Edward C. Smith on Black Confederates

Someone who is very interested in the subject of black Confederates has a birthday tomorrow, and I thought I’d offer this clip as a gift.

I especially was intrigued to hear the word “articulate” injected in one of the introductions.  No one ever calls me that.

What if the Confederacy Had Won? A Counterfactual Contemplation

One of the more interesting counterfactual exercises open to people interested in the era of the American Civil War is what would have happened had the Confederacy prevailed.  It is worth thinking about. Part of such a counterfactual exercise would be to define the moment at which the Confederacy prevailed in securing its independence, because what follows depends on when that moment occurs.  For example, the story’s far different if the United States decided to accept Confederate independence in March 1861 than if Confederate independence is secured as the result of war-weariness and a negotiated peace four years later.  The story would differ if you chose the Confederate counteroffensive of 1862 or the summer and fall of 1863.  So, if you are going to ask, “What if the Confederacy had won?”, first you must determine when you would have that event happen.

That said, I wonder whether in the long term the Confederacy would have welcomed the consequences of independence.  Continue reading

As The Smoke Clears: The Gettysburg Casino Controversy

By now you may have heard that last week the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board rejected a proposal to build a casino on the site of a convention center on US Route 15 (Emmitsburg Road) south of the Gettysburg battlefield.  It had been a controversial proposal.  Yes, the land was already a commercial property, but the convention center did not intrude on the battlefield, and its presence did not create traffic difficulties.  A casino’s impact would have been far more significant and visible.  That said, I believe that had property been identified east of the US 15 bypass, the casino proposal would have stood a far greater chance of success, in part because it would have weakened the arguments of battlefield preservationists.

It just might be time for the people of Adams County to take another look at issues of economic development.  Continue reading

Was Secession Constitutional?

One of the questions sure to spark a sharp debate is the question of whether secession was constitutional at the time of the secession crisis of 1860-61.  Yes, I know there’s an argument on whether secession’s constitutional today, but, frankly, that’s a different argument, given a few events such as Texas v. White (1869).  To this day, however, people flatly declare that secession is or is not constitutional, followed by comments that suggest that they question the sanity if not the intelligence of anyone who holds a contrary view.

As a historian, what’s important to me is that Americans in 1860-61 disagreed over whether secession was constitutional.  Some people said yes, some people said no.  There had been much discussion of this issue ever since the framing of the Constitution itself, and no one emerged with an argument that was satisfactory to all.  Continue reading

Some Advice for Modern Day Secession Advocates

Over the last several years there’s been quite a revival in the use of the concept of secession as one way to address various problems.  While some people claim (with a great deal of support) that the claim for a constitutional right of secession was rejected by the Supreme Court in 1869, and others say the issue was resolved through force of arms (an argument that to me asserts that might makes right), still others endorse the concept.  Moreover, the concept is not restricted to white southerners, although it does seem to attract them in disproportionate numbers, including those who would like to create a separate southern nation.

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Commemorating the Baltimore Riot of April 19, 1861

I came across this rather interesting account by Greg Clemmer of how people chose to commemorate the attack upon soldiers of the 6th Massachusetts Infantry as they changed trains in Baltimore on April 19, 1861.  It strikes a pleasant note of mutual respect and reconciliation; moreover, I can understand why Clemmer may have taken exception to aspects of an opinion piece by Leonard Pitts, although I note he did not contest Pitts’s main argument.  Then I saw that Clemmer had already offered basically the same criticism of Pitts’s piece days before the event.

Taken together, it’s all rather odd.  Clemmer complains that Pitts is stereotyping white southerners and taking extreme examples as representative.  Fine.  I’ve made that point rather recently about how wrong it is to empower extremists who claim to speak for the South as if they really do speak for it.  However, Clemmer then makes what I see as his own unfortunate comment about stereotyping: “Yet what Mr. Pitts really did was reinforce the unfortunate stereotype of African-Americans being more interested in their originations than their destinations.”  Pitts’s commentary does not merit that characterization, either, and perhaps Clemmer would have been better off to have omitted that observation all together.  Meanwhile, he neatly sidesteps Pitts’s major argument, preferring to notice the mutual respect shown by the reenactors … who, let’s remind ourselves, are reenactors, not participants, in an interesting takeoff of the tale about Joshua Chamberlain, John B. Gordon, and Surrender Triangle at Appomattox on April 12, 1865.

Once more, race squares off against reunion.

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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