Civil War Memory Over the Charles River

Anderson Memorial BridgeI suspect that for the vast majority of Bostonians and tourists, the city’s history is indelibly stamped (no pun intended) with the events of the American Revolution. I, on the other hand, see the American Civil War everywhere or signs of how Bostonians chose to remember their Civil War. We’ve got some pretty impressive sites such as Harvard’s Memorial Hall and, of course, Saint Gaudens’s Robert Gould Shaw Memorial (54th), but there are also more obscure reminders that are likely missed by most people.

The Anderson Memorial Bridge over the Charles River is one such example. The bridge was built by Larz Anderson as a memorial to his father, Nicholas Longworth Anderson, who fought through and survived the war. Anderson rose from the rank of private to Col. of the 6th Ohio Volunteer Infantry to Brevet Major General of Volunteers. He fought in western Virginia early in the war and saw action in most of the major battles of the Western Theatre, including Stones River and Chickamauga.

The bridge was completed in 1915.

Let’s Talk About the Confederate Flag

Screen Shot 2013-09-24 at 6.55.44 PMThe Virginia Center for Inclusive Communities has a made available what it calls a discussion guide for those who are looking to host a conversation about the Confederate flag that is slated to be raised on private land off of I-95 this weekend. I am not sure who is going to take advantage of this, but I appreciate their sincere interest in encouraging meaningful dialog within the Richmond community and beyond. The guide includes a short article by historian John Coski outlining the history of the Confederate flag followed by a list of guidelines on running a discussion and suggested questions.

This project takes its place alongside the ongoing series of discussions organized by the University of Richmond’s “The Future of Richmond’s Past.”  This should serve as a reminder that there is a place in Richmond where one can meaningfully come to terms with the region’s rich history and heritage without alienating one another.

You can find and download the document here.

The Civil War Is Our History

clioMany of you know that I have a personal connection to 9-11. I lost a cousin on that horrific day. It should come as no surprise that I care very deeply about how my cousin and the history are remembered by the nation as a whole and, more specifically, by the 9-11 Memorial Museum.

Though my interest is very personal, in no way do I believe that I occupy a privileged position when it comes to discussing/debating how 9-11 ought to be remembered. Every American has something at stake regarding this question. It is our history. I wouldn’t even know where to begin to argue that I enjoy anything close to a monopoly on this question of remembrance and commemoration.

With that in mind I have to wonder what kind of distorted and arrogant view of the past would warrant someone to suggest that an ancestral connection to a Civil War soldier is necessary to engage in questions of commemoration and memory. Somebody is going to have to explain to me what that argument looks like. What exactly is the source of this privileged access?

My memories of 9-11 are still fresh. I experienced that day and its aftermath in a way that very few people will ever understand and I will carry that personal connection with me for the rest of my life.

What do you carry 150 years later that trumps such a connection and that places you in a position that you feel comfortable dismissing the myriad ways in which the past matters to each of us? The Civil War is everyone’s history and heritage.

Recognition For William Mahone

mahoneYesterday’s post about the unveiling of three plaques honoring Virginia’s post-Civil War black politicians has me thinking about my old buddy, William Mahone. While Mahone is best remembered as the “Hero of the Crater” his role in launching and leading the state’s most successful third-party political movement has largely been forgotten. In Virginia it was intentionally ignored because what came to be known as the Readjuster Party (1879-83) was bi-racial. The arc from Mahone’s role in preventing a Union breakthrough outside Petersburg that left scores of black Union soldiers massacred on the Crater battlefield to creating an opportunity for the largest number of black Virginians to vote, go to school and serve in positions of local and state government just a few short years later could not be more striking. Could anyone in 1865 anticipate that it would be a former Confederate general who would bring Reconstruction to Virginia?

Is it time to recognize William Mahone publicly in some shape or form? I say yes, if for no other reason than it would help to bring into sharper focus a piece of Virginia’s history that places yesterday’s dedication in its proper context. In other words, post-Civil War Virginia makes absolutely no sense without a reference to Mahone and the Readjuster Party.  It matters, not simply because it’s part of Virginia’s history, but because it has something important to teach us as well. The period following the official years of Reconstruction (1865-1877) did not inevitably lead to Jim Crow. Interracial cooperation was not only possible in the South between 1877 and the turn of the twentieth century but a reality for a few short years in Virginia. Virginia’s Reconstruction was not forced on it by “carpetbaggers” and “scalawags” but by legitimate stakeholders, who believed that a brighter future could be forged for both races. Finally, there is something juicy about all of this being introduced by a former Confederate general. Continue reading “Recognition For William Mahone”