I’ve been thinking quite a bit about the current state of interpretation re: the history of black Union soldiers during the Civil War and beyond in preparation for the Future of Civil War History Conference, which will take place later this week in Gettysburg. As I’ve said before, I think there is much to celebrate as we look back over the past 50 years. The number of scholarly and popular books being published continues at a brisk pace and popular representations of black soldiers can be seen in recent Hollywood movies such as Cold Mountain and Lincoln and even a historical novel about USCTs at the Crater by Newt Gingrich. Most importantly, many history textbooks now devote significant space to black Union soldiers and their contributions. Throughout much of the Civil War sesquicentennial USCTs have been front and center in museum exhibits, symposia, in the pages of local newspapers as human interest stories as well as in the form of new monuments and markers. Continue reading
Looks like students at South Pointe High School are bringing to life the diary of Lt. Samuel “Catawba” Lowry, who served in the 17th South Carolina Infantry. Lowry’s diary is well worth reading. He provides a great deal of detail about camp life, battle, as well as his experiences with his servants. His final diary entry comes just days before the battle of the Crater in which he was killed. Lowry’s servant, Henry Avery recovered the body and escorted it home to Yorkville for burial. On the one hand, I love projects like this. Unfortunately, it looks like both teacher and students might be taking a bit too much license with the diary.
It is a story about Lowry’s home and his family – a story about his beloved Southland. Most of all, is a story about relationships and bonds of brotherhood. It is also a story that some of the South Pointe cast members hope will challenge the stereotypes of the Civil War and slavery. Three of the essential voices in the play are Lowry family slaves: Horace, Jesse and Henry. They accompanied young Samuel to war. The diary never uses the word slave. Lowry refers to them as servants or boy. It was Henry who descended into the crater, recovering Lowry’s body. Henry then found Lowry’s possessions – including the diary – and then brought Lowry home to Yorkville for burial. South Pointe teacher James Chrismon and students such as junior Nicholas Arsenal turned the diary into a stage play. The play is not literal – some theatrical licenses were taken – but it stays true to Lowry’s beliefs and to his prose….
Anthony McCullough, one of two black students in the play, said the production “makes me realize that black people have come a long way.” Arsenal said he hopes the play changes some perspective on slavery. “It wasn’t right, but not everyone was treated so badly. “This play is about equality,” Arsenal continued. “Race doesn’t matter. Anyone can be your family,” he said.
Of course, it would be a mistake to blame students for characterizing the relationship between master and slave as one of equality. Responsibility for this falls squarely on their teacher. This might be a good time to recommend one of Gilder-Lehrman’s summer Teacher Seminars.
Update: Thanks again everyone. Sold a total of 10 copies on the first day.
You can now purchase my book, Remembering the Battle of the Crater: War as Murder, directly from me for the low price of $25 plus $3.00 shipping. Just click the “Buy Now” button below and you will be taken to my PayPal site. Please use the Contact Form if you would like a signature and inscription. The University Press of Kentucky prices the book at $35 plus shipping and handling, so I hope that this discounted price for a signed first edition makes the purchase more appealing. This is what I sell the book for at talks, workshops, etc.
“In this stunning and well-researched book, Kevin Levin catches the new waves of the study of memory, black soldiers, and the darker underside of the Civil War as well as anyone has. That horrible day at the Crater in Petersburg, its brutal racial facts and legacies, all tangled in the weeds of Confederate Lost Cause lore, have never been exposed like this. Levin is both superb scholar and public historian, showing us a piece of the real war that does now get into the books, as well as into site interpretation.”
– David W. Blight, author of Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory
I’ve tried to be as transparent as possible with sharing my experience in seeing a book manuscript through to publication. Some of you have been with me since 2007, when I first announced that I might have the opportunity to publish what was then only a Master’s Thesis. As I got closer to publication I wondered about sales. I knew going in that the book would likely appeal to a fairly narrow audience. The Crater is not the most popular Civil War battle and the study of historical memory is perhaps an acquired taste. My decision to sign with one of the smaller academic presses also tempered my optimism, which is not to say that I in any way regret going with the University Press of Kentucky or that I am disappointed with their work thus far. Far from it.
On occasion, however, I did allow myself to speculate as to how a strong social media presence might translate into book sales. Since I have no frame of reference it was always difficult to arrive at a number, but I thought that my ability to promote the book through my blog, Facebook page and Twitter feed might provide a model for other authors of academic titles who hope to reach a wider audience. OK, so I thought that somewhere around 1,000 books sold by Jan. 1 was not out of the realm of possibility.
At this point, I am disappointed to admit that this apparently has not happened. My publisher informed me that since the book was released in early July 2012 it has sold 621 copies.
Now, it could be the case that this is a pretty good showing for a book such as mine. As I said, I have no frame of reference. And I should note that overall I couldn’t be more pleased with how the book has been received by many of you as well as by both magazine and journal reviewers. That I was able to contribute anything at all to a body of scholarship that has taught me much and provided me with countless of hours of enjoyment is sufficient.
The experience has left me with much to think about as I consider future projects. I see the book format as one tool in my arsenal through which to share my love of history with the general public. We will have to see whether I have another one in me. I certainly hope so. Working with an academic publisher forced me to respond to my peers, who assisted me in improving both the narrative and various interpretive elements. It is an invaluable aspect of the writing process and having the stamp of approval from such a publisher hopefully gives me a certain legitimacy as I move further.
That said, I can’t help but wonder whether I might be able to take the experience of working with a traditional publisher and apply it to another approach that might result in greater reach – perhaps self-publishing? I am willing to consider all options. After all, I don’t need to publish for tenure or promotion. As an author I want to produce a product that has integrity and see it in the hands of as many people as possible. What’s the point of suffering through the process of researching and writing if no one is going to read it?
In the meantime, I recently got the go-ahead from the publisher to sell my book directly. I’ve been buying books with my author’s discount to sell at speaking events. I am still in the process of setting up a PayPal account, but once it’s you will be able to buy the book for $25 + shipping.
Thanks again to all of you who have bought the book.
A week from today I will be speaking in Manhattan at the Civil War Forum of Metropolitan New York. This is my first time speaking in the “Big Apple” and I am very much looking forward to it. I will likely leave Boston early and spend the day roaming around the city. The event includes both a dinner and talk. Reservations need to be made by December 16. I will have plenty of books on hand at a heavily discounted price of $25. Of course, I will be happy to sign your copy. This is my last book signing/talk before the end of the year in what has been an incredibly enjoyable run since the book’s publication back in June. Thanks to all of you who have purchased a copy.
Keep an eye out for my Best of 2012 post, which is right around the corner.