More Selective Outrage Over Confederate Heritage

cemetery2009

One of my favorite places to take students in Charlottesville was the University of Virginia’s Confederate Cemetery. It was a short walk and it allowed me to talk about wartime hospitals as well as postwar mourning and the evolution of the Lost Cause. I encouraged my students to look at and think about the headstones and to pick up trash. The men were buried in long trenches and when the cemetery was dedicated there were no individual headstones. That gradually changed and in recent years the local SCV has organized to order new markers from the federal government. The project continues, in part, with the financial support of the federal government. It’s a program that I contributed to on more than once occasion while in Charlottesville. Continue reading “More Selective Outrage Over Confederate Heritage”

The Other Side of the Robert Gould Shaw Memorial

Shaw Memorial, 54th MassachusettsI’ve spent quite a bit of time watching others at the Shaw Memorial. Visitors marvel at Augustus Saint-Gaudens’s beautiful bronze relief of Shaw and his men marching to their glorious deaths outside of Charleston, SC, but few walk down the steps to take a look at the reverse side. They miss a great deal of what gives this beautiful monument its meaning. Continue reading “The Other Side of the Robert Gould Shaw Memorial”

The Other Gettysburg Address

Wilson Gettysburg

First, a bit of good news. Today I learned that my essay, “Black Confederates Out of the Attic and Into the Mainstream” has been accepted for publication in The Journal of the Civil War Era. I suspect I will have to wait some time before I see it in print. I argue that as historians and teachers we need to be thinking harder about how the Internet has changed not only how history is written, but more importantly, how it is being consumed and shared. From the essay:

The success of the black Confederate phenomena can be traced directly to the expansion of the Internet, including access to rich databases of primary sources and the availability of digital tools such as blogs, wikis, and other platforms that allow practically anyone the opportunity to publish a website and engage and influence a wide readership.  This has led to a sharp increase in the amount of history published online by individuals and organizations with little or no formal training in the field.  As a result, the democratization of history through online publishing continues to blur the distinction between professional and popular historians and challenges any presumption of who has the right to research and publish history. While professional historians assume the responsibility of critically assessing the work of their peers they have yet to explore their role in responding to and evaluating online content.  The black Confederate narrative provides academic and public historians with an opportunity to reflect on how they might engage history enthusiasts and the broader general public in an environment that promotes an unregulated marketplace of ideas.

Next week I am heading to Gettysburg College to take part in this year’s Civil War Institute. It’s always a blast and this year is extra special given that is the 150th anniversary of the battle. I hope to be able to soak up some of the sesquicentennial vibe without having to be there in the middle of all that craziness the following week.  This year I am going to be working with a group of high school students, who will be taking part in the conference. It’s nice to have a chance to be filmed for C-SPAN, but I much prefer a classroom setting where I can interact with students.

I am going to use the opportunity to introduce students to the subject of Civil War memory by having them compare Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address with Woodrow Wilson’s 1914 address from the 50th anniversary. The text is below, but as you read it think about how you would introduce this speech to a group of students.

  • What questions would you ask to frame the two documents?
  • What sentences, phrases, or words stand out to you and why?
  • What was Wilson’s goal in addressing his audience in 1914?
  • What events would you reference to frame the historical context of this speech?

Thanks in advance for sharing your thoughts. Continue reading “The Other Gettysburg Address”

Vindicating Col. Robert Gould Shaw and the 54th

burning-of-darien-from-glory

With the 150th anniversary of the burning of Darien, GA approaching one local historian hopes to vindicate Col. Robert Gould Shaw of any responsibility.  We all know the scene in Glory when Shaw orders his men to torch the town only after the threat of court-martial by Col. James Montgomery of the 2nd South Carolina Volunteers.  Montgomery and General Hunter play the perfect villains in the movie, which ultimately leads to a transfer for the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry from hard labor to combat and glory at the base of Battery Wagner in July 1863.  It’s hard to know what McIntosh County historian Buddy Sullivan has planned for the commemoration beyond reminding his community that the raid did not take place during Sherman’s March of 1864 and that Shaw was indeed following orders.

Most of us know about this little incident from Glory and the movie gets a lot right.  Yes, Shaw disapproved of Montgomery’s order to join his unit and burn Darien.  According to historian Russell Duncan, “Shaw believed the action unjustified and disgraceful, and said he could have assented to it only if they had met Rebel resistance.” (pp. 43-44)  Shaw was concerned about the negative publicity that eventually was reported in northern and southern newspapers.  While it is true that Shaw was forced to follow orders it’s not clear whether noting that Col. Montgomery was also carrying out direct orders from General David Hunter will make it into Sullivan’s upcoming presentation.  Better to have a foil with which to vindicate Shaw.   Continue reading “Vindicating Col. Robert Gould Shaw and the 54th”