Spent a few hours earlier today at the Massachusetts Historical Society looking at letters and diaries of Northern soldiers who fought at the Crater. As happens so often during the research process what turned out to be the most interesting discovery was unrelated to my immediate project. After reading his wartime letters I decided to go through the G.A.R. materials in the William M. Olin collection. Included is the John E. Gilman Camp’s Record Book that Olin joined after the war.
I don’t have any information on the backstory, but apparently in 1936 the Massachusetts Institute of Technology accepted a portrait of Robert E. Lee. This did not sit well with the veterans in the Gilman Camp and I suspect they were not alone. Continue reading
The other day I briefly noted my surprise by how little the war was being discussed in a conference devoted to Massachusetts and the Civil War. What I am struck by now looking back on the three days of talks at the MHS is the overwhelming emphasis on Boston’s abolitionist community. That should not come as a surprise given the location of the conference and the place of the abolitionists in local memory. I learned quite a bit about them and I accumulated a nice list of books and article from the papers, which were wisely precirculated.
By the end of the conference the abolitionists’ agenda had emerged as the dominant narrative of the Civil War. In fact, if this conference can be defined as reflecting a Civil War memory it would have to be that of the abolitionists themselves and their agenda beginning in the antebellum period through the war and into the era of Reconstruction. It was so palpable that even our understanding of the war’s meaning and the success or failure of Reconstruction had little chance of being critically examined without Garrison, Douglass, and the rest of the gang looking over our shoulders. There was little consideration of the importance of Union, as recently analyzed by Gary Gallagher in his new book, The Union War>, nor was there much of an attempt to distinguish between the goal of ending slavery and the question of civil rights. The war had been reduced to an agenda with racial equality as its ultimate goal. In short, it was all or nothing. Continue reading
Lucy Nichols at a reunion of the 23rd Indiana, circa. 1890s
I had one of those moments this morning when reading the work of another historian opened my eyes to ways to deepen my own thinking about a particular subject. Much of what I’ve written about in the first chapter of my black Confederates book explores the relationship between individual camp servants and their masters. It offers a survey of the wide range of relationships and how they evolved owing to the exigencies of war. The second chapter examines the presence of former camp servants at Confederate veterans reunions as well as the issuance of pensions by individual southern states to blacks for the vital roles they played during the war. I’ve been struggling with how I can link these two chapters conceptually. Despite claims to the contrary, individual relationships usually did not continue after the war along the lines of the loyal slave narrative. That said, we do need to make sense of the presence of camp servants at these reunions. Continue reading