What Union Meant

I’ve said it before that I often find it difficult to teach my students the concept of Union as it was understood during the Civil War era by the vast majority of Americans. We have some sense of why white Southerners took up arms for the Confederacy. It’s a tangible explanation that each of us can easily empathize with, but Union often seems abstract. Arguably this difficulty tells us much more about our own views of the federal government and the level of trust we place in our elected leaders since the 1970s. Continue reading “What Union Meant”

Return of ‘Military Campaigns of the Civil War’ Series

I’ve been a fan of Gary Gallagher’s edited series, Military Campaigns of the Civil War, from the beginning. The individual volumes introduced me to some of the most interesting historians in the field and went far in shaping what I know about Civil War military history and how I think about battles and campaigns. Continue reading “Return of ‘Military Campaigns of the Civil War’ Series”

Reconstruction As a Search For Security

Had a chance earlier today to read the introduction to Mark Summers’s new book on Reconstruction, which is part of UNC Press’s Littlefield Series. The following passage caught my attention:

In the end, the search for security helped justice go far beyond what most observers in 1865 expected. Freedom was just the first installment in a broadening of rights. The Constitution’s basis would endow the nation with a broad authority to break the patterns that slavery and prejudice had set on American society. It may have opened the way to a second American revolution. But it is important to recognize that most white Americans had not been looking for a revolution, and a near majority of them probably would have been content with a modified restoration. If we make the mistake of defining Reconstruction’s exclusive end as remaking the South on the basis of equal rights and democracy in a truer sense of the word than its inhabitants had ever known, then we can’t help calling Reconstruction at best a failure–though that failure seemed less clear, unambiguous, and complete in 1877 than retrospect. But if we see Reconstruction’s purpose as making sure that the main goals of the war would be fulfilled, of a Union held together forever, of a North and South able to work together, of slavery extirpated, and sectional rivalries confined, of a permanent banishment of the fear of vaunting appeals to state sovereignty, backed by armed force, then Reconstruction looks like what in that respect it was, a lasting and unappreciated success. (p. 4)

I’ve always struggled with understanding Reconstruction through the narrow lens of race and civil rights. The rub for me has always been in measuring Reconstruction’s success with the varying degrees of racial discrimination present in many Northern states. Certainly our popular memory of Reconstruction revolves around our tendency to view the period in light of Jim Crow and the necessity of a Civil Rights Movement. Summers’s understanding of the period looks promising. I am looking forward to digging in further.

Finally, is it any surprise that such a focus for a book on Reconstruction found a place in a series edited by Gary Gallagher given his insistence that the preservation of the Union be acknowledged as the most important achievement of the war?

Essay on John Bowie Magruder Uploaded

I wrote the first draft of this essay on the colonel of the 57th Virginia Infantry during a summer seminar that I took with Gary Gallagher in 2001. It was my first attempt at writing something substantial after moving to Charlottesville in 2000. Up until then I had written a bunch of book reviews and a couple of short articles for The Washington Times. Magruder was an ideal subject. He left a body of incredibly rich letters, which are currently housed at UVA’s Special Collections. Continue reading “Essay on John Bowie Magruder Uploaded”

A Taste of Civil War Memory Studies

Fellow blogger and historian, Keith Harris, recently asked me to put together a list of books for someone who might be interested in exploring the field of Civil War memory studies for his new online journal, The Americanist Independent.  The project is Keith’s attempt to utilize digital tools to bring quality history essays and other features to a mass audience. It also offers a venue for a wide range of history enthusiasts to showcase their work. This week Keith is offering potential subscribers a sneak preview. Check it out. Below is my book list. Continue reading “A Taste of Civil War Memory Studies”