‘From the Birthplace of Secession to the Graveyard of Slavery’

One hundred and fifty years ago today the 55th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry entered Charleston, South Carolina. Blain Roberts and Ethan Kytle offer a vivid description of this moment in the latest New York Times Disunion column. It’s an incredibly powerful scene and one that is beautifully captured in the pages of Harpers Weekly.

Funny, but in all of the historical tours that I have taken with history teachers and student groups, I have never heard this scene referenced. How is it that such a joyous scene that celebrates freedom, located at the very core of the slaveholding South, is not fully embraced? The truth is that from a certain perspective this scene is just a little unsettling. From the vantage point of 1861 these men were never meant to be. The men, women and children welcoming them to their home and celebrating their freedom was not a foregone conclusion just a few years previous. As we all know, the war could have ended without anything in this scene coming to pass. Continue reading “‘From the Birthplace of Secession to the Graveyard of Slavery’”

Virginia Flaggers Surrender Charlottesville

Virginia FlaggersIt was so predictable. Even the anticipation of a city council vote on March 2 regarding whether to continue to recognize Lee-Jackson Day has the Virginia Flaggers scrambling for a plot of land to raise when of their Confederate flags. It’s their usual signal of surrender when decisions by local communities don’t go their way.

I’ve never understood this preoccupation with raising flags on highways and in other places that provide absolutely no historical context whatsoever. How exactly is a passerby suppose to know that this particular flag is meant to be interpreted in a certain way? Are the Flaggers oblivious to the fact that the flag is fraught with competing interpretations? For the sake of getting their message across to the general public, why wouldn’t they choose a form of commemoration that is less likely to be misunderstood? Continue reading “Virginia Flaggers Surrender Charlottesville”

Henry Louis Gates, Black Confederates and White Liberal Academics

Last Saturday Megan Kate Nelson, my wife and I went to see Suzan Lori Parks’s three-act play, “Father Comes Home From the Wars.” I don’t want to give too much away about the plot beyond the fact that the central character is a slave, who at the beginning of the first act struggles with whether he is going to go off to war with his master/Confederate colonel. Oh, and the slave, whose name is Hero, is also donning a Confederate uniform.

Following the show we enjoyed a talkback with members of the cast. Unfortunately, we missed another post-production discussion the following day with Parks, along with Henry Louis Gates and Eric Foner. The discussion kicked off with some thoughts about the current debate about black Confederates.

On one level the focus of the discussion was unfortunate. At no time is Hero’s struggle about whether he can support or serve the Confederacy and the decision has nothing to do with him serving as a soldier. Rather, it serves as the foundation for his relationship with his master, which evolves significantly during the show. It’s confusing, in part, because Hero wears a uniform, but we know of a number of slaves, including, most famously, Silas Chandler, who were outfitted in military dress. The opening act offers an opportunity to explore the complexity of the master-slave relationship and not that of the relationship between slaves and the Confederacy. Continue reading “Henry Louis Gates, Black Confederates and White Liberal Academics”

Celebrating the Murder of a President

I hesitate giving this posting from the League of the South, announcing their intention to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, any more attention that it has already attracted, but it is useful in making a couple of points.

The League of the South looks to the present and future. However, from time to time we do look back at our past.

This 14th of April will mark the 150th anniversary of John Wilkes Booth’s execution of the tyrant Abraham Lincoln. The League will, in some form or fashion, celebrate this event. We remember Booth’s diary entry: “Our country owed all her troubles to him, and God simply made me the instrument of his punishment.” A century and a half after the fact, The League of the South thanks Mr. Booth for his service to the South and to humanity.

Stay tuned . . .

Michael Hill

First, it betrays a rather naive understanding of how Americans (North  and South) responded to the actions of John Wilkes Booth. Continue reading “Celebrating the Murder of a President”

Boston Resident Remembers the Men of the Petersburg Campaign

I’ve expressed more than once my disappointment at not being able to spend more time in Petersburg, Virginia this past year to commemorate the sesquicentennial of the war. Apart from my participation in the 150th anniversary of the Crater I’ve had to look on from afar. But about two weeks ago I was suddenly overcome with an urge to commemorate the men on both sides who lived in and braved the earthworks around Petersburg from June 1864 to April 1865.

At first I wasn’t sure what I was constructing, but a few days ago I had one of those Richard Dreyfuss/mashed potato moments of clarity. From that point on my work proceeded with great energy and focus. What you see here is the northwest side of what I am calling Battery 5. Its walls stand 10 ft. in height and 3 ft. thick. This morning I began placing palisades around the wall.

I assure you that other than our neighbors no impressed workers were used in the construction of this section of the line. There are rumors of tunneling activities by the enemy.