Category Archives: Memory

The Tragedy of a Nation “Born Perfect”

An anonymous comment in response to David Blight’s recent Fortenbaugh Lecture at Gettysburg College.

“In this enduring vision the United States was essentially born perfect and then continued its improvement.” — David Blight

The “tragedy” in US history seems to me to be embedded in its historiography: the repeated description of the immense human sacrifice to remove a deep stain from America’s past. This should have been more “effortless”, right? And on the way, those that had to remove the stain (not all that voluntarily) began to complain and the other side simply denied there ever was one. But in the end those that should have complained never got a voice until recently and only through the foggy interpretations of what slavery meant by focusing mainly on battlefields and where flanks of Union troops met Confederates, nothing of which even sheds a glimpse on the actual society in which slavery existed. Continue reading

Tension Between Union & Reconciliation

General-Lee-painting-zach-franzenSpent a few hours earlier today at the Massachusetts Historical Society looking at letters and diaries of Northern soldiers who fought at the Crater. As happens so often during the research process what turned out to be the most interesting discovery was unrelated to my immediate project. After reading his wartime letters I decided to go through the G.A.R. materials in the William M. Olin collection. Included is the John E. Gilman Camp’s Record Book that Olin joined after the war.

I don’t have any information on the backstory, but apparently in 1936 the Massachusetts Institute of Technology accepted a portrait of Robert E. Lee. This did not sit well with the veterans in the Gilman Camp and I suspect they were not alone. Continue reading

The G.A.R. and Memory of Union in Lynn

I want to take this opportunity to thank Dexter Bishop, Al Smith and the rest of the Civil War Round Table of the North Shore for a wonderful evening. It was as enjoyable a speaking engagement as I can remember. The audience was receptive, asked engaging questions and kindly bought up most of the books I brought for sale. I am looking forward to working with this group again in May, when I will help to run a workshop for area teachers at the G.A.R. Hall. Continue reading

We Just Want to Get Married

Ani DiFranco’s recent cancellation of a workshop/performance at Nottoway Plantation in Louisiana has raised the question of whether it is appropriate to hold certain types of events at these sites. [Click here for a thoughtful response from Nicholas Redding.] Continue reading

“The Plantation Called New York City”

Here is Sanitation Department chaplain, Reverend Fred Lucas’s invocation at New York City Mayor de Blasio’s inauguration on January 1. I honestly don’t know what I think of it. Most of the commentary that I’ve read gives me very little to think about, though I did find Greg Downs’s opinion piece to be helpful. May use it as part of my Civil War Memory class, which I am teaching this semester.