Tag Archives: Shelby Foote

The Emotional Pull of Cold Harbor

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

 

Old Myths Die Hard at Cold Harbor

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

 

Rick Santorum on Nullification and the Civil War

No, I won’t be voting for Rick Santorum in any upcoming primary, but compared to some of his nutty friends on the right [and here] this seems to me to be a pretty reasonable response to what was probably a question about whether a state has the right to nullify or secede from the Union.

Santorum latches on to the popular Shelby Foote quote from Ken Burns’s PBS documentary about how Americans supposedly referred to the nation as “these” United States before the war as opposed to the postwar reference of “the” United States.  Yes, Americans were more likely to define their allegiance primarily through their states, but such an identification did not exclude strong feelings of nationalism and patriotism.  Just ask George Washington.  Americans north and south identified themselves simultaneously as members of multiple communities beginning with their families and extending outward.  These strong feelings were informed by an understanding of their history going back to the founding of the nation as well as a firm belief in American Exceptionalism.  The process that led to secession beginning in December 1860 was not inevitable nor did it extinguish those strong national bonds in many of those southerners who came to believe that the Union was no longer tenable.

I can’t imagine that this response won Santorum many new friends in New Hampshire last night.