Tennessee’s Sesquicentennial Commission held its inaugural Signature Event on November 12 around the theme, “The Coming of the Civil War” in Chattanooga. According to Governor Phil Bredesen. “This inaugural event, which begins the five-year recognition from 2011-2015, will create conversation, stir interest, and help people develop a greater appreciation for history and acknowledge the role this war played in the lives of all Americans.” Historian, Sam David Elliott, gave the keynote address on the coming of the war and I suspect that he covered much of the ground found in the latest academic scholarship.
Interestingly, the commission also invited Country Music singer, Trace Adkins, to offer a few words.
I don’t know if I have a problem with inviting a singer to offer a few brief remarks about the coming of the war, but I do wonder how the organizers hope to reconcile Adkins’s personal view with what Elliott discussed and with the scholarly consensus on this topic. Perhaps these opposing views don’t need to be accepted, but I suspect that the applause at the end of Adkins’s remarks suggests that most of the people left with his thoughts in mind as opposed to Elliott’s.
Congratulations to John Hennessy of the NPS and Sara Poore of the Fredericksburg Area Museum for organizing a wonderful event yesterday that included a rare opportunity to tour the grounds of Brompton as well as listen to historians George Rable and William Freehling. More than 600 people attended the event at the historic Fredericksburg Baptist Church, which is quite an accomplishment given the beautiful weather as well as the subject. Read John’s thoughts about the day’s proceedings at Fredericksburg Remembered. John and Sara are two of the hardest working public historians in the business and I hope that the people of Fredericksburg appreciate their commitment to organizing programs for the local community that are both entertaining and educational.
One of the more interesting moments took place during the Q&A following John’s talk on the secession debate that took place in Fredericksburg. A member of the audience suggested that the lack of slave rebellions during the antebellum period suggested to him that slaves may have, in fact been content. No surprise that John handled the question directly and with the sensitivity that it deserved. What surprised me, however, was that after John finished with his response a large percentage of the audience clapped. The response suggests that these questions are no longer appropriate to ask. Yes, we can have serious discussions about the complexity of the master-slave relationship, but thankfully we seem to have moved beyond being able to suggest that people were content being slaves.
Thanks to everyone involved for organizing this event.
Before I get to the subject of this post I wanted to mention that I’ve just finished previewing a forthcoming episode of American Experience on Robert E. Lee. The show will premiere on PBS on Monday, January 3 at 9:00 p.m. ET. Back in 2007 I received a call from one of the producers to chat about their plans for the episode. We talked for quite a bit and I had a chance to offer some suggestions on various interpretive threads as well as suggestions on who to contact for additional commentary as “talking heads.” The producers were able to bring together an excellent line-up of scholars that includes Peter Carmichael, Gary Gallagher, Emory Thomas, Michael Fellman, Emory Thomas, Lesley Gordon, Ervin Jordan, Elizabeth Brown Pryor and Joseph Glatthaar. The folks at American Experience did a fine job.
The Virginia Sesquicentennial Commission now has all of the panels from the recent conference in Norfolk available on their YouTube page. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed going through them. While I enjoyed Dwight Pitcaithley’s presentation he never really got around to discussing the challenges of interpreting Civil War causation within the NPS. He did, however, say something relevant to my recent post on my tendency to steer clear of referring to people as Neo-Confederates. In response to a student’s inquiry into whether he teaches the “true history” of the war, Pitcaithley points out to his audience that it is important to remember that people who subscribe to various strands of Lost Cause thought “come by it honestly.” It’s important to remember because it seems to me that by calling folks “Neo-Confederates” we assume an accusatory stance that implies a conscious denial of a more complete understanding of what the war was about.
I was unable to attend the most recent biennial meeting of the Society of Civil War Historians back in June so I missed the keynote address by Gary Gallagher and Ed Ayers. Luckily, C-SPAN was there and recorded the entire session. I am particularly interested in Gallagher’s talk since it encompasses much of what will be included in his forthcoming book, The Union War. Gallagher argues that the role of Union forces must be acknowledged in any attempt to understand the progress of emancipation during the war. In doing so he challenges the self-emancipation thesis as well as the more popular image of Lincoln as the “great emancipator.” Here is a short clip of Gallagher’s talk while you can find the entire session here.