Today I arrived home to find the new issue of Civil War History (September 2013). This most recent issue includes a roundtable discussion that I participated in about Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln. Participants included Catherine Clinton, Allen Guelzo John Neff, Megan Kate Nelson, and Matthew Pinsker. We discussed a range of issues from how well the movie stacks up to recent scholarship to how it might be used in the classroom. Thanks to book-review editor, Brian Craig Miller for inviting me to participate. This is my first time appearing in the pages of CWH apart from a couple of book reviews I wrote a few years ago. It’s a huge honor for me to be included among such a stellar group of scholars.
The last roundtable was eventually made available for free online and I suspect this one will eventually be be posted as well. Of course, I will pass it along at that point.
Postscript: Welcome historian Timothy Orr to the blogosphere. Tim is a dynamite historian, who teaches at Old Dominion University. You can find his blog at Tales From the Army of the Potomac.
We are all familiar with the libertarian perspective on the Civil War that views Lincoln as a tyrant and the Confederacy as the last bastion of limited government. It’s a strange cast of characters, including Thomas DiLorenzo and Walter Williams, both of who go out of their way to paint the Confederacy in the best light by minimizing the importance of slavery to secession and overlooking its own march toward a centralized state. Their limited understanding of historical scholarship comes through loud and clear in their books and/or Op-eds. In recent years there seems to be a realignment among those on the right regarding Lincoln and the war from folks like Glenn Beck to National Review editor, Rich Lowry, who recently published a new book on Lincoln
In this video Jason Kuznicki of the Cato Institute asks his fellow libertarians to reconsider their support of the Confederacy. Let’s ignore for a moment just how bizarre it is to be even talking about supporting the Confederacy 150 years later. I am less concerned with sound historical interpretation than I am with the fact that the Cato Institute believes there is a need for such a video. What do you make of it?
You can’t make this stuff up. I’ve written about Sea Raven Press in the past, specifically in reference to their book on Nathan Bedford Forrest for teens. This particular title, Everthing You Were Taught About the Civil War is Wrong, Ask a Southerner, seems to be the most popular given the number of times I’ve seen it referenced on certain websites. Here is a list of a few of the corrections to what you learned. I’ve highlighted a few of my favorites. I particularly like the claim that Abraham Lincoln both wanted to isolate blacks in their own state and transport them back to Africa. Apparently, these were not mutually exclusive options.
• American slavery got its start in the North
• the American abolition movement began in the South
• most Southern generals did not own slaves, and many, like Robert E. Lee, were abolitionists
• many Northern generals, like U.S. Grant, owned slaves and said they would not fight for abolition
• according to the 1860 Census a mere 4.8 percent of Southerners owned slaves, 95.2 percent did not Continue reading
Earlier today I returned from five days in Gettysburg for the annual Civil War Institute. Like last year, I feel rejuvenated and utterly exhausted. I had an incredible experience interacting with the participants and catching up with many good friends. Thanks to Peter Carmichael and the rest of the CWI staff for all the hard work. I can’t imagine the logistical juggling that takes place beforehand, but they seem to do it so effortlessly and that they do it in the name of history education makes it that much sweeter.
I donned a couple of hats this year. On Sunday I spend 90 minutes with an incredible group of high school students to talk about Civil War memory. We compared and contrasted Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address with that of Wilson’s in 1913 with an eye on how memory evolves. That evening I hosted a small discussion over dinner about about the kidnapping of former slaves and free blacks by Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia during the Gettysburg Campaign. We used two chapters from Margaret Creigton’s The Colors of Courage: Gettysburg’s Forgotten History: Immigrants, Women, and African Americans in the Civil War’s Defining Battle to help frame our discussion. I thoroughly enjoyed our discussion and I want to thank Al Mackey and Mike Rodgers for taking part. Finally, I took part in the final evening’s panel on the war in 1863. The panel also included Scott Hartwig, Robert Sandow, Judkin Browning, Jaime Martinez, Chris Stowe, and Peter Carmichael. It will be broadcast on CSPAN at a later date. Continue reading
It’s always interesting to watch politicians distort the past for their own purposes. This week Elbert Guillory decided to switch from the Democratic to the Republican Party. As he explains in this short video, he did so based on his understanding of the broad political history of race. Why he only recently came to some of these realizations goes unmentioned, but here are a few highlights. According to Guillory “the Republican Party was founded in 1854 as an abolitionist movement.” It was the Republican Party that gave blacks rights of citizenship during Reconstruction. Democrats have always been on the wrong side of the history of race. Most importantly, “they were the party of Jim Crow.” Guillory praises Dwight D. Eisenhower as the champion of the Civil Rights act of 1957.” Somehow he forgot that it was a Democrat from Texas who pushed for the final passage of the Civil Rights Bill in 1964.
Ultimately, Guillory’s break with the Democrats is based on a rejection of the notion that only big government can improve the lives of Americans. But isn’t much of the history of freedom for African Americans the result of government intervention? Setting aside the important role that blacks played in securing their own freedom didn’t the government intervene directly during the Civil War to free slaves? Finally, wasn’t Reconstruction itself the most extreme example of government intervention during the postwar period before the 1930s? Wasn’t it Southern Democrats who wanted to be left to sort out their affairs without federal intrusion. Continue reading