The judges for the 2014 Bancroft Prize could not have selected a better book this year. I’ve been raving about Ari Kelman’s A Misplaced Massacre: Struggling over the Memory of Sand Creek (Harvard University Press) since its publication. Here is my blurb for a “best of” list that recently appeared in The Civil War Monitor magazine.
The central event in Ari Kelman’s A Misplaced Massacre: Struggling over the Memory of Sand Creek takes place west of the war’s western theater. Most Americans don’t identify the 1864 slaughter of Cheyenne and Arapahoe Indians as a Civil War battle, but interestingly enough the incident is listed on a monument dedicated in 1909 to Coloradans who fought in the war. The descendants of the slain, however, always considered what happened at Sand Creek a massacre, not a battle. Kelman skillfully traces the competing memories of Sand Creek along with the heated public debates between Native American tribes, local landowners, the National Park Service, and Civil War buffs that ultimately resulted in the establishment of the Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site in 2007. He makes a compelling case that the fighting on the frontier and the fate of Native Americans at the hands of the U.S. military must not be forgotten at a time when Americans have embraced a narrative of the Civil War as a “new birth of freedom.” A Misplaced Massacre is a reminder that Civil War memory studies are far from tapped out.
Ari recently contributed an essay to the special issue of Common-place that I edited with Megan Kate Nelson. For whatever it’s worth I think this is an important book. Looking forward to meeting Ari in June at the Civil War Institute.
This weekend the University of Virginia’s Miller Center will begin airing their “Our American Forum” interview with Gary Gallagher on public TV stations across the country. The Center has uploaded a few preview clips, but I thought this clip in which Gary describes the black Confederate movement as “demented” was worth sharing. I’ve always appreciated Gary’s ability to cut to the chase in his own colorful way. I certainly agree with his assessment.
Here is another excerpt from The Civil War Trust’s interview with Gary Gallagher. Here Gary responds to a question about the impact of the sesquicentennial in comparison with the centennial.
I think it’s been anemic. I don’t think many states have done much. Virginia’s done a great deal with a series of what they call Signature Conferences. There’s a state agency devoted to the sesquicentennial. They’ve had these conferences at different universities–one on emancipation; one on military affairs; we’re going to do the last one here at the University of Virginia in 2015 on the memory of the war. A book is published from each of the conferences, and there’s a website and various ancillary benefits. So I think Virginia’s done by far the best job of any state. Pennsylvania’s done a little; North Carolina’s done a little. Tennessee’s done a lot more than most. But most states have done absolutely nothing. And I think part of it is that the Civil War still can become very controversial very quickly because you can’t talk about it without talking about race. Or you shouldn’t, because slavery and issues related to slavery are so central to the coming of the war and the conflict itself. And that part of the history of the war can be so fraught, even in 2013, that it’s just easier not to do it. Which I think is too bad.
There was a lot more going on in the centennial, although it got embroiled in all kinds of racial problems as well, as I’m sure you know. There was still segregation in 1961. The national commission met in Charleston early on, which was ridiculous. It’s a vastly different world – although some people pretend it isn’t – from what it was in 1961. But there’s not nearly the attention [now]. There was a national Civil War centennial commission then that had all kinds of publications; sponsored all kinds of things. There’s nothing equivalent to that now. But then you still have the governor of Texas talking about secession as an option!
Needless to say, I completely disagree with Gary’s assessment because he places too much emphasis on the activities of state commissions. In fact, I am convinced that if you look at the local level it is likely that the number and scope of activities over the past few years far outstrips the centennial.
What do you think?
College of Charleston
Ultimately, the question of whether Lt. Gov. Glenn McConnell becomes the next president of the College of Charleston will be decided by school officials. McConnell is one among three finalists for the position. Whether or not McConnell is selected will tell us a great deal about the legacy of the Confederacy in Charleston and the state as a whole. Can a popular politician who is a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans and has openly supported the flying of the Confederate flag on statehouse grounds successfully serve his alma mater and steer the college toward its stated goal of increased diversity?
That Charlestonians are even debating this issue is fascinating, but I suspect that he will be appointed. If McConnell’s commitment to keeping the memory of the Confederacy alive in South Carolina does not constitute a sufficient reason to look elsewhere does that mean that we can expect these activities to continue?
Update: Within thirty minutes of posting I was contacted by the editor of a major university press: “Let’s talk.” I take this as a positive sign. Stay tuned.
The other day I outlined the final chapter of my book on Confederate body servants and the myth of the black Confederate soldier. The chapter focuses specifically on the rise and spread of this narrative leading to and especially through the sesquicentennial years. It’s by far the most interesting chapter and will likely be a good deal of fun to write. As you might imagine the chapter borrows heavily from this blog, which over the years has offered the most sustained critique of this myth that you will find anywhere on the Internet. Continue reading