Category Archives: Southern History

Confederate Defeat, the Lost Cause, and the Promise of a New Football Season

With the new college football season upon us it might be worthwhile to reflect on the cultural connections with the Civil War and defeat and the Lost Cause.  While the enthusiasm here in Charlottesville, Virginia probably doesn’t match the anticipation found elsewhere around the South [I lived in Alabama for two years.] the talk seems to be all about UVA’s prospects and even who will start at the quarterback position.  Apparently, this is a serious matter for many.  I’ve never been a big college football fan and I have even more trouble understanding how it is possible to get so excited about playing William and Mary as a season opener.  Perhaps UVA fans no all too well that the rest of the season is likely to be a real bummer.  For those of you who are college football fans and Civil War enthusiasts I offer you the following for your reading pleasure.  The first is a journal article, titled, “From Lost Cause to Third-and-Long: College Football and the Civil Religion of the South, which appeared in the Journal of Southern Religion.  Additional commentary can be found here and here.  And I almost forgot, GO TERPS!!!

From the Bain-Selbo essay:

A particularly moving moment occurs at the end of a game. In this video, we see such a moment after a hard-fought Mississippi loss to Alabama in the fall of 2005. While some fans leave the stadium, a large portion (particularly the student section near where the band sits) stays for a final playing of the medley. It begins slowly, mournfully (particularly appropriate after a tough loss)—the “Battle Hymn of the Republic” and “Dixie” gently mixing together. One feels a sense of longing— longing for a past more ideal than real. Midway through, the tempo picks up, hands are clapping, and the parts that include the fans singing (particularly the chorus of “Dixie”) are louder and more boisterous. This all culminates with a yell, a hope, a declaration of defiance rising from all—”The South will rise again!”

John Stauffer Responds

Thanks to Prof. Stauffer for taking the time to write up such a thorough response to the recent criticisms of The State of Jones that can be found here and elsewhere.  I would much rather move on from this controversy, but given the circumstances outlined at the beginning of his response I thought it was only fair to post it.

I rarely read blogs, and this summer I’ve had difficulty keeping up with the Internet:  my wife gave birth to a boy, we’ve been without shower and kitchen owing to a house addition, and I’ve had to finish two 10,000 word essays on deadline.  Sally Jenkins and I welcome debate, as we emphasized, and the fact that I was unaware of your tacit expectation that I should read and post responses on your blog should not be interpreted as a refusal to engage in public and scholarly conversation.

You may be right in suggesting that “the blogosphere is now shaping” academic debates and historiography.  After all, the past forty years have witnessed an extraordinary democratization in academia, with scholars of the highest order having richly diverse institutional affiliations, from high schools, newspapers, and magazines to museums, educational institutes, the film industry, and colleges and universities of all ranks.  The Internet, which has revolutionized access to archives and other repositories of knowledge, has accelerated the democratization.  My hunch is that blogs will contribute to this process. In any event, let me try to address the major criticisms of “The State of Jones”

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Rape and the Threat of Sexual Violence in the Civil War South + Gary Casteel

I came across an interesting little post at the New York Times’s Idea of the Day in which the question of rape and sexual violence during the Civil War is raised.  The blog post links to an essay by historian, Crystal N. Feimster, which recently appeared in Daedelus.  While the essay is worth reading the subject of sexual violence and the vulnerability that women felt during the war has been raised by a number of scholars, most notably, by Drew G. Faust in Mothers of Invention: Women of the Slaveholding South in the American Civil War.   The crux of Feimster’s essay is as follows:

Few scholars have addressed the sexual threat captured in this confrontation between Scarlett and the Union solider. In fact, historians have accepted without question the idea that Union soldiers rarely raped southern women, black or white, and have argued that sexual violence was rare during the Civil War. Yet Mitchell’s fictional account of one woman’s wartime experience makes clear that a perceived threat of rape during the Civil War was all too real for southern women.

I would be very interested to know the frequency of acts of sexual violence and rape committed against white and black southern women during the Civil War.  Feimster’s essay explores the consequences of Ben Butler’s infamous New Orleans that relegated unruly women as prostitutes rather than an analysis of cases of sexual violence/rape.  In fact, Feimster suggests that most cases probably went unreported.

While all of this is interesting to me, it was another short passage that grabbed my attention, which Feimster utilizes to help frame her study of sexual violence:

Wartime rape is an issue both ancient and contemporary, evident more recently in reports of mass rapes in the Yugoslavian wars of secession and the genocidal massacres in Rwanda, but equally present in accounts from the Torah, the Bible, Homer, Anglo-Saxon chronicles, and in mythological events like the rape of the Sabine women. Indeed, much historical evidence seems to suggest that whenever and wherever men go to war, rape and the threat of sexual violence against women are inevitable, even strategic components of warfare.

It may seem like a minor point, but it’s such a breadth of fresh air when our civil war is understood within a broader context.  It forces us to set aside our tendency to glamorize and reduce the conflict to comfortable images that that ignore the long-term consequences of the war.  As I’ve said before, we tend not to view civil wars elsewhere in the way that we view our own.

This brings me back to my problem with Gary Casteel’s sculpture.  It’s not that it doesn’t accurately depict documented moments where brothers fighting on both sides embraced one another on the battlefield.  It’s that we are being asked to view the sculpture as representative of the war and of the ease with which white Americans embraced reconciliation and reunion.  But is it true?  Does Casteel’s piece really capture a theme that is representative of the broad national experience of war.  I think not.  My problem is that it is too easy and plays to our tendency to celebrate all things Civil War, even the Confederate’s clenched fist. I want to see monuments and sculptures that force me to think and struggle.  I don’t want to celebrate, I want to understand.

“History Through the Veil Again”: A Response to Ta-Nehisi Coates

The latest post by Ta-Nehisis Coates beautifully captures the frustrations that many African Americans experience when visiting America’s Civil War battlefields and specifically those places where African Americans participated.  A recent visit to the Petersburg battlefields, including the Crater, by Coates and his children highlights the continued challenges facing museums, the National Park Service, and other historical organizations in working toward a narrative that acknowledges the contributions of African Americans and situates the Civil War within the broader history of freedom and race.  When you take a moment to step back it is shocking to think that a war that resulted in the end of slavery and emancipation of 4 million people would be remembered in a way that divorced the descendants of those very people from being able to fully engage and consume the historic sites from that struggle.  And yet, that is where we are on the eve of the Civil War Sesquicentennial.  Before proceeding here are a few passages from Coates’s post:

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Steven Hahn Gets It

My summer break is quickly winding down as I try to put the finishing touches on a chunk of my Crater research, including an article on understanding the battle as a slave rebellion from the perspective of Confederate soldiers for one of the Civil War magazines. With that in mind, I came across a very interesting essay by historian, Steven Hahn on the lack of scholarly attention concerning Marcus Garvey and his Universal Negro Improvement Association. Hahn offers two points of reassessment that are needed if we are to better understand the dearth of scholarship. First, we need to move from viewing emancipation as two separate events – one in the North following the American Revolution and the other one in the South during the Civil War.  According to Hahn, it “should be be viewed not as two discrete events but as a single protracted process (more protracted than anywhere else in the Atlantic world), associated most closely with state formation—the rise, developing capacity, claims to authority, and consolidation of a nation-state—rather than with an “irrepressible” conflict between free and slave societies.”

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