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.
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.