Not Your Grandfather’s ‘Fall of Richmond’

The week-long commemoration marking the fall and liberation of Richmond, the evacuation of Petersburg by Lee’s men and its eventual surrender at Appomattox Court House is in full swing. A slew of events marking this important moment in American history are being offered by a wide range of organizations. Taken together these programs offer the public a tapestry of narratives that reflect the many ways in which the events of early April 1865 were experienced.

Such a project is not without its challenges given the strong emotions that often shape the responses of people who are invested in certain narratives of the war. It is easy to focus on moments of conflict, but from what I’ve read thus far I can’t help but conclude that Richmonders and many others are taking full advantage of this opportunity to learn about the many voices that could be heard in this final chapter of the war. [I say this even as I make my way through Greg Downs’s new book. More on this at a later time.] Continue reading “Not Your Grandfather’s ‘Fall of Richmond’”

The Death of a Colonel and a Cause

Today is the 150th anniversary of the battle of Five Forks outside of Petersburg, Virginia. One of the most popular stories from that fight is the gallant defense of the crossroads and mortal wounding of Confederate Colonel William Pegram. To this day Pegram occupies a special place in our collective memory of the war. Like the crossroads he defended, Pegram’s life and legacy bring together a number of important narrative threads, including devotion to the Confederacy, family and God, fearless leadership on the battlefield and a youthful exuberance snuffed out all too soon.

William McCabe’s description of Pegram’s injury and death is incredibly moving and as a close to what a “good death” should involve in war. It is easy to get wrapped up in a narrative that celebrates young Pegram’s character and martial valor. He is, indeed, an appealing young man. At the same time we should not look beyond the cause for which he never lost sight of during his four years in the Confederate army. His commitment to the Confederacy and his willingness to expose himself on the battlefield time and time again and even after the point where many believed the cause was lost were a function of firm devotion. Continue reading “The Death of a Colonel and a Cause”

Did the Civil War End in 1865?

It’s a question that has come to frame Civil War era studies more and more over the past few decades. I pose the question to my students to help them think about both continuity and change throughout the decade and beyond. The question certainly has pedagogical value.

Now I pose the question to all of you.

What are the interpretive benefits and/or pitfalls to understanding the war as ending in the spring of 1865 as opposed to a longer war that may have taken a different form?

I have some thoughts about this, which I will share in due time.

Commemorating Richmond’s Fall and Liberation

What I wouldn’t give to be in Richmond, Virginia this coming week for the 150th anniversary of the city’s fall and liberation. There are a wide range of events planned by the National Park Service and a host of other organizations. It’s a fitting way to end the sesquicentennial in Virginia given its track record over the past few years. No state has done more nor has devoted more resources to the sesquicentennial.

In the Richmond Times-Dispatch this weekend Katherine Calos interviewed a number of people involved in sesquicentennial planning throughout Virginia and Richmond specifically. Their thoughts reflect the many differences between the centennial and sesquicentennial and the continued challenges associated with its interpretation and commemoration. Continue reading “Commemorating Richmond’s Fall and Liberation”