One of the things that I hope my forthcoming book on the battle of the Crater and historical memory does is find a place in a growing literature that challenges the reunion and reconciliation school of Civil War Memory. It’s beautifully expressed by David Blight in Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memoryand suggests that white northerners and southerners eventually brushed aside a memory of emancipation for one that embraced a shared history as well as a set of values that allowed for a swift and relatively painless sectional reconciliation. There is a certain amount of truth to this story. The story of the Crater, however, simply does not follow this broad narrative outline. The veterans of the Virginia brigade engaged in bitter feuds relating to the battle and the role of William Mahone during the few short years of Readjuster control. Mahone learned that there were limits to which he could utilize his military career to advance a political agenda that advanced the cause of the state’s black population. And while numerous meetings between former enemies took place on the battlefield, white southerners never adopted a language of reconciliation when commemorating the battle. This was a decisive Confederate victory that highlighted the fighting prowess and character of their own. The presence of a black division was simply too much for many of the veterans to forget even at the beginning of the twentieth century.
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. It is the start of a series of musings from a historian of the culture and politics of Civil War America, drawn from his notes and photographs upon bringing this perspective “back to the battlefield.”
On a Sunday in July, a few weeks before the vaunted sesquicentennial re-enactment, I enjoyed a balmy day at the Manassas battlefield. Like many of the sites I visited, the National Park Service looked ready: the new signs were beautifully designed, the ranger talks were entertaining and informative, and the trail directions were clear. The Manassas Battlefield is an excellent place to see the different scale of battles between 1861 and 1862—the difference between a skirmish between untested men across a few small hills and a major engagement across miles of terrain, with armies hardened by the experience of war.
One of my favorite sites is a Facebook page made up of folks who style themselves as defenders of Southern Heritage. There isn’t much serious history being discussed. Once in a while someone will ask for a quote’s source or the reference to a particular book, but more often than not members simply reassure one another of their own worth in the continuing struggle against folks, who they believe are out to destroy all things “Southern”. Here is a wonderful example that begins with a posting by Ann DeWitt, aka “Royal Diadem”.
Looks like I’ve stumbled on my first public history scandal surrounding the Civil War since moving to Boston. Before proceeding I should note that I am only vaguely familiar with the tours that are referenced in the article below. On Wednesday I am off to Nashville to give two talks as part of the Civil War Preservation Trust’s Annual Teachers Institute, but when I return I hope to begin exploring much more of my new home.
The controversy surrounds the release of a new guidebook for Civil War Boston that was published by The Freedom Trail Foundation. The Foundation is best known for its downtown tour of some of the most significant spots of the American Revolution, which may lead some to wonder why the organization decided to publish a short pamphlet on Civil War related sites. Folks associated with the Black Heritage Trail are apparently not pleased with the scope of the pamphlet and its failure to acknowledge a number of important sites associated with the story of African Americans as well as the work of area institutions that are focused on black history.
I pass by this monument every day on my way to Jamaica Pond for my morning run. It was dedicated on September 14, 1871 and commemorates the 46 men of West Roxbury, “who lost their lives in the service of their country during the Rebellion.” It has quickly become my favorite Civil War soldier monument. I love the simplicity of it, including its smooth surfaces and clean lines. The soldier embodies the virtues of the citizen soldier that northern towns embraced by war’s end. He seems tired, but resolute as well as contemplative and just a bit sad. In short, he did his duty when his nation called.
There are four names around its arches, including that of Lincoln, Farragut, Andrew, and Thomas. The Jamaica Plain Historical Society suggests that the Thomas in question is none other than George H. Thomas of Virginia (the Rock of Chickamauga), who supposedly donated the land for the monument. Perhaps someone can explain to me the connection given that he died in San Francisco and is buried in New York. Now that would be an interesting Virginia – Massachusetts connection.
[Click here for more information about the monument from the Jamaica Plain Historical Society.]