

"do you think it would have been better if the negroes had never left africa?" Was the next question I asked. "No Ma’am," (emphatically) dem heathen didn’t have no religion. I tell you how I t’ink it is. The Lord made t’ree nations, the white, the red and the black, and put dem in different places on de earth where dey was to stay. Dose black ignoramuses in Africa forgot God, and didn’t have no religion and God blessed and prospered the white people dat did remember Him and sent dem to teach de black people even if dey have to grab dem and bring dem into bondage till dey learned some sense. The Indians forgot God and dey had to be taught better so dey land was taken away from dem. God sure bless and prosper de white people and He put de red and de black people under dem so dey could teach dem and bring dem into sense wid God. Dey had to get dere brains right, and honor God, and learn uprightness wid God cause ain’t He make you, and ain’t His Son redeem you and save you wid His precious blood. You kin plan all de wickedness you want and pull hard as you choose but when the Lord mek up His mind you is to change, He can change you dat quick (snapping her fingers) and easy. You got to believe on Him if it tek bondage to bring you to your knees."

You know I is got converted. I been in Big Bethel (church) on my knees praying under one of de preachers. I see a great, big, dark pack on my back, and it had me all bent over and my shoulders drawn down, all hunch up. I look up and I see de glory, I see a big beautiful light, a great light, and in de middle is de Sabior, hanging so (extending her arms) just like He died. Den I gone to praying good, and I can feel de sheckles (shackles) loose up and moving and de pack fall off. I don’t know where it went to, I see de angels in de Heaven, and hear dem say ‘Your sins are forgiven.’ I scream and fell off so. (Swoon.) When I come to dey has laid me out straight an I know I is converted cause you can’t see no such sight and go on like you is before. I know I is still a sinner but I believe in de power of God an I trust his Holy name. Den dey put me wid de seekers but I know I is already saved."

"Did they take good care of the slaves when their babies were born?" she was asked. "If you want chickens for fat (to fatten) you got to feed dem," she said with a smile, "and if you want people to work dey got to be strong, you got to feed dem and take care of dem too. If dey can’t work it come out of your pocket. Lots of wickedness gone on in dem days, just as it do now, some good, some mean, black and white, it just dere nature, if dey good dey going to be kind to everybody, if dey mean dey going to be mean to everybody. Sometimes chillen was sold away from dey parents. De Mausa would come and say "Where Jennie," tell um to put clothes on dat baby, I want um. He sell de baby and de ma scream and holler, you know how dey carry on. Geneally (generally) dey sold it when de ma wasn’t dere. Mr. Fuller didn’t sell none of us, we stay wid our ma’s till we grown. I stay wid my ma till she dead.

"You know I is mix blood, my grandfather bin a white man and my grandmother a mulatto. She been marry to a black so dat how I get fix like I is. I got both blood, so how I going to quarrel wid either side?"

SOURCE: Interview with Susan Hamlin, 17 Henrietta Street

NOTE * Susan lives with a mulatto family of the better type. The name is Hamlin not Hamilton, and her name prior to her marriage was Calder not Collins. I paid particular attention to this and had them spell the names for me. I would judge Susan to be in the late nineties but she is wonderfully well preserved. She now claims to be 104 years old.

The second interview with Susan Hamilton was conducted by Augustus Ladson.  She lived at the same address.

I’m a hund’ed an’ one years old now, son. De only one livin’ in my crowd frum de days I wuz a slave. Mr. Fuller, my master, who was president of the Firs’ National Bank, owned the fambly of us except my father. There were eight men an’ women with five girls an’ six boys workin’ for him. Most o’ them wus hired out. De house in which we stayed is still dere with de sisterns an’ slave quarters. I always go to see de old home which is on St. Phillip Street.

My ma had t’ree boys an’ t’ree girls who did well at their work. Hope Mikell, my eldest brodder, an’ James wus de shoemaker. William Fuller, son of our Master, wus de bricklayer. Margurite an’ Catharine wus de maids an’ look as de children.

My pa b’long to a man on Edisto Island. Frum what he said, his master was very mean. Pa real name wus Adam Collins but he took his master’ name; he wus de coachman. Pa did supin one day en his master whipped him. De next day which wus Monday, pa carry him ’bout four miles frum home in de woods an’ give him de same ‘mount of lickin’ he wus given on Sunday. He tied him to a tree an’ unhitched de horse so it couldn’t git tie-up an’ kill e self. Pa den gone to de landin’ an’ cetch a boat dat wus comin’ to Charleston wood fa’m products. He (was) permitted by his master to go to town on errands, which helped him to go on de boat without bein’ question’. W’en he got here he gone on de water-front an’ ax for a job on a ship so he could git to de North. He got de job an’ sail’ wood de ship. Dey search de island up an’ down for him wood houndogs en w’en it wus t’ought he wus drowned, ’cause dey track him to de river, did dey give up. One of his master’ friend gone to New York en went in a store w’ere pa wus employed as a clerk. He recognize’ pa is easy is pa recognize’ him. He gone back home an’ tell pa master who know den dat pa wusn’t comin’ back an’ before he died he sign’ papers dat pa wus free. Pa’ ma wus dead an’ he come down to bury her by de permission of his master’ son who had promised no ha’m would come to him, but dey wus’ fixin’ plans to keep him, so he went to de Work House an’ ax to be sold ’cause any slave could see e self if e could git to de Work House. But it wus on record down dere so dey couldn’t sell ‘im an’ told him his master’ people couldn’t hold him a slave.

People den use to do de same t’ings dey do now. Some marry an’ some live together jus’ like now. One t’ing, no minister nebber say in readin’ de matrimony "let no man put asounder" ’cause a couple would be married tonight an’ tomorrow one would be taken away en be sold. All slaves wus married in dere master house, in de livin’ room where slaves an’ dere missus an’ mossa wus to witness de ceremony. Brides use to wear some of de finest dress an’ if dey could afford it, have de best kind of furniture. Y our master nor your missus objected to good t’ings.

I’ll always ‘member Clory, de washer. She wus very high-tempered. She was a mulatto with beautiful hair she could sit on; Clory didn’t take foolishness frum anybody. One day our missus gone in de laundry an’ find fault with de clothes. Clory didn’t do a t’ing but pick her up bodily an’ throw ‘er out de door. Dey had to sen’ fur a doctor ’cause she pregnant an’ less than two hours de baby wus bo’n. Afta dat she begged to be sold ur she didn’t [want] to kill missus, but our master ain’t nebber want to sell his slaves. But dat didn’t keep Clory frum gittin’ a brutal whippin’. Dey whip’ ‘er until dere wusn’t a white spot on her body. Dat wus de worst I ebber see a human bein’ got sucha beatin’. I t’ought she wus goin’ to die, but she got well an’ didn’t get any better but meaner until our master decide it wus bes’ to rent her out. She willingly agree’ since she wusn’t ’round missus. She hated an’ detest’ both of them an’ all de fambly.

W’en any slave wus whipped all de other slaves wus made to watch. I see women hung frum de ceilin’ of buildin’s an’ whipped with only supin tied ’round her lower part of de body, until w’en dey wus taken down, dere wusn’t breath in de body. I had some terribly bad experiences.

Yankees use to come t’rough de streets, especially de Big Market, huntin’ those who want to go to de "free country" as dey call’ it. M en an’ women wus always missin’ an’ nobody could give ‘count of dere disappearance. De men wus train’ up North fur sojus.

De white race is so brazen. Dey come here an’ run de Indians frum dere own lan’, but dey couldn’t make dem slaves ’cause dey wouldn’t stan’ for it. Indians use to git up in trees an’ shoot dem with poison arrow. W’en dey couldn’t make dem slaves den dey gone to Africa an’ bring dere black brother and sister. Dey say ‘mong themselves, "we gwine mix dem up en make ourselves king. Dats de only way we’d git even with de Indians."

All time, night an’ day, you could hear men an’ women screamin’ to de tip of dere voices as either ma, pa, sister, or brother wus take without any warnin’ an’ sell. Some time mother who had only one chile wus separated fur life. People wus always dyin’ frum a broken heart.

One night a couple married an’ de next mornin’ de boss sell de wife. De gal ma got in in de street an’ cursed de white woman fur all she could find. She said: "dat damn white, pale-face bastard sell my daughter who jus’ married las’ night," an’ other ti’ings. The white man tresten’ her to call de police if she didn’t stop, but de collud woman said: "hit me or call de police. I redder die dan to stan’ dis any longer." De police took her to de Work House by de white woman orders an’ what became of ‘er, I never hear.

W’en de war began we wus taken to Aiken, South Ca’lina w’ere we stay’ until de Yankees come t’rough. We could see balls sailin’ t’rough de air w’en Sherman wus comin’. Bumbs h it trees in our yard. W’en de freedom gun wus fired, I wus on my ‘nees scrubbin’. Dey tell me I wus free but I didn’t b’lieve it.

In de days of slavery woman wus jus’ given time ‘nough to deliver dere babies. Dey deliver de baby ’bout eight in de mornin’ an’ twelve had to be back to work.

I wus a member of Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church for 67 years. Big Zion, across de street wus my church before den an’ before Old Bethel w’en I lived on de other end of town.

Sence Lincoln shook hands with his assasin who at de same time shoot him, frum dat day I stop shakin’ hands, even in de church, an’ you know how long dat wus. I don’t b’lieve in kissin’ neider fur all carry dere meannesses. De Master wus betrayed by one of his bosom frien’ with a kiss.

I tend to start the class by asking which account they believe or identify with more and why.  In the past, most of the studentsgravitate to the second account, especially after reading the chapter on slavery in their textbook by Eric Foner.  Once in a while a student arrives at the realization that the two interviewees are one and the same person.  The rest of the class is spent trying to come to terms with the fact of their identity.

The most important point to make to students is that many primary sources that appear to provide an unfiltered account of the past need to be analyzed.  It is easy to draw this conclusion in regard to the slave narratives; after all, why would the slaves mislead someone about the realities of slavery? With a little help, students should be able to infer that the first interviewer was white and the second black.  Given that blacks typically addressed whites as "Sir," "Ma’am," or "Boss," one can doubt that Susan Hamilton would have addressed a white person as "Son."  The other interesting fact in the first interview is that Jessie Butler allowed her interviewee to assume that she was from the Welfare Office.  How will that little fact shape the content of Hamlin’s response? 

Students will tend to move to discounting the first interview and accepting the second because it was conducted by a black man.  This, however, would be a mistake.  It implies that everything said in the first interview must be discounted and the second accepted, but perhaps the analysis needs to be a bit more sophisticated.  Should we assume that Hamlin felt no gratitutde at having been given a pair of shoes one cold winter in the second interview?  When I read this account I see a great deal of ambivalence.  The interviews steer the reader to a conclusion that one set of feelings is reliable while the other is not.  Another aspect of the interviews to consider in the classroom is the way that race continued to shape how black and white people related to one another into the twentieth century.  Susan Hamlin clearly had an interest in presenting herself in a certain way to her white guest. 

One way of approaching these interviews is with an appreciation of the fact that slavery in the South shaped the way white and black Southerners chose to perceive one another.  Slaveholders fervently believed – based on feelings of paternalism – that their slaves were loyal and part of their "extended families."  They would soon learn in the Civil War that this was an illusion.  Countless accounts of how slaveholders felt upon learning that their slaves had run to the Union army reflect their shock connected to the realization that their slaves had been successful in presenting themselves as devoted "children."  Susan Hamlin’s interview was no doubt shaped by the belief that Jessie Butler was a representative of the Welfare Office.  Her account of slavery also reinforced the belief among whites at the beginning of the twentieth century that slavery was benevolent.  Academics who subscribed to the Dunning School and the general public, who devoured literature such as Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With The Wind, were all invested in a sanitized view of slavery and the Antebellum South.  By the 1930′s many white Americans not only believed in this sanitized view, but they also believed that black Americans were content with Jim Crow America.  This of course came crumbling to the ground in the 1950′s and 60′s. It will be interesting to see what my students make of this. 

How Wide Is The Gap Between Professional Civil War Historians And The General Public?

Fellow blogger David Woodbury responded to my last entry and I thought it was such a thoughtful response that it deserved its own post.  Here is his response:

You wrote:"There is no doubt that most Civil War enthusiasts assume
a set of assumptions that carry little weight within the academic
community. Just take the "debate" over the cause of secession; while
most non-academics continue to push the states’ rights, tariff,
fundamental regional differences line of thought there is general
agreement among professional historians that slavery was the salient
issue driving the national debate one the eve of and especially
following Lincoln’s election in 1860."

Kevin, I think you make too much of this divide between the academic
community, and what you imagine are the assumptions of the general
public. Or maybe, you’re just referring to a "general public" that’s
unlike the one with which I’m familiar. Maybe you’re not referring to
the United States at-large, but to the parts of the South with which
you have personal experience.

In fact, in my own experience, I couldn’t disagree more with the
statement quoted at top. The overwhelming preponderance of
non-academics I know have always embraced the prevailing academic view
that slavery was the central, overarching issue at the center of the
sectional rift, that it was what made the great Compromises necessary,
and that the perceived threat to it — the dimming prospects for
expanding slavery westward into the vast territories covering the rest
of the continent — directly precipitated secession, which in turn
precipitated an inevitable war.
The reason most non-academics take that
view is that it is the view handed down to us by academics. That was
the perspective I was inculcated with as a child in Iowa, and as a
college student in Indiana.

If anything, you might argue that the general public has adopted
assumptions that are oversimplifications of what is being pushed by
academics. But even these oversimplifications must be said to carry
weight with academics, because they are borne out of academic
arguments. For example, we might say that Lincoln’s position with
respect to emancipating the slaves was more complicated and nuanced
than the popular elementary school notion of Lincoln as the Great
Emancipator — a single-minded crusader for equality among the races.
And yet, the oversimplification folds nicely into academic histories
because the root elements are true: Lincoln was opposed to slavery, and
did more than any other man to effect emancipation. In the general
public I grew up in — and the one I live in today in California –
widespread assumptions hold that the Civil War was about slavery, and
that Lincoln freed the slaves.

If you find a disconnect between academia and the general public
with respect to secession or root causes, I’d wager it’s a regional
issue, and doesn’t apply generally.

I agree that my reference to the "general public" is vague and I am not sure I want to commit myself to trying to unpack it.  Of course I did not do any kind of survey; I based it on my own experience over the last year tracking online news items, reading letters to the editor in magazines, my students, etc. Admittedly, this is not scientific.  Anyway, perhaps other readers would care to comment on this.  Thanks David.

Balancing Interpretation, Celebration, and Entertainment In Public Spaces

I’ve been thinking a great deal lately about the new Civil War museum in Richmond.  No doubt some of you are getting sick of having to read about it.  The more I think about it, however, the more I am convinced that as we approach the Sesquicentennial our museums and other public spaces will be on the front lines of controversy.  The blogger over at Whig Hill recently commented on my review of the museum and in doing so made some very interesting points.  The reference is contained in a post that discusses the author’s recent trip to a conference for museum curators:

This writer grasped something that museum people frequently overlook—that visitors (stakeholders, really, in this case) arrive with their own sense of historical importance or relevance. I don’t think it’s as maddeningly diverse as the author thinks, but an extremely important reminder to people who create exhibits and take it a step further by caring how well it succeeds with the visitor.

That is, of course, my concern for the new Civil War exhibit at Historic Tredegar. Kevin Levin reviews it here and in the process, mentions the board of heavyweight advisors. Certainly a high-powered intellectual set that contains the best thinkers about the American experience of Civil War. It follows, naturally, that the big narrative is an academically sound, made-by-committee, satisfactory, snooze-fest. (Again, that’s the impression I get from Levin’s impression. I haven’t seen this yet.) The reviewer even stopped to consider how it will appeal to certain visitors; something that may not have occurred to the advisors.

If any branch of history must deal with this dynamic it’s the Civil War.  And the author’s reference to visitors as “stakeholders” is right on target. What I like about the label is the implication that people who visit museums are invested both emotionally and rationally in what they read and view.  I wonder if it is not going too far to suggest that Civil War enthusiasts are driven by a heightened sense of emotion when they visit certain public spaces such as museums and battlefields.

There is no doubt that most Civil War enthusiasts assume a set of assumptions that carry little weight within the academic community.  Just take the “debate” over the cause of secession; while most non-academics continue to push the states’ rights, tariff, fundamental regional differences line of thought there is general agreement among professional historians that slavery was the salient issue driving the national debate one the eve of and especially following Lincoln’s election in 1860. In the case of the ACW Museum, the first video on the cause of secession/war clearly challenges the assumptions of the general public.  Given that many are invested in an interpretation that does not hold much weight among professionals, I wonder to what extent museum staffs should worry about a possible clash between the work of their academic advisors and the assumptions held by the general public.  As anyone knows who follows the endless news items that cover topics related to the Civil War the question of how to think about the Civil War is incredibly contentious.

What I tried to convey in my review of the museum at Tredegar was a deep appreciation and approval of the sophistication of the interpretation.  It is intellectually demanding and it will challenge numerous assumptions held by the general public concerning central themes of the Civil War.  There need not be tension between the scholarly rigor of the advisors and the way that interpretation is conveyed to the public.  After all, the curators and other staff must work with those people who are responsible for delivering that information to the general public in various ways and this can be done in an entertaining manner.  The more I think about it the more I am convinced that museums should challenge their visitors to think in new ways.  It must respect the background of its visitors, but it must not sacrifice the quality of its interpretation for sensitivities that are rooted more in an emotional attachment to the past as opposed to a careful reading of the relevant literature.

One of the things that I am looking forward to following in the plans for the upcoming Sesquicentennial celebrations is the relative importance attached to scholarship, celebration (heritage), and entertainment.  The balance between scholarship and celebration was not easily defined as the state of Civil War historiography was limited in important ways; historians were only beginning to explore topics related to race and slavery and other social/cultural issues.  The general public was even more removed from these discussions; their interests were focused more on remembering a war whose basic outline had not changed since the turn of the twentieth century.  We are clearly in a different place as scholarly studies are much more accessible to the general public.  The availability of these studies and their accessibility has led to tension between heritage groups and academics who they accuse of attacking the South and its “history.”

The ACW Museum has clearly taken a stand on this issue and I encourage it to continue to challenge and develop exhibits that are creative and provide as inclusive an interpretation of the war as possible. On the other hand, the South Carolina Civil War Sesquicentennial Commission includes museum directors, archivists as well as the Chairman of the African-American Heritage Association, the President of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, and the President of the United Daughters of the Confederacy.  It will be interesting to see how this commission functions.  How will they handle the inevitable problems between interpretation, celebration, and entertainment?  What will the events planned by this commission look like?