I am scrapping the black Confederate book project. I just don’t have it in me to work on it anymore. There is nothing intellectually challenging about it and it only works to frustrate me when I think about some of the characters that I would have to address in the memory section. I’ve got an essay on the subject coming out in the December issue of The Journal of the Civil War Era and I may write up one long essay that covers a large chunk of research for another publication, but that’s it. I want to get my hands dirty again and actually figure something out. It’s on to Massachusetts Governor John A. Andrew. Continue reading “Bring On Governor John A. Andrew”
I’ve devoured a good deal of Boston history since arriving in the city in 2011. Unfortunately and perhaps surprisingly, the one major gap in my understanding is the Civil War era. Apart from Thomas H. O’Connor’s Civil War Boston: Home Front and Battlefield there is really nothing available. Stephen Puleo’s books are helpful, but they are more narrative and lack that analytical edge.
The one exception to this is Stephen Kantrowitz’s, More Than Freedom: Fighting for Black Citizenship in a White Republic, 1829-1889, which as the title suggests focuses on the racial dynamic of Boston.
O’Connor’s study was published back in 1997, but apparently it was allowed to go out of print. Thankfully, Northeastern University Press has seen fit to bring it back in a new paperback version.
I am three chapters in and it is quite good. O’Connor does an excellent job of analyzing the complex ethnic and racial make up of Boston during the 1850s as the sectional divide widened. Coverage of the varied response to John Brown’s raid is particularly good. Continue reading “O’Connor’s Civil War Boston Back in Print”
One of the nice surprises in the special issue of Common-place that I edited with Megan Kate Nelson is an essay that we had nothing to do with. Sarah Beetham’s “Object Lesson” on Civil War monuments and cemeteries is a wonderful introduction to the subject that was submitted independently from those that we commissioned. It fits perfectly into the issue given our overall theme. She begins with a description of Martin Millmore’s Roxbury Solider Monument in Forrest Hills Cemetery, which is five minutes from my house. It’s a beautiful place and one that I regularly visit. Millmore himself is buried close to the entrance. I am going to use it this week in class.
In a quiet glade amid the trees and lawns of Boston’s Forest Hills Cemetery, a bronze soldier of the American Civil War stands on a low plinth clutching his rifle (fig. 1). His posture is reminiscent of parade rest, a pose often assumed by soldiers on ceremonial occasions, but he gazes downward and to his right with a wistful air (fig. 2). He wears the standard overcoat and forage cap issued to soldiers of the Union Army for winter service, and his finely modeled, unbearded face reflects the youth of the typical Civil War volunteer. The base of the statue declares that it was “Erected by the City of Roxbury in honor of Her Soldiers, who died for their Country in the Rebellion of 1861-1865.” Its grassy clearing is enclosed with a low stone fence inscribed with the names, units, and dates of death of the Civil War soldiers of the Boston suburb of Roxbury (fig. 3). Amid the rolling hills and screening vegetation of the cemetery, the stone fence demarcates a space for quiet reflection. Overall, the monument is part gravestone and part triumph, mourning the deaths of the young soldiers of Roxbury while honoring their valorous deeds in the successful Union war effort.
Read the rest of the essay.
In response to the tour of Boston’s Civil War monuments that I took with my class last Thursday, I asked them to take some time and write up a short reflection about their experience. Overall, the short essays are very reflective and in some cases quite surprising in terms of what they came away with. Here is one example.
The field trip we took through Boston last week transformed my view of how the North, and specifically Boston, commemorated the Civil War. I hadn’t fully realized before this how prominent memories of the Civil War were and were aimed to be, through the monuments, in the few decades after. The monuments, I realized through looking at them, were supposed to be seen on a regular basis by people walking by, so that the Civil War still filled the consciousness of Boston and the North. It seems to me that the commemorators wanted this for two reasons: 1. They wanted to commemorate the people who died, and 2. The monuments could garner support for the causes of the war and for unity. And they could justify the war in a way, making the deaths of the soldiers seem noble and pulling Boston together under a mindset of unity and American pride. I was surprised that there were actually multiple monuments commemorating blacks and women who served in the war. I’ll discuss my favorite three monuments: the sphinx, Harvard’s Memorial Hall, and the Shaw Memorial. Continue reading “Boston’s Civil War Memory: A Student’s Reflection”
I’ve been looking forward to the opportunity to introduce students to some of Boston’s most important Civil War sites for some time. It almost didn’t happen given yesterday’s snow storm, but the city does an incredible job with snow removal from roads and other public spaces. It was, however, very cold this morning. The other problem was the lack of visibility at certain sites owing to the snow. No worries. We forged ahead and had a great day beginning at Mount Auburn Cemetery and ending at the Boston Common. Below is a photograph of my class at the Robert Gould Shaw Memorial.
These students are an absolute pleasure to teach.