Another image that I am hoping to use in my forthcoming book about the Crater and historical memory is the August 1968 cover of Ebony. I went through the entire run of Ebony and Jet magazines during the course of my research in an effort to better understand how African Americans remembered black Union soldiers through the Civil War Centennial. I was not disappointed. The coverage was extensive and included a number of well written essays by academic historians, including John Hope Franklin and the popular historian, Lerone Bennett, who is best known for is book on Lincoln and emancipation. I found a few essays that referenced the Crater, but the battle clearly did not stand out for African Americans in the 1960s. That’s not surprising given that more extensive coverage would have forced writers to deal with the additional problem of how to handle the massacre of large numbers of black soldiers following the battle. Such a narrative would have run counter to the strong desire among authors to tell a heroic battlefield story.
It’s an unusual form of Civil War remembrance, but the idea of a sculpture in the shape of a “Sherman’s necktie” opens up a number of avenues of interpretation. It raises issues related to the physical destruction and displacement of civilians that Sherman’s men wrought. The twisted rail also functions as a metaphor for change and the coming of emancipation in the heart of Georgia. Of course, any discussion of emancipation also needs to deal with some of the hardships that freed slaves faced as they followed the army to the coast. I think it’s an incredibly simple and yet creative piece. Unfortunately, I was unable to locate any of the addresses that marked the sculpture’s unveiling.
What do you think?
It looks like H.K. will not be performing as part of the Guyandotte Civil War Days, scheduled for Nov. 1-6 near Huntington, West Virginia. Apparently, Edgerton spoke last year at the event, but this year organizers were denied matching funds by the state’s Civil War sesquicentennial committee. That was sufficient to cancel his appearance.
Of course, one wonders why he was invited in the first place. He certainly is entertaining. His speeches have been fine tuned to garner a strong emotional response from those who have a strong need to see an African American man dressed in Confederate uniform, who fervently believes that large numbers of blacks fought in the army and that that the black population as a whole maintained the strongest ties to the Confederate cause and their masters through to the end of the war. In the trailer that I posted yesterday, H.K. calls for Lincoln to be disinterred so he can be placed on trial for war crimes.
I get it. The Confederate flag is offensive to many African Americans. What has become something of a mantra within the black community is arguably the clearest example of a collective voice that for far too long was kept silent in discussions about how our Civil War ought to be remembered. While I support calls to take down Confederate flags in a few select places I tend to resist the idea of tearing things down that provide windows into our nation’s past. These calls almost always reveal deep frustration and bitterness, but they rarely involve education and understanding. John Hennessy is correct in pointing out the deep chasm between white and black Americans when it comes to Civil War memory.
This guest post is by Adam Arenson, assistant professor of history at the University of Texas at El Paso and author of The Great Heart of the Republic: St. Louis and the Cultural Civil War, about the Civil War Era as a battle of three competing visions — that of the North, South, and West. More at http://adamarenson.com.
This is the third in a series.
Walking around the Antietam battlefield, envisioning the bloodiest day in U.S. history, one is hard-pressed for a moment of levity. There is Bloody Lane, the cornfield, and Burnside Bridge, a deceptively idyllic crossing of Antietam Creek. (If you don’t know why it looks familiar, glance at the cover of James McPherson’s Battle Cry of Freedom). Site after site is linked to death and suffering, carnage beyond belief.