Engaging Students From Skidmore College

You can imagine my surprise when I returned from my trip to Shepherd University to find an email from Prof. Gregory Pfitzer of Skidmore College.  Prof. Pfitzer is currently teaching an American Studies course that focuses on Civil War Memory and has been using this blog as a resource.  Students are focusing specifically on a series of posts that I did on the Gary Casteel statue of Jefferson Davis and Jim Limber that is currently located at Beauvoir. Prof. Pfitzer thought it might be a good idea for his students to engage me on one of the posts, which I was more than happy to do.  You can follow the discussion here.  I am quite impressed with their enthusiasm as well as their ideas.  Check it out.

A Glorious Day in Sharpsburg and Shepherdstown

Yesterday was a whirlwind of a day in Sharpsburg, Maryland and Shepherdstown, West Virginia.  The reason for my visit was a chance to spend time with the students in Prof. Mark Snell’s course on the Civil War and memory.  I spent a beautiful morning alone on the Antietam battlefield with my handy copy of Ethan Rafuse’s new guidebook, which I think is excellent.  Ethan knows the battlefield well and does an effective job of positioning the visitor in places that are ideal for understanding the ebb and flow of battle.  I walked and read my way through much of the Morning Phase of the battle and had no problem losing myself in the sun and history.

By the time I had worked up a healthy appetite it was time for lunch with everyone’s favorite NPS Ranger, Mannie Gentile.  I’ve only met Mannie once before and that was a very brief meeting.  That said, Mannie is one of those guys whose personality shines through on his blog and that translates into feeling like you’ve known him for some time.  I thoroughly enjoyed our lunch and especially the conversation.  It’s always nice to spend time with people who do what they love.  It shines through.  The NPS is lucky to have Mannie on board now as a full-time employee and I look forward to my next visit with him.  After lunch we stopped by to see Ted Alexander.  I haven’t seen Ted in a number of years, but he is the man who is responsible for introducing me to the war back in 1993.  I am forever grateful for Ted’s encouragement of my early research interests and for opening up the archives whenever I was in town.

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Blogging My Way Through the Past and Present

With trimester exams completed I am now looking forward to my spring break week and the opportunity to recharge before the final push toward the end of the year in May.  I hope to get in a bit of writing on the Crater manuscript and a solid week of jogging.  On Tuesday I head up to Shepherdstown, West Virginia to visit with Prof. Mark Snell’s seminar, “The American Civil War in Memory and Remembrance” at Shepherd University.  I first met Mark Snell back in 2005 at the annual meeting of the Society for Military History in Charleston.  Mark chaired a panel on the Civil War and memory that I took part on that also included Ken Noe and Keith Bohannon.  Since then we’ve remained friends.  I very much appreciate Mark’s enthusiasm and support of this blog from the beginning as well as his encouragement of my own research.  In addition to teaching history, Mark is the director of the George Tyler Moore Center for the Study of the Civil War at Shepherd University.  The Center is currently engaged in a number of projects, but I do want to take a minute to plug their annual conference which will take place this year in Petersburg in June.  I am very excited about it since I am once again joining a stellar faculty that includes among others, Earl Hess and Will Greene.  Check it out if you have a chance.

Mark has assigned my blog as regular reading throughout the semester and he thought it might be worth having me visit with his students to discuss various issues related to the format and its place in the profession and the broader culture.  While I’ve discussed the role of blogging extensively over the years on this site, and even addressed a group of academic historians last year, this will be my first opportunity to engage undergraduates who may not be headed down an academic track.  In preparation for that trip I’ve been perusing the archives for a few posts in which I discuss how blogging fits into my career.

What follows is a 2008 interview that I did with a graduate student at the University of Richmond who was enrolled in a Public History course.

1. What motivated you to create this website/blog?  What, if anything, inspired or challenged you to create this website/blog?

Answer: I began blogging back in November 2005.  At the time there were only two or three Civil War blogs, but it was Mark Grimsley’s Blog Them Out of the Stone Age which inspired me to throw my hat in the ring.  What I liked about Mark’s blog was that it introduced a wide spectrum of topics related to military history to a diverse audience.  It worked to bridge the divide between more casual readers of military history and scholars working in the field.  I’ve tried to do the same thing with Civil War Memory.  I see myself as occupying a unique position as both a high school history teacher and Civil War historian.  In addition, my interests extend beyond military themes which remains the preoccupation of most Civil War enthusiasts and while I did not have specific goals in mind when I first started blogging I did hope to introduce and discuss questions and issues that are often overlooked in certain circles.  These include the topics of memory, race/slavery, social/cultural history and even subjects beyond the Civil War entirely.

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Civil War Memory in the College Classroom

It has been a real pleasure learning of a number of college level courses that use Civil War Memory in some capacity.  In a few weeks I head up to Shepherd University to talk with students in Professor Mark Snell’s seminar, “The American Civil War in Memory and Remembrance”.  It turns out that students are assigned my blog as regular reading so it should be quite an experience to learn about what they think of some of the issues that I write about as well as the role of blogging as a form of remembrance.

The other day I came across a link to an online syllabus for a course on Public HistoryCivil War Memory can be found under Week 6, which focuses on slavery and public history.  I’m not exactly sure where this course is being taught, but it looks to be quite interesting and I would love to know how the blog is being used.  What kinds of questions are being discussed in class and what do students think of blogs as a public history tool?  I highly recommend spending some time with the links on the syllabus, which include some dynamite history blogs and other assorted websites.

I have no way of knowing for how long I will continue blogging, but at some point I will have to give some serious thought to its preservation.  My own view is that Civil War Memory can be understood from a number of different perspectives that connect to broader issues of historical memory and public history.  On the one hand this site represents my own ongoing dialog about how I understand history as well as historical memory.  Take one step back and the blog itself can be viewed as an expression of Civil War memory at the beginning of the twenty-first century.

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.