One of the sessions that I attended at last week’s SHA was a roundtable on Civil War Memory and the Sesquicentennial. It was an excellent panel consisting of Gaines Foster, Suzanna Lee, John Neff, and Robert Cook. The presentations were short which left plenty of time for conversation. The question of how to attract African Americans to sesquicentennial celebrations received a great deal of attention from a number of the panelists, especially Prof. Cook, whose study of the Civil War Centennial highlights the extent to which this particular group was ignored. Prof. Cook suggested that what is needed this time around is a much more inclusive commemoration that does justice to the “Emancipationist Legacy” of the conflict. Well, who would disagree with that? Here in Virginia we’ve already held one major conference on the eve of the Civil War. Panelists touched on questions of race and slavery throughout the various sessions and future conferences will focus even more on the end of slavery in Virginia and its aftermath. There will be no shortage of talk about slavery, race, the home front and every other subject under the sun.
I‘ve been following this story out of Tennessee [and here] involving a local chapter of the UDC and SCV and their plans to honor 18 so-called black Confederates. I was actually contacted by the author of this article for my position on this issue, which you can read. The author does a pretty good job of presenting the various perspectives. There is always the danger that the reporter will take something out of context or simply fail to follow a line of argument. In this case the author, Skyler Swisher, does a pretty good job. The only thing I take issue with is having my view juxtaposed against Wood’s as two competing interpretations. Simply put, Wood and the UDC are doing poor history. There is really no interpretation to take issue with since it is fraught with basic factual and interpretive mistakes.
So, just as I was finishing packing for my trip to Louisville tomorrow when I received a phone call asking me to moderate a panel on Saturday morning. I will be filling in for Gary Gallagher on a session titled, “The Public Presentation and Interpretation of Slavery and Slave Resistance: A Roundtable Discussion.” It’s a topic that I am very interested in and I was more than happy to accept the request. I was pleased to see John Latschar’s name as one of the panelists, but unfortunately he has decided not to attend. That’s too bad. It would have given me the opportunity to thank him for all of his hard work at Gettysburg. I’ve read through plenty of commentary over the past week by people who have tried to minimize Latschar’s accomplishments at Gettysburg, but all you have to do is listen to those on the inside and you will understand just how important he was in helping to bring about some of the most significant to the physical landscape and interpretation at the park. Who better to talk about the importance of addressing difficult topics such as slavery at our Civil War battlefields and other public sites than John Latschar. Peter Carmichael will be filling in for Latschar.
The following post originally appeared on December 12, 2005
Being Ed Ayers
In the most recent issue of North and South there is a very interesting exchange between Ed Ayers and a letter to the editor in the Crossfire section. The writer responded to Ayers’s article, “What Caused the Civil War” which appeared in a previous issue (Vol. 8, #5); the article is essentially a reprint from his most recent book of essays titled, What Caused the Civil War: Reflections on the South and Southern History. I think Ayers is one of the more talented historians writing today.I’ve read through his Pulitzer-Prize nominated book, The Promise of the New South so many times that it has a rubber band around it to keep it together.The only other book in my library in that condition is Plato’s Republic.More recently Ayers won the Bancroft Prize for In the Presence of Mine Enemies which is based on his Valley of the Shadow project out of the University of Virginia.
Not too long ago I commented on a popular homeschooling textbook on the Civil War by John J. Dwyer, titled, The War Between the States: America’s Uncivil War. This is the video promo for that textbook. It is a truly remarkable modern day Lost Cause inspired account of the war. It essentially pits a God-fearing South against a Godless and barbaric North that accomplished nothing during the war except for the terrorizing and destroying of southern homes and farms. A wonderful example of mental child abuse pure and simple.