You may remember that Megan Kate Nelson and I are co-editing a special edition of Common-place on the Civil War Sesquicentennial, which should be published in early 2014. We just finished getting together our list of contributors and it looks awesome. We’ve covered a great deal of ground from how the war is being taught in the classroom to interpretation in museums as well as how the war is being commemorated across the country and beyond. This issue is going to have a little bit for everyone interested in this important subject.
Here is our list of contributors as of today:
Chris Lese, Teaching Civil War Memory in the Classroom
John Hennessy, Public History and Memory at the NPS
Ari Kelman, Native Americans, the West and Civil War Memory
Frances Clarke, War Memory as a Global Phenomenon
Carrie Janney, commemoration and reconciliation
Matt Hulbert, memories of guerrilla warfare (Missouri)
Manisha Sinha, abolitionism and memory
Adam Arenson, on going back to the battlefield
Judy Giesberg on Emilie Davis and digital memory
Anne Marshall on Lincoln in Kentucky
Megan and I seem to be getting along like a monkey and an organ grinder. It’s still unclear as to which roles we are playing.
The Presidential Inauguration exercises have been filled with references to the Civil War era, including President Lincoln, Union, the 150th anniversary of emancipation and the unfinished capitol dome. I just saw Frederick Douglass and reenactors from the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry march by the president’s reviewing stand. We even heard a reference to Stonewall, though I don’t think it was in recognition of Lee-Jackson Day. It’s a wonderful opportunity to make these references and remind the country that our history does include significant progress.
I fell in love with the lyrics and thought it would be a great song to cover. When I discovered the band’s previous connection with the confederate flag, I was even more compelled to re-record this song and give new life to it. Music is so powerful, it’s important for artists such as myself to use our platform to make a positive impact on the world. When I first heard the lyrics in this song, I could relate to its overall message, as I too have the desire to be a “Free Bird.” The beautiful and most riveting thing about Art is that it speaks to the individual and everyone gets something different from it.
To me, the overall message in “Free Bird” is LOVE! Something the world needs more of! Something we ourselves need more of! LOVE is accepting and understanding… It’s healing; amongst many other powerful things…essentially, it’s FREEDOM! Through my expression of “Free Bird,” I wanted to send a visual message to break the chains of negative stereotypes, racism, poverty, war, sexism, self hatred, etc. that hold us back as a people, as a nation. I decided to release this visual during President Barack Obama’s inauguration because the significance of this historic moment aligns with the overall theme of the song. As an artist I’ve always had a perspective and a voice and its important to me that I always be authentic to not only my fans, but myself in my expression.
Civil War tourism in Virginia is strong and growing, the commission reported. On Virginia.org, Civil War-related views have increased 96 percent since 2011. Views of information about the national battlefield parks that interpret Virginia’s Civil War sites are up 181 percent, the panel said. More than 100,000 people have downloaded the seven “battle apps” the Civil War Trust, with money from the state Department of Transportation, has created for smartphones and tablets. Three new apps are expected this year. Last month, dozens of programs marking the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Fredericksburg drew nearly 10,000 participants, the report said. In Spotsylvania County, battle re-enactments in 2012 and 2011 lured more than 13,000 visitors. Last but not least, the state has awarded more than $8 million in matching grants to save battlefield land through the Virginia Civil War Sites Preservation Fund. The effort has saved 4,700 acres valued at more than $30 million, a return on investment of nearly 4-to-1, the commission reported.
The report is worth perusing in its entirety. The range of programming, from Signature Conferences to the History Mobile is impressive, but what stands out for me is the work being done on the local level that is being supported by the commission. This is grass-roots commemoration at its best. The Virginia commission is the closest we will come to a national commission. In fact, it is hard to imagine a national commission doing much more that what Virginia has already accomplished.
While the entire commission ought to be congratulated I want to single out Cheryl Jackson. Cheryl is the executive director of the commission and has been in charge from the beginning. She is not a trained historian, but Cheryl has worked tirelessly to bring together top scholars, local leaders and other public officials to ensure that Virginia’s commemoration is relevant to all Virginians. I can personally attest to her passion and commitment having seen her in action and talked with her in person.
If I had to pick 5 people who have done more to help shape our Civil War Sesquicentennial, Cheryl would be at the top of my list.
Today is the 150th anniversary of the battle of Fredericksburg. Back in 2008 I delivered the keynote address for the National Park Service’s annual commemoration of the battle. In it I reflected on the meaning of the battle and why I bring students to these sites. I thought it might be worth running again given the date of its original publication and I hope it leaves you with something to think about on the anniversary of one Civil War battle.
Stepping onto the bus in the early morning hours with my students, bound for one of the areas Civil War battlefields, is still my favorite day of the year. For me, it is an opportunity to reconnect with a history that has given my life meaning in so many ways. It’s also a chance to introduce this history to my students, many of whom have never set foot on a Civil War battlefield. Visits to battlefields such as Fredericksburg provide a venue in which to discuss what is only an abstraction in the classroom and offer students and the rest of us a chance to acknowledge a story that is much larger and more remote compared to our individual lives and yet relevant in profound ways.
I suspect that my class visits to battlefields have much in common with what bring you to a place like Fredericksburg. We want to understand what happened here, why it happened, and what it means that it happened. We are compelled to do so. My students and I walk this hallowed ground and try our best to piece together what are often conflicting accounts of the ebb and flow of battle. At the same time we struggle to understand and honor the courage of the men who fought and “gave the last full measure of devotion.” Some of those stories are well known, such as the one depicted in this beautiful monument dedicated to Sergeant Richard Kirkland of the 2nd South Carolina Volunteers, who in the heat of battle chose compassion over violence and hatred or the combination of fear and steadfastness that animated Sergeant Thomas Plunkett of the 21st Massachusetts, who carried his regimental colors into battle only to receive a direct hit by a Confederate shell which cost him one arm and part of another – his blood forever staining the regiment’s flag.
The Battle of Island Mound marked the first time that African-American troops were engaged in Civil War combat, nearly a year before the battle depicted in the film Glory. Battle of Island Mound State Historic site encompasses Camp Africa, where the 1st Kansas Colored Volunteer Infantry were camped in 1862 before a pitched battle with pro-Confederate forces near a low hill named Island Mound. When the site is developed, it will interpret the battle, as well as the effect that the 1st Kansas Colored Volunteer Infantry has on later Union decisions to allow African-American units to fight.
It’s probably too late to say anything substantial about the sesquicentennial at this stage, but two recent events suggest that Americans remain interested in the Civil War and continue to travel to various destinations in impressive numbers. Fellow bloggers Robert Moore and Craig Swain both attended events commemorating the 150th of Antietam and were encouraged by what they saw. This past weekend John Hennessy attended and spoke at an event built around the famous August 19, 1862 photograph of slaves crossing the Rappahannock River to freedom. He estimates that anywhere between 300 and 350 people were in attendance. Finally, it will come as no surprise that Gettysburg is bracing for a large turnout next summer.
We continue to enjoy a steady stream of Civil War books from both academic and popular publishers. I also get the sense that public history programs related to the Civil War era have continued at a healthy pace. All in all, I remain very optimistic. What do you think?
One of the features of American Experience’s documentary Death and the Civil War that I really like is its emphasis on the lingering bitterness over how to commemorate the Civil War dead. Although the film says nothing about the significance of Lincoln’s death it does explore the decision by the federal government to re-inter only Union dead in newly established national cemeteries. We would do well to remember this on the 150th anniversary of the battle of Antietam.
One of the most frequent questions that I use to get from my students at the national cemetery in Fredericksburg was why it only included Union dead. I suspect that this question is ultimately a reflection of the power of reunion and reconciliation as well as the loss of any sense that our civil war was a rebellion. Newspaper and radio coverage today is long on vivid descriptions of the violence at Antietam and how that a victory allowed Lincoln to finally issue his Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation. That decision is almost always coupled with the observation that the turn toward emancipation made it possible to shift wartime goals in the direction of something meaningful. Over the past few days we’ve been told how important it is to remember, but surely we’ve lost sight of something significant about our history.
No, I will not be spending the day re-fighting the Civil War, but as I’ve stated before on this blog I am not a disinterested observer. I am grateful that United States soldiers were successful in pushing back the Confederacy’s offensive into Maryland, not because it led to emancipation, but because it ultimately brought this country one step closer to winning the war. This is not meant to downplay the importance of emancipation, but as a reminder that the preservation of this nation mattered to these men, just as it matters to all of us today. It is a stance that reflects my identification not as a northerner or southerner, Republican or Democrat, but as a citizen of the United States.
There is a reason why the overwhelming number of monuments on the Antietam battlefield were placed to honor the sacrifice of this nation’s citizen soldiers. The same holds for the dead who rest on the battlefield’s national cemetery. It should be a reminder to each of us today that the deaths of these men is part of a much larger history of men and women who have made the ultimate sacrifice for this country.
I know the feeling. It’s a beautiful morning here in Boston, but I would much rather be tramping along the Antietam Creek in Sharpsburg just about now. Here are a few options for those of you looking to feel more connected today and tomorrow. First, C-SPAN [Click here if you do not get C-SPAN 3 (10am EST)] will provide live coverage of events today at the battlefield, which include a series of talks and Q&A from James McPherson, Mark Neely, and Harold Holzer. They will also broadcast a tour of the battlefield led by Brooks Simpson and Mark Grimsley. I believe this is the tour they led as part of the most recent Civil War Institute back in June. I also highly recommend checking out the Civil War Trust’s Antietam 360. It puts you right on the battlefield and for you teachers it also makes for a great classroom application.
Finally, I suspect that most of you have read your fair share of Antietam books and essays. Richard Slotkin’s new book is out. I’ve read sections of it and it reads well, but like his recent study of the Crater, which I enjoyed , it is not built on extensive research in the archives or even the secondary literature. My recommendation is to pre-order Scott Hartwig’s forthcoming study, To Antietam Creek: The Maryland Campaign of September 1862 (Johns Hopkins University Press). Many of us have been looking forward to this one for some time. Scott is a dynamite historian and at 800 pages it promises to be the most thorough analysis since Joseph Harsh’s 2-volume study. I should have an advanced copy in hand in the next few days.
That should get you started in creating your own personal Antietam 150 experience. Enjoy.