Category Archives: Civil War Historians

Are We Really Still Debating this Question?

I have absolutely no idea why I didn’t go to the annual meeting of the Southern Historical Association, which is taking place this weekend in St. Louis. The past two years I didn’t go for financial reasons, but other than not wanting to miss time in class I have no excuse.

I am left looking at Facebook pics and following #sha2013 tweets. This tweet from Diane Sommerville caught my attention.

It’s from a roundtable discussion that included Gallagher, Lesley Gordon, James Hogue, and Carol Reardon. The title struck me as somewhat strange: “Should Military History Be Central to the Study of the Civil War.” Given the scholarship of the panelists I have no doubt that it was well worth attending. In fact, I am hearing through the grapevine that it was indeed a lively discussion.

I guess I just find it strange that we are still debating this question.

Have You Really Read Battle Cry of Freedom?

McPherson Battle Cry of FreedomThis past week The Daily Beast did an interview with James McPherson to mark the 25th anniversary of the release of Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era. As we all know it was a bestseller when it was first published in 1988 and remains the go to book for those looking for a reliable survey of the Civil War Era. That is quite an accomplishment.

While it is likely the single most popular Civil War book published in the past two decades I sometimes wonder how many people, who own it or who throw out the name in polite conversation, have actually read it in its entirety. At just under 900 pages it is quite demanding.

I first purchased the book in 1995. At the time I was just beginning to explore the period and everyone recommended that I start with McPherson.  I don’t mind admitting that I never really got around to reading it in its entirety until I took a graduate school class in historiography in 2004. On numerous occasions I committed myself to reading it only to be distracted by another book or even a shorter McPherson essay that summarized aspects of the larger study. Of course, that did not stop me from recommending the book to others.

Part of why I resisted had to do with the mistaken assumption that Battle Cry is no more than a survey, heavy on narrative and short on analytical rigor. That certainly is not the case.

So, who else is going to come clean?

History of the Slave South With Stephanie McCurry

I certainly understand the concerns expressed by many regarding the impact of MOOCs on higher education. At the same time, for those people who are interested in furthering their understanding of American history, it is impossible for me not to see the value of spending some time online with a scholar of Stephanie McCurry’s caliber. The course begins in January 2014.

The issue seems to be how MOOCs are utilized and assessed within a college curriculum rather than the educational value of the course itself.

New to the Civil War Memory Library, 06/10

Nature's Civil WarStephen V. Ash, A Massacre in Memphis: The Race Riot That Shook the Nation One Year After the Civil War.

Erskine Clark, By the Rivers of Water: A Nineteenth-Century Atlantic Odyssey.

Sarah Greenough and Nancy K. Anderson, Tell It With Pride: The 54th Massachusetts Regiment and Augustus Saint-Gaudens’ Shaw Memorial (National Gallery of Art & Yale University Press, 2013).

Neil Kagan and Stephen G. Hyslop, Smithsonian Civil War: Inside the National Collection.

Kathryn Shively Meier, Nature’s Civil War: Common Soldiers and the Environment in 1862 Virginia.

Elizabeth Varon, Appomattox: Victory, Defeat, and Freedom at the End of the Civil War.

Silas Chandler Redux

Silas Chandler

Descendants of Silas Chandler Reading About Their Famous Ancestor

You didn’t really think that I would allow the publication of a column on Silas Chandler in The New York Times to pass without comment, did ya? Thanks to Ronald Coddington for bringing the story of Silas (r) and Andrew (l) to the Disunion blog. [Ron and I shared a stage last year at the Virginia Festival of the Book to discuss our research.] As many of you know it is the story of Silas and Andrew that launched me down the road of taking the myth of the black Confederate soldier seriously. My relationship with Myra Chandler Sampson and our subsequent essay published in Civil War Times about her famous ancestor reinforced for me on so many levels why it is important that we correct these stories of loyal and obedient slaves that continue serve the interests of a select few. Continue reading