Category Archives: Civil War Sesquicentennial

Four Score and Seven Years Ago

What do you think of this song and video? Is it an effective teaching tool for a certain age range or does it simply promote an overly simplistic narrative of American history that borders on propaganda?

The song “Four Score and Seven Years Ago” sings the opening of the Gettysburg Address and tells of Lincoln, the Civil War and equality in an uplifting American anthem that can be sung by all ages. Designed to be a teaching and performing tool for teachers and choral directors. Documentary versions, one with an instrumental track to be used for performance to video will be released…

I Got Felt Up at a Civil War Reenactment

I really had no idea that this was the kind of thing I was missing at Civil War reenactments. This image was pulled from a new photography book on the fascinating world of reenacting titled, Whistling Dixie by Anderson Scott. You can find additional images at the Wired article.

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So, is this part of the courting practices of the antebellum South that is being depicted here? I don’t remember ever seeing anything close to this in Gone With the Wind or a Mort Kunstler print.

Stirring Up Civil War Memory on Memorial Day Weekend

Union Soldier in Forrest Hills Cemetery by Milmore

Union Soldier in Forrest Hills Cemetery by Milmore

This editorial by Jamie Malanowski, which appeared today in the New York Times, reminds me of Edward Sebesta’s petition to have President Obama end the practice of sending a wreath to the Confederate Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery.  In the end it stirs up emotions, but fails to produce anything constructive.  Malanowski’s contribution to our collective conscience this Memorial Day weekend is to remind the public that 10 military bases located around the country are named after Confederate generals.  And you guessed it, those names need to be changed.

Malanowski begins with the questionable assumption that the “humble idea” of decorating graves “quickly spread throughout the country, and the recognition of common loss helped reconcile North and South.” It didn’t. Decoration Days were incredibly divisive throughout the period between the 1860s and the early twentieth century. Recent studies by Caroline Janney, William Blair, and John Neff suggest why this was the case.

It’s not that I am against changing the names of public places, but in most cases the push is local.  For example, consider the recent controversy in Memphis, Tennessee surrounding the name of Nathan Bedford Forrest Park. These are questions that need to be resolved by the members of the community. Continue reading

The Civil War’s Untold Story

It’s the name of a 5-part documentary that will air on PBS in February 2014.  The preview looks pretty good, though it’s not clear to me exactly what is new or “untold”.  The commentary by historians is certainly within the mainstream of current interpretation, but perhaps parts of it will be new to the general public.  One thing that I really like is Allen Guelzo’s constant reinforcement of the importance of democracy and republican government as what was at stake.  The scene of impressed slaves working on Confederate earthworks looks very promising for the obvious reasons. No hint of Lost Cause rhetoric, which is very nice to see.

Vindicating Col. Robert Gould Shaw and the 54th

burning-of-darien-from-glory

With the 150th anniversary of the burning of Darien, GA approaching one local historian hopes to vindicate Col. Robert Gould Shaw of any responsibility.  We all know the scene in Glory when Shaw orders his men to torch the town only after the threat of court-martial by Col. James Montgomery of the 2nd South Carolina Volunteers.  Montgomery and General Hunter play the perfect villains in the movie, which ultimately leads to a transfer for the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry from hard labor to combat and glory at the base of Battery Wagner in July 1863.  It’s hard to know what McIntosh County historian Buddy Sullivan has planned for the commemoration beyond reminding his community that the raid did not take place during Sherman’s March of 1864 and that Shaw was indeed following orders.

Most of us know about this little incident from Glory and the movie gets a lot right.  Yes, Shaw disapproved of Montgomery’s order to join his unit and burn Darien.  According to historian Russell Duncan, “Shaw believed the action unjustified and disgraceful, and said he could have assented to it only if they had met Rebel resistance.” (pp. 43-44)  Shaw was concerned about the negative publicity that eventually was reported in northern and southern newspapers.  While it is true that Shaw was forced to follow orders it’s not clear whether noting that Col. Montgomery was also carrying out direct orders from General David Hunter will make it into Sullivan’s upcoming presentation.  Better to have a foil with which to vindicate Shaw.   Continue reading