I hope that all of you have had a chance to read my article on Confederate military executions in the current issue of Civil War Times. It should be on the newsstands for a few more weeks, but you can also read it online. I’ve been quite pleased with the response thus far. I am also pleased to report that my essay on understanding the battle of the Crater as a slave rebellion will be published in a future issue of the magazine. Working with Dana Shoaf and the rest of the staff was an absolute pleasure and I look forward to doing it again. You may remember that this essay started as a blog post in June 2009, which received quite a bit of attention. Civil War Times is a perfect place for this particular piece. It’s an aspect of the battle that receives very little attention and I love the fact that it will be read by a popular audience. I am really excited about this one. Writing this essay has allowed me to think much more deeply about a number of issues related to the battle itself as well as the postwar process of remembrance and commemoration. The essay now serves as the core of the first chapter of my Crater manuscript.
This year is proving to be very good for me in the area of publications. I’ve got a few other projects that should be out this year in addition to the two Civil War Times articles. The final volume of the Virginia at War series edited by William C. Davis and James I. Robertson (University of Kentucky Press) should be right around the corner. Back in 2008 I wrote a chapter on the demobilization of the Army of Northern Virginia. In August my talk from the 2008 meeting of the Society for Civil War Historians, which explored how I use Ken Burns in my classroom will be published in the journal, The History Teacher. Finally, I am hoping to hear more about the status of Gary Gallagher’s final volume in the Military Campaigns of the Civil War series at UNC Press. It looks like this final volume will cover the Petersburg Campaign through Appomattox and may end up being quite a large book. Last I heard my essay on how Confederate soldiers remembered the battle of the Crater was to be included, but these things can change given the amount of time that has lapsed.
With trimester exams completed I am now looking forward to my spring break week and the opportunity to recharge before the final push toward the end of the year in May. I hope to get in a bit of writing on the Crater manuscript and a solid week of jogging. On Tuesday I head up to Shepherdstown, West Virginia to visit with Prof. Mark Snell’s seminar, “The American Civil War in Memory and Remembrance” at Shepherd University. I first met Mark Snell back in 2005 at the annual meeting of the Society for Military History in Charleston. Mark chaired a panel on the Civil War and memory that I took part on that also included Ken Noe and Keith Bohannon. Since then we’ve remained friends. I very much appreciate Mark’s enthusiasm and support of this blog from the beginning as well as his encouragement of my own research. In addition to teaching history, Mark is the director of the George Tyler Moore Center for the Study of the Civil War at Shepherd University. The Center is currently engaged in a number of projects, but I do want to take a minute to plug their annual conference which will take place this year in Petersburg in June. I am very excited about it since I am once again joining a stellar faculty that includes among others, Earl Hess and Will Greene. Check it out if you have a chance.
Mark has assigned my blog as regular reading throughout the semester and he thought it might be worth having me visit with his students to discuss various issues related to the format and its place in the profession and the broader culture. While I’ve discussed the role of blogging extensively over the years on this site, and even addressed a group of academic historians last year, this will be my first opportunity to engage undergraduates who may not be headed down an academic track. In preparation for that trip I’ve been perusing the archives for a few posts in which I discuss how blogging fits into my career.
What follows is a 2008 interview that I did with a graduate student at the University of Richmond who was enrolled in a Public History course.
1. What motivated you to create this website/blog? What, if anything, inspired or challenged you to create this website/blog?
Answer: I began blogging back in November 2005. At the time there were only two or three Civil War blogs, but it was Mark Grimsley’s Blog Them Out of the Stone Agewhich inspired me to throw my hat in the ring. What I liked about Mark’s blog was that it introduced a wide spectrum of topics related to military history to a diverse audience. It worked to bridge the divide between more casual readers of military history and scholars working in the field. I’ve tried to do the same thing with Civil War Memory. I see myself as occupying a unique position as both a high school history teacher and Civil War historian. In addition, my interests extend beyond military themes which remains the preoccupation of most Civil War enthusiasts and while I did not have specific goals in mind when I first started blogging I did hope to introduce and discuss questions and issues that are often overlooked in certain circles. These include the topics of memory, race/slavery, social/cultural history and even subjects beyond the Civil War entirely.
This promises to be another entertaining and educational experience and I encourage all of you to register as soon as possible. I have been asked to live blog the event, which I agreed to do. Given my experience last year I have a much better idea of how to go about it. Hope to see you there.
Click here for coverage of the conference in The Virginian Pilot.
Professional historians, to varying degrees, believe that slavery was elemental to the coming of the Civil War. While there is disagreement as to the ways that the conflict over slavery and wage labor infused sectional differences, David Potter has arguably done more than any other scholar to forge a consensus on this issue. In Impending Crisis, he explores the different ways that slavery ignited the sectional conflict while refuting generalizations that describe the North and South as culturally different. Some saw the struggle as a clash of profoundly dissimilar cultures whose disparities transcended the difference over slavery. Others had a more economic opinion and viewed the conflict as a clash between economic interests of an emerging industrialist North and an agricultural South. A third viewpoint saw the conflict arising from different values between the sections. Potter’s criticism with these three arguments is that they all embellish the differences between the North and South and fail to see the similarities between the two regions. Potter displays how similar northerners and southerners were, and that a sense of American nationalism permeated both cultures more than historians have acknowledged.
Although the cultural, economic, and ideological explanations recognize slavery as an issue in sectional division, they neglect its significance within American culture. Potter shows how slavery was a key element to all three of the explanations for division. “Slavery, in one aspect or another, pervaded all of the aspects of sectionalism,” argues Potter (44). In spite of the American nationalism and cultural homogeneity between the North and South, the slavery issue intensified following the acquisition of new territory following the Mexican-American War and caused both northerners and southerners to lose sight of how much alike they were and how many values they shared. With a breakdown of the two-party system nationally, the Election of 1860 represented how much the slavery issue isolated the two regions as the young Republican party won a victory despite only receiving Northern votes. Not surprisingly, the breakup of the country followed soon after.
By placing slavery at the forefront of the conflict, Potter continues the debate over the main cause of the war. Was the war inevitable? Was slavery the main cause? Michael Holt has led a movement against Potter’s interpretation and responded with a study claiming that slavery was not the central reason, and that the breakdown of the two-party political system caused disunion. William Freehling’s work adds to the historiography by arguing that the South’s culture was not unified over slavery and that these internal divisions fostered anxieties, which fueled extremism. Future studies that elaborate from Potter’s traditional political narrative and infuse political culture will give a more complete analysis of 1850s. Not only understanding how Americans viewed singular events but also how they interpreted the world in which they lived will open new discussions about the causes of the war.
I am a fervent supporter of the mission of the Museum of the Confederacy in Richmond and its President and CEO Waite Rawls. The museum has had to deal with some difficult financial challenges over the past few years as well as defending its reputation in a city that has found it difficult to come to terms with its Confederate past. Through all of this Mr. Rawls has done an excellent job of maintaining the museum as an educational and research institution. In this video Mr. Rawls discusses the research that went into trying to uncover what the famous Rebel Yell sounded like. Click here for Part 2 as well as the rest of the MOC’s videos on YouTube. Enjoy.