Why Do We Preserve So Much Civil War Battlefield Land?

In a couple of days I head out with thirteen students to follow the 20th Massachusetts Infantry from Antietam to Gettysburg. It’s going to be an incredible experience for my kids. We have a great deal of ground to cover both literally and figuratively. I want my students to grapple with the central questions that frame our civil war, including why men fought and endured, the importance of Union and the unraveling of slavery.

My trip also has a “social action” component. As we travel from site to site I am going to ask my students to think about why and whether we should preserve Civil War battlefields. Garry Adelman of the Civil War Trust is going to help us with this when he accompanies the group at Antietam. Continue reading “Why Do We Preserve So Much Civil War Battlefield Land?”

What No One in the Confederacy Remembered Seeing

A few weeks ago I was interviewed by Richmond Times-Dispatch writer, Katherine Calos, who is working on a series of articles to mark the end of the sesquicentennial in Richmond. We talked extensively about the debate in the Confederacy over the arming of slaves. I am always happy to do these interviews, but they come with the risk of being misquoted or left out entirely. Neither happened this time around.

Calos offers a pretty lengthy treatment of the subject, including a number of passages from local newspapers on the debate. I was asked to comment on the debate as well as the myth of the black Confederate soldier. Continue reading “What No One in the Confederacy Remembered Seeing”

A Sesquicentennial Anniversary That Gets Lost in the Present

Reading Edward Ball’s, Slaves in the Family, when it was first published in 1998 was a transformative experience. The book was as much about the history of the master-slave relationship as it was about the author’s struggle to come to terms with his connection to this past. It spawned a genre of books about authors coming to terms with their slave-owning ancestors and, in some cases, the journey to re-connect with the descendants of the slaves they once owned. None of these books (at least the ones that I read) was ever quite as good as Ball’s.

Today in The New York Times Ball writes about the sesquicentennial anniversary of the arrival of the Union army and the end of slavery on his family’s plantation outside of Charleston, South Carolina. The editorial begins with such promise as he describes the entrance of Colonel James Beecher (brother of the famous slave narrative author) into the house and the announcement made by a regiment of USCTs to the slaves that they are now “free as birds.” Ball plays with the meaning of the moment by referencing these men as both “invaders” and “liberators.” Continue reading “A Sesquicentennial Anniversary That Gets Lost in the Present”

“The Friends of Forrest” Includes The Virginia Flaggers

I have absolutely no problem with the Virginia Flaggers voicing their position at the recent hearing in Charlottesville, Virginia over whether Lee-Jackson Day ought to be continued. However, I do believe that the residents of my former home deserve full disclosure. They ought to know who is coming in from outside the community to shape public policy. They ought to know who is threatening them with the raising of Confederate flags on private property in retaliation.

The Virginia Flaggers, including Susan Hathaway, ought to be honest about the people they freely associate with.

Over the weekend I shared a story about a billboard that was placed near the Edmund Pettus Bridge by a group calling itself “The Friends of Forrest.” The story about the billboard and the organization has received a good deal of attention over the past few days. The Guardian even sent a reporter to interview Godwin and other members and is definitely worth your time if you can stomach it. Continue reading ““The Friends of Forrest” Includes The Virginia Flaggers”

The Free State of Jones Delivers Another Nail in the Lost Cause Coffin

The big budget Hollywood movies released during the sesquicentennial have all been decidedly anti-Lost Cause. Think “12 Years a Slave,” “Django,” and “Lincoln.” In contrast, more low budget production such as “Field of Lost Shoes” and Amazon’s recent pilot “Point of Honor” have both been disasters on so many levels.

Both of these recent flops attempted to get Confederate soldiers and civilians on the right side of slavery and white supremacy. Virginia Military Institute cadets befriend a black cook or rescue trapped slaves under wagons while slaveowning West Point cadet chooses to emancipate his family ‘s slaves at the very beginning of the war. Unfortunately, we will never know why he made this decision. Continue reading “The Free State of Jones Delivers Another Nail in the Lost Cause Coffin”