A few months ago I was invited by the Library of Virginia to participate in a panel discussion on the legacy of the American Civil War and the release of the New York Times’s collection of Disunion essays in book form. I think they still thought I lived in Virginia and unfortunately I was unable to attend. They asked for a recommendation and I immediately thought of Robert Moore, who blogs at Cenantua. Given his research interests in Southern Unionism I thought his perspective would add an important perspective, which it did. So glad he was able to make it.
Earlier today the Museum of the Confederacy held their symposium to determine 1863’s Person of the Year. Most of the choices were once again predictable, though a few are just downright odd to me. Robert Krick’s selection of Stonewall Jackson is neither surprising or interesting in any way. I want to hear more about why Jennifer Weber believes Clement Vallindigham is so important. Ed Ayers decided to change things up by giving a nod to the United States Colored Troops. That makes perfect sense to me. Here is the final tally.
Final vote tally. Grant-48. Jackson-37. Vallandigham-19. Russell-8. US Colored Troops-7. Thanks for following! #POTY1863
— Museum Confederacy (@moc1896) February 23, 2013
Joe Glatthaar should have had it much easier by selecting Ulysses S. Grant, who is the logical choice. Jackson coming in a close second is just downright bizarre. And how the USCTs placed last even with a charismatic advocate like Ed Ayers is inexplicable to me. Oh well.
I am sure everyone had a fun time, which is ultimately what this is all about.
While browsing the Museum of the Confederacy’s website I came across this panel discussion from 2002 on the interpretation of Civil War battlefields. I attended this panel, which was held at the University of Richmond. It’s hard to believe it’s been ten years.
I decided to watch it once again though I was struck by just how much this question of whether we should approach battlefields creatively and broadly has become such a non issue. Ten years later and none of the concerns expressed by the late Jerry Russell and Robert K. Krick have come to pass. Go to any Civil War battlefield and the focus is still on the soldiers and the fighting. The only difference is that in many of these same places visitors have the opportunity to understand more and better. Russell’s and Krick’s emphasis on Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr.’s involvement provided an opportunity to distract the audience from the fact that NPS historians/staff have debated these issues going back to the early twentieth century. The question of whether the causes of the war, the home front, etc. should be interpreted on battlefields is an old one. At one point Russell actually says that any discussion of the cause of the war, regardless of whether the focus is slavery, states rights, etc., is inappropriate on the battlefield. It really is as if the men who fought these bloody battles just fell from the sky. Looking back it is also clear that Krick completely missed the mark. Show me a battlefield that has become a “political platform.”
During the Q&A [1:36:20] John Coski read a question directed to Jerry Russell concerning the proper interpretation of the 9-11 attacks in New York City. I happened to be sitting next to Peter Carmichael, who wrote the question down on an index card provided by event organizers. Jerry held to his guns and suggested that the causes of the attacks should not be discussed in any future museum or interpretive panels at Ground Zero. Thankfully museum interpreters did not listen.
This panel is well worth watching, but it does reflect how far we’ve come. In the end, Dwight Pitcaithley and Ed Ayers were on the right side of history.
The following clip was pulled from a recent NEH panel on the legacy of emancipation. It included Ed Ayers, Gary Gallagher, Christy Coleman, Eric Foner, and Thavolia Glymph. I highly recommend viewing the entire session if you have the time, but for now check out this short clip from the Q&A. In it an African-American student asks if we should still associate racism with Confederate heritage. I am not surprised that Christy Coleman, president of the American Civil War Center, decided to respond and she does so in a very fair and balanced manner. Coleman’s response reflects both the difficulties of her position as a black woman running a Civil War museum in the former capital of the Confederacy and someone who has listened closely to visitors hailing from very different backgrounds. Yeah, count me as a fan of Christy Coleman.