Category Archives: Battlefield Interpretation

Not Everyone is Happy With 2014 Lincoln Prize Winner

GettysburgYesterday the 2014 Lincoln Prize winners were announced. This year the prize was split between Allen Guelzo for his book, Gettysburg: The Last Invasion and Writing the Gettysburg Address by Martin Johnson. I read and thoroughly enjoyed Guelzo’s book, but have not have yet had a chance to read the second. It’s worth pointing out that Guelzo’s book is the first military campaign study to be awarded the prize since George Rable’s Fredericksburg! Fredericksburg!, which won in 2003.

Last May I wondered how the Licence Battlefield Guides at Gettysburg and Gettysburg enthusiasts generally would respond to Guelzo’s book. Continue reading

A War of Liberation and Empire

One of my favorite books of 2013 was Ari Kelman’s A Misplaced Massacre: Struggling over the Memory of Sand Creek. Kelman’s analysis of the history and memory of the Sand Creek Massacre in 1864 serves to remind us that the western boundary of the Civil War took place far west of the Mississippi River. For me, the book’s importance comes down to how it challenges a relatively recent and popular memory that places liberation at the center of the narrative. But what happens when we frame the war years around the federal government’s policies on the frontier before during and after the war?  Continue reading

“My Great-Great Grandfather Didn’t Own Slaves” (So What)

I’ve said it before, but I don’t mind repeating that no one has taught me more about the challenges of interpreting the Civil War at America’s battlefields than John Hennessy. John’s contribution to Common-place explores some of the more recent sticking points that have arisen as a result of shifts in battlefield interpretation away from the original intention behind the creation of or national battlefield parks. National Park Service historians have fully embraced an expansive interpretation of the events that transpired on their landscapes that go beyond the experience of the soldiers without any reference to causes and consequences. Continue reading

“Blue-Gray Gush” From the Bay State

On November 13, 1911 Union and Confederate veterans met on the Crater battlefield to dedicate a monument to all Massachusetts units that took part in the Petersburg Campaign. Alfred S. Roe delivered the dedication address and, not surprisingly, used the occasion to reinforce a public face of reconciliation with a narrative that reminded the audience of their shared history. We are talking major “gush”.  I am using this event to open my essay on Massachusetts soldiers who fought at the Crater. Continue reading

Medgar Evers Visits Vicksburg National Military Park

Medgar Evers, VicksburgThis morning I was perusing through the September 1963 issue of Ebony Magazine and came across this remarkable photograph of Medgar Evers and his family on the Vicksburg battlefield. Apparently, they spent a great deal of time on the battlefield. This particular issue centered on the 100th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, which included a story about Evers on why he chose to live in Mississippi.

Outside Vicksburg, in the national military park, which entombs hundreds of Civil War dead–from Mississippi, Illinois, both sides of the struggle–Evers strolls with sightseers over the bones of the dead, is drawn to “our spot” where he and his wife courted, politely answers the questions of a white man, whose ten gallon hat and deep drawl identify him as one of the “enemy.” (pp. 146-47)