The final volume of the Virginia at War series from the University Press of Kentucky is now available, which includes my essay on the demobilization of Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. My essay follows Lee’s men along the roads and paths out of Appomattox and explores, among other things, their encounters with Federal troops, ex-slaves, as well as their response to Lincoln’s assassination. I have said before that we draw much too sharp a line between the Civil War and Reconstruction. It doesn’t take much of an effort to appreciate that some of the fundamental questions surrounding the war had yet to be decided. My narrow time frame also reinforced the importance of contingency when looking at the past. Many of the men were in the dark about what to expect when they arrived home or how they would go about picking up the pieces of a world that had changed so dramatically in four short years. I was struck by the extent to which their accounts, especially those who lived in the paths of the two armies, emphasized the altered landscapes. Lee’s men also learned of Lincoln’s assassination while on the road. Some of the reports indicated that in addition to Lincoln, the vice-president, secretary of state, and even Grant were also dead. For some of these men, there was no government.
Other authors in this volume include Jaime A. Martinez, Ervin Jordan, John M. Mclure, and Chris Calkins. I am thrilled to have an essay in a book edited by James I. Robertson and William C. Davis.
Unfortunately, I was unable to attend the recent Virginia Sesquicentennial “Signature Conference” hosted by Virginia Tech and organized by James I. Robertson. I’ve heard nothing but positive reviews of the event. As many of you know Dr. Robertson is retiring from his teaching position at Tech this year. He has touched the lives of many and has added immeasurably to the general public’s understanding of the war. Here is a short clip of his farewell remarks from the conference.
On a different note, I understand that some of you are having trouble viewing comments on the blog. The trouble seems to be with Internet Explorer. For now, I recommend using Firefox, Google Chrome, or Safari.
Update: My request has been passed on to Dr. Robertson by the Virginia Sesquicentennial Commission. Update #2: Thanks to Tom Perry for providing the following link, which includes an interview with Robertson in a Virginia newspaper: The claim is rejected by most historians, including local history expert James Robertson. “It’s blatantly false.” Robertson is a distinguished alumni history professor at Virginia Tech, an author and was even appointed by President Kennedy to be the executive director of the U.S Civil War Centennial Commission in the 60’s. “It implies men who were in slavery would want to fight for the country that enslaved them, which really is illogical.”…. “This is not to say there were not thousands of blacks in the Confederate Army, but they were performing camp chores, hospital attendants, cooks,” said Robertson. “I spent eight years of my life putting together a 950 page biography of Jackson and I can tell you he did not have any black battalions, any black units serving under him.
The debate about black Confederate soldiers that was recently stirred up by a brief reference in a 4th grade Virginia history textbook shows no sign of letting up. Editorials continue to be published and various interest groups have firmly dug in their heels. The contours of this debate beautifully reflect the fault lines that continue to divide Virginians over how to commemorate the Civil War. These fault lines will continue to flair up when emotionally-charged topics such as this one are introduced, and it is likely that our reliance on sound historical scholarship will be pushed further away. This is one of those topics where everyone is an expert.
If there is one history professor whose reputation has survived intact it is Professor James I. Robertson of Virginia Tech. Professor Robertson has taught at Tech for most of his career and is responsible for one of the largest and most popular survey courses on the Civil War. He has built his scholarly reputation on books about Civil War soldiers, Stonewall Jackson, and the Stonewall Brigade. In terms of his service to the public, Prof. Robertson served as the Executive Director of the Civil War Centennial and is currently a member of the Executive Committee of Virginia’s Civil War Sesquicentennial Committee. He has taken the lead in highlighting the importance of education for this sesquicentennial commemoration. Well, this is the ultimate teaching moment. Continue reading “Calling on James I. Robertson”→