Those of us who have spent significant time walking Civil War battlefields know that they evoke different emotions. Much of that is the result of the broader narrative that we bring to these sites. I was reminded of this yesterday as I was writing the post on Cold Harbor and as a result of following the comments. The Cold Harbor battlefield invokes in me a feeling of dread and anxiousness that I rarely feel on other battlefields. Perhaps it’s the name or some feint memory of the voices of David McCullough and Shelby Foote from Ken Burns’s The Civil War that triggers it. Continue reading
With all the coverage of the 150th anniversary of Cold Harbor I was surprised by the persistence of two myths that refuse to give way. The first is the story of Union soldiers pinning their names to their coats so their bodies could be identified and the second relates to the casualty figures that are commonly cited. Taken together they reinforce a compelling narrative of futile bloody assaults ordered by Ulysses S. Grant – the “great butcher” of the war. Continue reading
Today I had the pleasure of skyping with a Civil War class at Marquette University High School in Milwaukee. Chris Lese and his class have made good use of my blog over the past few weeks so I offered to spend some time with his students to field questions. In addition to utilizing the blog the class has read a chapter from David Blight’s book, Beyond the Battlefield: Race, Memory and the American Civil War and they are making their way through a critical evaluation of Ken Burns’s Civil War documentary. It’s always nice to see high school kids engaged in serious study of American history and it made for an entertaining and informative 45 minutes. I am planning on visiting with this class in person during my trip to Milwaukee in April for the annual meeting of the Organization of American Historians.
My most recent publication is now available in the new issue of the November 2010 issue of the journal, The History Teacher. The essay focuses on how I use Ken Burns’s Civil War documentary in class and is based on a talk I gave back in 2007 at the first biennial meeting of the Society For Civil War Historians. [Click here to read the essay (pdf file)]
One of the things that I’ve enjoyed most over the past few years is the opportunity to work with fellow history teachers on how we can better teach our subject. As much as I enjoy sharing what has worked for me with others I have to say that I’ve learned just as much from my colleagues. This coming year will be incredibly busy in this regard. In January I will be leading a TAH workshop with W. Fitzhugh Brundage on the Civil War and historical memory and in April I will take part in another workshop here in Virginia that was organized in response to the recent 4th grade history textbook controversy. I am also involved in an ongoing effort to secure an NEH Grant for a workshop that will take place next summer. Finally, I am very excited to report that I recently accepted an offer from the New York Times to write an essay on the challenges of teaching the Civil War during the sesquicentennial.
Let’s always remember to teach our children well.