A Glorious Day in Sharpsburg and Shepherdstown

Yesterday was a whirlwind of a day in Sharpsburg, Maryland and Shepherdstown, West Virginia.  The reason for my visit was a chance to spend time with the students in Prof. Mark Snell’s course on the Civil War and memory.  I spent a beautiful morning alone on the Antietam battlefield with my handy copy of Ethan Rafuse’s new guidebook, which I think is excellent.  Ethan knows the battlefield well and does an effective job of positioning the visitor in places that are ideal for understanding the ebb and flow of battle.  I walked and read my way through much of the Morning Phase of the battle and had no problem losing myself in the sun and history.

By the time I had worked up a healthy appetite it was time for lunch with everyone’s favorite NPS Ranger, Mannie Gentile.  I’ve only met Mannie once before and that was a very brief meeting.  That said, Mannie is one of those guys whose personality shines through on his blog and that translates into feeling like you’ve known him for some time.  I thoroughly enjoyed our lunch and especially the conversation.  It’s always nice to spend time with people who do what they love.  It shines through.  The NPS is lucky to have Mannie on board now as a full-time employee and I look forward to my next visit with him.  After lunch we stopped by to see Ted Alexander.  I haven’t seen Ted in a number of years, but he is the man who is responsible for introducing me to the war back in 1993.  I am forever grateful for Ted’s encouragement of my early research interests and for opening up the archives whenever I was in town.

Continue reading “A Glorious Day in Sharpsburg and Shepherdstown”

Waving Goodbye to Earl Ijames

I know many of you out there are looking forward to a day/week without a blog post about Earl Ijames.  Many of you are perhaps disappointed with the way I’ve gone about all of this.  There is plenty of room to disagree.  I want to state up front that my goal has never been to attack Mr. Ijames’s personal character.  I have no doubt that Mr. Ijames is fully qualified in his role as an archivist and curator at the North Carolina Museum of History.  In fact, I’ve seen his name mentioned a number of times in the acknowledgments section of books focused on North Carolina history.  I wish Mr. Ijames nothing but continued success in this area of his career and have no doubt that he will continue to aid scholars and the general public in the goal of better understanding various aspects of North Carolina history.

What I have done is expend a great deal of energy and time challenging Mr. Ijames on what I believe to be fundamentally flawed claims concerning the roles of black southerners during the Civil War, particularly in the Confederate armies.  It is not just some of the more outrageous claims made by Mr. Ijames that trouble me, it is the belief that this entire debate is little more than an extension of a deeply-embedded and racist narrative thread that continues to portray slaves as obedient and loyal and works to distance slavery from the Civil War.  This particular issue is complex and we desperately need trained scholars to explore it.  Mr. Ijames is clearly not that individual. On the eve of the Civil War Sesquicentennial this is something that is too important for an educator, historian and blogger to ignore.  I claim no expertise beyond the research that I’ve carried out on a closely related subject as well as my understanding of the relevant historiography.  As I have judged Earl Ijames’s research so must my own arguments be judged.  That is how this process works.  The difference as I see it is that I have taken the extra step to have my research and writing publicly scrutinized while Mr. Ijames has not.

As to why I’ve singled out Mr. Ijames it should be crystal clear.  I expect this kind of behavior from the likes of H.K. Edgerton or the Sons of Confederate Veterans and United Daughters of the Confederacy.  Both groups have a long history and vested interest in manipulating the past in a way that fits with their preferred view of the antebellum South, the Civil War, and Reconstruction.  Yes, I comment on them from time to time, but I honestly do not get worked up about it.  On the other hand Mr. Ijames works for a state agency whose stated goal is to preserve and interpret the history of North Carolina for the public.  It’s a worthy goal and one that they clearly take seriously.  For that reason alone Mr. Ijames must be held to the highest standards of scholarship.  I am not a public historian so I am unfamiliar with the protocol for handling these types of cases in institutions such as museums and archives.  I would hope that like colleges and universities they are organized in a way that allows for the widest latitude in critical thinking and intellectual creativity.  As I stated above Mr. Ijames is no doubt a valuable employee within the Office of Archives and History, but his public presentations, regardless of whether they are sanctioned by his employer deserve to be challenged.  The only thing that I expect from his employer is the acknowledgment that his response to my initial request for his presentation was inappropriate.  I still find it curious that I have not been contacted.  [On the question of institutional responsibility and academic freedom I highly recommend Brooks Simpson’s recent post over at Civil Warriors.]

So, what should the consequences be for Mr. Ijames’s claims of expertise in this particular field?  That’s not up to me to decide, but for the broader public.  I would hope that such behavior prevents Mr. Ijames from being considered for certain promotions within the museum and broader institutional system.  As I said before I find it hard to believe that I am the first person to raise these concerns.  Clearly, a seasoned scholar like Dr. Jeffrey J. Crow must be aware of the shortcomings of Mr. Ijames’s research in this area.  In addition, I would hope that respectable institutions decide not to invite Mr. Ijames to speak on this particular issue, especially as we approach the sesquicentennial.

Finally, I hope I’ve done my part in all of this.  I make no apologies for utilizing this format to raise questions and to try to promote the kind of discourse, and hopefully the further research, that this subject so dearly deserves and desperately needs.  Yes, certain individuals and groups will ignore my commentary regarding Mr. Ijames, but that pales in comparison with the number of people who will be introduced to him through this site.  I’ve done everything I can to raise specific questions about statements made on this blog and in his public presentations.  Now we have his own words in a complete presentation on the subject for all interested parties to consider. [see here and here for audio]  I have to say that given Mr. Ijames’s challenge/invitation to meet him in a public setting to discuss this issue I am incredibly disappointed by the quality of his presentation.  What else can I say other than that I truly expected more than the same tired stories and almost complete lack of analysis that can be found on most websites.  But that is neither here nor there, it is up to you to decide.  If this is your idea of good history than so be it.  It’s not mine.

No doubt, you will see Mr. Ijames mentioned in a future posts, but for now I think we’ve all had enough.

Bringing Earl Ijames to You: The Audio Recording

Here is the audio recording of Earl Ijames’s recent talk in Savannah.  The sound quality is pretty good, though there are a few moments where it is difficult to hear what he is saying.  I recommend listening with earphones.  The recording begins with an account of “Colored Confederates” in the OR.  Unfortunately, the recording missed the very beginning of the talk.  During the gap in the tape, Ijames introduced himself and talked about the beginning of the Civil War and apparently confused the 13th Amendment with the Crittenden Compromise.

Well, you decide for yourself.

Discover Simple, Private Sharing at Drop.io

You may also be interested in this short presentation on “Colored Confederates in Savannah” by Educator and Preservationist Hugh Stiles Golson.  I have not yet had the chance to listen to it.

Discover Simple, Private Sharing at Drop.io

Note: Both presentations have been posted for educational purposes only.

Bonus Material

Fellow blogger and NPS Ranger John Hoptak was kind enough to pass this image along from a May 1862 issue of Harpers Weekly.  I haven’t seen this particular image in quite some time and not surprisingly you won’t find it on any of those black Confederate websites.  It depicts a scene allegedly witnessed by a Union officer through his fieldglass. In it, you can see the Confederate officer forcing his slaves to the front. According to this Union witness, both were ultimately killed.

“The Tough Stuff of American History and Memory”

Registration for the second “Signature Conference” sponsored by the Virginia Sesquicentennial Commission opened this week.  This year’s conference will take place at Norfolk State University on September 24, 2010 and will focus on the issues of race and slavery.  Norfolk State is an ideal place given its location.  It was one of those places where the war changed on the ground as scores of slaves made their way into Union lines.  Like last year the commission has assembled a dynamite team of scholars for the various panels.  They include, James O. Horton, who will chair the event, James McPherson, Ira Berlin, David Blight, Dwight Pitcaithley, among others.  Perhaps our friend Earl Ijames should attend to hear Bruce Levine discuss the myth of black Confederates.

This promises to be another entertaining and educational experience and I encourage all of you to register as soon as possible.  I have been asked to live blog the event, which I agreed to do. Given my experience last year I have a much better idea of how to go about it.  Hope to see you there.

Exploring the Rebel Yell with Waite Rawls

I am a fervent supporter of the mission of the Museum of the Confederacy in Richmond and its President and CEO Waite Rawls.  The museum has had to deal with some difficult financial challenges over the past few years as well as defending its reputation in a city that has found it difficult to come to terms with its Confederate past.  Through all of this Mr. Rawls has done an excellent job of maintaining the museum as an educational and research institution.  In this video Mr. Rawls discusses the research that went into trying to uncover what the famous Rebel Yell sounded like.  Click here for Part 2 as well as the rest of the MOC’s videos on YouTube.  Enjoy.