C. Vann Woodward was among the best that there ever was when it came to American historians in the twentieth century. Several of his books remain essential reading, if for no other reason than it pays to read that with which you disagree. Woodward wrote often about southern history, but, aside from his book Reunion and Reaction (1951), a somewhat controversial book about the Compromise of 1877, he did not prepare a book-length study of any topic that falls in the era of the Civil War and Reconstruction. However, he excelled at the art of the essay, sometimes using extended book reviews to make his point, an approach also embraced by one of his students, James M. McPherson.
I found Woodward’s writings on the Civil War and Reconstruction both provocative and just plain provoking. Read more
William Marvel often takes a different view of things. Agree with him, disagree with him, but I think most people find him worth a good listen (or a good read). Such is the case with Marvel’s four-volume history of the war from a northern point of view, the first volume of which is the subject of the following talk that he gave in 2007 at the Virginia Historical Society.
Given this morning’s post on Reconstruction, I’m hoping that these three videos featuring Eric Foner’s views on Reconstruction will help spark reflection and discussion. Once again, thet come from the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History.
In the first video Foner discusses how our views of Reconstruction have changed over time.
In the second video Foner discusses Republican Reconstruction initiatives in 1866.
In the third video Foner defines Reconstruction’s legacy.
The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History has put up several rather concise series of commentaries from various historians addressing topics in American history. Here, Allen Guelzo of Gettysburg College explores how Abraham Lincoln viewed slavery, the justification for the Emancipation Proclamation, and how people then and later found fault with the Emancipation Proclamation.
Historians who try to explain Union victory and Confederate defeat during the Civil War approach that question by asking several questions (or at least implicitly offering their answers). The first question is whether Union victory and Confederate defeat were, in fact, inevitable. Was there any way for the Confederacy to win, or was it a lost cause from the beginning?
Folks disagree over whether the Civil War was inevitable. I think there are questions that need to be answered when asking about Civil War causation, because I think we need to prove what is often assumed. So I want to unpack some of those assumptions of us to consider.
Implicit in the discussion of inevitability is the assumption that there must have been a way short of secession and war (which are two distinct events) to resolve the issue of slavery. Read more
In 2007 Craig Warren asked me to contribute some thoughts on the Civil War writings of Ambrose Bierce to The Ambrose Bierce Project Journal, an online enterprise. What follows is my effort to come to terms with Bierce’s observations about the construction of battle narratives. As you can see, while I strongly agree with some of what Bierce says, I also happened to catch him committing the same sins which he complained of in others. Nevertheless, as you read what Bierce says, you might want to reflect on how historians compose battle narratives and ask how you might tinker with the formula.
In a small attempt to begin to wean readers off the series Debating DiLorenzo, which comes to an end today, I offer you these observations that I’ve presented concerning Lincoln’s first inaugural address.
I see where my posting of a short exchange of views in three part harmony on Fox has sparked a discussion at Kevin Levin’s Civil War Memory over exactly how to engage such folks in debate. Kevin asserts:
While those of us familiar with this Lincoln scholarship might enjoy a good laugh, we would do well to keep in mind that DiLorenzo and Woods are probably influencing the general public more through their publications and activism than all of the recent scholarly studies combined.
Nearly all presidential performance polls rank Abraham Lincoln as one of the top two presidents in American history (his current competition happens to be George Washington, with FDR usually claiming the bronze). While Lincoln is impressive on his own merits, it does not hurt that both his predecessor and successor currently dwell at the bottom of the same polls. Yet something can be learned from comparing the presidential performances of James Buchanan and Andrew Johnson. Such was in the back of historian Glenn LaFantasie’s mind yesterday, in which he explained why at this moment he thinks that Buchanan should bring up the rear (let’s set aside his estimate of George W. Bush for the moment).