When Simplification Becomes Distortion

Over at Cosmic America Keith Harris has a very interesting and telling reaction to his reading of Time‘s effort to address the evolution of Civil War memory.

I think he’s basically right.  We’ve spent too much time discussing the evolution of white southern memory of the war and very little on how African Americans and white northerners approached the issue of remembering the Civil War during the first fifty years after the conflict ended.  From my own reading I’ve concluded that for many white northerners reconciliation was far more conditional than the current presentation of historical understanding would have us believe.

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More Than a Question of Counting?

The news is that in North Carolina and Virginia researchers are recounting the number of Civil War soldiers from each state who died in the Civil War.  These reports suggest that while fewer Tar Heels may have given their lives for the cause of southern independence, more citizens of the Old Dominion sacrificed all in the line of duty in the Confederate military services, enough so that the one-accepted claim that North Carolina suffered the highest number of military war dead might be set aside in favor of Virginia.

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Civil Warriors Greatest Hits: From Williamsport to Warrenton

(this post first appeared on Civil Warriors on May 15, 2006)

I’m sure that by now you’ve heard of the complaints that we have too many books on too few campaigns on the Civil War. How many more Gettysburg overviews can we stomach? [One more, I hope.] Moreover, too many campaign histories proceed on predictable tracks, with the big picture rarely changing, or changing in ways that appear to be as outrageous as they are novel.

There are some understudied areas, to be sure. Continue reading

C. Vann Woodward and the Dilemma of White Southern Liberalism

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.  Continue reading

William Marvel on the Coming of the Civil War

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.

Eric Foner on Reconstruction

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.

Allen Guelzo on Lincoln, Slavery, and the Emancipation Proclamation

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.

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The Question of Inevitability II: The Civil War

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?

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The Question of Inevitability I: The Coming of the War

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.  Continue reading

Some Thoughts on Ambrose Bierce

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.