Does the SCV Really Want to Share William Mahone’s Story?

Today it is being reported that Urquhart-Gillette Camp No. 1471 of Courtland, Virginia is making steady progress in restoring the boyhood home of William Mahone.  The group is currently using it for their monthly meetings, but they hope to expand their operations in the future to include educational outreach.  This includes sharing Mahone’s history as a Confederate general, businessman, and politician.  According to Greg Bell, who authored the article and is a member of Urquhart-Gillett Camp:

There is a wonderful story to be told about this good man Mahone and his contributions that is not being taught in today’s schools. Preserving this national and state historic landmark is an opportunity that this SCV Camp feels will become something positive for all the public to reflect upon while being taught about Billy Mahone…. I can tell you that when sitting in the tavern during one of the monthly SCV meetings, you can feel the history coming out of the walls. We are very proud to have been able to preserve such a historic place and help to promote the true Southern history through purchasing Little Billy Mahone’s boyhood home.

As many of you know I’ve spent considerable time researching and writing about William Mahone’s postwar career.  I published an article on the subject back in 2005 in the Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, which appears in revised form as chapter 3 in my forthcoming book on the Crater.  Mahone is clearly an important nineteenth-century Virginian; in fact, a case can be made that he is the most important post-Civil War figure in Virginia.  [Click here for an overview of his life.]

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North Carolina’s Other Civil War Sesquicentennial

After Virginia no other state has done more to commemorate the American Civil War than North Carolina.  Their state commission has done an excellent job thus far of organizing activities that reflect an incredibly rich and complex past.  They are doing their very best to make the war relevant to the state’s diverse population by focusing on a wide range of themes from the military to race to memory.  I have a number of friends who are directly involved in the commission’s work and I can say with confidene that they are making an impact on a number of levels.

Even with all the work this group has undertaken it appears that not everyone is satisfied.  In fact, there are two Civil War sesquicentennial commemorations taking place in North Carolina.  The other one is being called the North Carolina War Between the States Sesquicentennial and they even have their own website.  The commission is headed by Bernhard Thuersam, who works as a home designer.  So, why an alternative commemoration?

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Was/Is Secession Constitutional?

Please don’t hold your breath for an answer to this question.  To be honest, I don’t really have any interest in debating it nor do I really care whether secession was/is constitutional.  I suspect that apart from law school classes our answers to this question as both a historical and present proposition is largely determined by whether one believes that secession is necessary to correct some social or political problem.  While I certainly see plenty of social and political problems that need to be dealt with, at this point it seems to me that they can be best addressed within our present constitutional framework.

I’ve always found the passionate identification with those white southerners who advocated Southern nationalism and secession in the years leading up to the Civil War to be disingenuous or at least open to scrutiny on a number of counts.  In certain circles the question is debated in the abstract, but what I find troubling about the way I see many people play this game is the tendency to place themselves in a direct line to specific historical actors.  They play the role of rightful inheritors of a certain argument or movement and in the process blur the distinction between the present and the past: In short, “What was their fight is our fight.”

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Keeping Robert E. Lee Right Where He Belongs

Update: The two posts on this subject have been combined for a short post at The Atlantic. Thanks again for the thoughtful feedback.

Students on Monument Avenue

Thanks to all of you who left comments in response to the recent story out of Richmond, Virginia, about the decorative art that was attached to three statues along Monument Avenue.  The goal of the protester was to remind visitors and others that Richmond’s history extends beyond its preoccupation with its Confederate and may have also wanted to show that the monuments in question were erected at a time when African Americans were barred from local government and the kinds of conversations that directly shape how a local community remembers its collective past.

The post (as well as the online news reports) brought out some very strong views, but I am especially intrigued by those readers who not only approve of the additions of the plaques, but with the removal of the monuments.  One reader had this to say:

I’m suggesting that’s an overly narrow framing of the issue, which should be: who gets to decide what messages take up our public space TODAY? Your view strikes me as giving too much privilege to the white supremacists who put up all the monuments in the first place. Just because they had that power once doesn’t entitle their “monuments” to deference for all time. I respect your scholarly approach to this, but I disagree – I’d rather see these monuments removed to a “Museum of Racism”.

I thought I would take just a few moments to clarify my position.  First, I don’t believe that monuments to the past necessarily warrant an indefinite life span.  I can think of any number of examples where I believe the removal of monuments and memorials are justified from the toppling of statues of King George III at the beginning of the American Revolution to the pulling down of Saddam Hussein in Baghdad.  In those two examples, however, their removal functioned as part of the end of a government or revolution.  I’m sure we could just easily come up with other examples justifying the removal of a historical marker of one sort or another.

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Deep Thoughts With the Kennedy Brothers

Bonus Material: “Adolf Hitler admired Lincoln’s attack upon state’s rights and emulated Lincoln by destroying the last vestiges of “statal rights” in the German Federal Republic. Lincoln, Marx, Engles, and Hitler–what a band of brothers!” Kennedy, Lincoln’s Marxists, 264.

From the dynamic duo that brought you such classics as The South Was Right and Myths of American Slavery and inspired a new generation of whacky books such Lincoln Uber Alles and Lincoln’s Marxists:

“The United States maintains the most cordial of relationships with Saudi Arabia, a nation that ended slavery almost one hundred years AFTER it was ended in the South. Contrast the treatment of the South with that of Saudi Arabia as it relates to the issue of slavery. Which nation is most often condemned, ridiculed, and scorned due to the issue of slavery?” Myths of American Slavery, p. 63.