After Virginia no other state has done more to commemorate the American Civil War than North Carolina. Their state commission has done an excellent job thus far of organizing activities that reflect an incredibly rich and complex past. They are doing their very best to make the war relevant to the state’s diverse population by focusing on a wide range of themes from the military to race to memory. I have a number of friends who are directly involved in the commission’s work and I can say with confidene that they are making an impact on a number of levels.
Even with all the work this group has undertaken it appears that not everyone is satisfied. In fact, there are two Civil War sesquicentennial commemorations taking place in North Carolina. The other one is being called the North Carolina War Between the States Sesquicentennial and they even have their own website. The commission is headed by Bernhard Thuersam, who works as a home designer. So, why an alternative commemoration?
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Please don’t hold your breath for an answer to this question. To be honest, I don’t really have any interest in debating it nor do I really care whether secession was/is constitutional. I suspect that apart from law school classes our answers to this question as both a historical and present proposition is largely determined by whether one believes that secession is necessary to correct some social or political problem. While I certainly see plenty of social and political problems that need to be dealt with, at this point it seems to me that they can be best addressed within our present constitutional framework.
I’ve always found the passionate identification with those white southerners who advocated Southern nationalism and secession in the years leading up to the Civil War to be disingenuous or at least open to scrutiny on a number of counts. In certain circles the question is debated in the abstract, but what I find troubling about the way I see many people play this game is the tendency to place themselves in a direct line to specific historical actors. They play the role of rightful inheritors of a certain argument or movement and in the process blur the distinction between the present and the past: In short, “What was their fight is our fight.”
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On this final day of 2011 I thought I would hand things over to you. What stands out in your Civil War memory from the past year and what are you looking forward to in the coming year?
See you in 2012.
Over the past few weeks I’ve taken a front seat to an interesting debate between Eric Jacobson and the members of the Southern Heritage Preservation Group. Eric is the historian and chief operating officer for The Battle of Franklin Trust. His organization has taken the lead in working to educate the general public on the importance of preserving our Civil War heritage. This debate or conversation is instructive for those of us interested in how various individuals and groups attempt to come to terms with this crucial and divisive moment in American history. In short, consider this an exercise in a not so peaceful tango between heritage and history.
Funny enough, Eric’s first post comes in a thread that started in response to a question that was posed to me by Jimmy Shirley, who asked about why many northerners were unwilling to allow the southern states to go in peace. I thought it was a reasonable question, but as in so many cases I simply did not have the time to go into detail with my response so I suggested he check out Russell McClintock’s, Lincoln and the Decision for War: The Northern Response to Secession, which is the single best study on the subject. That apparently wasn’t satisfactory which led to a post on the SHPG board.
Eric attempted to offer some help, but it wasn’t long before he was challenged with some of the standard responses offered to folks who do not fall in line. One of the officers insulted Eric with the following: “Eric A Jacobson….just another Levin Tool…. Still, this one might be worth keeping around for a bit, it does seem to be a good source to bounce theories off of….as long as he behaves like a good little boy.” Eric later shared with the group that he had been contacted via email by the same individual: “Jimmy, Great points and worthy of sound debate. We can talk again at another point. Now this morning I awoke to a gem of a private message from one —- —-, who suggested I am involved the Aryan Nation. Now that’s a new one, but typical of ongoing ignorance and outright stupidity when it comes to discussions such as this. So I’ll be signing off now, having made an effort to have reasonable discourse.” [Just for the record, I have never met Eric in person and the only correspondence that we’ve had took place on this blog some time ago.]
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Hope everyone is enjoying the Holiday season. My wife and I had a wonderful time in New York City. The weather was fairly mild and pleasant compared to last year’s blizzard. On Christmas Day we headed downtown to “Ground Zero” to see the new 9-11 Memorial. We’ve been to NYC plenty of times since September 11, 2001, but this is our first visit to the site of the attacks. I guess dwelling on the events of that day and the loss of my cousin just never fit into previous visits, but after ten years and the dedication of the new memorial it was about time. We chose to go down on Sunday thinking that it wouldn’t be too crowded. The last thing I wanted to do was experience the site amongst a crowd of tourists snapping photographs.
We stepped out of the subway at City Hall and walked the few blocks south to the site. Even on Christmas Day the area was mobbed with tourists and street salesmen peddling 9-11 souvenirs. One of them shoved a collection of images of the most horrific images of the attacks in my face and asked if I was interested. I felt a combination of rage and sadness well up inside of me. As we moved closer it just got worse and by the time we arrived at the entrance to the site I felt emotionally drained and pretty much ready to leave. It was clear that most of the people waiting to get in did not have tickets and the 9-11 Memorial Volunteers did everything they could to move the crowds away. Neither did we. We lined up in a small group around one volunteer and he gestured with his hand for us to vacate the entrance way. He clearly had been engaged in the same gesture all day.
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