The Memphis Massacre of 1866: A Conference Blog

Readers of this blog will recall that not long ago I mentioned the Memphis Massacre of 1866 (also known as the Memphis Riot of 1866, although the reasons for the renaming are of interest) in examining a rather badly-flawed attempt to discuss the event and its implications.

It seems only right and proper to direct you now to a blog bringing together and reporting on the results of a recent conference on the event. Click here to go there. I guarantee you’ll learn something.

I think this is a wonderful way to share the scholarship presented at a conference by people who know what they are talking about, and I believe more conferences should follow suit.

The Sunday Question: Who Was the Confederacy’s Greatest Cavalry Commander?

The nominees are:

  1. Jeb Stuart: Lee’s eyes and ears, who might have even made a good corps commander had he retained command of Jackson’s corps after Chancellorsville (note the Gettysburg what-ifs usually shy away from that possibility). His performance during the Gettysburg campaign remains the most controversial part of his Civil War career.
  2. Nathan Bedford Forrest: Forrest has his fans, and not always for the right reasons. Moreover, he did not play well with others, and it’s a good question whether he made that much of an impact strategically. Still, the man could fight, and fight well.
  3. Wade Hampton: There are those who believe that Hampton might have been better than Stuart, and that he performed well after Stuart’s death. Others may claim that he never had a chance to display his talents for long in an independent command in Virginia.
  4. Joe Wheeler: Wheeler’s men did a lot of damage. Of course, white Georgians claimed that his men forgot that they were on the same side.
  5. Anyone else come to mind? For you Romeos out there, there’s Earl Van Dorn. And if you like nepotism, Fitz Lee’s reliable.

The Growing Vacuousness of Confederate Heritage

Over at Civil War Memory Kevin Levin’s speculated about the decline and eventual disappearance of Confederate heritage commemorationsimplying that perhaps confining such ceremonies in time and place may prolong their existence by confining their expression to appropriate venues and occasions. As you might well imagine, some of Kevin’s most vocal critics (who also happen to be among his most loyal readers) offered their usual pitiful petulant protests. Fine, folks: just go raise another flag somewhere and claim victory.

Although I appreciate Kevin’s argument, I hold a different view (although I suspect that Kevin agrees with much of what I am about to say). I think that the real problem with Confederate heritage today is that it has less and less to do with the Confederacy or any sort of heritage and much more to do with serving as a vehicle through which people express their political views and cultural preferences. There are several themes sometimes associated with Confederate heritage that come through in these declarations, much as other themes woven throughout Confederate heritage reappear in the claims made by critics of Confederate heritage (think slavery, folks: there’s no Confederacy without it).

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Republicans and Black Suffrage During Reconstruction

Phil Leigh’s upset. Having had his essay on the Memphis Riots shredded in this blog, he complains that I’ve failed  “to address the central question of whether black suffrage in the South was more important to Radical Republicans as a matter of morality or as a tool to sustain the Party’s political power.”

Generally speaking, that’s not the central question people choose to explore when they discuss the wholesale slaughter of African Americans, including US Army veterans, by an out-of-control white supremacist mob egged on by local leaders. But Mr. Leigh would rather not tell you whether white southerners who opposed Reconstruction killed African Americans for political advantage or simply because they were vile racists. After all, in his mind it was the murderers who were the victims, not the murdered.

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A Massacre of History

On May 1, 1866, a mob of whites in Memphis, Tennessee, attacked blacks in the city. The violence continued through May 2 and ended only after federal forces intervened on May 3. By that time some forty-six blacks were dead, while only two whites died; five women had been raped, and a significant number of people were injured. You can read a summary of the event here. Blogger Patrick Young has written on both the riot and the events leading up to it.

So has Phil Leigh in a post that reminds us of his skills as a historian. Continue reading

Gary Gallagher and the Continuing Civil War

Nearly a month ago the Twitterverse tweeted with commentary on a lecture delivered at the University of Virginia by Gary Gallagher. Apparently Gary was determined to take on current understandings of the American Civil War, namely the emphasis paid to emancipation and the debate over when the Civil War ended. Gary took several authors to task concerning the first point, which received most of his attention, before turning to the second point at the 40:45 mark of the video below:

As I understand it, Gary’s argument is that present concerns shape our inquiry of the past, framing the questions and suggesting the answers we seek. There’s nothing exceptional about that observation: it’s often at the core of many a historiographical essay, the sort of discovery usually reserved for first year graduate seminars and for the occasionally perceptive undergraduate.

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A National Civil War Memorial?

Many visitors to Washington, DC, spend a lot of time going to memorials dedicated to individuals and groups. Among the memorials they visit are ones dedicated to the Americans who fought in the Second World War, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War. Fewer visit Pershing Park, which serves as a World War I memorial, although a new memorial is under discussion.

Between the District of Columbia and Arlington National Cemetery, there are a good number of Civil War memorials, monuments, and statues. I need not detail them here. But one might note that there is no national memorial to the American Civil War.

Should there be? Someone thinks so.

What we have here is one vision for such a memorial. Do you think one is necessary? If so, what should it include? What themes should it emphasize?

The comments section, as always, is open.