John Hennessy is one of the jewels of the National Park Service. The chief historian of the Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park combines the talents of a skilled military historian with an ability to reflect upon the broader issues of war and peace, slavery and emancipation, and history and memory. During the Civil War sesquicentennial he played a major role in helping Americans to understand what had happened between 1861 and 1865 and what generations since made of it.
What follows are several of John’s more memorable commentaries. Together they make for a good weekend’s listening.
In 2012 he discussed how the Union army became an army of liberation (filled with reluctant liberators) in and about Fredericksburg as emancipation took effect:
Stephen Crane’s Red Badge of Courage is often assumed to describe the battle for Chancellorsville, and John took that as his point of departure in 2013:
The following year, John described the horrors of the battle of the Wilderness:
Finally, in 2015, John spoke at the 150th anniversary of Robert E. Lee’s surrender to Ulysses S. Grant in Wilmer McLean’s parlor at Appomattox Court House.
Earlier this year he reflected upon the legacies of the American Civil War.
Finally, thanks to Ted Schubel, you can hear John reflect last night on how we understand history as he spoke at the Bloody Angle at Spotsylvania. It’s John at his best.
Interested readers can find more videos at blogs run by Kevin Levin and Albert Mackey.
John Hennessy’s worth listening to because he has something to say, and that something makes you think and reflect. Sometimes what he says upsets certain people, who seem afraid of listening and thinking. That’s to be expected: it’s hard to say something worthwhile without disturbing someone, and if you don’t make people think, you might very well be wasting your time. Listening to John is never a waste of your time.
You’ll recall our coverage of a recent dispute in Lexington, Virginia, concerning an ad placed by one Raymond Agnor in a local paper barring blacks and Democrats from his land “until further notice.” It was upon Mr. Agnor’s property that the Virginia Flaggers claimed another grand heritage triumph when they raised a flag there some time back.
Except it doesn’t seem to be the Virginia Flaggers’ flag any more. It’s now Mr. Agnor’s flag in this newspaper article covering the dispute. The Flaggers have been reduced to a footnote in the story.
For their part, the Virginia Flaggers and their mouthpiece, screeching Connie Chastain, have remained silent on this issue on various social media and Chastain’s hate blog. To defend Agnor’s comments would be to embrace his racism, something they prefer not to share with the public; however, Agnor’s racism prohibits Virginia Flagger icon Karen Cooper from visiting the flag, and neither Susan Hathaway, Tripp Lewis, Grayson Jennings, Barry Isenhour, nor Chastain really wants to defend Cooper, either, in a rather revealing example of how they can discard Cooper when the mood strikes them.
Clearly neither the Virginia Flaggers nor Chastain really hate racism, even when it’s directed against one of their own … which tells you how they really feel about Karen Cooper. You would think, for example, instead of attacking me day after day, Chastain would speak out about this once … but she doesn’t. Apparently Agnor’s racism is acceptable to her, Cooper be damned. The same goes for the Flaggers, who are silent about a lot of damaging allegations lately. Skeered, Susan Hathaway?
It’s sad, really, how the Flaggers exploit Cooper while failing to stand up for her when one of their own shares such racist sentiments. But then this might just reveal what the Flaggers really believe when it comes to race. After all, they embraced Agnor for his land. Now they can’t decide whether to defend one of their own or remain silent when Agnor reveals his racism …. unless Agnor, too, is more revealing of who the Flaggers really are.