Welcome New Readers

This last week has been pretty busy around here since the governor of Virginia announced his Confederate History Month Proclamation.  The number of visitors went through the roof owing to some key hyperlinks from a number of very popular news outlets.  To those of you who are new to Civil War Memory I encourage you to take a few minutes to look around.  Click here for some background about me and a brief description of the scope of this blog.  You can also explore my list of publications and research interests.  As for the blog itself you may want to check out the list of Popular Posts in the sidebar as well as the Archives and Categories list.  My most popular subjects include “black Confederates,” the Civil War Sesquicentennial, and my ongoing research on William Mahone and the battle of the Crater.  Enjoy and welcome.

My focus on the controversy surrounding Confederate History Month resulted in two writing assignments.  Today I finished a short editorial for Civil War Times that will appear in the next issue along with contributions from roughly ten others.  I’ve also been asked to write a critical review of an essay for The Wilson Quarterly.  The essay is titled, “America’s Changeable Civil War” by Christopher Clausen and is right up my alley.  How cool is that?

Goodbye DISQUS

By now many of you have noticed that I’ve disabled the plugin for Disqus.  It is unlikely that I will activate again, but than again anything is possible.  Let me be clear that I actually think the service is very useful for moderating comments and promoting community and I appreciate the control it gives users over their comments throughout the blogosphere.  On top of that the customer service is first rate.  I highly recommend Disqus to those of you who are looking for advanced comment moderation features.  The one problem that persisted and that I could not get over is the problem that I have with all WordPress plugins: Plugins place the blogger in a dependency relationship with a third-party site.  I am willing to wager that the downtime with Disqus is no more frequent than with most plugins, but when it comes to comments I want an instant response.  Readers should not have to wonder whether a blog’s comment system is working properly on any given visit.  Perhaps I am overreacting, but I have a suspicion that a bad experience or even a few bad experiences, will turn off a reader from commenting in the future.

The other change to the site is the inclusion of a widget for Civil War Memory’s Facebook page, which you can join if you are on FB.  Once in a while it acts up, but for now I am willing to deal with it.  I am using it to communicate with “fans” of the blog and to share information that will not make it to the blog.  I am pleased that the number of fans continues to grow.  Please feel free to post your own notes, which will then appear in the feed on my blog.  You can post news items, events, and even your own Civil War related blog posts if you so desire.  All I ask is that your links loosely relate to the content of my blog.  Of course, I reserve the right to control the feed as well as membership.

Remembering Alabama’s Secession and “Lincoln bin laden”

You gotta love these commemorative events that on the surface seem to be about the Civil War, but are little more than forums for folks to complain about what they perceive to be our own oppressive government.  They always seem to bring together a true cast of characters.  In this case there is John Eidsmoe, Professor Emeritus of Constitutional Law Emeritus at the Thomas Goode Jones School of Law, who goes on and on about the compact theory of government and states rights as an explanation for Alabama’s secession without ever mentioning slavery, as well as a woman who wears a t-shirt with Frederick Douglass, who she believes was an advocate for limited government.   All of them were brought together as a result of one Patricia Godwin who believes that the decision on the part of Confederate forces to fire on Fort Sumter was carried out because “Lin­coln bin laden had fortified the fort with arms and sup­plies.”  By the way, you won’t find one black person in the audience.  I guess they don’t remember secession as a crucial moment of freedom from an oppressive government.  The best part of this video is the end when a few of the participants are asked what would have happened if the southern states had never seceded.  Their responses are priceless.  I guess I just find it funny that people who believe in limited government would identify so closely with the Confederacy.  They must not know their history.

By the way, just in case you are interested in why the state of Alabama seceded, you will not find it in this video:

WHEREAS, the election of Abraham Lincoln and Hannibal Hamlin to the offices of President and Vice-President of the United States of America, by a sectional party, avowedly hostile to the domestic institutions and to the peace and security of the people of the State of Alabama, preceded by many and dangerous infractions of the Constitution of the United States by many of the States and people of the northern section, is a political wrong of so insulting and menacing a character as to justify the people of the State of Alabama in the adoption of prompt and decided measures for their future peace and security; therefore,

Be it declared and ordained by the people of the State of Alabama in Convention assembled , That the State of Alabama now withdraws, and is hereby withdrawn from the Union known as “the United States of America”, and henceforth ceases to be one of said United States, and is, and of right ought to be, a Sovereign and Independent State.

The North Carolina Museum of History’s Loose Cannon

I hope everyone who had a chance to listen to Earl Ijames’s presentation last night on “colored Confederates” had a good time.  Unfortunately, I don’t know if I will ever have the opportunity to attend one of his talks in person, but I have learned quite a bit about his research and interpretation from various news items in which he is quoted.  While I agreed to take part in a public forum with Mr. Ijames at an upcoming academic conference it does not look like it will happen.  To be honest, I am much more interested in having Mr. Ijames present his work in a peer reviewed journal so that it can be judged by the historical community as a whole.  We are unlikely to see that any time soon as well.  In the mean time I will continue to share what I consider to be some of the more outlandish claims that Mr. Ijames has made over the past few years in various public settings.

The following news item takes us back to a presentation given by Mr. Ijames in November 2008 as part of the Dr. Charlotte Hawkins Brown Museum Legacy Lectures Series.   According to the article, Ijames said the following:

“There are people out there who have made their careers out of saying that there was no such thing as colored Confederate soldiers,” said Earl Ijames, curator at the North Carolina Museum of History. “As a historian, I want the records and facts to speak for themselves.”…. “As a state archivist and as a curator, I have had access to a lot of documents and records that proves a part of our history, on one hand is controversial and has been deliberately swept over, and on another hand, we still have vestiges in this state that are alive and kicking.”

Mr. Ijames needs to provide examples of who these people are that intentionally denied this history.  If this claim makes any sense at all Mr. Ijames should be able to cite at least one example for public scrutiny.  As bad as that is consider his claims about this history.

Confederate pensions were initially for soldiers who were injured in war and could not work. In 1927, the law was written to allow ditch diggers of color to receive pensions, but not Black Confederate soldiers. As the law evolved, pensions could be administered to soldiers who were too old to work, then to widows of soldiers from the Civil War. “I found just fewer than 200 colored Confederate pension applications, but many people did not know of the pension claim. There were many colored soldiers who served but were not documented on rosters.”

This claim about pension records has already been addressed here, here, and here.  Pension claims do not indicate service as a soldier.  Enough already!

Records that Ijames came across indicated that in 1862, a Confederate steamer was captured by the Union navy and 29 Black servants were taken as prisoners of war. “Now, I just find it hard to believe that there were 29 servants on a small steamer. I believe that some of those servants were actually soldiers but the Confederacy did not want the Union to know they had Blacks in the army,” Ijames said.

This is truly a remarkable claim for a historian to make.  So, the evidence that Ijames has available suggests that the men in question were slaves, but he believes they were soldiers because he believes the Confederacy was trying to keep their real identity a secret.  I would love to know what evidence Mr. Ijames has that would support such a claim.  This wouldn’t even be acceptable as an argument from one of my high school students.  Do I really need to debate someone who feels comfortable making this kind of claim?

As I stated before, I would have no problem if we were talking about a private individual; however, Mr. Ijames is an employee of a public institution.  The North Carolina Museum of History and Office of Archives and History have a responsibility here.  Are we in the historical community supposed to believe that Earl Ijames speaks for the museum and the rest of the public historical community in North Carolina?  Is this the level of scholarship that they expect from their employees and is this the level of scholarship that we would find in other historical areas?  I find it impossible to believe that I am the first historian to raise questions concerning Mr. Ijames’s “research.” No doubt, I am the first historian with a blog to do so and I will continue to make public these ridiculous claims until action is taken.  None of this would be necessary if after 15 years of research something was made public in the form of a peer reviewed essay.

Until then one must assume that the North Carolina Museum of History has a loose cannon on their hands.

David Blight on Why the Civil War Matters

There is nothing too surprising about this short interview with Prof. David Blight, but I thought it would be a nice way to end the work week.  Teachers may find this useful as a way of introducing basic questions of historical memory with students.  Blight touches on how Americans remember the Civil War, race, the Civil War Centennial and Sesquicentennial, and Barack Obama’s place in this narrative.

Check out Blight’s Yale lectures on the Civil War, Reconstruction, and Civil War memory.