This is for those of you who are interested in the mind and imagination of Jack Kershaw, who is responsible for the Nathan Bedford Forrest equestrian memorial in Tennessee. This is commonly referred to as the ugliest Civil War monument ever erected. His interpretation of Forrest, which you can hear in the video, is is truly disturbing, but no doubt reflective of an older generation.
The following video was uploaded to YouTube a couple of days ago. I know nothing about the woman who produced it, but I think it is a wonderful example of how the Web2.0 world has shaped the Civil War Sesquicentennial. As opposed to the centennial years, when relatively few historical institutions exercised control over how the nation remembered the war, the sesquicentennial’s narrative is being written one blog post, one video, and one tweet at a time. Much of what is being produced, including this video, defies easy categorization. Watch this through to the end.
Yesterday I posted a video on the Civil War Memory Facebook page about the recent controversy in Jacksonville, Florida concerning Nathan Bedford Forrest High School. The short documentary tells the story of the steps that one local community college professor took to change the name of the school. The center of the story is Professor Steve Stoll, who encouraged a couple of his students to take on the project to fulfill a class requirement. While Stoll claims that at first he simply threw out the idea of doing a survey of the community on the possibility of a name change, his reaction following the school board’s vote [14:30] suggests that he had much more invested in this project. It became more of a personal crusade as opposed to an academic exercise and one which I find troubling.
The documentary provides more evidence that we are moving beyond the old battle lines of north v. south and white v. black regarding our attitudes toward the symbolism of the Civil War. Even though the school community is predominantly black they voted not to change the name, not because they revere Forrest, but because they have other things on their mind [[9:30]. In contrast to Stoll’s agenda and the vote taking by the school board the perspective of the students suggests that these kids are not internalizing these old feuds as part of their own self-identity. In short, memory of Forrest is a battle ground that engages their parents and grandparents. The kids have moved on. [This is an aspect of the story involving the black college students in South Carolina who flew at Confederate battle flag in his window that was missed as well in all the coverage.]
These stories are neither defeats for those who are still fighting these battles nor are they victories for those who style themselves as defenders of Southern Heritage; rather, they point to the extent to which each generation re-negotiates its relationship to the past.
I am in the process of reviewing the final edits of my Crater book. As I made my way through chapter 1 I came across one of my favorite quotes that appears in the section that explores how white Southerners assessed reports of the massacre of black Union soldiers. The quote comes from the Richmond Examiner, which appeared on August 2, 1864:
We beg him [Mahone], hereafter, when negroes are sent forward to murder the wounded, and come shouting “no quarter,” shut your eyes, General, strengthen your stomach with a little brandy and water, and let the work, which God has entrusted to you and your brave men, go forward to its full completion; that is, until every negro has been slaughtered.—Make every salient you are called upon to defend, a Fort Pillow; butcher every negro that Grant sends against your brave troops, and permit them not to soil their hands with the capture of a single hero.
There is plenty of evidence to suggest that some of the men in the Fourth Division charged into battle screaming “No quarter” and/or “Remember Fort Pillow.” Reports of this battle cry can be found in the letters and diaries of Confederate soldiers who were present during the battle as well as those who were not. They can also be found in many Southern newspapers, including the Examiner. It is fairly easy to judge who was positioned to hear such a battle cry, which raises the question of why the reference is so pervasive in southern accounts.
Ethan Rafuse recently shared a writing assignment that he was given by “America’s Civil War” magazine to come up with a list of six Civil War generals that we “like to hate.”
Civil War buffs love to blame particular generals for lost battles and campaigns—McClellan, Bragg, McDowell, etc. Why do we like to hate them so much, and do they deserve it? Pick a couple from each side and examine what made them pariahs—and whether hindsight should rehabilitate their Images. Pick three from each side, 500 or so words on each, and a 500-word intro for about 3,500 words.
I guess the editor could have framed the question around major mistakes made in the field by Civil War generals, but the choice to inquire as to why some military figures engender such a visceral reaction in some is potentially interesting. Perhaps we should take one step back for a little perspective. Is there anything comparable in America’s other wars? Anyone out there hate Henry Knox, Winfield Scott, John J. Pershing, Omar Bradley, or William Westmoreland?