Do We Really Need to Save Fredericksburg’s Slaughter Pen?

FrWell, I guess we do, but now that I have your attention let me share with you what is included in the Civil War Preservation Trust’s latest mailing.  (1) notice indicating the availability of CWPT’s financial reports; (2) glossy sheet advertising a Jeff Shaara book or windbreaker as a free gift for donation; (3) typed letter by Jeff Shaara addressed to, "Dear Fellow History Buff"; (4) interview with Jim Lighthizer and on reverse side words of praise for CWPT by well-regarded historians; (5) full-length sheet with breakdown for donation: donate $500 for Cannoneer Membership Level, $35 for Bugler Membership Level, etc.; (6) 2-page generalized letter about the CWPT and the need to save battlefields; (7) detailed tactical map of the battle of Fredericksburg with color image and photograph on reverse side and (8) business reply mail envelope.

I’ve given to the CWPT before, but given my salary as a high school teacher I can’t take part every year and I definitely cannot contribute to additional mailings throughout the year.  I would love to know how much money is wasted on these mailings.  Email would be a more efficient means of communication, but my guess is that the good people at CWPT are operating on the assumption that a hard copy is more likely to lead to a contribution.  Let’s assume that is true; do they still have to include everything mentioned above?  What exactly am I missing in all of this.  Keep in mind that I receive such mailings at least 4 times a year. 

Isn’t it possible that the Slaughter Pen could already be saved if they scaled back on these bulky mailings?

I know this is probably a write-off for the CWPT – which reminds me of a Seinfeld episode:

Kramer : It’s just a write off for them.
Jerry : How is it a write off?
Kramer : They just write it off.
Jerry : Write it off what?
Kramer : Jerry all these big companies they write off everything
Jerry : You don’t even know what a write off is.
Kramer : Do you?
Jerry : No. I don’t.
Kramer : But they do and they are the ones writing it off.
Jerry : I wish I just had the last twenty seconds of my life back.

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Plenty of Lee to Go Around

I’ve been thinking quite a bit about Robert E. Lee in recent weeks.  I am working on a presentation on Lee and memory for two dates one of which has been pushed back indefinitely.  I mentioned a few days ago that Bob Krick kicked off UVA’s month-long symposium on Lee; this week Gary Gallagher will address Lee’s generalship.  Next week the Lee Chapel in Lexington, Virginia is hosting a day-long symposium on Lee.  Luckily I have the day off so I plan on attending.  The line-up is first-rate and includes Gordon Rhea, Aaron Sheehan-Dean, Emory Thomas, J. Tracy Power, Peter Carmichael, and A. Wilson Greene.  It’s nice to see that the organizers for the conference at the Lee Chapel knew who to invite.  You won’t have to sit there and listen to some nut go on and on about how Lee is the greatest thing since sliced bread or that he is evil incarnate.  Keep that to yourself.   What you can anticipate are thoughtful presentations that address historical rather than moral issues. 


Forthcoming Civil War Studies

I recently realized that my reading patterns in Civil War history tend to follow individual historians rather than subjects.  In other words, when I am looking for books to read I inevitably look at authors rather than subjects.  I’m not quite sure how to explain this and I am also not sure when this started.  Perhaps this tendency goes back to my time as a philosophy major.  My focus was more on individual philosophers rather than subjects.  By far my two favorites were David Hume and Immanuel Kant.  I was just as content reading Hume’s An Inquiry Concerning Human Understanding as I was reading his Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion and with Kant it extended from his work in metaphysics to anthropology.  Of course there were others, but I was guaranteed to be challenged no matter where I looked in their writings. 

B1On the other hand, my interest in individual historians may be connected to my own limited work in the field.  I’ve come to appreciate just how difficult it is to say something new and interesting and I am constantly amazed by how many first-rate minds are currently toiling in this field.  I have absolutely no interest reading another book on Lincoln, but I will read anything that Stephen Berry writes.  His last book on Confederate soldiers was, unfortunately, overlooked by many.  His gender analysis of what motivated southern men to fight and how they defined themselves in masculine terms is well worth a read and moves us beyond unit loyalty, ideology and politics.  To a certain extent the subject matters little to me; what matters is that I can anticipate being challenged and learning something new – even with a subject that has been dissected through and through.

BJason Phillips is one of the younger guns in the field.  I served on a panel with Jason at the 2007 AHA on Civil War soldiers.  His book is based on his dissertation which analyzes the roll of rumor in the Confederate ranks and home front.  I see this as taking the concept of contingency one step further.  Not only is it important not to read back into the past from a point where the outcome is known, but it is also necessary to distinguish between what seemed to be the case as opposed to what was "true" at any given moment.  I read Jason’s recent article "The Grape Vine Telegraph: Rumors and Confederate Persistence" [Journal of Southern History, (November 2996): 753-89] and was very impressed.  Keep an eye out for this one.

Blight_2Finally, David Blight is set to release a book that contains two slave narratives one of which was used by the NPS at Fredericksburg for their new documentary on civilian life.  The book includes an extensive introduction by Blight.  My interest in Civil War memory can be traced back directly to my reading of his Race and Reunion.  Like many people I can see the book’s weak spots, but its significance must be understood in the way it defined a field of study and has led to a small army of historians who have investigated further the ways in which various groups of Americans engaged in the battle to control the memory of the war.  Blight could write about any topic in American history and I would be one of the first to purchase it.   


Civil War Talk Radio

Civil War Talk Radio has made its archive of interviews available once again.  My interview with Gerry Prokopowicz from June 2006 can be found here.


Blackboard Academic Suite

I’ve been getting a large number of hits from a site called Blackboard Academic Suite.  I was wondering if someone who has an account with this website could tell me a bit about it and why the site includes a link to this blog.  Thanks for your help.