Portsmouth, Virginia Embraces Its Southern Unionist Heritage

Last week the Portsmouth Historical Commission passed the following resolution honoring Southern Unionists:

Whereas the history of the Civil War has at times, understandably but mistakenly, been seen as a battle between regions . . .

Whereas in reality the dedication to Union and Emancipation was shared by millions of Americans north and south . . .

Whereas there were many in the states that formed the Confederacy “who in the darkest hour of slavery kept alive in their souls a love of manhood rights, justice, and the unity of the United States of America”

Whereas these men and women who risked everything to preserve the Union are rarely remembered as much as they should . . .

Whereas in Virginia especially, support for Union was so pronounced that the state split itself in two . . .

Whereas many of the people of present day Virginia can also look to the family histories of Unionism of which they can be proud . . .

And whereas the city of Portsmouth was, for much of the war, a haven for Virginia’s Unionists, both black and white . . .

Be it resolved that the City of Portsmouth through its History Commission. . .

Declare May of this year to be Southern Unionist History Month,

Encourage other localities in Virginia and the Commonwealth itself to join in this declaration, and

Provide for various events and information during May to make Virginians more aware of Civil War Unionism in and around Portsmouth, Virginia.

This week the organization asked the city council to adopt the resolution and set aside May as Southern Unionist Heritage Month.  The council was unable to vote on the resolution since it had not been placed on the agenda in time for the meeting.

Robert K. Krick Defends Lee From Strawmen

I think it’s time for Robert K. Krick to get a new angle.  How much longer do we have to be subjected to vague references of an “anti-Lee” cabal among academic historians?  In 2007 I was asked to respond to a presentation he gave as part of the University of Virginia’s commemoration of “Lee at 200.”  In it Krick accused academic historians of intentionally distorting the history of Lee through an embrace of psycho-history and an over reliance on interpretation.  It appears that when it comes to Lee: No Interpretation Necessary.  If you want to know what Lee believed, just read his own words.  It appears little has changed in five years.

This past weekend Krick took part in the Virginia Sesquicentennial Commission’s Signature Conference at the Virginia Military Institute.  It sounds like it was a huge success, which I am glad to hear.  Krick used the opportunity to once again go after his fellow historians.  This time, however, he accused them of ignoring Confederate postwar accounts as tainted with Lost Cause mythology.  As one example he cited the following:

One “inane strain” of that criticism, he said, holds that Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee wasn’t really so popular among his troops and Southern citizens at the time.  Nonsense, Krick said.  He offered a maxim about the writing of history that he called Hamlin’s Razor (a riff on Occam’s Razor): “Never attribute to malice what can be adequately explained by ignorance or sloth.”

Can someone please name one historian who has recently made such a claim?  This is nothing more than a strawman argument.  The article does not mention whether Krick had anyone specific in mind and I suspect that he failed to do so.  And I don’t know one historian who brushes off postwar accounts as unreliable.  What a silly thing to say.  The only example Krick could muster was a recent story out of Ohio in which a teacher reprimanded a student for including Confederate sources.  Krick wrote to the teacher and we can only hope that this is the end of the story, but it tells us nothing particularly interesting about how historians treat postwar Confederate sources.

Enough already.

Sons of Confederate Veterans Dig Up Graves

Removing the stone covering Joseph Hollerman's grave

This is just downright bizarre.  This past weekend in west Raleigh, North Carolina the local SCV dug up and moved the remains of the Holleman brothers, one of who was a Confederate soldier.  According to the story, the graves were marked and were not threatened by any type of encroachment.  The remains of both men were moved to nearby Oakwood Cemetery.  And why did their remains need to be removed?  According to SCV member, Donald Scott:

We know these young men have left their earthly shell.  We want to respect and honor these remains, even though we know their souls are with you. They were Tar Heels. We don’t want them lost…. My heart says this is the right thing.  These boys have been here 150 years. Their blood is our blood.

The only problem with this explanation is that these two men have not been lost.  Other than what Scott’s heart told him there doesn’t seem to be any compelling reason to disturb desecrate these graves.  There is no indication that the people who disinterred the two bodies have any archaeological training.  Joel Holleman wasn’t even a Confederate soldiers.  He was a teacher.  What I don’t understand is why the SCV didn’t make the effort to improve the existing site.  It looks like at least one of the headstones is completely intact.

Perhaps the SCV can turn this into a new reality show along the lines of American Diggers.

Is Richmond Burning or Beginning Anew?

[H/T to Jubilo! The Emancipation Century]

This popular Currier & Ives print from 1865, depicting the evacuation of Richmond, Virginia, is one of the most popular images of the city in April 1865.  It is impossible not to drive north toward the city on I-95 without it entering your mind’s eye.  Now it is being used by the Richmond Metropolitan Convention & Visitors Bureau to attract tourists to the city’s rich Civil War history as well as the rest of the state.

The use of this particular print is a clever marketing technique that almost functions as a gestalt switch between two interpretations.  On the one hand, we know this image as marking the end of the Confederacy, but in the hands of the Visitors Bureau it is now a symbol of new beginnings.  We can freely move back and forth between the two interpretations.

To use this image, however, is to be reminded that the burning and evacuation of Richmond did lead to the emancipation of thousands of Richmond slaves that were freed by the Union army.  It is story that all Americans ought to explore if they are truly interested in the American Civil War.  Of course, we are likely to hear the same tired rumblings from certain quarters, but let’s be clear about one thing.  While good marketing works to sway the perceptions of potential customers it must begin by acknowledging how they currently view their world and what will motivate them to take action.

In this case it is safe to say that this ad builds on certain cultural, social, and political changes that have been at work in Richmond for the past three decades.

What Will Spark the Imagination of the Sesquicentennial Generation?

If your interest in the Civil War has its roots in the early 1960s than chances are that it was American Heritage’s Picture History of the Civil War that sparked your imagination.  It’s not just the frequency with which it comes up in conversation, but the way in which it is remembered.  I’ve heard a number of historians reflect on the book’s influence on them at an early age.  Whether it was the photographs, illustrations or the battle maps, the book clearly made an impact.   [My own interest in WWII was sparked by reading the Time-Life Series when I was in grade school.]  It serves as a reminder that a healthy and lasting passion for history begins with a youth’s imagination.

It’s worth asking whether there is anything equivalent to the American Heritage book that will stir the imagination of a new generation of Civil War enthusiasts.  Kids today have more resources at their disposal than any previous generation – much of it in digital format.  While I am a huge fan of the digital turn I do wonder whether these products will have the same impact.  Than again, these may simply be the words of an old fogey, who can still remember a time before the digital age.  I look forward to the day when we will learn, for example, that the technology contained in the Civil War Trusts Battlefield Apps has made its mark.