So You Want To Learn About the Civil War?

The Battle Between the Monitor and the Merrimack Xanthus Smith, c. 1880 (VHS)

Well, then head on over to the Virginia Historical Society for their new exhibit, An American Turning Point: The Civil War in Virginia.  I had a chance to sneak in for a few minutes today and it is well worth a visit.  It covers all of the important aspects of the war in Virginia and it does so with a wonderful selection of paintings, artifacts and interactive exhibits.  I am definitely going to have to go back and spend a bit more time. Most importantly, the museum offers a narrative of the war that reflects the best scholarship of the past few decades.   I will give you a sense of what I mean based on their printed guide:

Why Did the Civil War Happen? [Yes, slavery was crucial as a cause of secession & war.]

Slavery caused the war, but the war was not begun to free slaves.  The war had begun to determine whether the Confederate States of America would be allowed to break away as an independent nation, or whether the existing Union would survive.  Only later did the the conflict become one of liberation.  Why did the South want independence?  Southern wealth was mostly invested in slaves or slave-worked land.  Abraham Lincoln, newly elected president, led a party pledged to ban slavery in new states.

War or Murder? [Both Grant and Lee engaged in bloody assaults throughout the war.]

Throughout the war, both sides sought a single decisive victory long after it was clear that no such event was achievable…. Although Grant was called a butcher, Confederate losses, relative to the size of their army, were greater.

Men of Color To Arms? [Sorry, but no black Confederates prior to March 13, 1865.]

A few southern soldiers and civilians suggested as early as January 1864 that the Confederacy enlist slaves as soldiers, but most white southerners disagreed.  One Confederate politician noted that, “if slaves will make good soldiers [then] our whole theory is wrong.”  Desperate to avert defeat, the Confederacy authorized the enlistment of slaves on March 13, 1865, far too late to affect the outcome of the war.

Who Was the Traitor and Who the Patriot? [Virginians ought to remember their Confederates and Unionists.]

In 1861, pro-Union supporters defended the nation that had been created in 1776.  Pro-Confederates said they were exercising the right, enshrined in the Declaration of Independence, to “alter or abolish” unrepresentative and oppressive government.  Wherever a Virginian placed his or her loyalty–to the rebel nation of 1776 of the new rebel nation of 1861–he or she was a patriot to the eyes of some and a traitor to others.

How Did Slaves Support the Confederacy? [The Confederacy (including Virginia) went to war as a slaveholding society.]

Slaves and free blacks provided more labor than usual for Virginia farms when 89 percent of eligible white men served in Confederate armies.  Enslaved men were sometimes forced into service to build fortifications, women to serve as laundresses and cooks for troops in the field.  Fearful that they might lose their freedom if they failed to contribute to the war effort, free blacks often worked beside the slaves, for minimal wages.

Did the Civil War End At Appomattox? [We need to think about the war beyond Appomattox.]

Freedom as Confederate independence failed.  Defeat threatened to change white southern identity that had been based on racial supremacy.  Although black Virginians  were no longer enslaved, equality remained an unfulfilled goal for generations to come.

Full Disclosure

This is just a brief announcement to let you know that I am now an Amazon.com Associate.  Actually, I joined back in early November.  As many of you know just about every book link goes to Amazon only because they seem to provide pretty good deals.  In becoming an Associate I earn a small commission on each sale.  I chose not to say anything at the beginning because I wasn’t sure I would maintain my membership and I had no sense of whether I would make a single penny.  Today I received my first commission gift certificate for $17 which covers the first month.  I had a choice of receiving a check as well, but I decided to stick with a gift certificate.  I feel pretty comfortable with this program given that there is nothing that prevents me from giving an honest assessment of individual titles.  It is entirely your choice to click through and make a purchase.

This was also a trial to see if I could make any money from this site.  I’ve played around with monetizing the blog before, but a number of factors have kept me from making the move.  First, I do not want to ruin the look of this site with a bunch of Google ads that will more than likely not make any money.  There are a few Affiliate programs that seem attractive, but that route is going to have to include products that are not only relevant to the subject of my site, but ones that I can fully endorse.  I may put up a couple of 125×125 ad spaces in the sidebar, at the bottom of the page and even before the comments section on individual posts.  This is a popular method and one that should not negatively impact the aesthetics and user experience.  All of this is still up in the air, but please feel free to share your own thoughts.  I am all ears.

Now, if you will excuse me I am going to purchase a book.

Social Media Expert…Who Me?

Following my last class today I headed on over to the University of Virginia to take part in the annual meeting of the College Communicators Association.  I was asked to talk a bit about how university public relations people might utilize bloggers as a means to build stronger ties with the general public.  To be completely honest, I felt like a fish out of water, but I shared some ideas based on my limited interaction with public relations folks from various institutions.  Here is a brief rundown of my main points:

  • Keep in mind that blogging is a self-indulgent and ego-driven activity.  In other words, bloggers work to share their ideas with an audience and not the announcements of others.  In other words, understand that your communique goes against the grain of what blogging is about.
  • Do your homework and look into specific blogs that might be receptive to you rather than sending out a mass email.  The overwhelming number of blogs are not worth contacting because they do not attract an audience.  Build a relationship with specific bloggers.  A few weeks ago a major archival repository put out a video announcing a new exhibit.  The video went to most of the Civil War bloggers, which resulted in me not featuring it on this site.
  • Look for the tell-tale signs of a thriving blog.  Feedburner chicklets indicate the number of subscribers while sitemeter and statcounter will sometimes make public the number of daily visits and other relevant statistics.  In the case of advertising you may want to request a Google Analytics report.
  • Focus on bloggers who are self hosted and have their own domain name since this suggests a certain amount of investment into the site.  At the same time it is important to remember that you are asking for free publicity.  The blogger has to get something out of the transaction.  What are you offering to the blogger?
  • Make the pitch to the blogger as to why your information is relevant to the audience.  Again, I receive regular emails from various institutions and only rarely do I respond and it is even rarer that their information is featured on this site.
  • Finally, the energy expended trying to reach out to other social media sites should go into crafting your own content and figuring how to effectively utilize the many social networking tools that are available.  Create your own audience and understand why it matters.

I guess that sounds like something that Chris Brogan or the countless other so-called social media experts might say.

Five Years of Blogging

Sorry for the lack of posts over the past few days. I just returned from the Annual Meeting of the Southern Historical Association in Charlotte, North Carolina.  As always I had a wonderful time.  Got to catch up with some good friends and make some new ones.  I was pleasantly surprised by the number of people who stopped me to share that they read and enjoy the blog.

This week marks five years of blogging at Civil War Memory.  I continue to be impressed with its growth and popularity and little did I anticipate the number of doors that would be opened for me as a result of writing this blog.  As always, I thank you for reading and for adding your own thoughts to it.  This site is not just a record of my own evolving thoughts on the Civil War and historical memory, but a small slice of our broader collective memory of the period.

Just a quick reminder that I will speaking this coming Wednesday evening at the Harpers Ferry Roundtable on the subject of the Crater and historical memory.  The talk will take place in the annex to the Camp Hill – Wesley United Methodist Church, 601 West Washington St., Harpers Ferry, WV 25425.  There is a meal at the site at 7 p.m., for which reservations should be made by calling (304) 535-2101 before Sunday, November 7. The talk is at 8 p.m.,