Looks like anti-Neo-Confederate crusader, Edward Sebesta, is getting a head start on this year’s petition requesting that President Obama not send a wreath to the Confederate monument at Arlington National Cemetery. I covered this in some detail on the blog and was very open in my opposition to such a petition. [You can read my commentary here and here.] To sum up, I didn’t see how a petition (written by Sebesta and James Loewen) against the laying of a wreath would lead to anything approaching a constructive and meaningful dialog about the Civil War, race, and memory. More importantly, it all but ignored the fact that we now have a president in office who is ideally suited to encourage and/or lead such a discussion.
Sebesta seems quite pleased with the impact of the petition, though I believe he exaggerates its affect. First, let me be clear that I agree with Sebesta’s general assessment of the problem with the Confederate monument at Arlington. It perpetuates a number of myths about slavery and black Confederates. The monument was dedicated at the height of Jim Crow and ought to be seen as one of the clearest expressions of the Lost Cause memory of the Civil War. While we may agree on interpretation we disagree on how best to engage the general public regarding such sensitive issues. Continue reading
This year is the 70th anniversary of Gone With the Wind and this week my Civil War Memory class will watch it. Depending on how they respond to it we may even watch it in its entirety. There are so many thought provoking scenes, which will allow us to address a number of interpretive threads that have been passed down in our collective memory. With Birth of a Nation already under their belt they will also be able to begin to track certain themes in popular culture during the first part of the twentieth century.
In addition to viewing the movie, students will have to write an analytical review that addresses questions that I have provided. This time around they will also have to spend some time on one of our school’s databases that includes newspapers from around the country. They will have to integrate reviews and editorials into their essays. We will start with the following blog post from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution to get the juices flowing.
One of my FB friends invited me to join a group dedicated to black Confederates. There are just under 200 members. No surprise that just about all of them are white, including Rickey Pittman. There is nothing serious about the site. Essentially, it serves as a dumping ground for the same tired stories that populate the Web. To get a sense of how ridiculous this is consider the fact that they use an image of Jim Limber as their profile picture. One of the more aspects of the site is the attempt to define who constitutes a black Confederate. Check it out:
BLACK CONFEDERATE DEFINED: 1. Any Black person, slave or free, a subject of a seceded Southern state, who faithfully performed his/her duties during the existence of the Confederate States of America. There were 3.5 million blacks in 1860 census residing in Southern states so the number of Black Confederates numbers in millions, not thousands.
Black Confederate Definition 2: Post War 1865-1940. Blacks of any age and gender and including veterans who identified with and defended the Confederate Cause, its symbols and veterans.
Black Confederate Definition 3: Modern. Blacks of any age and gender who identify with and defend the Confederate Cause, its symbols and heroes; and who belong to the Confederate Community and/or consider themselves Confederate Southern Americans.
So, I guess the tens of thousands of free blacks and fugitive slaves who served in the U.S. Army betrayed a cause that they morally ought to have supported in some way. Notice also that the term has been completely watered down beyond any kind of presence with the Confederate army. I guess “faithfully performed his/her duties” simply means that they maintained their roles as slaves. As for Definition #2 I would love to know who they have in mind. Is there a Preferred Membership option for those who maintained their loyalty even as Jim Crow hardened race relations at the turn of the twentieth century? Finally, I guess they have the likes of H.K. Edgerton in mind for their Modern category.
There is something quite disturbing about a bunch of white people recruiting blacks to buttress their silly beliefs about the loyalty of tens of thousands of slaves.
The following guest post by Michael Schaffner examines the wartime evidence for the Kirkland story. It is a thoroughly researched essay and is well worth your time. I should point out that Mr. Schaffner did not set out to write a piece debunking this particular story. Like many of us he was curious about the origin and veracity of Civil War stories.
In 1965, a group comprising among others the states of South Carolina and Virginia, Collateral Descendents of Richard Kirkland, and the Richard Rowland Kirkland Memorial Foundation, erected a statue at Fredericksburg to the memory of Sergeant Kirkland of the Second South Carolina Volunteers. The inscription reads, “At the risk of his life, this American soldier of sublime compassion, brought water to his wounded foes at Fredericksburg. The fighting men on both sides of the line called him ‘The Angel of Marye’s Heights.’”
The exact deed for which Kirkland received this accolade was first and most extensively described by J. B. Kershaw, commander of the brigade in which Kirkland served, in a letter to the Charleston News and Courier dated January 2, 1880.
In brief (see Appendix A for the entire letter), after providing some background on Kirkland’s family, Kershaw describes the scene on December 14 at his head quarters in the Stevens’ house by the sunken road and stone wall at the foot of Marye’s Heights. The previous day, a series of failed Union assaults had left thousands of casualties. As Kershaw surveys the carnage he is interrupted by a sergeant in his brigade, who asks permission to carry water to the wounded Union soldiers, whose cries have moved him since the previous evening. Due to the danger from a day-long “murderous skirmish” with Syke’s regulars, Kershaw only reluctantly approves the young man’s request. Even then he refuses Kirkland permission to show a white flag or handkerchief to lessen the danger. Despite this, Kirkland goes over the wall and gives water to the nearest wounded Yankee, pillows his head on his knapsack, spreads his overcoat over him, replaces his empty canteen with a full one, and goes on to the next. The firing ceases as his purpose becomes clear. Other wounded soldiers cry out to him and for “an hour and a half” Kirkland continues “until he relieved all the wounded on that part of the field.” Continue reading