J. Tracy Power on the Confederate Flag and Civil War Memory

If you are a serious student of the Confederate army than you have read, and probably re-read, J. Tracy Power’s book, Lee’s Miserables: Life in the Army of Northern Virginia from the Wilderness to Appomattox (1998). In my mind it is one of the finest scholarly studies ever published about Lee’s army. My hardcover copy is now held together with two rubber bands. Lee’s Miserables was indispensable to me during the writing of my book on the battle of the Crater.

As many of you know for a number of years Dr. Power worked for the South Carolina Department of Archives and History, but he recently took a teaching position at Newberry College. This transition has made it easier for Dr. Power to share his views on the ongoing debate about the Confederate flag, which he did in the form of a short essay published on his academia.edu page last month. I only noticed it earlier this evening. Continue reading “J. Tracy Power on the Confederate Flag and Civil War Memory”

Historians Help a Nation Understand Charleston and Civil War Memory

Last week I attended the Civil War Institute’s annual conference at Gettysburg College. At the end of the first evening Peter Carmichael sat down for a conversation with James McPherson. Pete chose to open with questions about the recent shooting in Charleston, South Carolina and about its implications for how we think about the Civil War and our nation’s long painful history of race. I don’t know if McPherson was entirely comfortable with the questions and I certainly didn’t anticipate such a move on Pete’s part, but I couldn’t be more pleased that he did. It is one of the things that makes CWI such a unique experience.

Pete understands that historians have an obligation to weigh in during moments of national crisis, especially when those moments are tangled up in our collective past. The conversation served as a reminder that when it comes to our civil war it is often difficult to delineate between the present and the past. And even when we can pinpoint that past, coming to terms with its complexity can be a daunting task. In the wake of the Charleston shootings Americans sought out some of our best historians to help untangle the past from the present and provide some sense of meaning. Continue reading “Historians Help a Nation Understand Charleston and Civil War Memory”

Why UVA’s New Center For Civil War History Matters

The University of Virginia has announced that it will establish a new Center for Civil War History made possible by John Nau III, who is a UVA alumnus and an outgoing member of the school’s Board of Visitors.

The $13 million will support the center as well as “an endowed professorship, an endowed graduate fellowship, a postdoctoral fellowship, scholarship funds, a book prize and travel funds for research, as well as other means to support faculty and students.” Many of you know that Nau established an endowed chair in UVA’s history department that is currently filled by Gary Gallagher. Continue reading “Why UVA’s New Center For Civil War History Matters”

How Secure Was Slavery in the Union?

In this final installment of the New York Times’s Disunion column, Paul Finkelman surveys some of the significant ways the Civil War changed how Americans interpret the Constitution. Finkelman offers the following observation to illustrate the extent of the constitution’s protection of the institution of slavery.

Finally, it took two-thirds of Congress to send a constitutional amendment to the states, and it took three-fourths of the states to ratify any amendment. Had the 15 slave states all remained in the Union, to this day, in 2015, it would be impossible to end slavery by constitutional amendment, since in a 50-state union, it takes just 13 states to block an amendment.

Keep that in mind next time you are told that slavery would have died a natural death had there not been a civil war.

An End to Disunion

This Sunday the New York Times’s Disunion column will come to an end. I am going to miss it. The column brought together academic and popular historians and other writers and over the course of the sesquicentennial managed to cover a wide range of Civil War topics. The essays were not just a pleasure to read, but more importantly, they introduced readers to new subjects and interpretations that tend to fall beyond the scope of popular understanding of Civil War history.

In just the last week essays have appeared that force readers to think seriously about the place of the war within a broader global context and as an extension of the Indian Wars, which raged through the end of the century.

There is simply nothing else like it. Continue reading “An End to Disunion”