Rediscovering Civil War Roundtables

Last night I gave a talk to the Charlottesville Civil War Roundtable and I had a great time.  Somewhere around 50 people showed up and I tried my best not to disappoint.  Most Roundtable attendees are not familiar with the subject of Civil War memory so it is always a gamble in terms of whether they will respond enthusiastically.  I encouraged the audience to ask questions during the talk rather than at the end.  A roundtable discussion ought to be interactive; there is nothing worse than having to sit and listen to someone read a paper. I can read the paper on my own if you are willing to make a copy.  I used 20 slides, including both popular images of the battlefield and a number of documents that I’ve collected during the research process, as a way to frame the talk.  I touched on various aspects of memory as it relates to the battle, including the postwar career of William Mahone and the disappearance of U.S.C.T.’s from public accounts of the battle.

A number of people came up to me to say thank you for the talk.  I was surprised by how many people admitted that they never thought about Civil War interpretation as a process that evolves over time.   Given that most Civil War enthusiasts are interested in straight-forward battle accounts or hagiographic sketches this is not surprising.  On one level the process should seem obvious if we reflect on how each of us constructs self-narratives.  I actually began the evening with a brief reflection on this connection.  We constantly reshape or reinterpret narratives about our lives.  I can think of a number of traumatic moments in my life and I am very confident that how I understood the event at the time is very different from how I now conceptualize it.  These reinterpretations are as much a function of where the interpreter is at the time as it is about the event in question.  In that sense each of us is a work of history that is continually being revised.  Given this observation it should come as no surprise that groups and even nations navigate through a similar psychological process. 

The largest numbers of people are over 60 years of age so you can easily measure how well you are doing by how many are sleeping.  I can honestly report that only a few people dosed off.  I hope to have the opportunity to speak with more Roundtables in the near future.  By the way, I’ve been asked to take part in a three-day conference on Civil War memory that will be open to the public and involve both lectures and tours.  Details forthcoming soon.  Now if I can only wake up and get ready for classes…

Crater Book Proposal

I was going through some files today and came across the original book proposal that I used for my Crater manuscript.  Given that only a few people have read it I thought it might prove helpful to those of you out there who are contemplating a project of this size.  Since I didn’t have any experience writing a proposal I followed the guidelines of the individual who asked me to submit the project for consideration.  This version dates from the beginning of 2005 and does not include any mention of the final chapter which takes the story of the Crater through the Civil War Centennial.  Feel free to comment as I am very interested in any advice that you can offer for future purposes.

Book Proposal: The Battle of the Crater, William Mahone, and Civil War Memory [temporary title] referred to in proposal as “Remembering the Crater”

Non-technical summary of the project

The battle of the Crater, which took place outside Petersburg, Virginia on July 30, 1864 proved to be one of the bloodiest engagements in the final year of the Civil War.  The attempt on the part of Union commanders to break the growing siege between the two armies by tunneling under a Confederate position and exploding 8,000 pounds of explosives created a battle environment unseen elsewhere.  The novelty of the mine explosion, the close hand-to-hand fighting, extensive casualties, the decision to include United State Colored Troops in the attacking columns, and a decisive Confederate victory guaranteed that the battle would not soon be forgotten by those involved.

This study examines the ways southerners reinterpreted the battle of the Crater throughout the postwar years (1864-1937).  Like those of “Pickett’s Charge,” memories of the Crater proved flexible enough to encompass multiple meanings relating to issues surrounding postwar state politics in Virginia, the contentious issue of race, the drive towards national reunion, and finally the tenets of Lost Cause ideology.  By analyzing the various and often contradictory interpretations of important Civil War battles, we can more clearly understand how history is frequently mixed with various elements of public memory and myth.

Review of Appropriate Literature

Few accounts of the Crater exist. Michael Cavanaugh and William Marvel’s The Battle of the Crater: “The Horrid Pit” (1989) is the most complete account of the battle and serves as a foundation for interpreting wartime primary sources.  Though less detailed, Noah A. Trudeau’s The Last Citadel (1991), J. Tracy Power’s Lee’s Miserables and William Marvel’s Burnside (1991) provide relevant information on the battle itself and the decisions made by key officers.  This study does not challenge any of the standard interpretations as they relate to decisions made in connection to the battle or the movement of troops throughout the duration of the battle.  The relevant literature in connection with this study which focuses on memory is much more extensive and can be divided into two camps.  The first camp concentrates broadly on postwar conditions that brought about reconciliation between North and South.  Recent studies by David Blight Race and Reunion (2001) and David Goldfield’s Still Fighting the Civil War (2002) examine the role reconciliation played in shaping early histories of the Civil War including its cause and the importance of emancipation.  For the purposes of this study, their analysis of the disappearance of African-Americans from many battlefield accounts is central to this study since their participation at the Crater proved to be a salient fact.  The disappearance of African-Americans from Southern accounts can be seen clearly in two reenactments which took place in Petersburg in 1903 and 1937.

The second camp of memory studies focuses on individual battles. Carol Reardon’s Pickett’s Charge in History and Memory (1997) and Thomas A. Desjardin’s These Honored Dead (2003) are the best examples of this second group.  More recent studies of the history of individual battlefields include Timothy B. Smith’s The Great Battlefield of Shiloh (2004).  I intend to integrate the best features from these studies.  Reardon’s focus on Pickett’s Charge is perhaps the closest model for my own. She concentrates on the evolution of memory by analyzing how a specific version, albeit a Virginia-centered account, emerged by the beginning of the twentieth century.  Reardon’s analysis of how that story evolved is understood as the result of internal debates between Confederate veterans, the influence of Lost Cause ideology, the drive towards sectional reconciliation, and the practice of monument building on the battlefield.  This study will also analyze the creation of the Petersburg National Battlefield  Park, which includes the Crater.  Smith’s study of the  development of Shiloh National Military Park focuses entirely on the role of reunion and the politics of Civil War battlefield preservation and serves as a model for this study.

Purpose of the study

“Remembering the Crater” takes as its starting point the accounts penned by Confederates in the period immediately following the battle and seeks to uncover the salient points contained in their letters and diaries.  Robert E. Lee’s men achieved a certain amount of agreement in their assessment of the Crater fight.  In addition to providing detailed coverage of the close hand-to-hand fighting, Confederates were unanimous in their horror and disgust at having to fight African-American soldiers.  Many shared with fondness the treatment accorded to these soldiers once surrendered.  Victory at the Crater reinforced the belief of many in the ranks that Ulysses S. Grant’s continued assaults around Petersburg could be dealt with and that Confederate independence remained in their grasp.  Finally, the battle reinforced the belief within the army and outside that Lee embodied the Confederacy’s only real chance for success.  Though many of these points continued to appear in postwar accounts, “Remembering the Crater” focuses on the ways in which later accounts diverged and attempts to explain why. “Remembering the Crater” examines how interpretations of the battle evolved as a result of various conditions within Virginia and outside the Commonwealth throughout the postwar years.  As one of the few remaining sites from the Petersburg siege, the Crater attracted a steady stream of visitors following the war.  Starting in 1875 and continuing into the twentieth century, Confederate and Union veterans met on the battlefield to celebrate the heroism of the common soldier and to promote sectional reconciliation.  This study focuses specifically on the steps taken by visitors on both sides to bring about a national park in Petersburg that would include the Crater site.  An important component of this focus will be to show the extent to which African-American participation in this battle was ignored for the purposes of reconciliation. The disappearance of African-Americans from the historical terrain can be seen clearly in two reenactments, which took place in Petersburg in 1903 and 1937. Reenactments provided a unique opportunity not only for veterans to meet with former comrades, but also for the community to construct and maintain a collective memory. Much of that collective memory underscored principles embodied in the Lost Cause and tended to reinforce white supremacy.  It is not surprising that in such an environment the role United States Colored Troops played in the battle would be ignored.  Analysis of the 1903 reenactment will examine the intersection between the politics of history, race, and public memory at a time when Virginia was already in the process of reorganizing its society around a Jim Crow framework.

The largest section of “Remembering the Crater” focuses on disagreements between Virginians over how the battle should be remembered.  The most contentious point centered on former Maj. Gen. William Mahone who led the Confederate counterattack which resulted in the retaking of the crater salient.  Mahone used the notoriety that went along with a successful military career to further his own postwar projects, first as a railroad magnate and later as a politician.  By 1883, William Mahone had become one of the most controversial and divisive politicians in the country.  As the organizer and leader of the Readjuster Party (named for its policy of downwardly “readjusting” Virginia’s state debt), Mahone led the most successful independent coalition of black and white Republicans and white Democrats. Readjusters governed the state from 1879 to 1883, electing a governor, and two United States Senators, and served six of Virginia’s ten congressional districts.  The legislative agenda of the Readjusters and Mahone’s prominent role within the party and U.S. Senate generated heated attacks in newspapers and more personal forms of communication.  Similar to former Confederate General James Longstreet, Mahone incurred the wrath of a growing “Lost Cause” movement that in addition to rationalizing Confederate defeat sought to maintain Democratic Party solidarity by fostering white supremacy and states’ rights.  Lost Cause advocates such as Jubal Early and others assumed an aggressive posture against ex-Confederates like Mahone who threatened their own conservative social and political agenda.  That Mahone was not an outsider, but a successful Confederate general, had to be dealt with severely and they dealt with him by attacking his war record, including his leadership at the battle of the Crater.  A closer look at Mahone’s postwar difficulties sheds light on the heated debates surrounding the political limits to which the Confederate past could be utilized.  And in doing so it undermines the notion that “Virginia history” and “Confederate history” became nearly synonymous during the first few decades following the war.  Finally, it reminds us that James Longstreet was not the only target (perhaps not even  the most important target) of the Lost Cause crowd’s wrath.

The four years of Readjuster control and the accompanying debates about Mahone’s conduct at the Crater did not exhaust other areas of disagreement between former Confederates relating to central questions about the battle.  Perhaps the most important question concerned which unit could claim responsibility for saving Petersburg and the Army of Northern Virginia on July 30, 1864.  Veterans of Stephen Elliott’s South Carolina brigade and North Carolinians in Robert Ransom’s brigade felt ignored in a story that primarily celebrated Mahone’s brigade for reclaiming the salient.  Even brigades in Mahone’s division complained that Virginians were taking an inordinate amount of credit for success and were unwilling to acknowledge the roles played by other units in retaking the Crater salient.  “Remembering the Crater” examines why in the end Virginia’s version of events emerged as the standard account.

Significance of the study

“Remembering the Crater” will integrate the various approaches to understanding how memory connects and often affects our understanding of Civil War battles.  While the battles of Shiloh and Gettysburg have received a great deal of attention from historians interested in memory, focusing on the Crater reminds us that lesser-known battles loomed large in the minds of those working to use the recent past to achieve specific goals.  Finally, by focusing on the years up to 1937, this study encompasses a span of time much larger than previous studies and allows for an investigation of how the Civil War continued to impact popular culture on the eve of World War II.

Research design (Methods and procedures)

“Remembering the Crater” relies heavily on the scholarship of David Thelen and Michael Kammen.  Thelen popularized the study of memory in his 1989 Journal of American History article which integrated the latest findings in the fields of psychology, neurology, and philosophy.  According to Thelen and Kammen, memory is a present-focused construction dependent upon the assumptions and perspective from which the rememberer views events.  It is assumed that memory always serves the individual’s present needs.  The focus in this study on competing accounts of the Crater provides a window into the ways in which memories of events are constructed by social groups according to the group’s changing needs and how the memories of different social groups are often in conflict for dominance.

Project time line

This study is being written as an M.A. thesis for the University of Richmond and will be defended by May 2005.  The research for the thesis is complete except for examination of a few collections housed at the University of Virginia.  An article-length overview of this project was published as “On That Day You Consummated the Full Measure of Your Fame: Confederates Remember the Battle of the Crater, 1864-1903” in Southern Historian (Spring 2004).  The chapter on William Mahone’s postwar career has been accepted for publication in the Virginia Magazine of History and Biography (forthcoming 2006).  Sections of the thesis have been presented at conferences over the past year, including the 2004 Regional Meeting of the Organization of American Historians.  A section of the thesis will be presented at the 2005 Annual Meeting of the Society for Military History.  Next summer I plan to collect archival material from the city of Petersburg relating to the Crater and the establishment of the Petersburg National Battlefield Park.  I plan to revise the thesis into 2006 and should have a completed manuscript by the end of the year.

Presentation on the Crater and Memory

This coming Tuesday I will be presenting a talk to the Charlottesville Civil War Roundtable.  The talk is scheduled for 7:30pm at the JAG School on the campus of the University of Virginia.  Directions can be found here and the meetings are free and open to the public.  I am going to talk about the broad outlines of my Crater project and concentrate on William Mahone and the evolution of memory surrounding U.S.C.T.’s.  Over the past few days I’ve scanned a number of interesting documents and images that will be used throughout the talk.  One of them is a photograph of Private Louis Martin who served in the 29th Illinois (U.S.C.T.) and who lost both an arm and a leg at the Crater.   

This is going to be a fairly open ended presentation as I hope to engage the audience from the beginning.  I’ve attended way too many talks where the speaker simply reads a paper or reads notes from a screen.  The idea behind the Roundtable format is to engage in a discussion with your audience.   

Not too long ago I bid farewell to Roundtables, but with my manuscript under review I thought it might be time to drum up a little enthusiasm for the project.  I think it can be argued that I was a bit unfair in that earlier post.  The burden is on me to make the narrow subject of Civil War memory relevant to an audience that is perhaps not predisposed to this type of discussion.  And I guess it is possible not to get too worked up about the inevitable question about black Confederates.  I am also scheduled to speak about the Crater on July 10 at the Richmond Civil War Roundtable.  And on March 12 I will be speaking about Confederate military executions at the Rappahannock Valley Civil War Roundtable in Fredericksburg.  Between these three talks there is a good chance that I may meet some readers of this blog.

Report From The AHA

As promised here is my report from this years AHA meeting in Atlanta.  This is my second time attending the AHA and probably my last unless asked to participate in another panel.   [You can read a detailed overview of the AHA over at History News Network, including the arrest of historian Felipe Fernandez-Arnesto for jaywalking between hotels.] I am not a big fan of academic conferences, but it does give me a chance to interact with some very talented people, see friends, and make new contacts.  As a high school teacher I don’t often get the opportunity to converse with people who share similar research interests.  My wife and I set out on Thursday at around 6:30am on what turned out to be a 9-hour drive.  I guess we could have taken a 1-hour flight, but driving gives you the option of eating the artery-clogging food of Cracker Barrel every 24.5 miles.  If the conventional car ever became too boring we could have stopped off at one of the 10 Harley-Davidson superstores along Rt. 85.  Can you picture us arriving at the Hilton with me on a Harley and my wife in one of those side carriages?

I attended some very interesting panels on a range of issues.  On Friday I listened to papers on African-American celebrations of Emancipation Day and Juneteenth.  One of the papers analyzed the 1936 Texas Centennial Fair and its inclusion of a “Hall of Negro History,” which I didn’t know anything about.  Other panels looked at railroads in the nineteenth century and another focused on digital history projects.  The latter was a roundtable-style discussion which left plenty of time for questions.  We discussed questions about how digital history projects function as historical interpretations and how they should be assessed as such.  The roundtable format is far more preferable to the standard 2 to 3 paper panel.  It is simply too difficult to maintain the level of focus necessary to follow even a fairly sophisticated arguments – not to mention that the sessions normally run for 2 hours.

The best part of the conference is the exhibition hall which includes just about every academic publisher.  You can purchase soon-to-be-released books and other titles at discounted prices.  I picked up a number of titles from LSU, Oxford, and University of Virginia Press.  It was nice to see that the University of Kentucky Press stand had copies of The View From The Ground and I was even more pleased to learn that the book is actually selling.  At this point I can announce that  Kentucky Press is evaluating my Crater manuscript for possible inclusion in their New Directions In Southern History Series.  The manuscript was mailed today and I should get the reviews at some point in March/April – at least that’s what the editor tells me.  There is no guarantee that they will accept it for publication, but there is the possibility that if everything goes relatively smooth there will be books available about this time next year.  The exhibition hall is where a lot of the action takes place.  Representatives are available to discuss book projects and shop ideas.  I had a chance to talk with a representative from the academic press that is likely to publish my edited project on John C. Winsmith.  The room is truly overwhelming and for someone who loves to look at quality books there is no better place than the AHA to do your shopping.  It’s actually overwhelming.

As I mentioned above one of the nice things about conferences is that it gives you a chance to catch up with friends.  Here is a photograph of me (on the left) with my friend Tom Ward.  Tom and I taught together at the Alabama School of Mathematics and Science and now teaches American history at Rockhurst University.  He is the author of Black Physicians in the Jim Crow South, which was published in 2003 by the University of Arkansas Press.  The book is well written and focuses on the steps taken by black Americans to become doctors and the difficulties they faced in a Jim Crow society.  I also met some new friends, specifically a few of the bloggers over at Cliopatria.  We met for lunch on Friday afternoon and Ralph Luker (founder of Cliopatria) was kind enough to pick up the tab.  It was nice having the opportunity to put a face on some of my favorite bloggers, including Rob MacDougall, Rebecca Goetz, Jonathan Dresner, and Tim Burke.  To my surprise we talked very little about blogging.  It was a great lunch and the conversation was entertaining.

I attended a very lively panel on Saturday morning which was supposed to include Howard Zinn; however, he was not able to attend due to health reasons.  The session was sponsored by Historians Against the War and focused on Staunghton Lynd’s experiences as a radical historian teaching at Yale University in the 1960’s.  Though Zinn was not in attendance Jesse Lemisch presented an entertaining paper that took a number of pop shots against Bush and the Yale culture.  While it was entertaining it was not the most informative session.  The whole atmosphere had a very different feel to it.  It was as if a sub-culture of the AHA had converged into one room.

I spent the early part of the afternoon making some final changes to my short talk.  The session went very well.  We had a nice turnout and the roundtable format proved to be the best route.  There were six of us total and each of us took five minutes to talk about our work as it relates to researching Civil War soldiers.  It was a real pleasure taking part in a panel that included such distinguished and talented scholars.  [The photograph to the left is of the panel and includes from left to right: Aaron Sheehan-Dean, Jason Phillips, Chandra Manning, Charles Brooks, Kent Dollar and me.] We identified somewhere between eight and ten possible dissertation topics that could be written.  One thing is crystal clear to me and that is that there is no crisis in Civil War studies.  Some of the most talented people are working in the field and even with all we’ve learned in the last few decades it is safe to conclude that it will continue.  Keep an eye out for Aaron’s study of the Confederate family in Virginia with UNC Press.  Jason Philips is revising a study on Confederate defeat with Univ. of Georgia Press; check out his recent article “The Grape Vine Telegraph: Rumors and Confederate Persistence” in the November 2006 issue of the Journal of Southern History.  Chandra Manning’s study of Civil War soldiers is set for release from Knopf in March.  I had a chance to browse the page proofs and it looks to be a first-rate study.  Charles is hard at work on a study that looks at Civil War soldiers in connection with Constitutionalism, and Kent recently published Soldiers of the Cross: Confederate Christians and the Impact of War of War on Their Faith with Mercer University Press.  Following the talk I had a chance to talk with Lesley Gordon who had some nice things to say about my comments.  I commented that unit histories are ideal places to explore conflict amongst veterans during the postwar period since most of the men tended to live in the same places.  Unfortunately most unit histories are written by people who have little interest in these questions.  In my talk I discussed the political debates between veterans of Mahone’s Virginia brigade during the Readjuster period.  Lesley is currently completing a study of the 16th Connecticut and will incude an entire chapter on their postwar experiences.  I look forward to her study which will be published by UNC Press.

All in all I had a great time at the conference.  This year I am scheduled to speak at the Charlottesville Civil War Roundtable in February, Rappahannock Valley CWRT in March, and the Richmond CWRT in July.

Some Thoughts About Confederate Veterans And Memory

I am posting this entry on Saturday at 2:30pm.  At this time I am sitting in a conference room in the Atlanta Hilton with five other panelists to discuss our work in the View From The Ground: Experiences of Civil War Soldiers.  The panel is titled “Soldiers, Citizens, and Sources: The Uses of Civil War Soldiers in Writing U.S. History and includes Aaron Sheehan-Dean, Kent Dollar, Chandra Manning, Charles Brooks, Jason Phillips and myself.  Since this is a roundtable discussion each panelist is only given about 5 minutes.  This will allow for  plenty of time to engage the audience in discussion.  Here are my remarks.  Since I am posting this on Wednesday there is a good chance that changes will be made before Saturday.  Feel free to comment.

“Some Thoughts About Confederate Veterans and Memory”
Presented at the 2007 Annual Meeting of the American Historical Association,
January 6, 2007

For the past four years I’ve been researching the battle of the Crater in historical memory – primarily the way white Southerners, including the veterans themselves, shaped the public’s understanding of this particular battle. As many of you know the battle took place on July 30, 1864 and involved an attempt on the part of the Army of the Potomac to tunnel under a Confederate salient in hopes of breaking the growing siege of Petersburg.  The Union attack – which included a division of USCT’s – failed miserably and constituted the last decisive victory for Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia before their surrender in April 1865.  This project started out as an essay on William Mahone – who led the Confederate counterattack at the Crater – and his attempt after the war to utilize his war record to benefit both his business and political careers.  I say this at the outset because my primary goal was not to study Civil War veterans as a group.

As the project moved beyond the narrow focus of Mahone and on to the battle itself the veterans emerged as an integral part of the story.  I had read David Blight’s Race and Reunion and was prepared for evidence of national reconciliation in connection with the Crater battlefield.  Through reunions and monument dedications both Confederate veterans from Virginia and their counterparts in the North used the battlefield as a forum to highlight the bravery exhibited by men on both sides.  And Union veterans  – particularly from Massachusetts – played an important role in working with their former enemies to bring the battlefield under the control of the National Park Service in 1936.  While it is important to acknowledge, as does John Neff in his recent study of the commemoration of Civil War dead, that national reunion and reconciliation was not a given the veterans achieved a great deal of consensus which continues to dominate the way the general public thinks about this particular battle.  The most significant point is the extent to which the role of USCT’s during the battle and their treatment by Confederates following their surrender had been eliminated from public memory by the turn of the century.

While the level of consensus achieved by Confederate veterans about the battle did not surprise me, the strong points of disagreement within their ranks did.  The literature on Confederate veterans beginning recently with Gaines Foster and Charles Reagan Wilson point to a gradual achievement of consensus structured around the tenets of the Lost Cause. A more local perspective reveals much more complexity.  I am going to briefly present two examples in connection to the Crater in which conflict amongst Confederate veterans shaped the memory of the battle.  The first is explored in my essay in The View From The Ground.  Veterans of Mahone’s division, including brigades from Virginia, Georgia, Alabama, along with other units from North and South Carolina debated through the turn of the century over who could claim credit for their victory.  Virginians succeeded in claiming the victory as their own by minimizing the contributions of units from outside the Commonwealth.  While their strong convictions about their roles in the battle point to continued feelings of Confederate nationalism their desire to claim the battle for themselves became intertwined with issues of honor rooted in local and state identity.  The tendency for veterans to focus on individual regiments and larger units associated with their respective states may have reflected a need for self-identification somewhere between Confederate and American.

More interesting is the fierce debate among veterans of Mahone’s Virginia brigade that took place as a result of the general’s foray into Virginia politics and leadership of the Readjuster Party.  I explore this in an article that appeared in the Virginia Magazine of History and Biography in 2005.  The Readjuster Party controlled the Commonwealth from 1879 to 1883 and resulted in Mahone’s election to the United States Senate.  The Readjusters welcomed Virginia’s black population into the party and as a result enjoyed increased access to the polls and political power around the state.  The racial shake-up that resulted served to divide Mahone’s former command.  In short, Reconstruction came later for Virginians, compared with the rest of the South, not as a result of the federal government or “carpetbaggers” but at the hands of one of their own.

Newspapers reserved plenty of space for former soldiers who aligned themselves with or against their former commander, and they expressed themselves by either reinforcing or challenging Mahone’s reputation as the “Hero of the Crater.”  Mahone was compared with John Brown and Benedict Arnold and questions were raised about his performance at the Crater, including whether he gave the order to charge or whether he was even present on the battlefield.  One of Mahone’s most vociferous critics was Brig. Gen. David Weisiger who commanded the Virginia brigade at the Crater.  Given Weisiger’s rank and close association with Mahone his claims to have ordered the attack at the Crater were given a great deal of attention.  The damage done to Mahone’s reputation can be seen in Weisiger’s obituary which appeared in the popular publication Confederate Veteran in 1893 and cited him as the “Hero of the Crater.”

Throughout the postwar period Mahone had taken steps to organize the men under his command tohelp in first consolidating his rail lines and later his political interests.  He did this by assisting in organizing a veteran’s organization that eventually took the generals name and by offering free passes on his rail lines to attend annual meetings.  The debates that involved Virginia’s veterans showed that these men were not simply pawns that could be manipulated but were active political agents in their own right.  The debates between veterans of the battle were not about getting the history right, but about the conditions surrounding who could claim a legitimate connection to a Confederate past.  At the height of Readjuster control history and politics became almost indistinguishable with Mahone himself serving as a lightning rod that divided his old command.  In August 1883, Robert Bagby – who served in the 3rdGeorgia Regiment of Mahone’s division appealed to his fellow comrades to look beyond politics:

It is not my wish or desire to applaud Gen. Mahone for the active part he bore in the late war between the States, or vilify or abuse him for his connection with Virginia state politics but as a Confederate soldier who followed where he led in the dark and trying hours of the past. I, for one, am willing to let politics of the living present rest long enough to remember the record made by Gen. Mahone while fighting for a principle that was near and dear to us all.

Mahone was the most divisive former Confederate general in Virginia following the war, much more so than James Longstreet.  After all, while Longstreet was criticized by popular Lost Cause advocates such as Jubal Early he continued to be welcomed at reunions and other events by the men of his old corps.  Mahone’s political decisions, however, worked to alienate the men under his command and it was these men who worked to end the party’s control of the state by 1883.

Both examples suggest the way the Confederate past could be made to serve the present needs of the men in the ranks and perhaps points in the direction of further research.  There is a great deal of consensus when we look down on Confederate remembrances.  We can see the broad outlines of the Lost Cause, which among other things explained away slavery as a cause of secession and celebrated the virtues of the Confederate soldier and turned the likes of Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson into icons.  In doing so the Lost Cause presented its readers and later generations with a united front.

When we take the view from the ground, however, we are forced to come to terms with a great deal of conflict that outlasted the war, the fault lines and hidden controversies that often defined the peace.  In the case of the debates between Virginia veterans and their one-time comrades over who could claim credit for victory at the Crater the men identified more with their own states rather than a more abstract Confederate past.  Within Virginia itself the veterans of Mahone’s Virginia brigade came to blows over the political decisions of their former commander.  In both cases the experiences of the Civil War continued to provide meaning on a local level to the way Confederate veterans identified with their changing surroundings in a post-emancipationist world.

So where do we go from here?  I am intrigued by the possibilities that community studies offer as an avenue for future study.  They provide the right level of focus as they are more likely to exploit local politics and other issues that are missed in broader studies.  Unfortunately most of these local studies give short thrift to postwar experiences or if they do steer clear of issues of memory.  An exception to this rule can be found in Jonathan Sarris’s A Separate Civil War, which compares Lumpkin and Fannin counties before, during and after the war – both situated in northwest Georgia.  The postwar experiences of Confederate veterans and Unionists neighbors in both counties and the sometimes bitter debates that took place are rendered intelligible through a careful analysis of the socio-economic patterns that shaped their pre-war and wartime experiences.  There are other possibilities for future research which we can talk about during the discussion session.