Teaching Civil War Memory in Boston

Memorial Hall

It looks like next year I will once again be teaching my Civil War Memory course.  I’ve already begun to think about readings as well as class visits to Boston.  The class was very popular in Virginia and I especially enjoyed our tours of Richmond, including Monument Avenue, Hollywood Cemetery and Tredegar.  At this point I am hoping to organize two separate day trips.

Trip 1

Trip 2

We shall see whether it is possible to fit in two separate trips.  Either way, these are the places that I hope to have students think about in connection to the memory of emancipation and Union, the role of the citizen soldier in the war, and especially the remembrance of death and sacrifice.  Feel free to suggest additional sites.

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15 comments… add one
  • Ron Baumgarten Feb 1, 2013 @ 11:59

    I completely meant to respond to your call for suggestions the other day. Although you seem concentrated on Boston this time around, you may want to get out to the Concord area at some point. Mourning Victory at Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, as well as the Concord Civil War Monument might generate some interesting discussions. I blogged about both sites last year:

    There are also plenty of sites related to abolitionsim that might be suitable for visiting in connection with other classes.

    • Kevin Levin Feb 1, 2013 @ 12:27

      I couldn’t agree more. I’ve already done some research on Massachusetts veterans at the Concord Public Library and have spent some time at the monument. Mourning Victory will definitely figure somehow into this class. My school is really close to Concord so we can easily make a quick trip to the cemetery. Thanks for the comment.

  • Jazzeum Jan 27, 2013 @ 18:32

    Too bad I don’t live in Boston! What books will you be reading?

    • Kevin Levin Jan 28, 2013 @ 4:49

      That part is still a work in progress. Definitely a little David Blight and Tony Howitz, but beyond that I really want to focus on primary sources related to Boston and New England. I definitely want to explore Boston’s Peace Jubilee. There is just so much to consider.

  • TFSmith1 Jan 27, 2013 @ 17:29
  • TFSmith1 Jan 27, 2013 @ 17:28

    If you can get over to Charlestown, there is a pretty good example of historical memory writ large…including a significant element of the antebellum anti-slavery effort, the impact of the Civil War on federal institutions, and a case study of how popular culture can lead to the preservation of historic artifacts.

    Plus she’s a hell of a sight to see:


    Anchors away, my boys…

  • Patrick Young Jan 27, 2013 @ 14:33

    How about the statue of Col. Thomas Cass in the Boston Public Garden (by the Common)? He was first Col. of the 9th Mass. An Irish immigrant, he was in the Columbian Artillery when it was dissolved by the Know Nothings in the mid-1850s. He was killed during the Peninsula Campaign while leading Boston’s premier Irish regiment. The statue that is there now replaced an earlier one that was apparently hated by many.

    The following points that the statue raises might make for interesting discussion:

    1. Why did immigrants voluntarily join what we would today brand segregated units?

    2. Why did Irish Bostonians feel they needed their own militia unit in the 1850s?

    3. Why would such a unit be seen as a threat? Why would some immigrant militia companies respond to calls by Federal marshals to assist in returning captured escaped slaves to the South?

    4. Why would the Irish, who were either hostile to abolition or apathetic join a Union regiment at the start of the war? Why would any immigrant participate in a civil war in a country where they did not always feel welcome?

    5. Why did the new Republican Governor of Mass. take a different approach from the Know Nothing to the enlistment of the Irish?

    6. Why did Cass’s successor Patrick Guiney adopt a more pro-emancipation attitude? How did Irish Democrats react?

    7. Apart from the Irish Brigade, why is there so little memory of immigrant soldiers even though they made up a quarter of all Union soldiers?

    Here is more on Cass:


    • Kevin Levin Jan 27, 2013 @ 14:42

      Wonderful suggestion and thanks so much for the questions. Your questions raise a number of good points about the Irish community in Boston by 1860, but the statue itself should shed some light on their postwar influence on the city and their hope that their participation in the war was rightfully acknowledged.

  • Lisa Laskin Jan 27, 2013 @ 14:22

    Fort Warren, on Georges Island in the harbor, is a fun day trip once the ferries start up, usually late April. Mason and Slidell were held there, along with CSA officers during the war, and its star prisoner, Alexander Stephens, after.

    • Kevin Levin Jan 27, 2013 @ 14:43

      Excellent suggestion, though I would have to think about how to use the site to specifically raise questions of memory.

      I just remembered the Boston Public Library. How could I forget that?

      • Lisa Laskin Jan 28, 2013 @ 6:18

        Role of prisoner narratives in shaping memory, prosecution of camp commandants post-war? Ft. Warren wasn’t a bad place, but it could jump start the conversation.

        • Kevin Levin Jan 28, 2013 @ 6:22

          Yep. Could be an ideal place to talk about the balance between punishment and reconciliation.

  • Barbara Gannon Jan 27, 2013 @ 11:30
    • Kevin Levin Jan 27, 2013 @ 11:31

      I knew I forgot something. I am giving a talk there in May. I’ve not seen it, but I hear it is an impressive building.

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