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 Calm Before the Storm in the Capital of the Confederacy

Sallie A. Brock’s narrative of the final days of the Confederacy in Richmond was published in 1867 and based largely on Edward Pollard’s The Last Year of the War. The author’s description tells us quite a bit about the drastic changes that took place beginning on April 2, but it also tell us as much (if not more) about how Brock and others chose to remember so soon after the Confederacy’s fall.

The morning of the 2d of April, 1865, dawned brightly over the capital of the Southern Confederacy. A soft haze rested over the city, but above that, the sun shone with the warm pleasant radiance of early spring. The sky was cloudless. No sound disturbed the stillness of the Sabbath morn, save the subdued murmur of the river, and the cheerful music of the church bells. The long familiar tumult of war broke not upon the sacred calmness of the day. Around the War Department, and the Post Office, news gatherers were assembled for the latest tidings, but nothing was bruited that deterred the masses from seeking their accustomed places in the temples of the living God. At St. Paul’s church the usual congregation was in attendance. President Davis occupied his pew. (p. 362)

The clearness of the morning sky, a quite military front and a city headed to church helps to create a defined space between four years of war and the final chapter that is about to be unleashed on the city. It’s a moment that the reader can’t help to anticipate, but Brock also hopes to evoke the innocence of the Confederacy and the virtuousness of its cause. It is the Confederacy’s that is about to be swarmed by overwhelming numbers of Yankees, who had been kept at bay for so long. It is their civilization that is about to be upended. Continue reading “The Calm Before the Storm in the Capital of the Confederacy”

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”

“Keep the Skeer on ‘Em”

This past week in anticipation of the 50th anniversary of “Bloody Sunday” and a visit by the president of the United States, a group calling itself “Friends of Forrest” placed a billboard of the famous slave trader, Confederate general and Ku Klux Klan member within sight of the Edmund Pettus Bridge. Member, Pat Godwin, is on record as describing the 1965 Voting Rights march as “the mother of all orgies.”

264A708B00000578-2984137-_Despicable_-m-43_1425746973989 I think it is safe to assume who is feeling “skeered” these days.

Selma March“The single-most powerful word in our democracy is the word ‘we.’ We the People. We shall overcome. Yes we can. That word is owned by no one. It belongs to everyone. Oh, what a glorious task we are given, to continually try to improve this great nation of ours.”

President Barack Obama speaking in Selma, Alabama on March 7, 2015

Why Changing the Name of the Edmund Pettus Bridge is a Mistake

Today marks the 50th anniversary of what came to be known as “Bloody Sunday.”  Civil Rights marchers were brutally beaten back by state police while trying to cross Selma, Alabama’s Edmund Pettus bridge on their way to the state capital to demand voting rights. The bridge that the marchers crossed in March 1965 (as well as tens of thousands of visitors, who have since crossed in honor and in memory of the events of that year) is named after a Confederate officer and Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan in Alabama.

A student petition to change the name of the bridge has been organized by area students and has garnered over 150,000 signatures. Though the petition does not offer any specific suggestions, there has been a call in recent years to change the name to honor Georgia Representative John Lewis. Given Lewis’s role in the Civil Rights Movement and his involvement in the Selma marches this would certainly be a well-deserved honor. Few will deny that Lewis is an American hero. Continue reading “Why Changing the Name of the Edmund Pettus Bridge is a Mistake”