Al Jazeera Reports on the Sesquicentennial

This is an interesting little report on the commemorative events surrounding the sesquicentennial of Fort Sumter.  A number of people are interviewed, but what I find so interesting is the difference in tone between NPS interpreter, Michael Allen and the Kennedy brothers (aka the Civil War’s Statler and Waldorf), who identify themselves as “Southern Historians.”  I just love that reference.  It has nothing to do with regional identification because if it did they would have to include hundreds of historians who were all born and raised in the South.  I live in the South.  Am I a Southern Historian in their eyes?  You get my point.  No, that identification marks a certain way of looking at the history of the South and its tone is overly defensive and presentist – a perspective that I suspect does not reflect the views of most white and black southerners.  The language used reflects very little interest in the nineteenth century itself.  Just listen to these two describe the federal government as tariff and money obsessed and intent on going around the world to oppress innocent people at the point of a bloody bayonet.

You certainly leave with a sense of their emotional connection to the issue, but it’s not much of an explanation.

The bigger problem here is that the media’s insistence on interviewing people like the Kennedy brothers reinforces the assumption that this is the Southern view of the war.  They may be entertaining and they may refer to themselves as Southern historians, but they do not speak for the South.

From a Great Tragedy to a New Birth of Freedom

Civil War Proclamation No. 3882

By The President of The United States of America:
The years 1961-1965 will mark the one hundredth anniversary of the American Civil War.

The war was America’s most tragic experience. But like all truly great tragedies, it carries with it an enduring lesson and a profound inspiration. It was a demonstration of heroism and sacrifice by men and women of both sides, who valued principles above life itself and whose devotion to duty is a proud part of our national inheritance.

Both sections of our magnificently reunited country sent into their armies men who become soldiers as good as any who ever fought under any flag. Military history records nothing finer than the courage and spirit displayed at such battles as Chickamauga, Antietam, Kennesaw Mountain and Gettysburg. That America could produce men so valiant and so enduring is a matter for deep and abiding pride.

The same spirit on the part of the people back home supported those soldiers through four years of great trial. That a Nation which contained hardly more than 30 million people, North and South together, could sustain 600,000 deaths without faltering is a lasting testimonial to something unconquerable in the American spirit. And that a transcending sense of unity and larger common purpose could, in the end, cause the men and women who had suffered so greatly to close ranks once the contest ended and to go on together to build a greater, freer and happier America must be a source of inspiration as long as our country may last.

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Even the Public Historians Have Been Seduced

E. Dabney at Petersburg National Battlefield

The History News Network has just posted an editorial by Steven Conn on the Civil War Sesquicentennial.  Conn offers an overly simplistic reading of the evolution of Civil War historiography through the Civil Rights Movement before closing his essay with the following:

Sadly, 150 years after Edmund Ruffin fired on Fort Sumter, large numbers of Americans remain in the thrall of a romanticized Confederacy.  At Civil War reenactments far more people show up dressed as Johnny Reb than as Billy Yank.  The fact that it is acceptable to put a Confederate flag on a car bumper and to portray Confederates as brave and gallant defenders of states’ rights rather than as traitors and defenders of slavery is a testament to 150 years of history written by the losers.

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Black Confederates Attract Tourist Dollars

Thanks to a reader for passing along the Prince William County/Manassas, Virginia Tourism Guide for 2010-11.  I have no idea what went into the decision to feature a young black male in what appears to be a Confederate uniform.  Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing historically inaccurate about such a representation, though he is probably too young to be a body servant.  The more important issue has to do with the intended message behind this image.  I would love to know if anyone on the editorial team is aware of the recent textbook controversy involving claims of thousands of black Confederates serving under Stonewall Jackson’s command.

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A Civil War Proclamation For All Virginians

By now many of you have had the opportunity to digest Virginia Governor Robert McDonnell’s proclamation designating April as Civil War History in Virginia Month.  I wanted to take a few minutes to share a few thoughts.  First, perhaps I am guilty of criticizing the governor prematurely, but my remarks reflected an eagerness to see him follow up on what I thought was a very thoughtful speech at Norfolk State.  I don’t know much of anything about the team that advised the governor on the proclamation’s content, but it looks like Ervin Jordan played a role.  Overall, I couldn’t be more pleased with this proclamation.

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