Were Slaves Really Loyal to the Union From the Start?

Having a great time here in Milwaukee at the OAH/NCPH.  I just finished participating in a lively roundtable discussion on the Civil War 150th.  The participants covered a wide swath of the education and public history field and the topics ranged from how to engage the general public to shaping content on the Internet.  Tomorrow morning I am giving a talk on teaching Civil War movies, which should be a lot of fun.

Between all the excitement I wanted to pass on my review of Glenn David Brasher’s new book,The Peninsula Campaign and the Necessity of Emancipation: African Americans and the Fight for Freedom that appeared today in the Atlantic.

Visualizing Emancipation

This is one of those days when I desperately wish I was in the classroom teaching my course on the American Civil War.  Yesterday the Digital Scholarship Lab at the University of Richmond released Visualizing Emancipation, which allows you to track individual emancipation events on a timeline.  As it stands you can track different types of emancipation events along, filter results by different kinds of records and even add your own events to the database.

The project will surely yield insights that are not discernible through traditional sources, but what emerges at first glance is the importance of both railroads and waterways as avenues of emancipation as well as the Union army.  Congratulations to Scott Nesbit and the rest of the team at DSL for producing such an incredible resource.

In other news, for those of you in the Richmond area there will be a slew of events on Saturday as part of their Civil War and Emancipation Day celebrations.  Check it out.

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.