A Primer in Basic Research

Over the last several weeks there’s been a rather heated exchange between several contributors to this Facebook group, which celebrates “southern heritage” (although it seems more like “Confederate heritage” to me) and a number of bloggers who have become known for their research disproving or qualifying claims about various supposed “black Confederates” (as in supposed soldiers).  There’s something to be said for the observation that this is an online debate and little more … except, of course, that so many students do so much of their research online these days that they are bound to come across this stuff, including claims about black Confederate soldiers.

Here’s an example.

Ann DeWitt, who is responsible for a leading website devoted to documenting the widespread existence of black Confederates in military service, shared her most recent research with her fellow Facebook compatriots (posting under the name “Royal Diadem”).  As she declares:

Captain P.P. Brotherson’s Confederate Officers record states eleven (11) blacks served with the 1st Texas Heavy Artillery in the “Negro Cooks Regiment.” This annotation can be viewed on footnote.com. See the third line on the left. Also, the record is cataloged in the National Archives Catalog ID 586957 and microfilm number M331 under “Confederate General and Staff Officers, and Nonregimental Enlisted Men.”

Could this be one of the types of regiments many Confederate historians have documented as part of Confederate History?

Well, could it?

Apparently not, according to Andy Hall, who began by taking a careful look at the document Ms. DeWitt shared with her friends.  Let’s look at it ourselves:

Hmm.  As Andy points out, somehow eleven black cooks for a heavy artillery unit stationed at Galveston, Texas, commanded by one Colonel Joseph Jarvis Cook, have been transformed into a “Negro Cooks Regiment.”

Read Andy’s post for the rest of the story.

As Gary Adams, the president of the Southern Heritage Preservation Group, says, in regard to a topic discussed here,

Everyone does realize one of the quotes here is a myth posted to demostrate why research from reputable sites is important.

Precisely.  Indeed, according to Mr. Adams, the discovery that Ulysses S. Grant did not actually say comments attributed to him moved him to create his group.  He should be applauded for that.

Now we’ll see what to make of his commitment to historical accuracy in this case … one celebrated on the Facebook page of the very group he founded to ensure a commitment to historical accuracy.

Update: Judging from this post, at least some of the members of the SHPG are aware of this misadventure in research.  We’ll see whether they have a commitment to real scholarship.


A Different Kind of Museum

This past March I visited London for a week.  Among the sites I wanted to visit (for a second time) was the Imperial War Museum.  I had already visited the Royal Army Museum twice, and I had taken my time exploring Churchill’s War Cabinet Rooms (although I’ll refresh that experience next time), but I really wanted to see the IWM, in part because of its immersive sections: a simulation of a portion of a WW I trench position and the civilian experience during the Blitz of 1940-41.

I’ve been to my share of Civil War museums, although there remain others on the list, including several fairly new ones in Virginia.  I’ve been in the three NPS museums for Gettysburg (the now-dilapidated cyclorama building, the now-departed Electric Map building, and the new museum), and I recall with fondness the old Dobbin House diorama (I confess to a real weakness for dioramas as well as cycloramas).  But I think that what I missed in these museums was the immersive nature of portions of the IWM.  As much as I like looking at artifacts, there’s something missing when it comes to understanding.  Interactive museums hold their place for me, too, and I’m curious as to what we could learn from those approaches.  For example, what would it be like to watch as a line of infantry approached you?  How could you simulate decision-making and its consequences?  Are there better ways to communicate certain points than the passive look at the item and read the descriptive text?

So, I ask: if you were given the opportunity to advance suggestions to design a national Civil War museum, what would you include?