Following the 20th Massachusetts From Antietam to Gettysburg

It’s that time of year again. In three weeks students at my school will spend time outside the classroom setting engaged in a broad range of activities. Last year I helped lead a group of 40 students on a civil rights trip from Atlanta to Memphis. It was an incredibly rewarding experience for everyone involved.

This year I will lead my own group of 12 students on a Civil War battlefield tour that will explore the war in 1862 and 1863. We will visit the battlefields of Antietam, Fredericksburg, and Gettysburg as well as the town of Harpers Ferry.  The time frame of the battles will give us the opportunity to explore a number of issues, including the relationship between the battlefield and home front and the gradual shift in Union policy toward emancipation. Continue reading “Following the 20th Massachusetts From Antietam to Gettysburg”

Stephen Berry on Why Our Civil War Matters

Stephen Berry is one of my favorite Civil War historians writing today. He has tackled a wide range of subjects from Civil War soldiers to the Lincolns. Regardless of the topic, I am always challenged by his thorough analysis and creativity of thought. This year’s Bottimore Lecture was delivered by Steve and is focused on the very simple question of what it was like to be shot in the Civil War. I highly recommend taking the time to watch it, but it is his closing remarks that I want to highlight. It’s an incredibly eloquent conclusion that offers a persuasive case for why it is important to remember the men who died in our Civil War.

It is not pleasant, I know, looking real war in its real face. But if we are to make war, we had better know what we are making. For myself, I grant that the Civil War was worth it. it answered forever whether we were a Union of states or one nation indivisible. It answered forever whether a Republican form of government could endure. It answered forever whether a nation dedicated to freedom would be built on the backs of slaves.

But today when I hear folks in the South talking half seriously about secession or hear folks in the North talk seriously about letting the South go or hear folks all over this country forget what Lincoln perfectly understood that the leading object of government is to elevate the condition of men. To lift artificial weights from all shoulders. To clear paths of laudable pursuits for all. To afford all an unfettered start and a fair chance in the race of life. When I hear such ludicrous things said and such important things forgotten I always have a desperate urge to show them the Civil War as it really was.

In this sesquicentennial season of that conflict let us try to remember all that we paid and all that we paid for. And let us take better care of this country and each other.

The remarks above begin at the 45:45 mark in the video. Thanks, Steve.

Sensing the Civil War

Mark SmithEarlier this week Oxford University Press sent me a review copy of Mark Smith’s new book, The Smell of Battle, the Taste of Siege: A Sensory History of the Civil War. It’s a short book so I decided to jump right in and although I enjoyed Listening to Nineteenth-Century America, this one fell short in places. Each chapter is organized around a different sense: “The Sounds of Secession,” “Eyeing Bull Run,” and “Cornelia Hancock’s Sense of Smell” and so on.

There is certainly the potential for gaining a new understanding of important subjects during the war through a cultural analysis of changing sensory patterns. For example, Smith does a very good job of analyzing both the content and rising level of noise in Charleston leading up to and through Lincoln’s election and the secession vote. He explores how these changing patterns may have influenced slaves, the concerns of slaveowners and even Major Robert Anderson and his men as he planned their move from Fort Moultrie to Sumter. The strongest chapter focuses on the impact of Grant’s siege of Vicksburg on the quantity and type of food available to Southern civilians trapped in the town. Smith makes some very perceptive points about the sharp contrast between the menus in town restaurants and the overall diet of civilians before the war with what they were forced to eat during the siege and the threat such a drastic change posed to the community’s social and racial hierarchy, not to mention their own sense of self-identity. Continue reading “Sensing the Civil War”

All It Takes is a Hoop Skirt and Uniform

This weekend was my first opportunity to visit Gettysburg on the anniversary of the battle. My wife and I had an incredible weekend with much of it spent on the battlefield. I so enjoyed finally having the opportunity to share this battlefield with her. Both of us were struck by the number of reenactors and impersonators in town on the anniversary weekend. They were everywhere. I saw multiple U.S. Grants at Little Round Top, Cemetery Ridge and our hotel. Continue reading “All It Takes is a Hoop Skirt and Uniform”