The Virginia Flaggers’ Next Target: Alexandria?

By now we all know that the Virginia Flaggers, perhaps the most notorious Confederate heritage group in existence (and certainly among the most amusing as well as most visible), is dedicated to restoring the honor by returning the flags. However, to date they have not made much of an impact in the Old Dominion in the northern part of the state. At present the northernmost Flagger triumph east of the Blue Ridge Mountains is at Stafford, along I-95 north of Fredericksburg.

Now comes word that the folks in Alexandria, Virginia, are also taking steps to diminish the city’s commemoration of the Confederacy. Already the city’s taken action to cease flying Confederate flags on public property. Now up for debate is a proposal to cease calling US Route 1 “Jefferson Davis Highway.” Left untouched is a statute honoring the service of Confederate veterans that remains an iconic part of the city.

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Vanderbilt’s Choice

This past week Vanderbilt University announced that it would comply with a 2005 judicial decision and repay the United Daughters of the Confederacy the $50,000 (with interest) given by the UDC to Peabody College in 1935 to help build and name a residence hall “Confederate Memorial Hall” (Vanderbilt acquired the college and the building in 1979). In exchange, the word “Confederate” would disappear from the building (it’s been known informally as simply “Alumni Memorial Hall,” or some variation thereof, for some time). Donors provided the $1.2 million needed to complete the transaction.

According to Chancellor Nicholas S. Zeppos, “Many generations of students, faculty and staff have struggled with, argued about and debated with vigor this hall….  Our debates and discussions have consistently returned over these many years to the same core question: Can we continue to strive for that diverse and inclusive community where we educate the leaders that our communities, nation and world so desperately need, with this hall as so created? My view, like that of so many in the past, and so many in our present, is that we cannot.”

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A Black Trump Supporter Embraces the Black Confederate Myth

That’s right. 

As the story says,

Derek Boyd Hankerson is an African American university lecturer, filmmaker, author, and political operative. He’s also a Donald Trump supporter. Pledging his support for Trump last year, Hankerson served as Trump’s Northeast Florida Field Director….

He received his undergraduate degree in Political Science in 1991 from the University of Maryland College Park. In 2007 he earned his Masters in Business Administration from Webster University in St. Louis, Missouri.

But he has co-authored a history book, Belonging: The Civil War’s South We Never Knew.  The book makes the astonishing claim that blacks in large numbers fought for the South during the Civil War, a myth advanced by white racist groups that long ago was debunked by historians.

Now, I’m sure some whiny Confederate heritage advocate will claim that this is a way to get at Donald Trump. That in the process they will be defending poor history is something to note. After all, opponents of “political correctness” embrace heritage correctness … and, it seems, they don’t mind what Trump supporters say, regardless of its historical accuracy, because they are invested in what I might call “partisan correctness.”

Actually, as the comments show, I’m just as tired of anyone citing John Stauffer as a reliable source on this subject. We know better.

The Sage Historian Comments: The Conventions and the Election Outlook

BDS 0816a

For those of you who want to know what a “presidential historian” does during an election year, you can start here.

Note that both the Republican and Democratic commenters turned to me as a source of information. None of this tripe about the leftist academy from people who know what they are talking about. If anything, the Republican was somewhat happier with what I said than was the Democrat.

Silly Season is Underway

One of the amusements of blogging is the knowledge that some people who really don’t like you are among the most faithful readers of your blog. You learn this when you see that there is a surge of incoming traffic from a blog that you may not hold in high regard, and a check of the link leads you to another elaborate denunciation of your blog for its open partisanship, commitment to political correctness, or whatever tends to offend these overly-sensitive folk who ventured forth from their intellectual and emotional safe space to see what other people were saying. Indeed, some blogs probably would not exist or have even smaller audiences than they currently enjoy were it not for this desire to draw attention to themselves in front of their fan base.

(Note: that’s one reason I don’t link to these blogs. Let them earn their own hits. I know they’ll come here anyway.)

We can expect more of this cross-blog commentary as we enter the heart of the presidential election contest. Politicians love to draw upon historical images and comparisons to make their points, and every presidential election offers case studies in the use and misuse of history, the state of historical memory, and the propensity of some people who claim to be historians to render their fledgling efforts at historical understanding primarily through the lens of political partisanship.

Take a recent whiny complaint from someone whose obsession with left-wing academics (a redundancy in his mind) and political correctness overwhelms what might be considered useful observation and information. Apparently we now know that the political season is upon us because of a surge in posts attacking Republicans, and only Republicans: “They prove it by only doing this type of thing to Republican candidates. And the virtue-signalling is extremely nauseating.”

I guess I struck a nerve.

We note that this protest appeared just a week after a post appeared declaring “Why Progressives Love Abraham Lincoln & Why Conservatives Don’t Undertsand Him.” I’ve retained the original spelling. Oh, no politics here, right? That’s surrounded by three more posts, two reflecting this blogger’s obsession with political correctness and another about protesters bearing Soviet flags outside the Democratic National Convention, something, the blogger asserts, should warm the hearts of “moral reformer” historians.

Now that we’ve established which blog is primarily an exercise in political commentary, we can test its claims for historical accuracy. The blogger appears to be upset that comments to various entries here that talk about how politicians use (and misuse) history are simply political commentary (and thus that the posts to which these comments allude were framed to elicit such commentary, betraying the nefarious motives of the blogger). One need only to examine the comments section of the blog in question to realize that this is just another case of the pot calling the kettle black (given the propensities of some of the commenters over there, “black” will drive them nuts). What people say is what people say. But to see in others what one does note recognize in oneself is telling.

But does this blog restrict itself to commenting on Republican candidates’ misuse of history? The record suggests otherwise. This blog commented on Hillary Clinton’s flawed commentaries on Reconstructiontwice. Nor would it be true the say that we don’t follow up on stories concerning Republicans who take positions where it’s assumed that we agree with them. This blog also followed up on leads that suggested that an advocate of removing the Confederate flag from the grounds of the South Carolina state house may have misstated the facts when she claimed to be descended from Confederate president Jefferson Davis (suffice it to say that the post in question received substantial traffic with the politician in question ran for office and lost).

In short, these are issues of historical accuracy, not political correctness. We conclude that either the critic is incompetent or dishonest. Which is the case, and why that’s the case, we leave to others to decide.

We do notice, however, that while the critic is loud about the supposed faults of others, we have yet to see any commentary on the critic’s blog about the historical shortcomings of his heroes. I bet you didn’t know that there were twelve articles in the Constitution, although Donald Trump (another not-so-well-informed foe of political correctness) says he will defend Article Twelve. And we are surprised that a man who wants to share with us how well a certain Confederate general treated his slaves had nothing to say when Bill O’Reilly asserted that the slaves who helped build the White House were treated rather well. But does our critic note such lapses? No. He’s practicing his own form of political correctness, I guess.

In short, someone who complains that certain blogs are partisan forums without admitting that his blog is indeed slanted for political and philosophical reasons is something of a hypocrite who lacks integrity. But did we really expect anything else?

Talk about “virtue-signalling.”

We admit, however, that we are amused to hear that this blog and other blogs are “nauseating” for this poor critic. We suggest that the best remedy for this particular reaction is to cease reading such blogs. Exercise some self control, please. As for me, I find such whiny rants amusing. I have indeed struck a nerve, and, it appears, more. To point out someone’s incompetence, hypocrisy, dishonesty, and lack of integrity is to fill an empty net with pucks. But whenever I come across such tripe, I’m reminded of this:

Lighten up, Francis.

PS: Yes, we expect to hear from the offended party that he’s endeavoring to prepare a forthcoming reply. Invariably these promises are never fulfilled. That was the case a few weeks ago with another blog, and it’s been the case with me several times.

 

A President Thanks Soldiers for their Service: October 10, 1865

On October 10, 1865, Andrew Johnson greeted members of the First District of Columbia Colored Regiment on the grounds of the White House. He wanted to thank them for their service, and give them some advice now that the war was over and they would be leaving military service.

You do understand, no doubt, and it you do not, you cannot understand too soon, that simple liberty does not mean the privilege of going into the battle-field, or into the service of the country as a soldier. It means other things as well; and now, when you have laid down your arms, there are other objects of equal importance before you. Now that the government has triumphantly passed through this rebellion, after the most gigantic battles the world ever saw, the problem is before you, and it is best that you should understand it; and, therefore, I speak simply and plainly. Will you now, when you have returned from the army of the United States, and take the position of the citizen; when you have returned to the associations of peace, will you give evidence to the world that you are capable and competent to govern yourselves? That is what you will have to do.

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Frederick Douglass Pays Tribute to A Flawed Hero: Abraham Lincoln

emancipation_memorial

On April 14, 1876, prominent Americans, led by President Ulysses S. Grant, gathered to dedicate a monument that tells a story that we today do not entirely accept: an image of Abraham Lincoln freeing a representative slave, who (depending on one’s point of view) is rising or kneeling (note, however, the clenched right fist). Among those who offered a somewhat dissenting point of view was Frederick Doulgass. You may find his complete remarks here.

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Even More Ranting …

Several readers of this blog have drawn my attention to yet another rant about me from an unhappy fellow blogger.

Brooks Simpson is a paragon for an underlying fault among many academic historians identified by Harvard’s Gordon Wood that might explain why Simpson thinks publishers have been “duped” into issuing my books and articles:

… many historians have become obsessed with inequality and white privilege in American society. And this obsession has seriously affected the writing of American history. The inequalities of race and gender now permeate much of academic history-writing, so much so that the general reading public that wants to learn about the whole of our nation’s past has had to turn to history books written by nonacademics who have no Ph.D.s and are not involved in the incestuous conversations of the academic scholars.

Really?

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Research Exercises: Winslow Homer’s Watching the Shot

homer watching the shot

Poking around the internet at the convergence of two of my research interests … Winslow Homer and the 5th New York Infantry … along with a Facebook post from Diane Monroe Smith, brought me to a rather interesting website which explores one of Homer’s lesser-known works, “Watching the Shot.”

I have reason to doubt that this painting combines all the elements claimed by the researcher. The mention of Antietam seems a distraction, for bridges at Antietam look far different. Nor would one easily recall an action where Francis C. Barlow and the 5th New York were in close proximity. Indeed, let’s set Antietam aside: the 5th New York was in reserve at Antietam behind Middle Bridge, still recovering from the devastating losses it suffered at Second Manassas. Nor do I think this piece portrays High Bridge in Virginia: that’s a much higher bridge than offered here, and of course the 5th New York was not present at a battle that took place some 23 months after the regiment went home. But maybe someone here has a different opinion or a better one. In any case, enjoy.