Yesterday I caught a panel discussion on race and the challenges of teaching Civil War history from a recent conference at Wake Forest, which aired on CSPAN. I didn’t find the panel discussion to be particularly interesting, but what struck me was a comment from Hari Jones, who argued that nothing that has been written about black Civil War soldiers since the publication of Benjamin Quarles’s The Negro in the Civil War (1953) is worth reading. Continue reading
Alvin C. Voris rose through the ranks in command of Ohio troops and by the end of the war was brevetted major general. Below are a few excerpts from his letters which were published a few years ago as A Citizen-Soldier’s Civil War: The Letters of Brevet Major General Alvin C. Voris and edited by Jerome Mushkat.
I find the evolution of Voris’s thinking on the conduct and service of black soldiers to be quite interesting and reflective of a broader trend within the Army of the Potomac and Army of the James. By November 10 Lincoln had been reelected and Voris had taken temporary command of a black unit. The Crater represents the nadir of white perceptions of their black comrades in arms. There is no questioning the fact that Ferrero’s Fourth Division was scapegoated by both those who were on the battlefield that day and those who learned later about it later, but a closer look suggests that the condemnations were relatively restrained and short-term.
It’s a more complex story and one that I am currently exploring for an essay that I need to finish in the next few weeks. Continue reading
Earlier today I was going through my collection of original Civil War era newspaper and came across an issue of Frank Leslie’s Illustrated from July 9, 1864. The first page includes this wonderful illustration of the charge of General Hinks’s “colored troops” outside of Petersburg in mid-June. Ohio troops cheer them on in the background. It’s a wonderful find as I continue to explore how white Union soldiers responded to the use of USCTs a few weeks later at the Crater.
It’s a powerful image, but we should proceed carefully in interpreting it. For some it is an image that fits into a popular and satisfying narrative that is framed around slavery, emancipation, military service, freedom, postwar promises of civil rights, and the eventual slide into Jim Crow. From this perspective we may be tempted to dismiss the cheering of the Ohio men as something fleeting or, in hindsight, even insincere. Such an interpretation, however, misses a salient point about white Union soldiers. They were not engaged in a civil rights struggle. Continue reading
This morning I was reminded that today is the first day of the sesquicentennial of the War in 1864. As I alluded to this past spring, it is going to be very interesting to see how the final sixteen months of the war will be commemorated and remembered. There are practical issues of funding, but there is also the turn that the war itself took in 1864. Those of us on the education/public history side of things will have to think long and hard about how we engage the public about some of the more important and challenging issues of the war. Continue reading
This morning The Civil War Monitor published my review of Linda Barnickel’s new book, Milliken’s Bend: A Civil War Battle in History and Memory.
The past few decades have witnessed an outpouring of Civil War scholarship and more popular studies about slavery, emancipation, and in particular, the history of African American soldiers. As we make our way through the Civil War Sesquicentennial, this scholarship continues to shape and inspire a wide range of commemorative events that highlight the history of these soldiers and the contributions they made to preserving the Union and ending slavery in 1865. Indeed, the history of these men has been front and center during the Civil War 150th, which stands in sharp contrast with the Centennial celebrations of the early 1960s. Much of what we’ve seen over the past few years has been framed around a collective sense that, as a nation, we have a moral responsibility to remember and properly commemorate an aspect of our Civil War history that has been ignored for far too long, minimized, and in some cases, intentionally distorted.
Read the rest of the review.