Stonewall at Appomattox

Historians of the American Civil War often have to contend with what-if questions (and some ask a few of their own). Indeed, inherent in much of an assessment of the wisdom of this or that move or decision is some contemplation of what was likely to happen if someone made a different move or decision.  Otherwise, we would be stuck assessing decisions by outcomes, which is little more than hindsight, and tells us very little about the options open to the decision maker.

A different sort of what-if question reverses the course of history in some seemingly critical way. The favorite what-if that embodies this approach is asking what if Stonewall Jackson had been at Gettysburg. Usually, the person asking the question has Jackson replace Richard S. Ewell as a corps commander on the afternoon of July 1 and believes that Jackson would have attacked the Union position on Cemetery Hill, usually with the assumption that such an assault would have been successful, etc.

This exercise is so inherently problematic as to suggest that it is useless unless someone would rather deal with history as they fantasize about it as opposed to understanding what really happened and why (which would take actual work as a reader and researcher). Continue reading

The Predictable Press

In December 2005 I was sitting in my office at ASU, minding my own business, tying up loose ends from the fall semester, when the phone rang.  It was a reporter from the Christian Science Monitor.  He wanted to discuss with me the findings of a recent inquiry into the Wilmington (NC) Race Riots of 1898.  A historian working for the state had just completed a report that cast light upon the origins of the riot, which might be better termed a coup d’etat in which white Democrats conspired to overthrow a biracial Republican municipal government.

Continue reading

Frederick Douglass on Decoration Day, 1871

Recently Andy Hall offered a post as part of a larger series that I think is well worth highlighting.  It reprints Frederick Douglass’s powerful remarks offered about remembering the Civil War dead some six years after the war’s end.

The monument in the photograph deserves your attention as well.  It is the tomb of the Civil War unknown soldiers.  Most of the remains buried here (just a short distance from Arlington House) were gathered in 1865 from the battlefields of the Overland Campaign of 1864.  More on that in a forthcoming post.

Debating Lincoln

I see where my posting of a short exchange of views in three part harmony on Fox has sparked a discussion at Kevin Levin’s Civil War Memory over exactly how to engage such folks in debate.  Kevin asserts:

While those of us familiar with this Lincoln scholarship might enjoy a good laugh, we would do well to keep in mind that DiLorenzo and Woods are probably influencing the general public more through their publications and activism than all of the recent scholarly studies combined.

Continue reading

Who’s Afraid of Kevin Levin … and Why?

Over the past several years Kevin Levin’s blog, Civil War Memory, has become one of the most-consulted blogs in Civil War era history: it also enjoys a broader audience among historians and teachers of all stripes and a public interested in history.  Over that time the blog has shifted focus a bit and become more focused on several issues, each relating to the blog’s title.  At the same time, Kevin’s gained a reputation in certain circles for his discussions of Lost Cause historiography, the evidence concerning “Black Confederates,” and the relationship between present issues and understandings of the past.

Continue reading