Category Archives: Memory

Obama and Civil War Memory

A few months ago I speculated on how an Obama victory might affect how we remember our Civil War.  I suggested that the election of our first black president (regardless of political affiliation) would present us with an opportunity to remember and commemorate aspects of the war that have traditionally been downplayed, if not ignored entirely.  Obama himself has encouraged this by voicing his admiration for Doris K. Goodwin’s book, along with a recent visit to the Lincoln Memorial, and plans to follow part of the route that Lincoln took in March 1861.  Now we hear that reenactors with the 54th Massachusetts will march in the inaugural parade.  Millions of Americans will learn about the history and significance of these soldiers without any of the distraction associated with so-called black Confederates (Confederate slaves).  I couldn’t be happier for the members of the units who will take part because I know first hand what it means to them.

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Commemorating What?

It’s a strange feeling to have to write a commemoration talk when the very thing that deserves to be remembered and reinforced has almost entirely been forgotten. Even I failed to acknowledge that December 6 was the anniversary of the passage of the 13th Amendment, which ended slavery forever. Few Americans would have conceived of this as a possibility in 1861. The battle of Fredericksburg, which was fought on the eve of the Emancipation Proclamation, is part of this story of a “new birth of freedom” and deserves to be acknowledged in a nation that professes to believe in freedom and equality for all.

I believe the commemoration ceremony this coming Sunday is being held next to the Kirkland Statue. It’s a fitting place to hold the ceremony. We all know the story of Sergeant Kirkland of the 2nd South Carolina who gave aid and comfort to wounded Union soldiers at the base of Marye’s Heights. That said, I would much rather be in sight of the soldier’s graves. They force us to ask the difficult questions of what the war means to us as well as what is worth remembering and commemorating. Kirkland’s story is one that all Americans can identify with, and rightly so, but when are we as a nation going to get to a point when emancipation and the end of slavery can be acknowledged as a fitting price for so much death and suffering?

 

VMI Will March in Inaugural Parade

One of my readers has informed me that the Virginia Military Institute’s entire Corps of cadets will march in Barack Obama’s inaugural parade.  Why is this significant?  The Corps, along with Thomas J. Jackson were present at the execution of John Brown in 1859.  Most notably, the Corps took part in the Battle of New Market in 1864, in a war whose purpose was the perpetuation of slavery and white supremacy.  Even as other military schools transitioned to admitting African Americans into their programs, VMI remained steadfast in refusing to do so until 1968.  Perhaps it’s just another sign of how far we’ve come as a nation.

 

Sometimes You Just Have to Laugh

In an interview with 60 Minutes for the release of the movie version of The Producers, Mel Brooks suggested that sometimes the most fitting response to hate is to laugh at its perpetrators.  With that in mind I give you Olaf Childress, who plans to transport a casket in a hearse – outfitted with magnetic Confederate battle flags – bearing a copy of the 14th Amendment from his southern Alabama home to the shores of the Potomac River for burial.