Last week it was announced that one of the most iconic photographs from the Civil War era has been misidentified. I don’t mind admitting that I found this news to be a slightly jarring experience. The photograph of Confederate soldiers in Frederick, Maryland transports us back to September 1862, we believed, just days before the battle of Antietam. These Confederate soldiers survived the brutal fighting around Richmond and at Second Manassas before entering United States territory for a showdown with the Union army that might bring an end to the war and independence. Continue reading
While much of the media has focused on the debate about Confederate monuments, communities across the country have quietly taken steps to change the names of buildings, streets, and other structures named after Confederate leaders. The city of Petersburg is currently debating whether to change the names of two schools named after Generals Robert E. Lee and A.P. Hill. It is my hope they find the collective will to make this change. Continue reading
The week-long commemoration marking the fall and liberation of Richmond, the evacuation of Petersburg by Lee’s men and its eventual surrender at Appomattox Court House is in full swing. A slew of events marking this important moment in American history are being offered by a wide range of organizations. Taken together these programs offer the public a tapestry of narratives that reflect the many ways in which the events of early April 1865 were experienced.
Such a project is not without its challenges given the strong emotions that often shape the responses of people who are invested in certain narratives of the war. It is easy to focus on moments of conflict, but from what I’ve read thus far I can’t help but conclude that Richmonders and many others are taking full advantage of this opportunity to learn about the many voices that could be heard in this final chapter of the war. [I say this even as I make my way through Greg Downs’s new book. More on this at a later time.] Continue reading
Today is the 150th anniversary of the battle of Five Forks outside of Petersburg, Virginia. One of the most popular stories from that fight is the gallant defense of the crossroads and mortal wounding of Confederate Colonel William Pegram. To this day Pegram occupies a special place in our collective memory of the war. Like the crossroads he defended, Pegram’s life and legacy bring together a number of important narrative threads, including devotion to the Confederacy, family and God, fearless leadership on the battlefield and a youthful exuberance snuffed out all too soon.
William McCabe’s description of Pegram’s injury and death is incredibly moving and as a close to what a “good death” should involve in war. It is easy to get wrapped up in a narrative that celebrates young Pegram’s character and martial valor. He is, indeed, an appealing young man. At the same time we should not look beyond the cause for which he never lost sight of during his four years in the Confederate army. His commitment to the Confederacy and his willingness to expose himself on the battlefield time and time again and even after the point where many believed the cause was lost were a function of firm devotion. Continue reading
I’ve expressed more than once my disappointment at not being able to spend more time in Petersburg, Virginia this past year to commemorate the sesquicentennial of the war. Apart from my participation in the 150th anniversary of the Crater I’ve had to look on from afar. But about two weeks ago I was suddenly overcome with an urge to commemorate the men on both sides who lived in and braved the earthworks around Petersburg from June 1864 to April 1865.
At first I wasn’t sure what I was constructing, but a few days ago I had one of those Richard Dreyfuss/mashed potato moments of clarity. From that point on my work proceeded with great energy and focus. What you see here is the northwest side of what I am calling Battery 5. Its walls stand 10 ft. in height and 3 ft. thick. This morning I began placing palisades around the wall.
I assure you that other than our neighbors no impressed workers were used in the construction of this section of the line. There are rumors of tunneling activities by the enemy.
Apart from the famous reunions at Gettysburg most of our images of Confederate and Union veterans reunions took place in the South. They typically involved the dedication of a monument or an entire battlefield. What we don’t know enough about involve examples of Confederate veterans traveling north. One such example took place in 1910 when a large group of veterans from the A.P. Hill Camp in Petersburg traveled to Springfield, Massachusetts for a July 4 celebration. Continue reading
On a number of occasions I’ve addressed the question of whether the sesquicentennial has been a success. No doubt, as we move through the first part of 2015 these discussions will increase in frequency. For the most the framing of the question has tended to take both a long and broad view in terms of time and place. One of the things we must not lose sight of, however, is the view from the ground in our local communities. Continue reading
Just in case you have absolutely nothing else to do tonight C-SPAN3 will air (10:15pm) the talk I recently delivered in Petersburg as part of the 150th anniversary of the battle of the Crater. In fact, C-SPAN is going to re-run the commemorative ceremony that took place on July 30 as well as Emmanuel Dabney’s CWI talk on the Crater beforehand. Yes, it’s an entire evening devoted to the Crater in history and memory. Continue reading