Occasionally one would think that a fact check prior to publication might help things a bit. I’ll leave it to you to do that.
Over at Civil War Memory Kevin Levin’s speculated about the decline and eventual disappearance of Confederate heritage commemorations, implying 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).
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
Many of us are familiar with the logic that argues that since a majority of white southerners did not own slaves, secession (and the Confederacy) must have been about something other than slavery. After all, why would a non-slaveholder fight to preserve slavery?
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.
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.
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.
Word comes from various sources, including Eric Wittenberg’s Rantings of a Civil War Historian and local press coverage, of efforts by the Mississippi chapter of the Sons of Confederate Veterans to propose several new special vanity plate designs, including one for Confederate general and KKK terrorist Nathan Bedford Forrest.
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.
… this is an opportune time to discuss the views of your family or guardians as it relates to the American Civil War. Find out how the events between 1861 and 1865 shaped the lives of your family and/or community. Have an open and honest discussion on your views about slavery and why the United States of America and the Confederate States of America went to war. Do you and others agree or disagree that African-Americans served in the Confederate States Army during the War Between the States? Read Entangled In Freedom as a conversation starter.
The book certainly became a conversation starter on one blog.