An End to Disunion

This Sunday the New York Times’s Disunion column will come to an end. I am going to miss it. The column brought together academic and popular historians and other writers and over the course of the sesquicentennial managed to cover a wide range of Civil War topics. The essays were not just a pleasure to read, but more importantly, they introduced readers to new subjects and interpretations that tend to fall beyond the scope of popular understanding of Civil War history.

In just the last week essays have appeared that force readers to think seriously about the place of the war within a broader global context and as an extension of the Indian Wars, which raged through the end of the century.

There is simply nothing else like it.

I was lucky enough to have three essays published in Disunion. The first explored the myth of the black Confederate soldier in the digital age and was followed by the story of John C. Winsmith and his servant, Abraham. The final essay focused on how I use battlefields to teach the Civil War. Exposure in the New York Times connected me to a whole new audience and for that I am grateful.

While a volume of essays covering the first half of the war was published in 2013, it is uncertain whether a companion book is in the works for the remainder of the war. Regardless of the plans for another volume there is the question of how these essays will be archived and preserved, which I trust is being carefully considered.

Finally, thanks so much to Clay Risen for his hard work in editing the column over the past few years. I hope others reach out to voice their appreciation as well. It’s been a great run.

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“Levin’s study is the first of its kind to blueprint and then debunk the mythology of enslaved African Americans who allegedly served voluntarily in behalf of the Confederacy.”–Journal of Southern History

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14 comments… add one
  • Pat Young Jun 1, 2015 @ 12:42

    Any sense of who folks should write to to ask that it be extended to cover Reconstruction?

    • Kevin Levin Jun 1, 2015 @ 13:47

      Hi Pat,

      I have no idea. Clay shared with me about a year ago that the budget for the column was set to run out at the end of the sesquicentennial.

  • Sherree May 29, 2015 @ 5:29

    Thanks for linking to these various posts in the Times, Kevin. As you no doubt will guess, I was very interested in the essay on the Indian Wars.

    I have not been able to keep up with CW blogs for years now. But I am glad to see that you, Brooks, and others are still going strong.

    Reconstruction is where the real story for our modern society begins, in my opinion, because we did, as a nation, squander the opportunity to truly bring about a new birth of freedom. For white Southerners who do not espouse the heritage group’s philosophy, it is clear (or should be) that the lessons of the Civil War were not learned by Southern society at large and a reign of terror did indeed ensue for newly freed slaves. For white Northerners, and white Southerners as well, the “conquering” of the West by our newly reunited nation is simply appalling.

    The Civil War did not end in 1865: it just got started. Maybe we can end it in our time. A good start would be a sober look at Reconstruction and the entrenchment of violence in Southern society that occurred during that period, along with a frank assessment of the nation’s decimation of the Indigenous populations in the West, even as we proclaimed a new birth of freedom.

  • Terry Johnston May 28, 2015 @ 17:53

    Clay has done an absolutely fabulous job with Disunion … quite an accomplishment. Here’s hoping they eventually do publish a second volume that covers posts about topics from 1863 to war’s end.

  • Brad May 28, 2015 @ 14:19

    I will miss it. I checked it daily for new posts.

  • Buck Buchanan May 28, 2015 @ 10:45

    I appreciated all but greatly enjoyed the posting on teh Indian Wars.

    It brought me back to grad school and one of the classes I was taking on Reconstruction. I was working on a paper topic and I wanted to write on the impact of the Civil War and Reconstruction and the US Army and how they negatively impacted what became known as Hancock’s War. I pointed out that Custer’s own aggressiveness which paid great dividends in the ACW proved to be a detriment in the Indian Wars.

    My prof said that the Indian Wars had nothing to do with Reconstruction.

    I kind of gave him the Scooby Doo “huhn?” and look.

    Got it adjudicated by the dean of the grad school (my advisor and a history prof) and was allowed to write the paper.

    Got an A.

    Many forget that events did not come to a cold stop on 9 APR 65.

  • Al Mackey May 28, 2015 @ 8:14

    They should now have a Reunion blog to cover Reconstruction.

    • Kevin Levin May 28, 2015 @ 8:36

      I agree, Al.

    • John Monahan May 29, 2015 @ 10:59

      That is an excellent idea. I’d love to see articles that covered aspect of Reconstruction that I didn’t know about or hadn’t considered. And since it’s not just about me and my desires, it could educate a lot of people about a time period they don’t know much about except for old stories about carpetbaggers and blacks that couldn’t handle freedom.

  • Pat Young May 28, 2015 @ 5:01

    Anyone know what the total number of readers or pageviews was for the series? A lot of the moaning about the Sesqui seems to write off the hundreds of thousands of people who read Disunion and similar efforts at other newspapers like the Washington Post. There were also hundreds of people who regularly commented on the articles.

    • Kevin Levin May 28, 2015 @ 5:35

      I would also love to hear more about the reach of these articles via social media sharing.

    • Jimmy Dick May 28, 2015 @ 6:30

      I think that you are right on the issue about people complaining about the sesqui who fail to take the impact of the Internet into consideration. You can see some of that discussion where I quoted you and your ideas (full credit to you, Pat) in recent comments on Crossroads. It is ironic how historians who are supposed to use multiple perceptions in building interpretations have failed to use multiple perceptions in their assessment of the sesqui.

    • Christian McWhirter May 28, 2015 @ 8:16

      I asked Clay about traffic once and, if memory serves, he told me they don’t even show him the numbers. So, I wouldn’t expect to hear anything on that score anytime soon. Going by Disunion’s social media imprint, I suspect it had a pretty significant reach, and least when compared to similar efforts.

      • Ken Noe May 29, 2015 @ 4:17

        Yes, I remember him saying at SHA that numbers and various statistical breakdowns are available but the editors chose not to look at them because they didn’t want the stats to drive content. Perhaps we’ll see them later. It was also clear that not continuing through Reconstruction was a decision made by higher-ups.

        As to the larger point raised, I gave twenty talks to public groups during the Sesquicentennial, organized a public symposium, and helped create a tour of Civil War sites, none of which will appear in NPS stats. Local events need to be counted as we look back on this event. We can’t assess the Sesquicentennial fully either unless we also consider how much of it took place on the net. I didn’t go to Lawrence, for example, but I followed the live blogging and Twitter all day. Relying solely on battlefield stats, as I’ve seen elsewhere, is like a public opinion poll that only involves landlines.

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