The Poor Man’s Fight: Mercenary Soldiers in the Civil War: An Interview with William Marvel

By Ashley Whitehead Luskey

Over the course of this year, we’ll be interviewing some of the speakers from the upcoming

marvel
William Marvel. Image courtesy of the Conway Historical Society

2018 CWI conference  about their talks. Today we are speaking with William Marvel, an independent scholar of mid-19th-century American History. Marvel is the author of eighteen books, including most recently, Lincoln’s Mercenaries: Economic Motivation among Union Soldiers, which is due for release by LSU Press in the early fall of 2018. Some of Marvel’s additional publications include: Lincoln’s Autocrat: The Life of Edwin Stanton (UNC Press, 2015), A Place Called Appomattox (UNC Press, 2000), and Andersonville: The Last Depot (UNC Press, 1994), for which he won a Lincoln Prize, the Douglas Southall Freeman History Award, and the Malcolm and Muriel Barrow Bell Award. He has also written a four-volume history of the Civil War that was published by Houghton Mifflin between 2006 and 2011. Mr. Marvel is currently working on a biography of Fitz John Porter.

Continue reading “The Poor Man’s Fight: Mercenary Soldiers in the Civil War: An Interview with William Marvel”

“Rebellion in the Ranks”: Desertion and the United States Colored Troops: An Interview with Jonathan Lande

By Ashley Whitehead Luskey

Over the course of this year, we’ll be interviewing some of the speakers from the upcoming

Lande headshot
Jonathan Lande Image courtesy of the Lapidus Center for the Historical Analysis of Transatlantic Slavery

2018 CWI conference  about their talks. Today we are speaking with Jonathan Lande, a doctoral candidate in History at Brown University, where he was the 2016 Peter Green Scholar.  Jonathan teaches courses in American and African American history at Tougaloo College as the 2017-2018 Brown-Tougaloo Exchange Faculty Fellow.  His current project, “Rebellion in the Ranks,” examines the desertion, mutiny, and courts-martial trials of former slaves serving in the Union army. Looking at African American soldiers who found military service offensive to their visions of freedom, “Rebellion in the Ranks” traces the resistance of African American soldiers and remaps the process of emancipation in the Union army. A portion of his research entitled “Trials of Freedom” appeared in the Journal of Social History.   The African American Intellectual History Society blog, Black Perspectives, also featured a guest posting from Jonathan on desertion and black military service.  He is the recipient of the William F. Holmes Award from the Southern Historical Association and the Du Bois-Wells Award from the African American Intellectual History Society.

Continue reading ““Rebellion in the Ranks”: Desertion and the United States Colored Troops: An Interview with Jonathan Lande”

“Let Us Stand or Fall Together”: Hood’s Texas Brigade: An interview with Dr. Susannah Ural

By Ashley Whitehead Luskey

Over the course of this year, we’ll be interviewing some of the speakers from the upcoming

ural 2
Susannah Ural. Image courtesy of the University of Southern Mississippi

2018 CWI conference  about their talks. Today we are speaking with Dr. Susannah Ural, Professor of History and Co-Director of the Dale Center for the Study of War & Society at the University of Southern Mississippi. A military historian and scholar of war and society, Ural’s work focuses on the experiences of soldiers and families in the U.S. Civil War era. She is the author of several books, including Don’t Hurry Me Down to Hades: The Civil War in the Words of Those Who Lives It (Osprey Publishing, 2013) and most recently, Hood’s Texas Brigade: The Soldiers and Families of the Confederacy’s Most Celebrated Unit (LSU Press, November, 2017). Ural serves as President of the Mississippi Historical Society and as chair of the editorial board of The Journal of Military History.  She and her students are currently completing a study of Beauvoir, Mississippi’s Confederate Home for veterans, wives, and widows.  Ural’s next project will focus on Mississippi in the Civil War era.

Continue reading ““Let Us Stand or Fall Together”: Hood’s Texas Brigade: An interview with Dr. Susannah Ural”

Waging Just Warfare During America’s Civil War: An Interview With Dr. D.H. Dilbeck

By Ashley Whitehead Luskey

dh-dilbeck
Image courtesy of Bill Pope and Oklahoma Baptist University

Over the course of this year, we’ll be interviewing some of the speakers from the upcoming 2018 CWI conference  about their talks. Today we are speaking with Dr. D.H. Dilbeck, an historian of 19th-century American legal and religious history. Dr. Dilbeck received his Ph.D. in American History from the University of Virginia. His first book, A More Civil War: How the Union Waged a Just War (UNC Press, 2016), was a finalist for the Gilder-Lehrman Lincoln Prize.  His most recent book, Frederick Douglass: America’s Prophet is forthcoming from UNC Press in 2018.  A former Assistant Professor of History at Oklahoma Baptist University, Dr. Dilbeck is currently pursuing his J.D. at Yale Law School.

CWI: How did nineteenth-century Americans define what it meant to wage a “just war?” Were there any noticeable differences between Union and Confederate conceptions of “just warfare?”

Dilbeck: Civil War Americans disagreed about what it meant to wage a just war—at times, quite bitterly. Still, the prevailing fundamental principles of “just warfare” in nineteenth-century America appear in two articles in the Union’s 1863 code of military conduct (known informally as the Lieber Code). First: “The more vigorously wars are pursued, the better it is for humanity. Sharp wars are brief.” The idea here is that the most humane and just thing to do in a war is to end it as quickly as possible—even if that means resorting to “vigorous” means. (For a 20th-century parallel, think of America’s use of the Atomic bomb at the end of World War II). Second: “Men who take up arms against one another in public war do not cease on this account to be moral beings, responsible to one another and to God.” The point here being that limitations on warfare must remain even in the “vigorously” waged war. Many Confederates would have generally agreed with these ideas. But the real challenge—and source of controversy—came in translating those broad principles into concrete military policies, strategies, and tactics.

Continue reading “Waging Just Warfare During America’s Civil War: An Interview With Dr. D.H. Dilbeck”

Toward the Age of Peoples’ War: The Civil War to World War I

neiberg
Image courtesy of the U.S. Army War College

By Ashley Whitehead Luskey

Over the course of this year, we’ll be interviewing some of the speakers from the upcoming 2017 CWI conference about their talks. Today we are speaking with Dr. Michael Neiberg, the newly appointed, inaugural Chair of War Studies at the U.S. Army War College in Carlisle, PA.  An internationally recognized historian of World Wars I and II, Dr. Neiberg formerly served as the Henry L. Stinson Chair of History in the Department of National Security and Strategy at the U.S. Army War College.  His scholarship focuses on the American and French experiences in the two world wars and seeks to make the history of warfare and international relations relevant to policy makers and practitioners.  He is the author of numerous monographs, including Dance of the Furies: Europe and the Outbreak of World War I (Harvard University Press, 2011, named by the Wall Street Journal as one of the top five best books ever written about the war) and Potsdam: The End of World War II and the Remaking of Europe (Basic Books, 2015).  His most recent work, The Path to War: How the First World War Created Modern America, was published by Oxford University Press in 2016.

CWI:  How did warfare change (militarily, politically, and/or culturally) between the American Civil War and World War I?  What were the impacts of those changes on the respective home fronts?

NEIBERG:  The biggest change involved the industrialization of war, which enabled exponential expansion in the scale and scope of war. I think one of the biggest impacts of this slow, evolutionary change was that most people on the home front didn’t see it happening. Thus when the battles of 1914 produced exponentially higher casualties, home fronts were both stunned by the price of war and insistent that their governments achieve something worthy of that cost. Continue reading “Toward the Age of Peoples’ War: The Civil War to World War I”

Reassessing Braxton Bragg with Earl Hess

hess
Image courtesy of Lincoln Memorial University.

By Ashley Whitehead Luskey

Over the course of this year, we’ll be interviewing some of the speakers from the upcoming 2017 CWI conference about their talks. Today we are speaking with Dr. Earl Hess. Dr. Hess is the Stewart W. McClelland Chair in History at Lincoln Memorial University, where he teaches courses on the American Civil War, American military history, and the life and times of Abraham Lincoln.  He is the author of more than 20 books, over 30 articles, and more than 100 book reviews for academic history journals.  His most recent book is Braxton Bragg: The Most Hated Man of the Confederacy (UNC Press, 2016).

CWI:  How did Braxton Bragg’s contemporaries view his prowess as a general? What impact did Bragg’s critics have on him, both personally and professionally?

HESS:  The opinion of Bragg’s contemporaries proved to be one of his major and unsolvable problems. Newspaper editors tended to be excessively critical; many of his subordinate generals were recalcitrant and had no faith in his leadership. But, ironically, most Federal generals admired Bragg’s generalship, a handful of newspaper editors supported him, and many of his own generals retained an admiration for and a faith in him. Unfortunately, Bragg’s enemies were very vocal and his friends tended to be pretty quiet.

Historians had always portrayed Bragg as the instigator or the target of criticism and abuse, but have not been fair in assessing how the negative opinions of others affected Bragg’s own mind and morale. The truth was that the lack of faith in his plans among key subordinates dealt a devastating blow to Bragg’s self-confidence and his ability to command the Army of Tennessee. Some of his best-laid plans were spoiled by lack of cooperation. Continue reading “Reassessing Braxton Bragg with Earl Hess”

Confederate Women and Union Soldiers in Sherman’s March to the Sea

frank-1By Ashley Whitehead Luskey

Over the course of this year, we’ll be interviewing some of the speakers from the upcoming 2017 CWI conference about their talks. Today we are speaking with Dr. Lisa Tendrich Frank, an independent historian, editor, and writer on issues related to the American Civil War and American women.  She received her PhD from the University of Florida and has taught at universities and colleges across the U.S.  Dr. Frank is the author and editor of several books and articles on women’s and American military history, including The Civilian War: Confederate Women and Union Soldiers During Sherman’s March (LSU Press, 2015); The World of the Civil War: A Daily Life Encyclopedia (Greenwood Press, 2015); and “Bedrooms as Battlefields: The Role of Gender Politics in Sherman’s March,” (in Alecia P. Long’s and LeeAnn Whites’s edited collection, Occupied Women: Gender, Military Occupation, and the American Civil War, LSU Press, 2009).  She has also worked as a consultant for various non-profits and as a public lecturer.

CWI:  What was the nature of the interactions between General Sherman’s army and Confederate women during the infamous March to the Sea?

FRANK:  The interactions between Union men and Confederate women were incredibly gendered throughout the march through Georgia and the Carolinas. As a result, physical confrontations were rare. Instead, Union soldiers and Confederate women traded verbal barbs and largely fought over feminine material possessions. Union soldiers frequently entered and ransacked homes occupied by the region’s most privileged women, entered their bedrooms and parlors, and then seized various domestic treasures. Soldiers destroyed and stole an endless list of items that had no military value but instead struck at the heart of femininity and included wedding gowns, lingerie, sheet music, personal diaries, artwork, jewelry, and pianos. Continue reading “Confederate Women and Union Soldiers in Sherman’s March to the Sea”

Citizen-Officers: The Junior Officer Corps: A Chat with Historian Andrew Bledsoe

bledsoe
Image courtesy of Andrew Bledsoe.

By Ashley Whitehead Luskey

Over the course of this year, we’ll be interviewing some of the speakers from the upcoming 2017 CWI conference about their talks. Today we are speaking with Dr. Andrew Bledsoe.  Dr. Bledsoe is an Assistant Professor of History at Lee University, where he teaches classes on the Civil War and American military history.  He is the author of numerous works on military leadership, citizen-soldiers, and the American military tradition, including Citizen-Officers: The Union and Confederate Volunteer Junior Officer Corps in the American Civil War (LSU Press, 2015), and “The Destruction of the Army of Tennessee’s Officer Corps at the Battle of Franklin,” (in Steven Woodworth’s and Charles Grear’s co-edited volume, The Tennessee Campaign of 1864, Southern Illinois University Press, 2016).

CWI: How did most junior officers attain their ranks during the Civil War?  Who comprised the junior officer corps?  Were there notable differences between the Union and Confederate junior officer corps?

BLEDSOE: There were typically three paths to a junior officer’s commission. Early on, the most common method was through the notorious election process, where volunteers chose their company and regimental officers by ballot. The election of officers seems peculiar to modern Americans, because we have become accustomed to the idea of a professional officer corps. For citizen-soldiers in the 19th century, however, officer elections had a long history rooted in the American militia ethos, and were an important prerogative of the republicanism that informed their military service. Junior officers could also attain their ranks by appointment, either currying favor through patronage or “wire-pulling,” or simply because of some demonstration of natural ability or merit. Finally, as the war dragged on and casualties and promotions mounted, experienced enlisted men were sometimes the recipients of battlefield commissions, or were able to secure commissions in USCT regiments.

bledsoe2
Union officers with black soldiers in the background. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress

Continue reading “Citizen-Officers: The Junior Officer Corps: A Chat with Historian Andrew Bledsoe”

Soldiers’ Dreams with Jonathan White

white1By Ashley Whitehead Luskey

Over the course of this year, we’ll be interviewing some of the speakers from the upcoming 2017 CWI conference about their talks. Today we are speaking with Dr. Jonathan White, Associate Professor of American Studies and the Senior Fellow at the Center for American Studies at Christopher Newport University.  His research interests focus on the U.S. Constitution, the American Civil War, and treason in American history.  He has authored, co-authored, and co-edited numerous books and articles for both scholarly journals and popular magazines.  His most recent works include Emancipation, the Union Army, and the Reelection of Abraham Lincoln (LSU Press, 2014, winner of the 2015 Abraham Lincoln Book Prize, and finalist for both the 2014 Jefferson Davis Prize and the 2015 Gilder Lehrman Lincoln Prize); “Our Little Monitor”: The Greatest Invention of the Civil War (co-authored with Anna Gibson Holloway, forthcoming, 2017); and Midnight in America: Darkness, Sleep and Dreams during the Civil War (forthcoming, 2017).  He is currently at work on a new book project entitled Abraham Lincoln and the Slave Trade.

CWI:  What did dreams mean to Civil War-era Americans?  What did their dreams reveal about their experiences during the war?

WHITE:  Many Americans who lived through the Civil War were captivated by their dream lives.  They recorded them in letters and diaries.  Some even recalled them years later in memoirs and regimental histories.  They wrote them down, I think, because they recognized that their dreams revealed something about who they were and how they experienced this tumultuous period.  Some believed that their dreams were signs from God.  For that reason they could find comfort in them–even when they were dreams that portended death or other harm.

white2
Currier & Ives,“The Soldier’s Dream of Home,” 1862, in Harper’s Weekly. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Continue reading “Soldiers’ Dreams with Jonathan White”

The Confederate Flag in History, Memory, and Public Culture: Three Questions for John Coski

coski1
Image courtesy of Janet Greentree and the Bull Run Civil War Round Table.

By Ashley Whitehead Luskey

This post is part of our series of interviews with speakers from the upcoming 2017 CWI conference about their talks. It also intersects with our new bimonthly series on the Confederate flag in history in memory, which you can read by starting here

Today we are speaking with Dr. John Coski, the Historian of the American Civil War Museum in Richmond, Virginia.  Prior to 2014, he served as the Historian of The Museum of the Confederacy, where he had worked in various capacities since 1988, and was the editor and principal writer of the museum’s quarterly magazine. He is the author of several books, most notably The Confederate Battle Flag: America’s Most Embattled Emblem (Harvard University Press, 2005) and Capital Navy: The Men, Ships, and Operations of the James River Squadron (Savas Beatie, 1996), and more than 125 essays, articles, and reviews.  A leading authority on the history of the Confederate flag, he has lectured widely on Civil War topics and participated in many academic conferences and community discussions about Confederate symbols and controversies.

CWI:  What specific aspects of the Confederate flag and its history will you be focusing on in your upcoming talk?  What are some of the most common perceptions and/or misconceptions about the Confederate flag?

COSKI:  Not to be too evasive about this, the specific emphasis of my talk will depend on the current events that are shaping discussion of the flag as of June 2017. In the 28 years that I’ve been studying the flag, it has never not been in the news.  Assuming that the debates and actions that followed the June 2015 Charleston murders are still fresh in everyone’s minds next year, I will try to put what happened in the wake of Charleston into a larger historical context.

The most common misperception about the flag is that there’s only one (legitimate) perception of its meaning.  Even if someone believes fervently that her own perception of the flag is the only correct one, she quickly realizes that not everyone shares that perception. How she – and how we all – react to that realization is the essence of our modern discussions about the flag. Continue reading “The Confederate Flag in History, Memory, and Public Culture: Three Questions for John Coski”