From Heroes to Survivors

Bull RunEarlier today I finished reading Michael J. Bennett’s essay “The Black Flag and Confederate Soldiers: Total War from the Bottom Up” which is also published in Andy Slap and Michael Smith eds., This Distracted and Anarchical People: New Answers for Old Questions about the Civil War-Era North.  In his essay, Bennett explores accounts of massacres throughout the war that function as a case study of how various factors shaped what Mark Neely calls the “limits of destruction.”   Continue reading “From Heroes to Survivors”

Three Crater Photographs

Here are three photographs of the Crater from the Petersburg Museum that did not make it into my book. The first was taken inside the mineshaft itself and is dated 1926, though it is difficult to estimate exactly where.  Notice the sunlight that is coming in from above.  I assume the photograph was taken close to the entrance.  The second one shows a depression in the soil that follows the mineshaft up to the Crater itself, which is located by the cluster of trees just over the ridge line.  It doesn’t look much different from today.  It was taken sometime between 1926 and 1934. The final photograph, I believe, is from a point just west of the Crater looking northwest.  The tree line is much fuller today and extends all the way to the Jerusalem Plank Road.  It was taken in 1906.  I would love to find a photograph of the battlefield in the 1920s that showed the actual golf course.

From Civil War to ?

58172-art-american-imperialismThis will probably be the last post I write before I put together my final thoughts as an introduction to the panel on interpreting USCTs at Civil War sites that I will be moderating on Saturday at Gettysburg College. I am still thinking about Carole Emberton’s essay, which I briefly touched on a few days ago.  She’s got me thinking about the place of black Union soldiers within a narrative arc that stretches from the Civil War to the Civil Rights Movement and the unquestioned assumption that closely links their service and sacrifice with a postwar reward of civil rights.  Emberton argues that this narrative stood in sharp contrast with a widespread belief that service in the military functioned to tame those characteristics that many white Americans (North and South) believed prevented African Americans from enjoying the benefits of full citizenship.  Continue reading “From Civil War to ?”

The Future of USCTs at Civil War Sites

USCT
What follows are a few thoughts in response to the position papers of my fellow panelists, who will join me next week at Gettysburg College to talk about how we interpret the USCT experience on our Civil War battlefields.  It’s a bit rough, but it should give you an idea of some of the things I’ve been thinking about of late.

In one way or another the papers acknowledge that we are well positioned to engage the general public about the experiences of black soldiers at various battle sites.  The challenges are many, including those mentioned here such as how we respond to misinformation, the continued influence of the movie Glory, and the continued hold of the Lost Cause interpretation of the war.  Edward Zwick’s Academy-Award winning movie about Col. Robert Gould Shaw and the 54th Mass. Vol. Infantry is coming up on its 25th anniversary, but I am unconvinced of its continued influence, especially among younger Americans.  Hari Jones makes a compelling case re: the movie’s inaccuracies and the extent to which it distorts our understanding of the relevant history, but I tend to see these oversights as opportunities in our classrooms and in other educational settings.  All Hollywood movies about history are fraught with interpretive problems.   We need look no further than the movie Lincoln.  In the case of black soldiers, however, these issues are exacerbated by decades of neglect at NPS sites as well as the intentional distortion of the historical record for racial and partisan purposes. Continue reading “The Future of USCTs at Civil War Sites”

David Larsen on Interpretation and Public History

Last night the Civil War Institute posted a video of National Park Service historian David Larsen discussing issues related to interpretation at historic sites.  Larsen worked as a training manager for interpretation at Mather Training Center.  Unfortunately, he recently passed away.  I am embarrassed to admit that I had never heard of him before last night.  This interview was conducted in 2000.  I haven’t watched all the videos, but I plan on doing so over the next few days.  Below is Part 1.  Listen to Larsen’s definition of interpretation, which you can find between minute 3:00 and 4:30.

[Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, and Part 5]

Here is Larsen’s “Gun Talk”.