As Jeff, Jen, and I move ever closer to commencement, we want to take a moment to reflect on our time as Civil War Institute fellows. We have been part of this fellows program for three years and spent countless hours researching topics we are passionate about, engaging with the Civil War community, and creating an active academic atmosphere for our fellow budding historians. Our time at Gettysburg may be coming to an end, but the experiences we have had here will continue to shape our futures. Here is what the CWI fellowship means to us:
My involvement with the CWI began the day after my high school graduation when I attended the Summer Conference as a scholarship student. Though I was not necessarily a Civil War buff at the time, I knew at that moment that I wanted to get more involved with the Institute. I began a Fellowship and have enjoyed every minute of it, from researching and writing blogs to becoming the social media coordinator. Being a CWI Fellow has brought me so many opportunities, not only to enhance my academic experience, but also to meet the wonderful staff at the CWI. The Civil War Institute has greatly shaped by experience at Gettysburg, and I am so grateful for my time here. – Jen Simone
The first time I learned the story of the Bryan family and their Gettysburg farm was when I read Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Between the World and Me. For Coates, there was something poetic about the fact that the climax of the Civil War’s bloodiest and most well-known battle—a moment forever enshrined in Confederate memory thanks to the likes of William Faulkner and Ted Turner—occurred on land owned by a free black man and his family. Pickett’s Charge—the greatest symbol of Confederate martial honor in the Civil War canon—had been repulsed on property that represented so much of what its participants fought to prevent: freedom, prosperity, and dignity enjoyed by African Americans.
Last week, the Gettysburg College Africana Studies and Economics Departments sponsored the 12th annual Derrick K. Gondwe Memorial Lecture on Social and Economic Justice. This year’s lecture featured Dr. Edward E. Baptist, a Durham, North Carolina native currently teaching in the History Department at Cornell University. His lecture, “White Predators: Hunting African Americans For Profit, From the 1793 Fugitive Slave Act to Lee’s 1863 Invasion of Pennsylvania,” painted the picture of a centuries-long instinct among white Americans to police black Americans.
The Civil War Institute Fellows are back with replenished ranks for the 2017-18 academic year. This year, our veteran writers will be joined by green troops eagerly waiting to “see the elephant.” Armed with notebooks, libraries, and word processors, they stand united in line of battle to engage the history around them.
The Gettysburg Compiler remains the flagship of the fellowship, offering students the opportunity to showcase their hard work for the greater public. In the coming weeks and months, expect to see the Fellows tackle the past and present in new and exciting ways. As before, Fellows will share stories from the past, covering topics such as civilian life, slavery, and war and incorporating themes such as race, gender, and memory. The Fellows will be digging deep into the annals of history, examining eyewitness accounts of the often chaotic past and analyzing the ways in which people have engaged with their own versions of history. The Fellows are also keenly aware of their own place in history, so be sure to look out for their ruminations on the “living” history.
While many minority groups have had their contributions and accomplishments during the Civil War recognized, one group of Americans has received little attention. Muslim Americans are rarely the focus of Civil War scholars and are typically viewed as a demographic relevant only to more modern history. This should not be the case. In fact, Muslim Americans have served in virtually every armed conflict in United States history and left their mark on every era, including the Civil War. A simple search using the Civil War Soldiers and Sailors System (CWSS) reveals several names associated with Islam, including two Mahomets, two Hasans, three Rahmans, three Alis, 17 Saids, and 58 Hassans. In his Muslim Veterans of American Wars, Amir N. Muhammad theorized that as many as 292 Muslim last names appear in muster roles. Additionally, as many as 15% of African slaves brought to America are believed to have practiced Islam. While these summary statistics provide an overview of the scope of Muslim American involvement in the Civil War Era, their personal stories truly show their importance in shaping America.
Hajji Ali, an Ottoman camel driver, landed in Indianola, Texas aboard the USS Supply in 1856. Recruited by the U.S. government, he was to take part in one of the oddest military experiments in the pre-Civil War Era. A year earlier, Secretary of War Jefferson Davis convinced Congress to create the Camel Military Corps to patrol the newly acquired lands in the desert Southwest. When the camels arrived from the Ottoman Empire, they were met with awe and amazement from locals. The U.S. soldiers assigned to the new Camel Corps were equally bewildered and were unable to manage the exotic beasts. Enter Hajji Ali, nicknamed Hi Jolly by his American comrades. The first mission for the camels was to bring Lt. Edward Beale on an expedition searching for a possible Southern route for the transcontinental railroad. Sadly, and indeed ironically given the mastermind behind the creation of the Corps, the Civil War dashed any hopes for the future of the Camel Corps. Hi Jolly lived on, and became a local legend along with the dozens of camels that roamed the Southwest for years. Continue reading “Profiles in Patriotism: Muslims and the Civil War”
On January 20, 2017, Chief Justice John Roberts administered the presidential oath of office to Donald Trump, making him the 45th President of the United States. Many Americans have variously perceived his election as “unprecedented,” “revolutionary,” and “terrifying.” Some historians found the turn of events leading up to and including Trump’s election to be rather familiar. In November, the Huffington Post ran a story titled “It Feels Like the Fall of Reconstruction.” In it, University of Connecticut professor Manisha Sinha outlined the parallels between 1877 and 2016. On Facebook, I have seen many of my liberal friends weigh in with similar analyses. This evaluation is misguided. To compare the rise of Trump to the end of Reconstruction is to undermine the chaos, violence, and widespread racial ambivalence that defined the Gilded Age.
In a broad scope, it is not difficult to see some similarities. By and large, the end of Reconstruction was brought about by rising indifference among white liberal Republicans toward continuing Reconstruction. Support for federal occupation of the South was growing stale ten years after Appomattox, and economic woes in 1873 distracted many business-minded Republicans from continuing to advocate for black civil rights in the South. In the election of Trump, perhaps we can see a parallel in many white voters’ ambivalence to candidate Trump’s pejorative statements on women, people of color, Muslims, and queer Americans as well as his prospective policies that would harm these groups. The majority of Trump voters likely did not vote for Trump because of these statements or policies, but they were at least indifferent enough toward them to vote for him anyway. Continue reading “No, Trump’s Election Does Not “Feel Like the Fall of Reconstruction””
Jeff: On November 6, the small town of Gettysburg will be swarmed by runners during the first ever Gettysburg Battlefield Marathon. The event has provoked heated discussion from many in the Civil War community, bringing up many questions regarding the use of our most hallowed grounds for recreational use. In this post, Matt and I will engage in a back and forth conversation about the concerns and advantages of the race. I’d like to begin by noting that the views that we each express in this piece may not necessarily be our own and that we may merely be bringing them up to contribute to the conversation surrounding the marathon.
My first concern about the marathon is an obvious one. The Gettysburg battlefield was the site of unspeakable horror and suffering. Is it appropriate that this sacred space be used for “fun” activities like a marathon? Runners will cross areas whose names have been immortalized for pain, agony, and death: McPherson’s Ridge, Little Round Top, the Wheatfield, the Angle. Few would view a marathon through the hallowed ground at Arlington National Cemetery as appropriate. Indeed, the Gettysburg marathon itself avoids the Soldiers’ National Cemetery. However, the Gettysburg battlefield is likely still a final resting place for hundreds of soldiers, so in reality, a marathon running through the battlefield is itself a marathon running in a massive cemetery. The battlefield was preserved as a memorial to those who fell. It should not now be trampled on by hundreds of runners in a spectacle marathon.
Matt: Well, Jeff, your point about the space’s sacredness is certainly well taken. However, I think the underlying question here may be what kinds of history we choose to preserve and commemorate, and why. No one can deny the world is an old and embattled place. Recognizing this begs serious questions of our traditional efforts at memorializing loss and sacrifice. First, what metrics determine what sufferings are legitimately worth remembering? For example, people the world over clearly feel a duty to remember their soldiers, but what about the civilian dead? Wars almost always cost more civilian than combatant lives, but the public’s imagination almost always centers on soldiers. Indeed, the ongoing scholarly debate as to the specific ratio is a testament to not just how overwhelming the reality of civilian deaths is, but also how little we like to think about this particularly senseless aspect of human conflict. Bringing civilians into the mix robs war of what glory it had, as one man’s honorable sacrifice is undone by a child’s meaningless slaughter. It becomes a story few really want to hear, and a serious problem for historical interpretation. And yet this is a key part of war’s story. Continue reading “Point/Counterpoint: The Gettysburg Battlefield Marathon”
A few weeks ago one of our readers posted a comment on one of our blog posts asking for a “best guess” as to when slavery would have ended in the South had the Confederacy been successful in winning its independence. There is, of course, no easy answer to this question, as counter-factual history is just that: not factual. However, the question is an important one that deserves attention and at the very least can be used to explore some ways in which slavery can be contextualized in the Civil War era.
The Confederacy was founded on the idea of preserving the institution of slavery. The short-lived nation’s need for slavery was economic as well as social. Economically, the South depended on an agrarian economy driven chiefly by cotton production. Cotton, a very labor-intensive crop, required large labor forces to produce. Consequently, profit margins depended on decreasing the cost of labor. Therefore, cotton’s profitability–and thus the economy of the South–benefited immensely from slavery. A change in the workforce would have severely disrupted the status quo. Poor Southerners, who may not have owned slaves, also saw the economic trickle-down effects of slavery: wealthy planters required food, tools, and other goods to keep the system of slavery running, and of these supplies would be supplied by yeomen farmers and craftsmen. As a result, many white Southerners who were neither wealthy nor owned slaves were also economically invested in the institution of slavery.
This post is part of a series featuring behind-the-scenes dispatches from our Pohanka Interns on the front lines of history this summer as interpreters, archivists, and preservationists. See here for the introduction to the series.
For the past ten weeks or so, I have been interning at Richmond National Battlefield Park. The experience has been like no other. I began the summer with a few goals. First, I wanted to see if working for the National Park Service was everything that my fellow park geeks said it was. Second, I wanted to enrich my understanding of the Civil War by focusing my study on one particular community’s experience in the Civil War (Richmond). Third, as a born-and-raised New Englander, I wanted to see what it was like to spend a summer in Dixie. Finally, I wanted to have fun. I am happy to say that all four goals were achieved.
At first, I was skeptical that I would end the summer as excited about the National Park Service as I was when the summer began. I thought that perhaps the rusticity of park housing, the endless government forms, and the sheer difficulty of some visitors would run me down and pop my balloon of excitement. Luckily, I was proven wrong. While all of these could at times impede my excitement, there were plenty of highlights to keep me going. Somehow, the joy on a newly inducted Junior Ranger’s face or a visitor who just found out where their ancestor had fought made the lack of quality Wi-Fi in seasonal quarters and the long distance from home worth it. Working with the Park’s social media also allowed me to combine my passion for the Park Service and history with my love of Instagram and Facebook. Best of all, I was able to get some experience in running a professional Instagram and Facebook page – a job skill that I am sure will pay off in the not-so-distant future. Finally, I was able to fulfill my dream of becoming a drummer boy by borrowing the park’s period drum and putting together a fife and drum presentation with a ranger who happened to be a fifer. While I know that I only got a glimpse of what it is like to work for the National Park Service, from what I could observe it definitely seems like the career for me. Continue reading “A Connecticut Yankee in Jeff Davis’s Court”
Click the play button below in order to listen to “This Month in Civil War History.” You can also scroll down to read through the transcript if you would prefer to read it. This report is also airing on WZBT 91.1 FM throughout this month. Thanks to WZBT for their help in producing this piece.