Category Archives: Civil War Historians

John Bell (Stephen) Hood, Ted Savas and Civil War Marketing

Screen Shot 2013-02-26 at 7.27.16 PMTed Savas is having a field day marketing his new book about John Bell Hood by author Stephen Hood. He has gone out of his way to emphasize how the book breaks new ground, specifically in reference to the popular claim that Hood was both an alcoholic and drug addict. In one of his latest posts he takes author Allen Guelzo to task for casually referencing this little piece of Hood lore in his new book about Gettysburg. I will let Savas take it from here.

General Hood did not sustain himself or even use alcohol or opiates as Sword and others continue to endlessly prevaricate about, and historians who should know better copy without curiosity or question.  Stephen Hood’s John Bell Hood: The Rise, Fall, and Resurrection of a Confederate General (2013) unhorses these (and other) untruths and buries them under a flurry of stomping hooves. He does this in two ways: with newly found original firsthand sources, and a simple if time-consuming comparison of the “sources” originally used by Sword and others to characterize Hood as a drunk, crippled, drugged, hack of a leader.

This new book conclusively demonstrates that, even WITHOUT these newly discovered documents, the sources used by Sword and others were all hearsay or misread or intentionally misused (readers can decide, and the plentiful reviews on Amazon and elsewhere demonstrate that they are shocked by the mountain of evidence). The record is one secondary slander built upon another, piled upon a third, each with its own new purple adjectives thrown in for good measure. If Stephen Hood had left this subject alone, there is no doubt some author would have soon described an inebriated General Hood selling crack and meth in an Atlanta ghetto during leave.

The Civil War is filled with little stories that are told and re-told often with little attention to whether there is sufficient evidence. I’ve fallen into that trap on numerous occasions and I suspect that many of you have done so as well. Most historians welcome being corrected. Here’s the problem. Savas seems to be on some kind of crusade with this particular title as if it alone offers the necessary corrective regarding Hood’s drug and alcohol use. Not so fast; in fact, Stephen Hood is fairly late to the game. Continue reading

Staking Out a Position on the Confederate Flag

On more than one occasion I’ve recommended John Coski’s wonderful book, The Confederate Battle Flag: America’s Most Embattled Emblem. There is nothing else like it. Coski offers a very readable and balanced view of the history of the flag. Toward the end, Coski offers his own interpretation of how to move forward with the debate over the public display of the Confederate flag. It involves compromises from all parties with a stake in this ongoing drama over history and heritage. Continue reading

A Forgotten Battle For the Second Amendment

Thomas NastOne of the most interesting sections of Carole Emberton’s new book, Beyond Redemption, is her analysis of the relationship between gun ownership among newly-freed slaves, voting, citizenship and violence in the postwar South. By 1860 service in the military had already expanded the suffrage to include a large percentage of white men. The right to vote, achieved through military service defined what it meant to lay claim to citizenship in the United States. The defense of home and nation not only opened the doors to voting for many white men, but the weapons used proved to be extremely useful in the often violent world of political campaigns and gatherings on election day.

It should come as no surprise, then, that the claims to citizenship and the vote by a formerly enslaved population rested directly on the right to bear arms. Former black Union soldiers often purchased their weapons upon leaving the army while many others purchased weapons with what little money they earned. They did so to protect themselves, but also as symbols of freedom and independence. The right to own a weapon constituted a tangible break with a past in which masters controlled the conditions in which their slaves could shoulder a gun. Most importantly, gun ownership was understood as a direct claim through the Second Amendment to the rights of citizenship and the vote. Continue reading

A Black Confederate We Can All Live With

black ConfederateEarlier this month Schuyler Kropf shared the story of Polly Sheppard, who was surprised to find the grave of a black Confederate soldier in the cemetery of the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church of Charleston. The individual in question is Louis B. Middleton, whose grave is marked with a soldiers’ headstone. This has all the earmarks of another in a long line of distorted stories about blacks who somehow managed to evade Confederate law and a society committed to keeping weapons out of their hands. Continue reading

What A Real Review Looks Like

CraterThe other day I blogged briefly about a disagreement over a reference I made to a “real [book] review” as opposed to what I would call reader feedback on Amazon book pages.  Sure, there may be some dedicated Amazon reviewers out there, but I tend not to go there for substantive and thoughtful critiques. It just so happens that earlier today my publisher passed along what is clearly the most critical review of my book published to date. Thanks to Jason Phillips, who is the new Eberly Professor of Civil War Studies at West Virginia University, for reading it and reviewing it for the Virginia Magazine of History and Biography. Jason has a reputation for hard hitting reviews. There are aspects of his review that I agree with and a few with which I disagree, but overall I have no complaints. I certainly think that I could have done much more with the white Northern memory of the battle. I have no intention of writing a formal response here since that would be bad form. My goal is simply to highlight what I think is a pretty good example of a “real review.”

Kevin Levin has selected an excellent subject to study Civil War memory. Among other things, the battle of the Crater marked the first time that units in the Army of Northern Virginia fought (and massacred) United States Colored Troops (U.S.C.T.). Levin insightfully explains how the presence of black soldiers signified everything that Confederates fought for and against without excusing the atrocity. His analysis of the career of Gen. William Mahone, the Confederate hero of the Crater, may be Levin’s greatest contribution. As leader of the biracial Readjuster Party after Reconstruction, Mahone threatened white supremacy and the Lost Cause myth. Levin shows how postwar Virginians’ memories of the Crater not only pitted whites against blacks and northerners against southerners but also former Confederates against each other at a time when political divisions fractured the state. Tracing the memory of the battle into the twentieth century, Levin describes the rise of white memory and efforts, since the civil rights movement, to add a black counter- memory to scholarship and site interpretation. Public historians in particular will benefit from this book. Continue reading