A Nice Day for a Drive

Today Michaela and I took a little day trip along Skyline Drive.  It’s still early for a change in the foliage, but we decided to go anyway.  We ate lunch at the Big Meadows Lodge and then took a little hike.  We saw a number of deer, one of which came within 5-feet of Michaela before crossing a road.  We also checked out the Visitors Center and there history exhibit.  My knowledge of the history of the Shenandoah National Park is minimal so I took advantage of the exhibit.  I was struck by one exhibit which outlined segregation in the Park.  Even in an isolated place such as the Shenandoah Valley authorities felt it necessary to keep the races separated.  On the drive home the absurdity of it all hit me.  People travel to this site to experience multiple species co-existing in their natural habitats and our own species fails miserably at it. Additional pics here.


Quick Follow-Up To “Perfect Christmas Gift”

I am very lucky to have married a woman much smarter than me.  Michaela and I were talking about that ridiculous collectible showing a Union soldier having his leg sawed off and she suggested that only within the context of the Civil War would this type of thing be acceptable.  Perhaps she is wrong, but can you imagine such a scene involving a soldier from WWII or Vietnam?  What does this tell us about the way we identify with the Civil War?

Other suggestions for Civil War miniatures:

My suggestions included "Execution of Confederate Soldier for Desertion" and "Union Soldier Relieving Himself While on March"

Others suggestions: "[H]eadless Union/Confederate soldier with a canonball suspended behind the body/corpose, as well as the head going another way"  [Perhaps we could use the image of the young Confederate soldier who had his head severed at Malvern Hill.  We could call it "Innocence Lost".]

"Sultana" boat for bathtub fun!(one use only)

Any other suggestions?


Robert E. Lee: A Traditional General in a Modern War?

Last night Gary W. Gallagher presented a talk as part of UVA’s on-going symposium, “Lee at 200.”  Gallagher’s talk challenged a number of assumptions concerning Lee that collectively point to an old-style or traditional general who struggled to understand the tenets of modern war.  Such a view can be discerned in our popular culture, including the horrific movie Gods and Generals and even Ken Burns’s Civil War documentary.  Just think of the music that is played in the background whenever Lee enters the story or the tone of Lee’s voice.  Now think of the way in which both Grant and Sherman are portrayed.  Consider the two images of Lee above.  On the one hand we prefer to think of the Lee on the left dressed in full uniform rather than the photograph taken by Brady just days after Appomattox.  One of the most popular points of contrast – usually mentioned in the context of the surrender at Appomattox – is the contrast between the way Lee and Grant dressed.  We know the drill so I am not going to repeat it.  Gallagher suggested, however, that Lee often dressed with a simple military jacket and colonel’s insignia.  The image of Lee in full military regalia does satisfy our desire to see him as more sophisticated or as somehow cut off from the dirtiness of war in comparison with Grant and Sherman.

The tendency to interpret Lee along traditional lines conforms to our broader assumptions that distinguish an agrarian South made up of cavaliers and a more industrial North made up of raucous immigrants.  We prefer to think of the South as stuck in the past and the war itself as a defensive posture against modernism.  Never mind the fact that the South ranked as the 4th most industrialized region on the planet or that a great deal of recent scholarship has successfully challenged this traditional picture of the South and has even demonstrated that large segments of the population were in fact quite progressive along economic lines.  Never mind the fact that just everybody in the North still farmed in 1860.

Gallagher presented a thorough overview of the literature on Lee and focused specifically on the various ways in which popular writer, beginning in the late 19th century, and scholars continue to interpret Lee as a commander out of step with the demands of modern war.  Early writers include John Esten Cooke, John W. Daniel, Charles Francis Adams, and more recently, Clifford Dowdey and Gene Smith.  All of them utilize the cavalier and other medieval imagery.  More recently, historians such as J.F.C. Fuller, Thomas Connelly, Alan Nolan and T.H. Williams have argued that Lee was unable to take in and appreciate the military situation beyond the Blue Ridge; rather, he was preoccupied with Virginia.  One of the nice things about a Gallagher talk is that you can always expect to get a good dose of historiography.  In fact, I don’t know too many Civil War historians who have as strong a grasp of the historiography of 19th century American history as Gallagher.

In contrast to this popular image of Lee, Gallagher believes that Lee was “perfectly attuned to the realities of a mid-19th century war.”  He was an ardent Confederate nationalist who paid close attention to the relationship between events on the battlefield and morale on the home front.  Perhaps the best example of Lee’s nationalism is his strong advocacy for a national draft in the spring of 1862.  This was the first national draft in American history and it represented a fundamental shift in the degree of intrusiveness in ordinary American’s lives.  And it was the Confederacy which introduced this first!  Lee believed that the individual states ought to give way to the demands of the national government; in fact, at one point Gallagher mentioned that Lee advocated confiscating all of the cattle from southern farms if it was necessary to maintain the armies.  Lee also clearly understood that the war was about the preservation of slavery and wrote about this often in his correspondences with Davis and others.  Lee advocated arming slaves during the war in exchange for their freedom not because he was a closet emancipationist, but because he believed it to be necessary to achieve independence.  Gallagher suggested that the sum total of the Confederate government’s legislative actions during the war constituted a far more intrusive system compared with the United States.  Such a view does not fit our preconceptions of a government bent on protecting states’ rights.

Most importantly, Gallagher believes that Lee’s record and aggressiveness on the battlefield constitutes the best case for interpreting him as a modern general.  Lee’s offensive movements proved to be much more deadly compared with Grant.  In fact, in the three years up to the Overland Campaign Grant lost a total of 35,000 men compared with Lee who lost over 100,000 men.  Gallagher is quick to point out that the high numbers are not cited as a criticism of Lee, but as an indicator that he understood what would win the war.  Lee’s stunning victories galvanized white southerners during difficult times and dampened northern morale.

Anyone who knows Gallagher is aware that he grew up out west and was reared on D.S. Freeman’s studies of Lee and his army along with other more traditional Lost Cause writers.  That enthusiasm and boyhood attraction for Lee and his men continues to come through in his public talks; that said, Gallagher is a first-rate scholar who understands that generalizations about the past or colorful commentary is no substitute for thorough research and analysis.

This talk is based on an article that appeared in the journal Civil War History: “An Old-Fashioned Soldier in a Modern War?: Robert E. Lee as Confederate General (December 1999): 295-321; the article is reprinted in Lee and His Army in Confederate History (UNC Press, 2001).


Dixie College to Change Mascot

Dixie2At first I thought this was some kind of joke, but it turns out there is a real school with the name Dixie College.  Better yet, it’s not in the south, but in UtahDixie  of all places.  Wait, it gets better.  Their mascot is the "Rebel" and school officials are now concerned that this "nickname is [being] linked with the Confederate flag" by the general public.  If they consider the mascot to be problematic what are they going to do about the name of the school itself?  And if they do change the name of the school altogether, what are they going to do with all of their Dixie chicks?  Where will they go? 


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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