Just wrapped up another productive week at the Massachusetts Historical Society with collections related to the 55th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry. There is something to researching real black Civil War soldiers as opposed to deconstructing silly claims about fictitious black Confederate soldiers. The MHS has an impressive collection of correspondence among the unit’s officers. In addition, I now have access to a number of black newspapers through a deal with Accessible Archives. They include a large number of letters written by enlisted men and officers from black regiments, including the 55th. I still haven’t decided what I plan on doing with this research beyond writing a couple of articles. There is definitely a book in all of this, but we will have to see if I am the one who will write it.
I am coming to you from a cafe in downtown Boston as I make my way over to the North End for dinner. Rather than take the train I decided to walk it, which was really just an excuse to spend some time at the Robert Gould Shaw Memorial. This was the first time I noticed that the line of men extends behind Shaw’s horse, which you can see in this photo.
I don’t know how many of you are aware of it, but The New Confederate Army is on the verge of bankruptcy unless they can raise $750 by the end of the week to pay at least one outstanding bill. This video is truly hilarious. The funniest line by far is the following: “I have been to everywhere that I know how to go, where I need to go. And I can’t seem to find any you.” It’s hard to believe that the survival of the Lost Cause hinges on a couple hundred dollars, but there you have it.
Today I came across a news clipping from the Boston Transcript, which covered the fall of Charleston in February 1865. The paper reprinted a letter written by an officer in a Massachusetts regiment about a Charleston lawyer by the name of Nelson Mitchell. Turns out that the story is fairly well known. Luis F. Emilio also mentions Mitchell in his history of the 54th Massachusetts. I suspect the author of the letter served in the 54th or 55th since it is contained in the Norwood P. Hallowell Papers. One wonders where, if at all, Mitchell fits in with the Southern Heritage folks.
One of the things I enjoyed while living in Virginia was the opportunity to explore public spaces related to the Civil War. Whenever I traveled to a new city or town one of the first things I did was look for that Confederate soldier monument at a downtown intersection or on the courthouse grounds. There is something comforting about finding that monument – a present reminder of a distant past. Not so distant that we are transported back to the Civil War, but to that period between 1880 and 1920 as white southerners struggled to make sense of a past in the face of modernity. Those of us who approach these spaces are forced to confront our individual and collective need to remember as well as the consequences of forgetting.
“Brag Bowling, SCV member and Director of the Stephen D. Lee Institute, and Southern Poverty Law Center Research Director Mark Potok represent two sides of the contentious debate over a large and looming question: what was the Civil War really fought over?” As far as I can tell neither of them possesses any serious knowledge of Civil War history. They are, however, quite entertaining. The following clip is from an upcoming documentary titled, The Lost Cause: An Old War in the New South.