Category Archives: Union

Reading List for ‘The North’s Civil War’

I am getting close to finalizing the reading list for my research seminar at the American Antiquarian Society in Worcester, which I will teach this coming fall semester. The seminar will focus specifically on how Northerners understood Union and emancipation over the course of the war. We meet once a week and our time will be divided between discussion of readings and learning how to interpret the AAS’s rich collection of primary sources in preparation for a major research paper, which each student will complete. Check out the course description, though I will likely tweak it in the coming weeks.

As for assigned books, I have managed to narrow it down to six. Of course, they will be supplemented by articles and book chapters, which I will make available to students throughout the semester. I tried to find well written books that will keep my students’ attention, allow us to talk a little historiography and that will cover a good deal of topical ground. Finally, I tried to choose books that are right around 200 pages. Continue reading

On the Absence of Black Soldiers in the Grand Review

The sesquicentennial anniversary of the Grand Review in Washington, D.C. has given new life to an old myth about the lack of United States Colored Troop presence. This past weekend the African American Civil War Memorial & Museum in D.C. hosted a reenactment of the two-day march that included black reenactors.

For Sarah Anderson the reenactment was meant “to correct a wrong made in 1865, when black soldiers were left out of the Grand Review, the Union Army’s victory parade.” The oversight, as her article suggests, is part of a long history of racial injustice that leads directly to Ferguson and Baltimore. Continue reading

The North’s Civil War: A Research Seminar

This may come as a surprise to some of you, but at the end of the year I will be leaving high school teaching behind to explore other opportunities in history education. I plan to say more on this in a future post. For now, I want to share one new adventure that I will embark on in September. Earlier this year I was invited to create a research seminar for honors undergraduate students at the American Antiquarian Society in Worcester for this coming Fall semester. If I remember correctly, around twelve students from area colleges will be admitted to the seminar. This was certainly not something I anticipated, but I jumped at the opportunity.

Since 1978 the AAS has invited scholars to introduce students to the research process through a seminar focused on a specific historical subject. It’s been quite some time since I taught a college course, but given the emphasis that I’ve placed on primary source research throughout my teaching career and my own experience in the archives I feel up to the challenge. This will also give me the opportunity to explore the AAS’s collections for my own research projects. I am embarrassed to admit that I have yet to visit. Continue reading

“Going Home” by Julian Scott

Brian Jordan referenced Julian Scott’s “Going Home” (1887) in a previous post so I decided to look it up since I am only vaguely familiar with the artist. Scott served in the 3rd Vermont Infantry at the tender age of 15 and was awarded the Medal of Honor in February 1865 for rescuing wounded Union soldiers at Lee’s Mill, Virginia.

It’s a powerful painting and perfect to kick off 2015 and the final year of the sesquicentennial. Click here for other Civil War paintings by Scott. Having read Brian’s book I can see why he has taken a fancy to it.

A Few Thoughts About Brian Matthew Jordan’s Marching Home

It is difficult to deny the influence that the recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have had on recent scholarship about Civil War veterans and the broader genre of studies that now fall under the heading, “dark history.” In the preface to his new book, Marching Home: Union Veterans and Their Unending Civil War, Brian Matthew Jordan makes this connection explicit:

But even today, as soldiers return home from new and more  complex wars farther away and more difficult to imagine, we still have trouble seeing the pathos of American veteranhood. More than 26,000 veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan dwell in homeless shelters; thousands suffering from posttraumatic stress and traumatic brain injuries have yielded to drugs and alcohol; divorce and suicide rates among recent veterans have reached record highs; and bureaucratic delays have kept some veterans waiting impatiently for promised benefits. These veterans, too, are fighting an unending war. And like their forebear in blue, they will ensure that debates over the meaning of war will be long, difficult, and complex.

Indeed, this short list of postwar maladies and challenges frames Jordan’s beautifully written and accessible book. [I started reading last night and finished late today.] Continue reading

Last Best Hope of What?

Most Civil War enthusiasts, including yours truly, know much too little about the international context of our civil war. It is with this in mind that I dove right into Don Doyle’s new book, The Cause of All Nations: An International History of the American Civil War. It’s an absolutely fascinating story that includes a cast of characters that is largely unknown to me.

There are any number of reasons why you should read this book, but for now I want to point out one aspect of the story that relates to how we remember. All of us have a personal investment in the events that constitute the Civil War, including its outcome. That connection can be informed by a host of factors including ancestral ties, personal politics, and race.

I’ve said before that I believe the right side won the war. An imperfect nation that I call home was able to enforce its constitution, preserve a republican form of government and in the process end the enslavement of 4 million people.

Doyle’s book reinforces just what was at stake in our war for observers in places like England, France, Spain and Italy. For European reformers, who had experienced recent setbacks, the outcome here might determine any future hopes of political reforms in their own nations. A smaller number looked forward to the end of slavery.

It’s hard not to admit that it is somewhat comforting to have such people on your side of history.

On the other hand, those sympathetic with the Confederacy hoped that it would strengthen their attachment to monarchy and aristocracy. An independent Confederate nation would go far to proving that democracy and republican government was an unrealistic and even dangerous system of government. For the governments of France and Spain it rekindled plans to reconquer parts of the western hemisphere.

It’s interesting how history creates strange bedfellows.

What Union Meant Abroad

I arrived home today to find a review copy of Don H. Doyle’s new book, The Cause of All Nations: An International History of the American Civil War, waiting for me. As I was perusing the introduction I came across this passage, which I thought was appropriate for sharing given the last post and the conversation in the comments section.

“America is not only America, one place or one race more on the map, it is yet and especially the model school of liberty. If against all possibility it had perished, with it would fall a great experiment.” — Eugene Pelletan

Doyle:

Some readers may feel such unqualified admiration of America was undeserved. the Union, everyone knows, had been painfully slow to embrace emancipation, and America’s deeply ingrained racial prejudice would long outlast slavery. These were only some of the egregious flaws in the nation foreign admirers hailed as the Great Republic.

Yet we miss something vitally important if we view Pelletan and other foreigners who saw America as the vanguard of hope as naive or misguided. Foreign admirers typically regarded the United States not as some exceptional city upon a hill, but as exactly the opposite: an imperfect but viable model of society based on universal principles of natural rights and theories of government that originated in Europe but had thus far failed to succeed there. In the 1860s they were horrified to see government of the people seriously imperiled in the one place it had achieved its most enduring success. Abraham Lincoln was hardly boasting when he referred to America as the “last best hope of earth.” His was a forlorn plea to defend America’s–and the world’s–experiment in popular government. (pp. 10-11)

This looks to be a good one.