Category Archives: Civil War Sesquicentennial

Warped Civil War Memory

I came across this editorial during my daily perusal of some of my favorite blogs. It’s from the North South Traders’ Civil War magazine. I don’t know much about the editorial staff, but this brief essay is truly bizarre.

When I was a youngster during the Centennial, much of Kantor’s vision eluded me, but given the sense of nationalism that pervaded in the Centennial era, I recall being somewhat conflicted about his conclusion about a peaceful postwar disunion.  I just couldn’t imagine the North and the South being two separate nations. As one nation, we had saved the world—twice.  We were united by a new highway system that made nationwide travel accessible and appealing.  Television was making us all laugh and cry and applaud the same things from Maine to southern California.  We were about to conquer space.  America ruled the universe and everyone knew it.

Fifty years later I find myself utterly amazed that the cohesiveness and national pride of that era is gone.  A half century of assaults, both within and without, by those seeking a bigger slice of the pie for themselves or someone they believed deserved it has brought us to our knees.

Unlike the schism of 1860, today’s isn’t a geographic separation but wholly ideological ones.  America today seems as divided as it was in 1860—or worse.  At least in 1860, Americans were united by a common sense of national pride, an adherence to traditional values, and a common moral compass.   We were separated primarily by politics and the economies of different geographic areas. Today, it seems we have less in common than we did 150 years ago.  Sure, we’re still separated by politics and economics, but were are also splintered into scores of factions of self-descriptions and self-interest: poor, rich, young, old, gay, straight, pretty, ugly, smart, stupid, fat, anorexic, believers in God, athiests, and those who simply hate everyone.

I guess it’s understandable in this time of apparent political and cultural division to imagine a time in the recent and/or distant past that was defined by a consensus of shared values. Unfortunately, that time never existed. Are we really any more divided today than in the 1790s or 1850s?

What I find truly bizarre, however, is the assertion that we may be more divided as a nation today than in the 1860. The divide in 1860 led to a bloody civil war that left much of this country devastated. This writer seems completely oblivious to the fact that the political and economic differences rested on a regional divide between slaveholding and non-slaveholding.

Do we “have less in common than we did 150 years ago”? How’s this for starters. Americans today no longer believe that other people ought to be treated as property. That’s something we now have in common that Americans in 1860 did not.


Frank Tyson’s Civil War Memory

The following two video interviews with Frank Tyson are part of an oral history project at the website, Race and Class in DuBois’ Seventh Ward. The first one focuses on Monument Avenue in Richmond, Virginia.

The next video focuses on Birth of a Nation.

The rest of the video interviews from the project can be found here.


Have Confederate Symbols Lost Their Political and Racial Meanings?

Earlier today I was contacted by a student in Italy, who is currently writing on the subject of Confederate symbols in popular culture. The student inquired into a few areas and I thought he might benefit from hearing from the rest of you until I have a chance to respond.

My name is — — and I’m currently a senior student in History at the University of RomaTre in Rome, Italy. Two years ago i earned a bachelor degree in modern history and now I’m preparing my final master thesis in North American History. Being half American I’m very interested in American culture and society. The subject of my thesis is “The use of Confederate symbols in contemporary southern culture”.

Being very interested in the Civil War era i discovered some time ago your blog and I’ve read with interest your articles on “The Atlantic” that I found very useful. In my essay I would like to demonstrate that in the past 30/40 years Confederate symbols have lost their political and racial meanings and have now become more a popular culture phenomenon than a real political symbol. So i was wondering if you would please answer a couple of questions on this topic, it would be very helpful:

First, I would be interested to find out if in the South or in the Deep South States the disaster of recent years as the hurricane Katrina or 9/11 were followed by the display of Confederate symbols as a symbol of grief and condolence. On this specific topic I can’t find any sources, so do you have any news about it?

Secondly, having read your articles it seems to me that you too are convinced that the Confederate symbols have lost impact since the ’70s. Is it so? What are the causes in your opinion?


Confederate Heritage Gone Wild

Both Andy Hall and Brooks Simpson have highlighted another instance of Confederate Heritage gone wild. It’s nothing new, whether we are discussing the latest Virginia Flagger fiasco or SCV misstep. I’ve been accused of highlighting heritage follies for the sake of blog stats and there is some truth to that. At the same time, however, I think it is important to highlight as wide a range of perspectives as possible during this sesquicentennial. Much of this has only emerged owing to social media channels such as Facebook, YouTube and blogging, which allows for incredibly nuanced narratives and perspectives on the past. Continue reading