I’ve been thinking quite a bit about the current state of interpretation re: the history of black Union soldiers during the Civil War and beyond in preparation for the Future of Civil War History Conference, which will take place later this week in Gettysburg. As I’ve said before, I think there is much to celebrate as we look back over the past 50 years. The number of scholarly and popular books being published continues at a brisk pace and popular representations of black soldiers can be seen in recent Hollywood movies such as Cold Mountain and Lincoln and even a historical novel about USCTs at the Crater by Newt Gingrich. Most importantly, many history textbooks now devote significant space to black Union soldiers and their contributions. Throughout much of the Civil War sesquicentennial USCTs have been front and center in museum exhibits, symposia, in the pages of local newspapers as human interest stories as well as in the form of new monuments and markers. Continue reading
Looking forward to seeing some of you next month in Gettysburg for the Future of Civil War History conference. As I’ve mentioned before I am moderating a panel discussion on interpreting United States Colored Troops at Civil War sites. We’ve got a nice selection of panelists who can address different aspects of the challenge of engaging the general public about race and the history of USCT through the National Park Service, museums, and the classroom. Pre-conference discussions are already taking place so that we can take full advantage of our time together in Gettysburg.
Here are the questions we are thinking about.
- What is gained and lost in trying to understand the USCT experience through the theme of “new birth of freedom”? How does recent scholarship on the USCT experience grapple with this theme? In restoring agency to the USCT at historic sites, have we inadvertently made the message visitors receive too celebratory?
- How does the movie Glory continue to shape popular understanding of the USCT?
- How can we effectively convey the diverse experiences of USCT soldiers at Civil War sites, and help visitors to understand what changed – and what did not change – between 1863 and 1865?
- How can Civil War sites use the USCT to move beyond the battlefield discussion of Reconstruction, citizenship, and westward expansion?
For a number of reasons I am very interested in the first question. I know a few of you out there are planning to attend the conference so having these questions should give you a sense of the scope of the panel. Even if you are unable to attend feel free to share your thoughts about any of the questions or anything else related to this topic that you think the panel should consider. C-SPAN is slated to record this panel so it should be available for viewing at a later date.
Earlier today the Museum of the Confederacy held their symposium to determine 1863′s Person of the Year. Most of the choices were once again predictable, though a few are just downright odd to me. Robert Krick’s selection of Stonewall Jackson is neither surprising or interesting in any way. I want to hear more about why Jennifer Weber believes Clement Vallindigham is so important. Ed Ayers decided to change things up by giving a nod to the United States Colored Troops. That makes perfect sense to me. Here is the final tally.
Final vote tally. Grant-48. Jackson-37. Vallandigham-19. Russell-8. US Colored Troops-7. Thanks for following! #POTY1863
— Museum Confederacy (@moc1896) February 23, 2013
Joe Glatthaar should have had it much easier by selecting Ulysses S. Grant, who is the logical choice. Jackson coming in a close second is just downright bizarre. And how the USCTs placed last even with a charismatic advocate like Ed Ayers is inexplicable to me. Oh well.
I am sure everyone had a fun time, which is ultimately what this is all about.
A number of my friends on Facebook are sharing a pic of the new release by Don Troiani. This new watercolor of a private in the 4th United States Colored Troop is, if I am not mistaken, Troiani’s first stand alone black soldier since his 1st South Carolina Volunteer Infantry print, which was done a number of years ago. I absolutely love it and I am very close to clicking the “Pay Now” button at my PayPal account. Than again, my birthday is coming up soon and my wife is always looking for that perfect gift that shows her undying love for me.
Before moving to Boston I owned a fairly large collection of framed Troiani prints. Unfortunately, I knew I wouldn’t have room in my new library/office and I couldn’t bear keeping them in the basement so I sold them. I still have a giclee edition of “Mahone’s Charge” which is featured on the cover of my book as well as two regimental prints.
It is hard not to see this new release as a direct result of the popularity of Spielberg’s Lincoln and the broader emphasis on the history of black Union soldiers during the Sesquicentennial. We shall see if it sells.
I recently accompanied a group of students to Washington, D.C. to take part in a mock Congress. With a few hours to kill I decided to take a stroll through the National Gallery of Art. Included in the collection is a reproduction of the Shaw Memorial, which is located on Beacon Street here in Boston. I was pleasantly surprised to find a group of students sitting with a museum teacher, who did a wonderful job of interpreting the monument and engaging the group. The kids talked about the history of Shaw and the 54th as well as the rich symbolism contained in Saint-Gaudens’s relief. At one point she asked the kids to share sounds that might be heard in such a scene. It made my day.