#CWI2017: Tours and the End

By Kevin Lavery ’16

Assistant Director’s Log, Star Date 006:  

Wow. Just wow. What a week it has been. It’s all over now. The last conference attendee boarded his shuttle a few hours ago and almost all of the missing keys have been located. I’m about to head home for the evening, but first I wanted to share some details about the last few days of the conference.

My energy held up fairly well all weekend, but I’ll be the first to admit that Monday did a number on me. But the heat wave was no match for our guests’ enthusiasm during their tours through Mosby’s Confederacy with Dennis Frye and Richard Gillespie, at Cedar Mountain with Greg Mertz, Antietam with Carol Reardon and Tom Vossler, Gettysburg with Brooks Simpson, and Mine Run with Eric Mink. I myself was on the Chancellorsville Staff Ride with Christian Keller from the Army War College. Although it was hot, most folks knew their limits and enjoyed the tour without pushing themselves beyond their limits. Monday was certainly a very full, very interesting day.

NPS Ranger Chris Gwinn concludes his battlefield tour on the campus of Gettysburg College. Photo by the author.

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#CWI2017: Lectures and Round Tables Galore

By Kevin Lavery ’16

Assistant Director’s Log, Star Date 002:  

We’re in full swing here at our summer conference. Bright and early this morning, Michael Birkner and John Quist kicked off our first full day with their lecture on James Buchanan and the Coming of the Civil War. John Marszalek followed on Henry Halleck, prompting lecturer and tour guide Brooks Simpson to observe that we scheduled talks two of the most unpopular men in American history back-to-back. It wasn’t a coicidence–certain themes carried over between the talks regarding how we think about unpopular figures. Our morning sessions concluded with Pulitzer Prize-winning historian T. J. Stiles discussing the life of George Armstrong Custer and the world he inhabited.

After lunch, we began our concurrent sessions with Earl Hess on Braxton Bragg, Brian Luskey on Bounty Men in the Union Army, and Kenneth Noe on late-enlisters in the Confederate Army. Rachel Shelden gave a popular talk on the culture of Civil War era Washington politics, while Fiona Deans Halloran spoke on Thomas Nast, the original American political satirist.

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#CWI2017: The Adventure Begins

Interim Assistant Director Kevin Lavery ’16 reports on the first day of the 2017 Summer Conference.

By Kevin Lavery ’16

Assistant Director’s Log, Star Date 001:  

It has begun. This afternoon, hundreds of cargo-short-clad Civil War aficionados descended upon the campus of Gettysburg College. Joined by public and academic historians, they are friends old and new who together make up the “student body” of the Civil War Institute’s Annual Summer Conference.

The moment the clock stuck noon, we were flanked by guests eager to sign-in and receive their free #swagbags. After Director Peter Carmichael welcomed the audience, the program opened with Dr. Martin Johnson’s talk on the Gettysburg Address. Following dinner, WWI & WWII historian Dr. Michael Neiberg discussed the features of total war and how to make sense of how nations operate in war time. Dr. Carmichael then sat down with esteemed Lincoln scholar Harold Holzer for a wide-ranging conversation touching on everything from Lincoln to Confederate imagery. We ended the night with our annual ice cream social, made possible by the fine folks at Mr. G’s Ice Cream.

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Star Wars, Syria, and Our Civil War: Bearing Witness to Atrocity and Suffering

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Courtesy of Wookipedia.

By Kevin Lavery ’16

Bear with me on this one. We will eventually come to how the American Civil War ties into this conversation, but I have a lot of other things to talk about first. And I should also warn:  minor spoilers ahead.

I was moved to silence after seeing Rogue One, the first spin-off film of the Star Wars franchise. Even now, tears creep into my eyes as I remember how it shook me. I had heard reviews claiming that it was the first Star Wars movie to put the cost of war at the center of the narrative. I hadn’t expected it to be so true.

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Ten Weeks at Manassas

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.

By Kevin Lavery ’16

My heart was pounding, my breath was shallow, and I wanted nothing more than to begin so that it would all be over sooner.

No, I was not preparing to jump from a plane. Nothing so dramatic. I was preparing myself to give a tour of Henry Hill detailing the position’s salient importance in the First Battle of Manassas.

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The Bull Run Monument on Henry Hill. Photo via Wikimedia Commons (Manassas NBP).

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Yonder Stands Jackson Beyond Reproach

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.

By Kevin Lavery ‘16

Yonder, he stands, a lone sentinel of stone amidst the fallow fields of Henry Hill. Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, his nom de guerre earned here on the fields of First Manassas, rides tall in the saddle of his steed. The statue’s commanding presence on Henry Hill anchors a memory of that battle that emphasizes the triumph of Jackson, his brigade, and the Confederate army in the defense of Southern soil. It is an embodiment of idealized notions of Southern courage, honor, and martial spirit. At the same time, the monument serves to depoliticize Jackson and the Confederate war effort—yet in doing so, specifically projects its own politicized memory of the war that delegitimizes what the conflict meant to so many people.

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Photo credit Ryan Bilger

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Understanding the Civil War and Its Place in the American Mind

By Kevin Lavery ‘16

Perhaps it is because I have spent so much time with people for whom the Civil War is a life choice, but I confess, there are times when I wonder if we—myself included—sometimes get carried away by our fierce and noble passion for the past. The Civil War is, of course, incredibly important both in its own right and in the long context of American history. But I do wonder if an overly-zealous fascination with the Civil War, especially if it becomes too single-minded, can distract us from other important moments in history, as well as from other types of worthy understandings from other fields of study.

Many people have probably seen that video where college students are unable to say who won the Civil War. A frequent joke among Gettysburg College students is that a surprising number of people in other parts of the country can’t even identify the state where the Battle of Gettysburg was fought. Adequate money cannot be found to preserve historical artifacts, or even to fund social studies education programs. As seriously concerning of those examples are, I’m not willing to criticize those who lack the rich conception of history that I am fortunate to have developed during my time at Gettysburg. I can’t hold anything against someone who doesn’t know as much as I think they should know about the Civil War, not when there are so many things in this world worth knowing.

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Photograph by the author.

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Beyond the Battlefield: The Park That Once Was Stevens’s Furnace

By Kevin Lavery ’16

If you’re a frequent reader of the Compiler, it comes as no news to you that the Gettysburg area is historic for more than just its battlefield. From a pre-war African American community to the World War I tank camp commanded by a young Dwight Eisenhower, Gettysburg has a rich and vibrant history that the time-frozen battlefield, however majestic in its own right, all too often obscures. One of my favorite places in the region, however, is a state park located just fourteen miles west of town. Nestled amidst the ridges of South Mountain, Caledonia State Park stands on land once part of the Caledonia Furnace complex owned by the famed congressman Thaddeus Stevens.

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Evidence abounds of Caledonia’s industrial origins. Photograph by the author.

In the last two years, I have tried whenever possible to get out to the park, which serves as a gateway to some of my favorite hiking trails. The Appalachian Trail runs right through Caledonia, and just north of the park there is a vast network of trails that wind their way through the neighboring Michaux State Forest. Not only is it an excellent park for recreation, but it has a long and storied past that I’ve had the opportunity to explore for the Compiler, redoubling my appreciation for the scenic place. Continue reading “Beyond the Battlefield: The Park That Once Was Stevens’s Furnace”

Lisa Wolfinger, Executive Producer of PBS’s Mercy Street, Talks History and Memory

By Kevin Lavery ’16

This winter, the Gettysburg Compiler will be releasing weekly posts as part of a Mercy Monday feature that will cover issues of medical history, gender and race relations, historical memory, and other themes depicted in the new PBS series Mercy Street.

Recently, I had the opportunity to interview Lisa Wolfinger, the executive producer and co-creator of Mercy Street. She kindly agreed to be interviewed by the Gettysburg Compiler about her work on the series. Wolfinger also participated in a recent conversation on local public radio station WITF’s Smart Talk program alongside the CWI’s Jill Titus and Ian Isherwood. You can hear their discussion online at WITF’s websiteIMG_1754 lisa

Lavery:  What got you interested in working on a historical drama like Mercy Street?

Wolfinger: I majored in European History at Sussex University in England and have always been passionate about history. Fact is often more dramatic than anything we could invent. Early in my filmmaking career I was given the opportunity by History Channel to produce documentary specials about early American history and had little to no visual material to work with. So I had to find a new way to tell these stories within the confines of a documentary format and fell back on what I knew and that was drama. (I was very involved in theater in college.) Continue reading “Lisa Wolfinger, Executive Producer of PBS’s Mercy Street, Talks History and Memory”

The Saint Patrick’s Battalion:  Loyalty, Nativism, and Identity in the Nineteenth Century and Today

By Kevin Lavery ’16

Two decades before the Irish Brigade covered itself with glory, an earlier unit of Irish immigrants had won renown for its service during the Mexican American War. Calling themselves the Saint Patrick’s Battalion, these men marched under a flag of brilliant emerald decorated with Irish motifs: a harp, a shamrock, and the image of Saint Patrick.

Unlike the Irish Brigade, however, the Saint Patrick’s Battalion fought against the U.S. Army. Led by the disgruntled Irish immigrant John Riley, this elite battalion was comprised of roughly two hundred Irish-American deserters who pledged their loyalty to General Santa Anna and the Mexican government. When Los San Patricios were defeated and captured by U.S. forces, fifty-seven deserters were sentenced to hang for their crime.

In American memory, Riley is a traitor, a deserter, and a mercenary. But this summer while exploring County Galway, Ireland, I stumbled upon a monument to his memory given to his hometown by Mexico in recognition of his service. The experience delivered to me some perspective. To pass judgment on Riley and his men, we must understand their times.

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Although surprising to American sensibilities, the people of Mexico gave this monument to Clifden, Co. Galway, in honor of John Riley (or Reilly) for his service as commander of the Saint Patrick’s Battalion. Photograph by the author.

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