For some of my older readers this post may bring back some fond memories of childhood and the Civil War Centennial. Below is a small selection of Civil War cards that was released in 1962 by Topps. Two additional collections of Civil War cards were also released which you can read about here. Of course, I remember collecting baseball cards, but I am pretty sure that this series had been retired long before I took the weekly allowance down to the local candy store. What I find so striking is the scale of violence depicted on some of these cards. I have no doubt that they are responsible for fueling many a young boy’s imagination. Click here for a much larger collection of cards as well as a price list. Enjoy!
The other day my students brought in newspaper articles about the Civil War that were published in the New York Times between 1961 and 1965. They were allowed to search any topic and then had to write up a brief analysis of what they discovered. I asked them to staple the articles to their analysis so I could spend some time with their sources. In our discussion about Lincoln this interesting little article came up which reports on a Moscow radio broadcast that references the president. The article was published on February 14, 1961:
Tribute Paid to Lincoln in Moscow Broadcast
Abraham Lincoln, the Moscow radio said today, is a name “dear to the heart of the Soviet people.” A broadcast beamed at North America and heard here declared that the Soviet people “can sympathize with and understand Lincoln’s democratic views and his sincere and deep sympathy for the working people.” “Today, when the peoples of all countries see as the main task the struggle to preserve peace,” the broadcast went on, “we return to the words of Lincoln. Let us strive to do all that will achieve a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.” “We honor the great President and United States citizen because he represented the revolutionary and democratic traditions of the American people, traditions which found expression during difficult years of the struggle against fascism.”
What followed was a nice discussion about why our supposed ideological enemy, during the Cold War, would honor one of our presidents. One student suggested it was a clever piece of propaganda designed to undercut the American peoples’ self confidence. In other words, if the Soviet people revere one of our own than than Americans may doubt that there is such a wide gulf between the two nations. Another student argued that it was an attempt on the part of the Soviet Union to reach out in hopes of cooling tensions during the height of the Cold War. Finally, another student hesitantly made the point that perhaps the Soviets really do revere Lincoln. What followed was some very awkward silence, but I decided to ride it out in hopes that the conversation would continue. The problem, it turned out, was that some of the students had difficulty considering such a possibility. Even though they were born after the end of the Cold War they’ve been trained to remember this period by those who did experience it for different lengths of time. We talked a bit about the connection between the plight of the slaves and how the working class fits into communist ideology. I also reminded them that a large contingent of African Americans traveled and even settled in the Soviet Union as an alternative to the experience of living in a Jim Crow society. It seems safe to suggest that hey would have brought strong views of Lincoln with them, but I am going to have to go back and check out Glenda Gilmore’s recent study to see if she has anything to say.
One of the more interesting points of discussion that came up was why Americans have such difficulty acknowledging that other nations are interested in our Civil War. It’s true. We see nothing unusual about history courses devoted to the study of another country, but we rarely imagine students in other countries studying our own history. For those of you in the classroom who are interested in exploring this theme I highly recommend Dana Lindman and Kyle Ward’s History Lessons: How Textbooks From Around the World Portray U.S. History (The New Press, 2004). The book is broken down by events and each section includes short excerpts from various history textbooks from around the world. They make for some wonderful classroom discussions as students try to understand the reasons behind the various interpretations.
Students in my Civil War Memory course finally finished watching Gone With the Wind. With all of the discussion and analysis it took us two weeks to get through it. It was well worth it and for the most part they really enjoyed it. We are now transitioning to the Civil War Centennial and the movie, Shenandoah. As part of their preparation for this movie I had students research the centennial and analyze newspaper articles from the period. Today we discussed how both the civil rights movement and the Cold War influenced how Americans remembered and commemorated the war in the 1960s. Having been released in January 1965, just six months after Congressional passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Shenandoah clearly reflects this broader cultural and racial shift. In contrast with earlier films such as Gone With the Wind and Birth of a Nation this film does not glorify the plantation South. This strong anti-Lost Cause theme emerges early in the film. Consider the scene around the diner table. Charlie Anderson is challenged by one of his sons who argues that the family can no longer ignore the war. The father asks his sons if they desire to own slaves. He then goes on to ask: “Now suppose you had a friend that owned slaves and suppose somebody was going to come and them them away from him. Would you help him fight to keep them.” One son insists that he would not and notes that, “I don’t see any reason to fight for something that I don’t believe is right and don’t think that a real friend would ask me to.” The dinner table reflects the broader moral issues that Americans were struggling with at the time. But even apart from the issue of civil rights the movie fits neatly into the ongoing ideological war with the Soviet Union. There is a moral clarity that comes through in this scene that reinforced America’s sense of its own place as leader of the free world.
This anti-Lost Cause theme returns in the above scene when Charlie Anderson confronts a Confederate officer hoping to recruit the Anderson boys. Somehow we are supposed to imagine that six strapping young Virginians were able to avoid conscription for two years. Anderson defends the necessity of keeping his sons on the farm by insisting that his farm was built “without the sweat of one slave.” The shift from GWTW is striking in Anderson’s refusal to make any sacrifice to slaveholding Virginia or the Confederacy. This unwillingness to identify specifically with slavery removes it from the ongoing debate about civil rights. I am confident that my students will enjoy this movie and I am looking forward to the class discussions.
Georgia Civil War Commission Chairman John Culpepper has announced which battles will be reenacted as part of the Civil War Sesquicentennial. The decision was made by 75 representatives from around the country. The major battles endorsed by the convention are 2011-Manassas (Va.) Shiloh (Tenn.); 2012-Second Manassas (Va.) Vicksburg (Miss.); 2013-Chickamauga (Ga.) Gettysburg (Pa.); 2014-The Wilderness (Va.) Atlanta; 2015-Bentonville (N.C.) Appomatox (Va.). I have no idea who the people and organizations involved speak for.
Looks like a nice balance between Union and Confederate victories as well as the inclusion of one siege. The only problem, as I see it, is the failure to include an engagement that will highlight the service of United States Colored Troops. I’ve only been to a few reenactments in my life, but to be honest, they all look the same to me. How about reenacting a battle that gets at the heart of what the Civil War was about?
Over the past few days I’ve been rummaging through research files that cover the history of the Crater during the 1950s and 60s. Thankfully, I’ve been making steady progress on my manuscript revisions. I am playing around with an opening to this post-WWII chapter that tries to imagine what a family would have seen and read between the visitors center and wayside markers at the Petersburg battlefield. Perhaps I will share it with you to get some feedback. Anyway, here are some notes I took while looking at a collection of Civil War Centennial pamphlets.
UVA: Civil War Centennial Information: “Virginia’s Opportunity: The Civil War Centennial, 1961-1965″ [published by the Virginia Civil War Commission, Richmond, Va, 1960] Manual was prepared for Civil War centennial committees and teachers “who are trying to interpret the meaning of this momentous era to the youth of Virginia.”
“But the Centennial is no time for finding fault or placing blame or fighting the issues all over again. Americans from every section produced the divisions which led to war. These divisions grew out of hate, greed and fear, ignorance and apathy, selfishness and emotionalism—evils from which this generation is not free.” “This is the time to recognize these divisive forces; but this is also the time to honor dedication and devotion, courage and honor, integrity and faith—qualities plentifully demonstrated in the War of 1861 to 1865—and needed for our survival in the years to come.” (from the Foreward)
Opening day, Sunday, January 8, 1961
Va’s opening day: April 23, 1961 on the day that R.E. Lee accepted command of Virginia armed forces.
“The chief purpose of the Centennial is to strengthen the unity of the country through mutual understanding—an understanding derived from the realization that there was dedication and devotion on both sides. North and South, there were those who gave all they had in support of what they sincerely believed was right.” “In the Centennial the spotlight will be on character in men—for was is the ultimate test of character. The stories of the Civil War are full of lessons for present-day living. By these examples we can teach children and adults the moral values so needed in America today. (p.8) Continue reading