Category Archives: Southern History

Join Me In Petersburg This Summer

I am pleased to announce that I will once again be participating in the annual Civil War seminar sponsored by The George Tyler Moore Center at Shepherd University.  In the summer of 2007 [here and here/photos] I took part in the center’s conference on Civil War Memory.  It was a wonderful experience and I couldn’t be happier to be joining Mark Snell and the rest of the staff this summer in Petersburg, Virginia.  This is the first year that the conference will take place away from its home base on the campus of Shepherd University.  The conference is being co-sponsored by Pamplin Park.  This year’s theme is, “Petersburg: In the Trenches with the Common Soldier” and it includes a first-rate line-up of scholars and two days of touring the various sites and battlefields in the Petersburg area.  Will Greene will be conducting all of the tours and lectures will be presented by Earl Hess, Christopher Stowe, Dennis Brandt, and Walter Powell.  I am looking forward to the chance to finally meet Earl Hess.  In many ways he is responsible for my interest in Petersburg and the Crater specifically.  Back in 2003 I collected a broad range of archival materials for what became Prof. Hess’s third volume in his series on earthworks.  That material on Petersburg proved to be extremely helpful in shaping my own work on memory and the battle of the Crater.

My own lecture is titled, “Mahone’s Brigade and the Defense of Petersburg.”  While this talk is based on my extensive research of Mahone’s brigade at the Crater, I hope to present a broader picture of the unit throughout the summer and fall of 1864.  Over the past five years I’ve read scores of letters and diaries from these men and this will give me a chance to try out some ideas that fall outside the purview of my Crater project.  The exploration of the connection between the battlefield and home front is nothing new to historians, but often the discussion comes across as overly abstract.  The Petersburg Campaign, however, is one of the few moments during the Civil War where the battlefield and home front were indistinguishable.  For the men of Mahone’s Brigade Petersburg and the surrounding area was literally their home.  I am convinced that their close contact with a civilian population shaped the way these men responded to the presence of black Union soldiers at the Crater.  How else did close proximity to civilians and family shape the outlook of these men on the war?  Stay tuned.

Confederate Soldiers Described as “Scavengers”

My Civil War Memory class has finally finished watching Shenandoah and students are now working on comparative reviews that incorporate their understanding of Gone With the WindShenandoah represents a sharp transition in popular memory of the war in the roughly twenty-five years since the premier of GWTW.  I want to wrap up this series of posts [see here and here] with just a few more thoughts that connect to the movie’s conscious attempt to steer clear of as much regional controversy as possible.  Apart from the battle scenes there is nothing that might alienate any one demographic.  As I noted in the first post, the movie ignores the issue of slavery apart from an early scene where Charlie Anderson declares it to be immoral.  The slave boy who befriends the youngest Anderson boy is freed by a black Union soldier, but he is encouraged to embrace his freedom by one of the Anderson daughters.  Toward the end of the movie a black woman, who is never identified as a slave, cares for Charlie Anderson’s granddaughter.

Most interesting, however, is that the only threats and violence that visit the Anderson family come from fellow white Southerners.  The Union army may have mistakenly taken the young boy prisoner, but there is a very understanding colonel who offers to help Anderson in his quest to find his son.  Agents of the Confederate government in Richmond attempt to confiscate the family’s animals while a Confederate colonel pushes Charlie Anderson to acknowledge his responsibility in the war by giving up his children to the army.  Late in the movie the eldest Anderson boy is accidentally shot by a 16-yr. old Confederate soldier.

But the most shocking scene is the murder of son Jacob and wife Ann who stayed on the family farm while the rest looked for the youngest Anderson boy.  The scene takes the audience by surprise and while Jacob’s brutal murder is captured by the camera, the death of his wife is left to the imagination.  Once the party returns to the home they are greeted by the doctor, who informs them of the murders.  Interestingly, the doctor refers to these men as “scavengers” even though they are clearly Confederate deserters.  Without intending to this scene, along with much of the rest of the movie challenges the Lost Cause assumption of a united Confederate populace.  It also touches on an aspect of the Civil War that we rarely discuss and that is the violence that was perpetrated between white Virginians, especially in the Shenandoah Valley, which was used by large numbers of Confederate soldiers who had deserted from the army.  It would be interesting to know whether moviegoers, especially in the Southern states, understood these men to be Confederate soldiers.

I know that my students thoroughly enjoyed the movie and I have to say that it has moved up in my list of favorite Civil War movies.

Tom Dugan’s Robert E. Lee

I am not a big fan of historical impersonators. More often than not their interpretations reflect a consensus view that simply reinforces deeply held beliefs. The goal seems to be more entertainment than education. Such is the case with Tom Dugan, who pulls off a pretty good Lost Cause-inspired interpretation of Lee.  Here is Lee the beleaguered slavemaster who wants nothing more than to see slavery end.  Even a cursory perusal of Lee’s letters or the recent biography by Elizabeth Brown Pryor reveals a very different attitude regarding slavery and race.  A bit more disturbing is the Lee who never quite gets over the “high watermark of the rebellion” – even before it had become the high watermark.  Funny, that I am here reminded of Michael Fellman’s overly-psychological interpretation of Lee.  I would love to bring Dugan in to perform for my Civil War Memory class.  It would make for a wonderful discussion.

“Beast” Butler Trivia

When it comes to Gen. Benjamin Butler there is no shortage of controversy.  Butler is arguably best known for his infamous General Order No. 28 of May 15, 1862, which stated that if any woman should insult or show contempt for any officer or soldier of the United States, she shall be regarded and shall be held liable to be treated as a “woman of the town plying her avocation”, i.e., a prostitute.

Most of us are familiar with Butler’s treatment of the ladies of New Orleans, but how about his handling of foreign nationals?  Can someone tell me why, in the summer of 1862, Gen. Butler ordered the residents of New Orleans to register, indicating to which country they held allegiance?

There is no prize other than the pride that comes with a correct answer to an obscure question.

Confederate Memory With a Portuguese Accent

I don’t know much about the few white Southerners who left the country following the war owing to the widespread physical destruction, military occupation as well as the consequences of emancipation.  Here is at least one title that looks worthwhile.  Actually, the more I watched the more I thought of this story as a reflection of Brazilian memory rather than what we would assume to be a Civil War/Confederate memory.  These scenes seem to have all of the trappings of our popular memory of the war as seen in Gone With the Wind and your standard reenactment rather than anything having to do specifically with the men and women who chose to leave the United States.  At one point one of the interviewees suggests that his ancestors would be pleased to learn that they continue to keep the memory of the Confederacy alive.  Perhaps, but the fact that they chose to leave suggests that they were trying not only to distance themselves physically from their homes, buy psychologically as well.  I get the sense that remembrance of their Confederate past is a once a year event.  Just a thought.

Additional videos can be found here and here.