Many of you know that I have a personal connection to 9-11. I lost a cousin on that horrific day. It should come as no surprise that I care very deeply about how my cousin and the history are remembered by the nation as a whole and, more specifically, by the 9-11 Memorial Museum.
Though my interest is very personal, in no way do I believe that I occupy a privileged position when it comes to discussing/debating how 9-11 ought to be remembered. Every American has something at stake regarding this question. It is our history. I wouldn’t even know where to begin to argue that I enjoy anything close to a monopoly on this question of remembrance and commemoration.
With that in mind I have to wonder what kind of distorted and arrogant view of the past would warrant someone to suggest that an ancestral connection to a Civil War soldier is necessary to engage in questions of commemoration and memory. Somebody is going to have to explain to me what that argument looks like. What exactly is the source of this privileged access?
My memories of 9-11 are still fresh. I experienced that day and its aftermath in a way that very few people will ever understand and I will carry that personal connection with me for the rest of my life.
What do you carry 150 years later that trumps such a connection and that places you in a position that you feel comfortable dismissing the myriad ways in which the past matters to each of us? The Civil War is everyone’s history and heritage.
Thanks to Dr. Michael R. Bradley who reached out to me yesterday to share some information he has collected about the 25th Tennessee Infantry which enlisted in Tullahoma, TN, in June 1861. The unit was raised in the Upper Cumberland area. Included in the list of original enlistees are twenty names, spread over seven companies , with each name followed by the note “Free Negro.” According to Dr. Bradley, each of these men was assigned rank and complete enlistment papers noting rank and pay drawn for three months are in the archives.
These names are also listed in “Tennesseans in the Civil War,” published in 1964 by the Tennessee Historical Commission, although no race is noted in that source. The 1860 census however lists each of the men as a free person of color. Here are the names:
- Co. A
Hale, John; Harris, James; Harris, William Alban; Rickman, Abner; Scott, Micajah
- Co. B
Alexander, Grunton B; Harris, Rufus
- Co. C
Burgess, William; Rickman, Joseph; Rickman Joseph A.; Scott, Alex; Worley, Rufus
- Co. D
- Co. E
- Co. G
- Co. H
- Co. I
Fields, James; Gibson, William; Oxendine, Levi–died and buried at camp ground; Walker, L.
This is fascinating regardless of what further inquiry reveals. I am curious as to whether these men remained in their units beyond the first three months. Dr. Bradley admittedly has not followed up on that question nor does he state anything explicit about these individuals or what their presence might mean more broadly. I look forward to reviewing copies of their enlistment papers that are now being forwarded to me. Continue reading
The most recent issue of The Civil War Monitor contains a letter-to-the-editor about a recent essay of mine on Confederate camp servants [Spring 2013]. From Mr. John H. Whitfield:
While the article was enlightening on the issue of enslaved Africans who were wartime “body servants,” it presented a rather narrow view of the panoply of roles in which the enslaved were critical to the Rebel war effort. For instance, the impressment of slaves, authorized throughout the Confederacy in 1862, sent countless men to construct earthworks at various strategic locations.
Mr. Whitfield is absolutely spot on regarding the place of enslaved blacks in the Confederate war effort. There are a number of excellent studies that examine these various roles, including books by Glenn David Brasher,Joseph Glatthaar, and Bruce Levine. Those of you with an interest in this topic will definitely want to check out Jaime Martinez’s forthcoming book, Confederate Slave Impressment in the Upper South, which will be out with UNC Press in December. Continue reading
One of the museums that I visited last week was the National Museum of Civil War Medicine in Frederick, Maryland. I didn’t have many expectations going in, but overall I enjoyed my visit and I learned a great deal. What stood out more than anything else was a number of explicit references to recent violence. Executive Director, George Wunderlich, addressed our group by drawing direct connections between developments in medicine and care of the wounded with the recent terrorist attack here in Boston. Even more surprising were the references made by our museum guide to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan throughout the exhibit.
It was the first time that any such reference was made during our ten-day trip from Nashville to D.C.
During our final debriefing of the trip I asked the teachers to think about how we teach our civil war. Here was a war that affected an entire nation and in ways that few could have anticipated in 1861. We talked extensively throughout the trip about the life of the Civil War soldier, the home front, the horrors of battle, the political aspects of war, and they ways in which individuals and the nation worked to properly commemorate the war. Again, it was a war that few could ignore and yet over the past ten years our students and much of the country have been able to comfortably ignore two wars. Continue reading
One of my favorite places to take students in Charlottesville was the University of Virginia’s Confederate Cemetery. It was a short walk and it allowed me to talk about wartime hospitals as well as postwar mourning and the evolution of the Lost Cause. I encouraged my students to look at and think about the headstones and to pick up trash. The men were buried in long trenches and when the cemetery was dedicated there were no individual headstones. That gradually changed and in recent years the local SCV has organized to order new markers from the federal government. The project continues, in part, with the financial support of the federal government. It’s a program that I contributed to on more than once occasion while in Charlottesville. Continue reading