Category Archives: Civil War Historians

History Channel Does Reconstruction Right

Our tendency to distinguish between the Civil War and Reconstruction obscures the fact that fundamental questions of freedom, national identity, and citizenship were left unanswered. According to historian, Vernon Burton:

At stake during the Civil War was the very existence of the United States. The bloodiest war in our history, the Civil War posed in a crucial way what clearly became persistent themes in American history: the character of the nation and the fate of African Americans (writ large the place of minorities in a democracy, the very meaning of pluralism). Consequently, scholars have been vitally interested in the Civil War, searching out clues therein for the identity of America. But if the identity of America is in the Civil War, the meaning of America and what we have become is found in Reconstruction, and the Civil War cannot be separated from Reconstruction any more than the sectional conflict can be separated from the war. (“Is There Anything Left To Be Said About Abraham Lincoln?, Historically Speaking, [September/October 2008] p. 6)

Part of the problem is that our tendency to remember Appomattox as some kind of love fest or the beginning of reunion obscures the level of violence that continued into Reconstruction.  Much of that violence was perpetrated against southern blacks to reinforce assumptions of white supremacy and prevent freed slaves from exercising newly-won civil rights.  Such a view has grown steadily among academic historians since the 1960s and in recent years can be seen in a wave of more popular titles.  The pervasiveness of this view can be seen in a recent History Channel documentary, titled, Aftershock: Beyond The Civil War.  Based on only viewing the first episode it looks like this particular documentary is not so concerned with the complex political issues that dominated the period, but with the scale of violence that was used to terrorize blacks into submission.  It suggests that perhaps the war did not end in 1865, but took on a different form in the years that followed.

 

Will Greene’s Civil War Petersburg

greene-petersburgI know I promised to stay away until January, but I don’t really consider this to be a violation of my blogging hiatus.  My review of Will Greene’s book, Civil War Petersburg: Confederate City in the Crucible of War (University of Virginia Press, 2006), is included in the most recent issue of the journal, Civil War History [December 2009, (pp. 504-05)], and I thought I might pass it on for those of you who need a quick Civil War Memory fix.

Although most Civil War enthusiasts are no doubt familiar with the ten-month campaign that enveloped the city of Petersburg between June 1864 and April 1865 few can say much about how its civilian population, both black and white, experienced the changing conditions wrought by war.  The increase in the number of community and regional studies has led to rich insights into the ways both white and black southerners experienced the hardships of war on the home front.  In addition to studies of the home front historians such as Frank Towers and Louis S. Gerteis have examined the extensive growth experienced in urban communities during the final two decades of the antebellum period and beyond.  A. Wilson Greene’s Civil War Petersburg straddles both of these categories and the result is the most scholarly study of the Cockade City to date. Continue reading

 

Teaching Civil War Memory

n1572390066_30165736_1118Today is the first day of the new trimester and I am once again teaching a course on Civil War Memory.  I have two sections with a total of 12 students.  Hopefully, the small sections will make for even more interesting discussions.  This is a reference sheet that I put together for one of my Teaching American History talks from a few months back.  It includes a few of the scholarly materials that I’ve utilized as well as some ideas for the classroom.  Let me know if you try out any of my proposed classroom projects and please feel free to share what you do in your own courses.  Continue reading

 

Acquisitions 11/23/09

Abigail Adams CoverI try to keep this running list of new titles confined to this blog’s subject matter.  Professor Holton was one of my professors while in graduate school at the University of Richmond.  I worked with him on an independent study and got a chance to read a section of his Adams biography in manuscript form.  Since then I’ve eagerly awaited its final publication. My relationship with Abigail Adams is very complex.  I’ve always found her history to be intriguing; however, since the HBO series I’ve had a major crush on Laura Linney, though I can’t tell how much of it is directed at Linney as opposed to Adams.  Luckily, I have a very understanding wife who is helping me to work through all of this.  If you thought you knew everything there is to know about Abigail Adams you will want to read this book.

Woody Holton, Abigail Adams (Free Press, 2009).

Michael Perman, Pursuit of Unity: A Political History of the American South (University of North Carolina Press, 2009).

Kirk Savage, Monument Wars: Washington, D.C., The National Mall, and the Transformation of the Memorial Landscape (University of California Press, 2009).

William L. Shea, Fields of Blood: The Prairie Grove Campaign (University of North Carolina Press, 2009).

 

Shelby Foote on American Exceptionalism

foo0-001The following commentary by Shelby Foote comes at the tail end of Ken Burns’s The Civil War

“We think that we are a wholly superior people – if we’d been anything like as superior as we think we are, we would not have fought that war.  But since we did fight it, we have to make it the greatest war of all times.  And our generals were the greatest generals of all time.  It’s very American to do that.”