Tag Archives: National Park Service

Glorifying War at the Crater in 1937

Drawn By a member of the WPA Art Staff

In the process of reviewing the final edits for my Crater book I’ve had to go through research files that have not been touched in a couple of years.  Today I read through a bunch of editorials concerning the 1937 Crater re-enactment in Petersburg, which the National Park Service used to mark the inclusion of the battlefield within its jurisdiction.  The event attracted around 50,000 people and was widely publicized around the state.  Thought the support was overwhelming among white Virginians I was struck by the number of editorials the expressed concern over what they viewed as the glorification of war through re-enactment.  Having experienced WWI and having to consider the possibility that American boys might be sent overseas once again it is not surprising that a vocal minority expressed concern.  I thought I would share a few excerpts given the current debate about the place of re-enactments in the ongoing sesquicentennial.

Richmond Times-Dispatch (April 29, 1937)

It would be extremely unfortunate if the re-enactment of the Crater and other famous battles of the War Between the States under the auspices of the National Park Service, should impress upon onlookers with the feeling that war is a glamorous, or in any sense an alluring spectacle…. [W]e hope the lesson to be learned from it will that we of this generation must avoid such an experience.

The Petersburg Progress-Index (April 30, 1937)

We need to stop glorifying war and begin to glorify peace.  I recall something in personal experience of the horrors of the so-called Civil War, and have had my best friend shot down by my side while warring with Indians, and we all have seen the results of the unrighteous World War, in which we had no business taking part.  We should be cured of the war spirit.  And that is the kind of spirit, that the re-enactment of the Battle of the Crater fosters among the youth of the land who are to be our future congressmen and leaders.

The Richmond News Leader (May 6, 1937)

Apropos the “Crater,” celebration at Petersburg.  I am wondering if it was wise or helpful.  Should we exploit the ruthless murdering called “war”?  How about the horrible experiences of people in Spain?  I hope the terrible occurrences are greatly exaggerated for it makes our hair stand on end to read of it.

 

Should Ford’s Theatre Sell Billo’s Book?

Is This Book Worth Reading?

Ford’s Theatre National Historic Site in Washington, D.C. has decided not to sell the bestselling book, Killing Lincoln by Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard.  The decision was made following a thorough review of the book by Deputy Superintendent, Rae Emerson.  I don’t have any problem with the NPS making such a decision; in fact, I applaud it.  The NPS review is included in the Salon article for your consideration.  When I posted the article to the Civil War Memory page one of my readers responded that she had canceled her order for it.  That got me thinking.  Let me be clear, there are plenty of mistakes in this book, but I still wonder whether they render the book unreadable.

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Fort Monroe Becomes a National Monument

I can’t think of a better example of the dramatic shift that has taken place in recent years in our understanding of slavery’s central place in our collective memory of the Civil War.

Fort Monroe offers the National Park Service a unique opportunity to think carefully about how they are going to establish a relationship with the surrounding communities, including Hampton.  As I learned in my study of the Crater it has not always been easy for the National Park Service to break down barriers, specifically within the black community.  I hope the NPS places this high on its list of priorities when it begins the process of staffing the facility.  The best way to begin this process is to work closely with area public schools as well as Hampton University, which has a rich history of its own going back to the Civil War era.  Get the kids involved from the beginning and give them a stake in how the site is interpreted.

 

Is Robert K. Krick a Southern Historian?

Over the past three days I’ve come across two references that place Robert K. Krick, squarely in the camp of Southern historians.  The reference is meant not simply to denote field of interest but a “pro-South” or “pro-Confederate” bias.  As many of you know Krick worked for 31 years as the chief historian at Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania National Military Park.  These claims are made with apparently no attempt at verification; it’s as if his body of scholarship speaks for itself in terms of his place of birth.  Of course, Krick is not native to the South; rather he was born and raised in California.  Before proceeding let’s be clear that Krick’s work on the Army of Northern Virginia is essential reading for any Civil War enthusiast.  In short, few people know more about Lee’s army than Krick.

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Is This an Appropriate Role for the National Park Service?

I have nothing but the utmost respect for the men and women of the National Park Service, who help to preserve and interpret our nation’s historic sites.  They include some of the most passionate and talented historians.  For those focused on Civil War related sites their jobs come with increased attention and scrutiny by the media as well as various interest groups who have a stake in maintaining or protecting a specific narrative of the war.

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