December 25, 1864: Lincoln Opens His Present

Several of you have wondered about the telegram William T. Sherman sent Abraham Lincoln presenting the city of Savannah and various sundry items. Sherman sent the message on December 22, and you’ve seen that text. This is the text Lincoln saw three days later:

So, as you can see, the message went up via water to Fort Monroe, Virginia, where it arrived on December 25; it was immediately wired to Washington at the War Department.

This Christmas … Remember the Red Shirts

Terrorists on your tree

This Christmas, remember to decorate your favorite tree with ornaments celebrating the South Carolina Red Shirts, who were a paramilitary white supremacist terrorist group during Reconstruction who claimed credit for the “redemption” of the state under Wade Hampton in 1877.

And you might want to visit this museum as well. Enjoy this slideshow.

After all, we’ve seen this sort of White Christmas spirit before … Continue reading

Notable Moments in Confederate Heritage, 2014: Part Five

We are now down to the final four. Today focuses on two people, once of whom spoke at the other’s memorial service.

Number 4: Mattie Clyburn Rice, Rest in Peace

The passing of Mattie Clyburn Rice in October 2014 provided some people yet another chance to revive the story of her father, Weary Clyburn, specifically the nature of his connection to the Confederate military. For years Weary Clyburn has been celebrated by some as a “black Confederate,” although more discerning research revealed a more interesting story. For years Ms. Rice pursued the story, as one might expect, but what she found did little to clarify her father’s status. She was not alone in her confusion: researchers repeatedly fumbled the question of his status, sometimes in excited rants.  Among the befuddled was South Carolina governor Nikki Haley, who, engaged in a battle for reelection, thought it would be a good idea to cuddle up with the Confederate heritage crowd while remaining stone silent about the service of South Carolina’s blacks in blue. Confederate heritage advocates went after anyone who tried to remind us of the facts behinds the claims about Clyburn’s service.

Carl Roden Rice Service 1I chose not to get involved in that discussion. It seemed good enough to allow Ms. Rice to rest in peace. However, as one might expect, others could not wait to take advantage of her passing to sound anew the usual claptrap about Clyburn’s service. Her memorial service witnessed a veritable cast of characters from Confederate heritage circles, with the typically ample photographic record to mark their presence. Who can forget this particularly nattily-dressed fellow? Continue reading

Flagger in Pensacola

We learn that the West Florida Flaggers (sic) held their (sic) first flagging in Pensacola yesterday. Details here.

The individual in question speculated on the reaction to this news:

Expect howls of derision** from … certain … quarters … over my solitary venture, the weather, my walker (complete with neon-yellow tennis-ball shoes on the back feet — hey, it came that way; $4.50 bucks at the mission store), and stuff  to ridicule that their mentality makes them notice, things that ordinary folks likely aren’t even aware of.

And what do the double asterisks mean?

**(Alternately, expect dead, ringing silence — an attempt to ignore in the hope that we will disappear.)

Other than noting that “we” does not equal “she,” I decided to test expectations. No “dead, ringing silence” (“Honey, is that ringing in my ear the sound of silence?”) …

… but no howls of derision, either.

After all, Connie Chastain shows up. Susan Hathaway doesn’t.

Notable Moments in Confederate Heritage, 2014: Part Four

And so we are down to the top six moments in Confederate heritage for 2014. Today’s the story of two towns and two flags.

Number 6: Dustup in Danville

Danville, Virginia, boasts that it was the last capital of the Confederacy, and the town has preserved the house where Jefferson Davis convened his cabinet for the last time. That residence now houses a local museum, with a Third National Flag flying outside of it, as per an agreement in 1994. The Danville Museum of Fine Arts & History wanted permission to overturn that agreement and remove the flag.

Crossroads took the position that the Third National Flag was appropriate to display, for it is not linked with the causes with which the Confederate Battle Flag/Navy Jack is linked. Needless to say, Confederate heritage advocates ignored this stand, because in many cases their minds simply can’t fathom a reasonable position that would mute their continuous ranting. A series of city council meetings failed to settle very much, although some outside agitators came to Danville because they needed more time in front of the media and cameras to profess their love for Confederate heritage. Virginia state law prohibits the removal of certain memorials and flags, and the flag outside the Sutherlin Mansion falls under that law. Confederate heritage advocates claimed victory, although they had nothing to do with it, which suggests that the best way for such groups to prevail may be to take a lower profile … as if that’s going to happen. However, this blog built traffic by asking a question about the Danville flag controversy and I thank heritage folks for that (you really are pretty easy, aren’t you? We’ll have to do that again some time).

Many people believe this was the high point of Confederate heritage triumphs in 2014. I agree. That Confederate heritage groups had nothing to do with that outcome offers an instructive lesson in their effectiveness, as we’ll see shortly …

Number 5: Panic in Pensacola

If Confederate heritage advocates rallied support to oversee what happened in Danville, they were caught by surprise in Pensacola when the Escambia County Commission decided it was time to take down the Confederate battle flag flying outside the Pensacola Bay Center. At last they were in line with the city of Pensacola, where the Confederate battle flag’s display on city property was discontinued in 2000 (a decision not effectively contested by Confederate heritage advocates living in the area, especially those who never emerge from their houses where they spend a great deal of time with a keyboard and “monitor” (pun intended). Indeed, it looked as if Pensacola’s most prominent advocate of Confederate heritage was simply asleep at the switch or too absorbed in flinging post after post at people she hates to oppose the action or to rally local allies. Other people knew what was going to be discussed. As this video of the December 11, 2014, certain familiar faces are nowhere to be found:

Embarrassed by this sign of sheer incompetence and stupidity, Pensacola’s most cyber-visible Confederate heritage advocate, putting aside her earlier equivocation, declared herself a “Flagger,” finally coming all the way out of her butternut closet. She declared that the West Florida Flaggers Gulf Coast Flaggers West Florida Flaggers would rally to the cause, with a Twitter account, Facebook page, and a website/blog being erected once she washed the dishes for that week (that must be a very fragrant kitchen), although in the end it did not take the week or so she had predicted (I wonder why). However, as of now the WFF (known in some quarters as WTF) seem destined to do little more than to copy their Virginia cousins and look for places to fly flags (this is in fact a practice that is becoming old and a bit silly … these spots look like abandoned car dealerships). However, there’s no word that the WTF WFF will plan flagging demonstrations or in fact do anything else other than rant at people on their blog. The notion that they might push for the flying of one of the national flags (again, a reasonable counterproposal) would deprive them of the ability to screech and scream, carp and cry.

Still, we can expect that the WFF will be the source of much enjoyment and commentary in 2015, as it looks to become a spinoff of the Virginia Flaggers. I don’t think the cast of characters is nearly so engaging … but we can be sure that the people we expect will become involved will provide their own brand of entertainment.

Cries for Attention

The open nature of the internet has led to a crisis of authority among professional historians. Simply put, professional historians who once thought they controlled the flow of information and interpretation and who thus claimed the prerogative to dispense it find that they can no longer enforce that claim. I’m not sure that they ever could have done so. Many people claim to be historians regardless of their training or expertise or knowledge. Indeed, the amateur as historian has always been present in the writing of American Civil War history, from businessmen (James Ford Rhodes) to newspapermen (Bruce Catton) to novelists (Shelby Foote) to television pundits (Bill O’Reilly). People without training or a certain skill set claim to be historians in ways that no one would imagine claiming to be a chemist, brain surgeon, aircraft pilot, or professional hockey player. Reading one book, watching one show on the History Channel (hello, Pawn Stars!), or donning a uniform seems to transform some people into historians magically, at least in their minds.

Mind you, it is not the possession of a professional degree that makes one a historian. I know plenty of people who do not possess that training but who turn out wonderful books, largely because they have the same skill set and intellectual tool box needed to succeed. Nor does possession of an advanced degree in itself make one a skilled historian, judging from some of the careers I’ve seen (although it helps in the making of a college professor). So this is not an effort to revive the academic/non-academic debate about history that so many seem so fond of having, largely so that they can be snide and snarky. But what is true is that some historians attract more attention than do others, and those others may not like it. Two examples from this week stand out this week as illustrating that trend.

In the current issue of The Journal of the Civil War Era Kevin Levin offers a glimpse at the significance of the continuing controversy over what some people call “black Confederates.” Kevin is himself a product of the transformative nature of the internet on historical authority: a few decades ago people holding MA degrees who taught in small private secondary schools would have found it challenging to get past the self-appointed gatekeepers of the profession to contribute to such a discussion. That this article appeared at all also suggests that those professional historians who decried the very existence of a discussion of this issue have found themselves thwarted by one of their own professional journals.

It was thus left to Edward H. Sebesta once more to seek the attention he so dearly desires (and which this post will give him … well, he may not desire this sort of attention). Sebesta’s quest for attention included declaring that he did not want a book he co-assembled to be considered for a prize (his co-author, James Loewen, generally remained silent about Sebesta’s outburst); Sebesta’s also taken on Barack Obama over the laying of a wreath at the monument to Confederate soldiers at Arlington, a memorial that has received all sorts of attention over the past decade for foolish reasons. Sebesta has an obsession with Kevin, and I’ll leave it to you to figure out why he’s so jealous.

Sebesta declares that “in general the article really fails and a person has to wonder what the editors of The Journal of the Civil War Era were thinking.” In other words, “why didn’t they ask me, Ed Sebesta, to offer informed commentary?”

Why did the article “fail”?

There are three problems with the essay. The first is his enabling of the neo-Confederate movement. The second is his lack of critical thinking regarding history. The third is a failing to connect it to either the use of token African Americans by neo-Confederates and the neo-Confederates use of identity.

You read that right. Kevin Levin is being attacked for enabling the “neo-Confederate movement.” By the same reasoning, Ed Sebesta is enabling Kevin Levin, and I’m enabling Ed Sebesta. I’ll have to live with that for the rest of my life.

People know that I find that the term “neo-Confederate” lacks definitional and analytical clarity, and so long ago I decided to set it aside as useless. It’s right up there with “politically correct.” None of this deters Mr. Sebesta, who is the Connie Chastain of his own “movement.” Not that he is totally wrong. I think people should not use “southern heritage” and “Confederate heritage” interchangeably. Southern heritage is so much more than Confederate heritage, and Confederate heritage is but a small part of southern heritage and should not be taken as representative of the whole South. But we’ve had that discussion before, even if Sebesta’s failed to follow it (precisely because he isn’t in it).

It would have been illuminating if Levin pointed out the irony of these two groups [the SCV and the UDC] promoting the myth of the Black Confederate while at the same time promoting a white supremacist view of history. However, Levin, like many Civil War historians and enthusiasts, wishes all the controversy would just go away and they could get back to the toy soldier gaming of the Civil War. (Maybe a special issue devoted to it.) Levin has stated that he doesn’t like the word “neo-Confederate.” He likely fears that it will lead to loud voices at Civil War Round Tables and disquieting questions about some of the members of the Civil War history profession.

I guess Sebesta doesn’t read Kevin’s blog, just like most people don’t read Sebesta’s blog, which is a collection of self-serving rants. Hope he enjoys the attention he’ll get now.

Levin thinking in the essay goes like this:

1. Historians with their training and expertise and knowledge have in their possession true history.

2. Unfortunately with the Internet, those without this training and expertise and are wrong headed are making false historical assertions.

3. This problem would be solved by informing people to only listen to properly credentialed historical experts and authoritative institutions.

Really? REALLY? Oh, the irony here is rich indeed. Kevin Levin, whose professional identity is defined not by his degree and training but by his blog and his work, is being chided for his defense of the castle known as the world of professional historical scholarship.

Sebesta would get a failing grade in my undergraduate course if he handed in this tripe as an essay.

After offering some commonplace observations with which Kevin would agree as evidence that Kevin is wrong, Sebesta presents this concluding observation:

The article is a simplistic, cartoonish, idea that a gullible public is being led astray by persons lacking proper historical training and credentials. It is an article that would be written by an elitist unconscious of the larger issues or critical theory.

That the editors of the journal accepted this article raises concerns about Civil War scholarship in general.

And who will fix that? Why, Ed Sebesta!

Meanwhile on Twitter, people saw a sign of the very arrogance in the historical profession that Sebesta decries. See, Ta-Nehisi Coates asked me a simple question about Grant and corruption. I happened to be at work when he asked, and by the time I came home and clicked on Twitter there were all sorts of replies and observations, many of which I found interesting as indicating what people represent as the current understanding of Grant. Then I came across a response from the Twitter account of History News Network, and that led to the following exchange:

HNN one HNN two What, you may ask, is History News Network, anyway? Well, it’s lots of things, and it’s not particularly good at many of them. After all, if it wants to parade as the source of all historical knowledge, it might have a simple “Ask a Historian” page that one could readily identify. If you’re a historian who wants to offer a historian’s two cents on an issue, well, HNN provides a forum for your op-ed. If you are an author who wants to pump up your own tires, well, contribute something to HNN as part of the publicity campaign for your publication. Want to gossip about your colleagues or highlight instances of perceived professional wrongdoing? Well, HNN will give you that forum, and give it uncritically.

But the remarkable arrogance of HNN’s Twitter feed (which HNN wisely chose not to feature in its own collection of its Twitter activity) in saying that HNN is the source of knowledge and information and interpretation (all the while failing to name a single expert in the field at HNN) and that people simply need to go there (and stop talking to real scholars on Twitter and the openness of social media) … well, doesn’t that just about top all? I’ll overlook their ignorance about my own professional identity, because, really, given what I saw, could you expect anything else? In short, HNN wants you to believe it is the ultimate source of information and it’s where scholars are to be found while remaining entirely clueless about the people engaged in a conversation. Yup, that’s where I would go to find out more about less and less about more, and in either case I’d be lucky to learn very much.

One of the consequences of social media is that historians who want to reach out and engage a more general public need not go through a portal such as HNN. It seems that HNN resents this … because the openness of social media means that fewer and fewer people will go to HNN, and not that many ever went in the first place, especially if they had a question to ask.

I don’t suffer fools gladly. Add the HNN Twitter feed to that list.

HNN isn’t where scholars publish. It’s where some scholars contribute views. Indeed, as you’ll see from this link, it isn’t really all that discriminating when it comes to the “experts” who publish there … people like (wait for it …) Ed Sebesta.

And that’s the way it is, Thursday, December 18, 2014. 🙂

Slaughtering Schoolchildren

As Americans woke up on the morning of December 16 and turned out their televisions or turned on their computers to see what was going on in the world, they learned that just hours before a group of Taliban gunmen had swept into a school in Pakistan and slaughtered at least 145 people, mostly schoolchildren, with at least a hundred more wounded. It will be some time before we can determine the final death toll inflicted by these terrorist gunmen.

People across the world were horrified by this news. It was a horrible, unimaginable, terrorist act.

Well, wait a moment. Remember who could imagine just such an act being committed in the name of southern nationalism?

That’s right … Pat Hines uttered just such a sentiment some two years ago.

Where might you find Pat Hines now? Alongside Michael Hill, president of the League of the South.

Hill and Hines

That’s Mr. Hines in the sportscoat.

No word from Dr. Hill as to whether the League of the South endorses Mr. Hines’s proposal or why Dr. Hill would stand proudly beside a person who uttered such horrible thoughts. But then Dr. Hill likes all sorts of people.

Perhaps he learned something from the mealy-mouthed commentary of another southern nationalist when I reported Mr. Hines’s declaration.

It’s a heritage of hate, folks … and with fantasies of murder. My, where have we seen that pattern before? Really? Yes, really.

Notable Moments in Confederate Heritage, 2014: Part Three

The tension mounts as excited readers look in eager anticipation to see what will be the top nine moments in Confederate heritage this past year. First, we go to Florida …

Number 9: The Tussle at Olustee

Fooled you, didn’t I?

February 20, 2014, marked the 150th anniversary of the battle of Olustee. A chapter of the Sons of Union Veterans decided that it would be a good idea to commemorate the service of the United States volunteers who fought there, including the famed 54th Massachusetts. Members of the Sons of Confederate Veterans didn’t like the idea. Apparently it’s important to remember the service of soldiers who fought against the United States of America (in which case the SCV will have to decide between honoring Nazi Germany or Al Queda next) but it’s wrong to honor the service of people who fought for the United States of America, which casts an interesting light on the SCV’s version of American patriotism.

H. K. Edgerton spoke out powerfully against the idea (so much for his interest in honoring military service with his faux uniforms):

This is an army that came here raping, robbing, stealing, killing and murdering our people. The kinds of things that happened here under the sanction of Abraham Lincoln were for these men to commit total warfare against innocent men, women and children who could not defend themselves.

Our people? Why, H. K., are you forgetting that the 54th Massachusetts, composed of African American soldiers, were in fact members of “your people”? Note that H. K. doesn’t express any disgust about the “raping, robbing, stealing, killing and murdering” of enslaved African Americans, who, after all, are H. K.’s own people. Why, H. K., you might read a description of what happened at Olustee before you declare your opposition to war crimes.

Never tell me that Confederate heritage advocates are interested in honoring the service of American soldiers. They are only interested in honoring the service of certain American soldiers, and refuse to honor the service of those soldiers who fought for the United States between 1861 and 1865. But they insist that you honor the service of the men who tried to kill United States soldiers.

It’s a heritage of hate … but you knew that.

Number 8: President McConnell of the College of Charleston

I have to tell you that I found the controversy surrounding the installation of South Carolina lieutenant governor Glenn McConnell as president of the College of Charleston to be a bit boring and predictable. The usual suspects lined up in the usual ways, and in the end it didn’t make much difference … indeed, it was predictable.

But it was no more predictable than the actions of Confederate heritage activists in other instances. I suspect that with the arrival of the end of the sesquicentennial in 2015 fewer and fewer people will care. I hope more people care about …

Number 7: The Disappearance of Lilly Baumann

In May 2014 the Virginia Flaggers received a lot of publicity, only it wasn’t for a flag raising. It was because of reports that someone connected to the Flaggers was being sought in connection with the disappearance of  a young girl, Lilly Baumann.

Lesters two

The Flaggers and their spokespeople first tried to deny that they knew anything about the whole affair or its participants, although their own photographs told a different story.

Maybe this was just a coincidence, right? But then there was this:

That’s Susan Hathaway holding little Lilly Baumann.

The Virginia Flaggers, their defenders, and spokespeople immediately went into heritage defense mode, which meant attacking other people. They showed no interest in helping to find a little girl who was missing, a clear sign of their priorities. For all their social media energy and savvy, they simply didn’t give a damn about Lilly Baumann.

The December holidays are upon us, and we pray and hope that Lilly Baumann is found safe and secure and returned to her father in Florida.

Notable Moments in Confederate Heritage, 2014: Part Two

As we continue our countdown of the fifteen most notable moments in Confederate heritage in 2014, I should note that I was fascinated to discover that the primary organization featured in the 2013 countdown was no longer quite so visible. Oh, here and there you would find its members flying around like a group of gnats at events held by other people, But something’s not quite right with the attention-getting efforts of that group. It’s thus out of some compassion that I decided that this part of the countdown would focus on them as a form of simple civil courtesy. Continue reading