Our two senior fellows sit down to reflect on their three years in the program and what it has meant to them.
Ryan – I have had a very busy, enjoyable, and rewarding three years as a Civil War Institute Fellow. My first project involved collaborating on a wayside marker for the Gettysburg battlefield that tells the story of Richard Ewell and his decision not to attack the Union position on Cemetery Hill on the evening of July 1, and from there on forward I knew that I had found a great place to express my academic and personal interests to a wider audience. In the Killed at Gettysburg project, I found an initiative with which I felt a great personal connection, and I am extremely honored to have been granted the opportunity to follow the lives, deaths, and legacies of seven soldiers who died here in Pennsylvania.
My time as a CWI Fellow has greatly assisted in developing the skills I hope to use every day in my future career. I have conducted original research using a variety of sources, forming the proverbial bedrock of my projects. I have learned how to craft interpretive texts to achieve the best possible clarity and force of narrative, both in short and long forms. Additionally, I have learned how to use social media in order to engage wider audiences, and hopefully you have enjoyed the Civil War Institute’s content this year. Overall, I am grateful to the Civil War Institute for all they have given me over the past three years, and I am looking forward to everything that is to come!
Olivia – Lately, as I prepare to graduate and head off into the world, I’ve been taking time to reflect on my time at Gettysburg College. My three years with the CWI Fellows program has been a defining part of that time. During the past three years I have written articles about aspects of history that fascinated me, collaborated with a peer to design a new interpretive wayside for the Virginia monument here on the Gettysburg battlefield, and served as editor-in-chief for the Compiler. Throughout each of these experiences, I’ve learned a lot about writing. Trying to fit 100 years of history about the Virginia monument into 230 words showed me the beauty of language. Although it was frustrating to keep going through the draft of the wayside with the intention of cutting out what I thought were crucial pieces, my partner and I were always inevitably able to condense without losing any ideas by simply choosing better wording. As a writer and editor, I also came to appreciate the value of individual voice. Each one of us who writes for the Compiler has a unique way of telling each of these stories and these differences in storytelling are what brings the pieces to life.
Like Ryan, I know that all the skills and lessons I have learned as a Fellow will carry into my future. I intend to keep telling stories about history, and the encouragement I have received as a fellow (from peers and from readers’ comments) has given me confidence to draw upon. Working with the other Fellows has taught me so much about the Civil War, scholarship, and myself and I can’t wait to channel all of this into my future pursuits.
Private Confederacies: The Emotional Worlds of Southern Men as Citizens and Soldiers
James J. Broomall
For generations, notable scholars such as Gerald Linderman, Reid Mitchell and Joseph Glatthaar, have tried to understand the experience of common Civil War soldiers. With Private Confederacies, James J. Broomall makes a penetrating dive into the emotional world of elite male slaveholders, focusing on how the Civil War, emancipation, and Reconstruction affected their personal lives, emotional expressions, and gender identities. He argues that white Southern men struggled to process their wartime experiences due to societal expectations of male self-restraint. To overcome such expectations regarding their self-expression they created soldier communities that they could rely upon for emotional support and comfort. Using a variety of sources, including letters, diaries, and material culture, Broomall studies both the private and public lives of white Southern men to reconstruct their emotional trajectories throughout the war and into Reconstruction. At its very core, Private Confederacies explores how the shift from national strife to national peace was more than just a national change, as it was a deeply personal and emotional transition for those who experienced it.
Broomall explores the dynamics of the private and public expressions of men who often harbored deep-seated sentiments that were at odds with their outward demeanor. Antebellum Southern men were reared in an honor-based culture that demanded distinct expressions of manliness based on Christian gentility, physical prowess, and self-mastery. In public, men were expected to distance themselves from bursts of emotion and instead show restraint and self-control. These cultural demands for appropriate conduct created boundaries between men and other members of society, which were necessary for maintaining their position at the top of the social order. In private, though, slaveholders were highly emotional and reflective. Broomall emphasizes antebellum diaries as a private place where Southern men could question themselves, interrogate the world around them, and freely express their emotions. However, upon becoming soldiers, these men found themselves ill-equipped to deal with the horrors of war.
With the outbreak of the Civil War, Southern men were thrust into unfamiliar territory which threatened existing social and cultural expectations of manhood and class hierarchy. Men’s pre-conceived notions of heroic action, stoicism, and the “good death” were challenged by the gruesome realities of battle and the seeming randomness of battlefield death, which could destroy men’s bodies, render them emotionally vulnerable before comrades and their subordinates, and potentially undermine their respectability. The randomness of battlefield death and new soldiering lifestyle was exhausting both physically and emotionally for Southern men. To cope with the new experiences of soldiering, Southern men developed new methods of emotional release which reflected a larger breakdown in barriers between their public and private lives. Using a focused study of material culture, Broomall traces men’s changing perceptions of themselves, their emotions, and the world around. When the war started, Confederate soldiers wore homemade uniforms, allowing them to maintain identities as citizens along with their pre-war worldviews. Once those uniforms deteriorated and were replaced by government-issued clothing, men fully recognized themselves as soldiers. This shift in self-identification and mindset made soldiers more willing to work together as a unit and to rely upon each other for emotional support.
Camp life also fostered critical changes in soldiers’ behavior. Camps were public places where men worked within and respected a social hierarchy. However, they also ate, slept, and performed domestic tasks in camp, all of which were aspects of their private lives. The camps, therefore, became a space where soldiers renegotiated their masculinity and created a community reminiscent of familial bonds. Traditional notions of masculinity shifted away from the independence of antebellum days to the interdependence required of a martial unit. These new soldier communities, which were essentially interdependent martial families, gave soldiers a space to reflect on the battles they had gone through, as well as reaffirmed their notions of social hierarchy through differences in rank and the important racial distinctions and bonds derived from the presence of slaves. As southern men found their pre-conceived notions of manhood and war challenged on and off the battlefield, they continued to turn to each other for support and affirmation.
When the war ended and Southern men had to come to grips with defeat and emancipation, many turned back to these martial communities to process their new world. The realities of Reconstruction and military occupation, mixed with the depression of defeat, took an emotional toll on white Southern men. While many adjusted and returned to their position as patriarch of the household, some channeled their emotions into extralegal violence. The soldier communities that had made the Civil War survivable became the underpinnings of paramilitary organizations, like the Ku Klux Klan. Although an extreme group and not representative of all Southern men’s feelings, the KKK tapped into the anger and fear felt by some white Southern men who used violence to assert their manhood in the face of emancipation and defeat, both of which were extremely emasculating for Southern white men who had built their identities upon social inequality and dominance.
Private Confederacies offers an insightful look into the evolution of the emotional worlds of Southern men during the 19th century. Broomall’s book reveals how the Civil War shook the self-identity of Southern males, whose new, tightly knit soldier communities became critical to their survival and their self-understanding during the hardships of the Civil War and its aftermath. Broomall’s book expands our understanding not only of Civil War soldiers but of Southern society in critical ways by revealing the war’s deeply personal impacts that collectively re-shaped southern culture in the postbellum era.
Looming Civil War: How Nineteenth-Century Americans Imagined the Future Jason Phillips
Oxford University Press
In Looming Civil War, Phillips writes about the future, specifically, the one predicted by nineteenth-century Americans in the years preceding the Civil War. Challenging dominant narratives of the war, Phillips argues that nineteenth-century individuals were fully aware of a looming civil war and that many believed it would be a long, bloody, and disastrous conflict, not just a short excursion. As individuals looked to the uncertain future, they all made predictions unique to their race, religion, gender, and location. Some white southern elites saw the looming war as an Armageddon that would destroy civilized society, while abolitionists and slaves saw war as a harbinger of freedom. Phillips seamlessly blends these abstract conceptualizations of war with physical realities by using material culture as his driving impetus, illustrating how nineteenth-century Americans interacted with the physical world in a way that both illustrated and influenced their conceptions of the future.
Phillips begins his book by distinguishing between two distinct ways of understanding the future, or temporalities: Anticipation and expectation. Although the two words are used interchangeably today, Phillips explains that there is a difference between the two that stems from their Latin roots. Anticipation refers to acting on the future, such as buying on credit before actual money is at hand. Expectation is a state of waiting in suspense. Although both terms rely on predictions of the future, they differ in how the individual reacts to the future: Through action or inaction. Those who anticipated the future believed they could influence and shape events through their own active participation. Although Phillips cautions that generalizations about worldviews cannot be universally applied to members within a group, he notes that anticipation was more common amongst white men who were financially independent, like John Brown who anticipated the looming civil war and the emancipation of slaves. Brown believed that the only way to force emancipation was through action, so he killed members of the pro-slavery Doyle family in Kansas and raided Harper’s Ferry in order to help spur mass emancipation. Individuals who expected the future, on the other hand, believed that providence would ensure that events happened according to God’s will. Phillips points to the slaves who expected that Abraham Lincoln’s election as president would eventually lead to their freedom. While some slaves anticipated freedom, and thus ran away to Union lines to guarantee their freedom, others waited in bondage until freedom came to them, thus expecting freedom. As Americans marched towards what many saw as an inevitable conflict, their temporal understanding of the future influenced how they viewed the war and its causes, as well as what they believed the outcome of the war would mean for the nation.
Regardless of whether an individual anticipated or expected the war, their views were equally influenced by the myriad material objects they interacted with on a day-to-day basis. One of the objects Phillip focuses on is the bowie knife. When Henry Clay Pate set out to capture John Brown for the violence he inflicted in Kansas, Pate was carrying a bowie knife with him, a bowie knife which eventually became the possession of John Brown. To Phillips, the presence of the bowie knife was significant. Like many others, Pate acquired his bowie knife when he decided to move to Kansas. The bowie knife was not just a present for his journey, but a symbol of the type of political atmosphere Pate would be entering. Kansas, which was deciding whether to enter the United States as a free or slave state, had become a territory of intimidation. Most men carried bowie knives on their person, both to use in political intimidation and for protection. One Kansas resident told a reporter that a man needed to grab his bowie knife the second he saw another man reach towards his hip.
In one sense, the proliferation of the bowie knife was a reaction to the violent atmosphere in Kansas; however, as illustrated by the aforementioned Kansas resident, the knife also contributed to the rampant violence. Kansas had become a place of anticipation, with men carrying bowie knives in order to shape the future they wanted. Charles Sumner noted this aura of violence in his speech to Congress right before being caned by Preston Brooks, who chose to use a cane with great deliberation. The cane represented his class status as a wealthy southern slaveowner and gentlemen, the caning of Sumner thus symbolically reminding people of a slaveowner’s right to punish his slave for bad behavior. In practical terms, the cane was less likely to fall into Sumner’s hands during the altercation than a whip, another object closely associated with slavery. Throughout his book, Phillips shows the intentionality of individuals’ use of objects which speak to their predictions of the Civil War. His study of material objects grounds the more abstract ideas of the future in the concrete realities of the physical world, allowing readers to understand pre-war America in a way that is very similar to how nineteenth-century citizens would have experienced the world.
Amongst the Civil War community here at Gettysburg College, the movie Gettysburg is very much a part of our daily lives. Quotes are thrown back and forth in witty banter, the music is played for dramatic effect, and history professors are badgered to show clips in class. Since the movie fits so seamlessly into our experience here in Gettysburg, we often take it for granted. However, Gettysburg recently celebrated its 25th anniversary with a special showing at the Majestic Theater, with remarks from the director preceding the viewing. Although none of the Fellows attended, it got a lot of us thinking about our own experiences with the movie. Each one of us has been touched by Gettysburg in significant ways.
Ryan Bilger ’19 –I knew the soundtrack of the movie Gettysburg before I knew the film itself. I remember being six years old on a trip with my parents, asking “where are we going?” again and again during the car ride until I saw a sign announcing the mileage to Gettysburg. In that moment, I knew exactly where we were going. My father is also a casual historian of the battle, and I had often looked at the colorful pictures and maps in his Civil War magazines. Gazing out over the fields of Pickett’s Charge that day, something clicked in my young brain, and thus was born a lifelong interest. Of course, at six years old my parents correctly decided that I was not quite ready to see the movie Gettysburg yet, so they gave me the soundtrack CD to listen to instead. They didn’t get it back any time soon.
The movie, when I finally saw it, was worth the wait and has been my constant companion since. I watch scenes like the 20th Maine’s bayonet charge or the climax of Pickett’s Charge when I need to get motivated for events. The poster for the film hangs at the foot of my bed at home. Gettysburg, for all its flaws, has remained one of my favorite movies over the years, and has acted as a gateway to my development as a historian. The film presents myriad examples of popular heroism, whether in the form of Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain leading a bayonet charge or Winfield Scott Hancock exposing himself to enemy fire to inspire his own troops. However, many more heroes of the battle did not survive to tell their stories. Through the Killed at Gettysburg project, I’ve illuminated some of these stories of valor that do not receive nearly as much attention. Men like Patrick O’Rorke, Benjamin Crippin, and Franz Benda all had their own unique stories to be told, bringing greater color and nuance to the broader narratives of heroism in July 1863.
Though it may sound strange, Gettysburg has also given me a community. Living in the Civil War Era Studies House at Gettysburg College, I can exclaim “What’s happening to my boys?!” or grumble in a low voice about high ground and nearly everyone will instantly understand. We joke about Pickett’s ridiculous laugh when Longstreet tells him he will lead the assault on July 3 and bemoan the death of the glorious Buster Kilrain. The movie brings us together as a group in strange, yet often hilarious ways, and for that I am extremely grateful.
Benjamin Roy ’21 – I was born in Bethel, Maine and take great pride in bearing the identity of a Mainer. This is in no small part due to the movie Gettysburg and the story of Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain and the 20th Maine dramatized therein. From the first time I was exposed to the movie Gettysburg at five years old, I felt deeply connected to Chamberlain and the 20th Maine. I writhed in agony as the shrieking Alabamians charged and cheered when the Mainer valiantly resisted. My heart soared as Colonel Chamberlain charged down the hill, his Maine boys following close behind with fixed bayonets. My brother and I refought this struggle for Little Round Top on hillsides countless times. When my parents asked me, at age seven, whether I wanted to go to Disney World or Gettysburg, my choice was simple: Gettysburg.
The heroic story of the 20th Maine told in The Killer Angels and dramatized in Gettysburg is what ultimately inspired me to study the Civil War and pursue history as a career. My interest in Chamberlain and his men evolved into an interest in common soldiers. The story has also instilled a sense of identity in me and a pride in coming from Maine myself, even though I now live in North Carolina. Even as I write this, a miniature bust of Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain overlooks my desk, reminding me of where I come from, and where I hope to go. Whenever I need to be reminded of who I am and where I am from, I need only to watch Gettysburg.
Olivia Ortman ’19 – My own journey with Gettysburg began much later than most of my fellow CWI writers. In my family, birthdays have always been very important. My sister and I were allowed to stay home on our birthdays and do anything we wanted. For me, that usually meant trips to Mystic Aquarium or the zoo. However, after learning about the Civil War in 8th grade, I asked my parents if my birthday day could be a birthday weekend. My parents agreed, and I headed off with my mom to spend Memorial Day weekend of 2011 in Gettysburg. It was one of the most magical weekends of my life, to say the least. (My mom still shudders when she thinks about traipsing every inch of battlefield behind me so I could investigate all, and I do mean all, the monuments.)
When I heard about the annual reenactment, I knew I had to come back to Gettysburg that July. The copy of Gettysburg the movie that I picked up in the giftshop of General Lee’s Headquarters was how I convinced my father to make a family trip out of the reenactment. After getting home from Gettysburg, I put on the film and insisted my dad watch with me so I could show him where I’d been. By the end of the film, and to my sister’s immense disappointment, I had convinced both parents that we needed to go to the July reenactment. That was the beginning of the past eight years for me. When we returned to Gettysburg, I discovered Gettysburg College and knew that I would one day attend. Throughout those years, whenever someone from home has asked me why Gettysburg or why history, Gettysburg was my way of explaining. The movie has given me a way to introduce others to my passion and let them see what I’m doing here at college.
Savannah Labbe ’19 – Being from Maine, I appreciate how Gettysburg highlights Maine’s contribution to the Civil War, which I feel is often underappreciated or even forgotten about. Maine contributed the largest number of soldiers proportionate to its population of any state in the Union. However, the movie Gettysburg has risen to such fame that it seems as if the 20th Maine was the only unit from Maine that made an important contribution to the battle. This is decidedly not the case. For example, the 16th Maine made a suicidal stand on the first day of the battle so that the Union First Corps could retreat. All of the 16th Maine soldiers were either captured or killed in order to allow the Union to fight another day. On the second day of the battle, the 17th and 19th Maine helped save the Union line after General Sickles overextended it.
The film also deifies the battle for Little Round Top and Chamberlain. The battle for Little Round Top comes across as a defining moment and a turning point in the Battle of Gettysburg. Viewers think that this was the moment that decided the outcome of the three-day fighting at Gettysburg, but that’s not necessarily true. Chamberlain himself has taken on star qualities as the man who saved the day, but his conflicting reports on the battle in real life call into question whether or not he himself actually gave his famous order to charge. While Gettysburg is an important film and it has it merits, it has become so dominant in popular culture that people have put Chamberlain and the 20th Maine on a pedestal, which does a disservice to the other Union units present at the battle. However, when I watched the movie Gettysburg for the first time in my 8th grade social studies class, I took this movie at face value. While the movie motivated me to study history and piqued my interest in the Civil War, I soon learned that it had a lot of flaws and was not necessarily an accurate depiction, making me want to explore the actual history of the battle more and the role that all Maine units played.
Cameron Sauers ’21 – My introduction to the movie Gettysburg begins with Michael Shaara’s novel The Killer Angels. I remember being infatuated with the novel, constantly reading it and carrying it with me when I was in 4th grade. I don’t remember the first time I saw Gettysburg, but I do remember watching it constantly (my parents have seen it more times than they probably wished). This infatuation with the movie sky-rocketed in 5th grade when my local historic society brought in Patrick Falci (the actor who portrayed A.P. Hill) to speak at a special event and he encouraged me to pursue my passion for history and the Civil War. Almost 10 years later, I am on the front lines of history as a Fellow here at the CWI. I think it is safe to say that I would not be where I am today without the passion that Gettysburg awakened in me.
Not only has Gettysburg inspired my future, but it has also influenced the time I’ve spent with my family. My parents were forced to endure countless screenings of the movie, and never once complained or suggested that we watch something else. They saw my love for history growing before their eyes and supported it, buying me countless books and taking day trips to battlefields and re-enactments. When my parents recently visited during Family Weekend, they agreed when I wanted to take them to museums in town and on an impromptu battlefield tour. My parents didn’t bat an eye when they heard the many Gettysburg quotes from me and my peers. Gettysburg, to me, is a reminder of my childhood and my passion for history. But more importantly, it’s a reminder of the support and love my family has given me.
On Tuesday, November 20th, CWI Fellow Ryan Bilger sat down with Gettysburg College’s President, Janet Morgan Riggs, to discuss her Dedication Day Speech which she delivered the previous morning. The goal of her speech, Riggs explained, was to give Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address relevance for each of us today. She did this by focusing on inequality and justice in our world today, speaking not to politics, but to basic humanity. These are themes she and Gettysburg College try to discuss with students, encouraging them to be conscientious leaders who affect positive change in the world. President Riggs, who retires at the end of this school year, will be thoroughly missed by all who have been touched by her own thoughtful leadership.
If you missed this year’s Dedication Day ceremony and would like to watch it, click here.
This post is the seventh in a series about the Confederate flag in history, memory, and culture. It offers one Fellow’s individual perspective as she investigates different sources and opinions. Read the first post here.
In 1972, black Vietnam soldier, Frank J. Francis sat down for an interview with Forward, an African American newspaper in New Jersey. The purpose of the interview was for Francis to share his experiences with racism in the army. At one point, Francis began talking about the Confederate flag. He told his interviewer, “If anyone is familiar with the South, then one knows that throughout the South black people have been and are still being terrorized by such organizations as the KKK or the White Citizens’ Councils, extreme anti-black, racist organizations. These people use the Confederate flag as a symbol of their allegiance to the racist South and all of its anti-black policies.” Francis further shared that the flag was often displayed by white men; there were four Confederate flags in his company alone. The black soldiers found these flags highly antagonistic because, as Francis explained, that flag could only mean one thing: The presence of racist organization members and sympathizers. Even in Vietnam, Francis’s most concerning battle was the one he had to fight over his skin color . Others, however, would have a very different experience with the Confederate flag and its symbolism in those circumstances.
Francis’s association of the flag with racism was not unique; it followed a century’s worth of tradition. One of the first hate groups to adopt the Confederate flag as their symbol was the Carolina Rifle Club of Charleston, South Carolina. The group was formed in 1869 to defend the white race against “negro aggression.” Although their official flag was their state flag with a C superimposed over the palmetto tree, in the late 1870s, the club’s president boasted that it was “the first military body of white men which paraded in the streets of the city or the State, bearing arms…under the Confederate Banner, since the struggles of the War had ceased.” The South Carolina Rifle Club would be the first of many hate groups to carry the flag while preaching white supremacy.
The hate group most commonly associated with the Confederate Flag, the Ku Klux Klan, did not pick up the Confederate flag until much later. Although the KKK was formed in 1865 by a group of ex-Confederate soldiers, their connection to the flag was individual, not organizational. Several of the founding members had Confederate flags draped over their caskets when they died, denoting their involvement in the Confederacy, but the group itself did not specifically identify with the flag. Actually, since the early 1900’s, the KKK’s official flag has been, and still is to my knowledge, the U.S. flag. The group’s goal was to defend America, which (to them) meant enforcing racial segregation and black subordination at the time.
The first serious connection between the KKK as an organization and the Confederate flag was made in 1946. Stetson Kennedy, a labor organizer and investigator from Florida, went undercover to investigate a Klan in Atlanta. During the initiation ceremony, Kennedy noticed the presence of a Confederate flag draped across the altar. His description of the ceremony was featured in the May 27th edition of Life magazine, along with a story of the Klan’s attempted comeback.
Although there is nothing that explicitly states why the different Klan factions began incorporating the Confederate flag into their iconography, it was most likely a desire to identify with their Confederate ancestors. Historian John Coski explains that World War II had reinvigorated a sense of regional identification and the flag’s connection to a unique southern identity. The Klan’s adoption of the flag coincides with the end of World War II and an overall southern desire to connect with the flag. The Klan members in the 1940’s were also amongst the first generations of Klansmen not directly connected to the Civil War. The original founders of the KKK and many of the members of early Klans were Confederate veterans. These early members did not need the Confederate flag to be identified as men who fought to preserve a distinctly southern way of life . For later generations of Klansmen who had not fought in the Civil War, the flag provided a tangible connection to since-deceased Confederate soldiers, men whom Klansmen upheld as heroes.
The Klan’s connection to the Confederate flag would continue to grow throughout the 1950’s and beyond. By the mid-1960’s, the Confederate flag became almost synonymous with the KKK and white supremacy. Life magazine did a series of articles on the KKK throughout 1965, each one featuring prominent Klansmen standing in front of large Confederate flags. The first article was printed in the February edition and discusses several hate groups in America. The section dedicated to the KKK is preceded by a full-page image of Imperial Wizard Robert Shelton in full regalia posed in front of a very large Confederate flag. The magazine quotes other Klan members stating, “Fools, traitors, and Communists seek to mix our race with the blood of an inferior and cannibalistic black race,” as well as, more simply, “We’re against the niggers.” The implication could not be made any clearer. By posing a prominent Klan member in front of the flag, Life and Shelton were claiming the Confederate flag as a symbol for the KKK and therefore intertwining the flag with the group’s racist agenda.
Two months later, Life’sApril edition featured a full article on the KKK alone. Halfway through the article, a Klan member is pictured holding a Bible and a copy of the Constitution and wearing a Confederate flag vest. Above the picture is the quote, “We love Negroes, in their place – like shinin’ shows, etc.” The May edition provides the most shocking connection to racism of all. Life covered the trial of Collie LeRoy Wilkins, a 21-year-old Klansman who murdered Viola Liuzzo, a white civil rights advocate. Throughout the trial, Wilkins ranted and raved about his violent ideas concerning blacks and the whites that helped them. Regardless of these horrifying comments, the jury found Wilkins not guilty and set him free. What was the first thing Wilkins did upon release? Wilkins marched in a Klan parade where he proudly waved a Confederate flag to the applause of the crowd. Growing up in an atmosphere like this, it is no wonder that Frank Francis would see the Confederate flag as being solely a symbol of racist hate groups.
Surprisingly, however, the flag was also used as the symbol of an anti-racist group. In 1970, just two years before Francis gave his interview, the newspaper Great Speckled Bird printed an article about a group calling themselves Young Patriots. The Young Patriots were young white activists based in Chicago who used community service to address issues of oppression within impoverished white communities. Although their primary focus was on poor whites, the Young Patriots used their work as a platform to foster a partnership with African Americans who were also being oppressed by rich whites. The group had modeled itself after the Black Panthers and actually worked very closely with the Panthers to spread acceptance and awareness of struggles faced by African Americans.
Members of the group were very proud to share photos of a rally held jointly with the Panthers in Chicago. In these photos, a Confederate flag hangs behind the podium right next to the Panthers’ flag. For these young white men and women, the Confederate flag represented their southern heritage and what they celebrated as a uniquely southern tradition of rebellion . The Young Patriots ignored the causes of the Civil War, reducing it simply to an act of resistance by southerners, therefore making the Confederate flag the ultimate symbol of resistance to authority. The group then used the flag as a connection between themselves and poor white southerners, visually stating that they all had distinct southern roots based in rebellion. By displaying the Confederate flag, the group hoped to rally impoverished whites to join African Americans in resistance against their mutual oppressors.
Support for the Young Patriots varied amongst African Americans. Those who supported the Black Panthers usually looked favorably upon the Young Patriots, although they acknowledge there were still some racist qualities that needed to be ironed out. Others who felt the Black Panthers were too militant typically classified the Young Patriots in the same category of radicalism. Although neither that article nor the other dozen articles I looked through specifically mentioned how African Americans felt about the group’s use of the Confederate flag, its continued use seems to imply a measure of acceptance from the African American community. The Young Patriots worked very closely with the Panthers and often displayed the Confederate flag beside the Panthers’ flag. Since the Panthers allowed this, they must not have been overly offended by the flag. Maybe the Panthers saw this as a small token of revenge against white southern supremacists: They were appropriating one of the most dominant pieces of those supremacists’ iconography and imbuing it with a message of black support in order to ultimately empower the African American community to defeat such racism. However, it is likely that the Confederate flag was still very jarring for African Americans unfamiliar with the Young Patriots . Most African Americans’ only experiences with this flag had been instances of hate and racism. For them, it was a symbol of oppression and white supremacy. Considering the pervasiveness of this interpretation of the flag, one can understand how wary many African Americans must have felt when confronted by the Young Patriots bearing the flag aloft. However, the group’s use of the flag proved that the flag’s symbolism was not, and never would be static and that – as is still true today – specific historical context matters when determining the flag’s multi-pronged messages.
“Great Order Will Not Die, Confederate Veteran Says.” Wisconsin Kourier (Washington, DC), December 26, 1924. Accessed April 14, 2018. KKK Newspapers.
“Interview with Frank J. Francis.” Forward (Fort Dix, NJ), February 1, 1972, 7th ed. Accessed April 5, 2018. Independent Voices.
Joye, Barbara. “Young Patriots.” Great Speckled Bird (Atlanta, GA), March 9, 1970, 10th ed. Accessed April 5, 2018. Independent Voices.
Kelley, Robert W. “Pictorial Summation of a Tragicomic Mistrial.” Life, May 21, 1965, 32-39. Accessed April 5, 2018.
“KKK.” Life, April 23, 1965, 28-35. Accessed April 5, 2018.
This year will bring exciting changes to the Fellows program. Some of our Fellows will continue working on Killed At Gettysburg, a digital history project that traces the lives and final footsteps of soldiers who fought and died here at Gettysburg. These Fellows will produce the first profiles of Confederate soldiers to be featured on the KAG website. Other Fellows will be using rare, original Civil War photographs to curate an exhibit on photography at Gettysburg that will be featured at the CWI’s annual summer conference. This group of Fellows will also be researching and several filming short video clips interpreting different parts of the battlefield, the memorial landscape, and the experiences of various soldiers and civilians who bore witness to the 1863 battle. These videos will be posted throughout the fall on our Facebook page, so be sure to keep an eye out for them!
Here on the blog, we will be taking on a slightly different interpretive focus as we shift our research and writing toward the study of 19th-century material culture. Writers will choose Civil War era objects that interest them and reflect on the broader social, political, and cultural context of that object. This approach to material objects will allow writers and readers to explore the Civil War era in a new light by learning about how the the objects that 19th-century Americans interacted with shaped the way individuals understood, visualized, and lived their lives. Likewise, students will study how 19th-century Americans shaped and reshaped the meaning of the objects themselves in important ways throughout their daily lives. Blog writers will also continue to keep you informed about the latest lectures and special events both on campus and around Gettysburg, as well as about their personal reflections on the various projects with which they have been tasked.
I hope you will continue to support the Fellows by reading their posts, sharing and liking pieces, commenting, and asking any questions that these posts might provoke. We students are learning right alongside you and enjoy any opportunity to engage in thoughtful discussion about the topics at hand.
On March 3, Gettysburg Rising–a group that encourages civic engagement by sharing information–hosted a forum on the Confederate flag. It drew a modest, yet eager crowd. The goal of the event was to create an opportunity for people to come together and share their thoughts and feelings about the flag. After Professor David Hadley delivered a brief history of the flag, the attendees took the mic.
One of the big themes during the ensuing discussion was time and place. While everyone disagreed on the specific circumstances, all agreed that the flag’s display was appropriate in some situations and unacceptable in others. Flags in museums were universally accepted by the group, as museums present a controlled setting where the history can be shared via accompanying informational plaques. On the other side, the flag’s use by white supremacist groups was deemed always inappropriate and offensive. When carried by these groups, there was no mistaking the flag’s message of hate. Everything in between – reenactments, historical sites, private property, merchandise – fell into different categories of acceptability for each person.
The question of whether the flag could be separated from Confederate ideals was also discussed. Anyone who reads the Articles of Secession must admit that slavery was a central factor in causing the Civil War. That’s not to say that individual Confederates weren’t fighting for other reasons, but the Confederacy itself was dedicated to slavery. As a symbol of the Confederacy, the flag necessarily championed slavery. However, many people in the room questioned whether the flag could be dissociated from the Confederacy and therefore from slavery. Take the case of using the flag to honor a dead Confederate ancestor: that ancestor is not the larger Confederacy, and the living relative is evoking a sense of personal history, not advocating for slavery. The group grappled with the question of whether the flag could be dissociated from slavery in this instance, or if the full sense of the flag’s symbolism must always be present.
When asked for suggestions on how the flag controversy could be solved, the room seemed to largely agree on the same tactics. The first proposal was that people needed a better education on the flag’s history. It’s hard to understand the full significance of something without knowing its background. The second proposal was societal shunning. The group also largely agreed that the government should not be involved in deciding when or where the flag is displayed. The public should thus decide when it is appropriate and essentially, perhaps relying on peer pressure and boycotting to keep people from using the flag inappropriately. It would be like society’s shunning of the N-word; although it is still used in some instances, that word has become mostly unacceptable in our world.
The most significant idea shared that night, however, was the importance of listening. When Professor Scott Hancock took a turn speaking, he explained how important it was to talk to each other about the flag. Although Professor Hancock’s research has led him to certain conclusions and opinions, he still actively seeks out other people’s thoughts. It’s important to listen to everyone’s views, even if those views go against your own, because this is the only way to truly understand the full meaning of the flag. Understanding is key to moving forward together in the flag controversy.
In the spirit of understanding, which was the motivating goal behind the forum, I hope that any of you that feel comfortable will use this post as an opportunity to share your own thoughts. I do want to set a few ground rules, though. Be respectful, no profanity, and no personal attacks. Also, this is a conversation, not a debate. You aren’t trying to prove each other right or wrong, simply exploring different thoughts on the flag. Here are some questions to get you started, but by no means do you have to answer all or any of them.
When and where do you think displaying the flag is appropriate?
Reenactments? Battlefields? Cemeteries?
What are your thoughts of Confederate flag merchandise?
What thoughts pop into your head when you see a Confederate flag?
Can the flag be separated from the Confederate Cause in some situations?
Any ideas of how we can move forward together on the controversy surrounding the Confederate flag?
In the years immediately following the Civil War, the Confederate battle flag mostly disappeared from public view. In their diaries, Southerners wrote about hiding flags and other Confederate symbols for fear of Union retaliation. In most cases, Southerners intuitively understood that these symbols were now taboo, but occasionally, they stated that Union troops explicitly forbade displays of the battle flag. Some Southerners did still flaunt the flag as a means of defiance against Union troops, as mentioned in my last post, but most people quietly tucked it away. A mere five years after the war ended, though, the flag began to reappear.
After the war ended, Southern ladies and veterans began forming organizations to care for war survivors and honor the dead. At first, this meant transferring dead Confederate soldiers from battlefield graves to Southern cemeteries and aiding survivors with medical and monetary support. The first Confederate battle flags accepted in public again were those used to drape the coffins of Confederates being reinterred. Then, during the 1870s, these ladies’ and veterans’ groups turned their efforts toward memorialization. After Reconstruction, Southerners became increasingly concerned with the Confederacy’s legacy. Thus, between 1880 and 1920, there was an explosion of Confederate memorial events: monument dedications, veterans’ reunions, and memorial days. The Memorial Day we celebrate today is actually an offshoot of Southern memorial days. Started as local holidays organized by ex-Confederate women to honor local Confederate dead, they grew into a nationwide celebration honoring fallen soldiers from all wars.
The flag’s reintroduction to the public started slowly. At the beginning of the Confederate memorial period, few flags were displayed at memorialization events, and they were displayed mostly by women, probably to avoid angering Northerners. Southern men were afraid of being accused of treason by occupying Northern troops, but women were afforded a measure of protection by their gender. Southern journalists were also careful to mention that the national flag was displayed in equal, if not greater, proportion to the Confederate flag. In the newspaper articles I found between 1878 and 1879, only one Confederate flag was mentioned at each memorial occasion, while multiple national flags were present. Journalists wanted to make it very clear that the South was loyal to the Union. Furthermore, the few flags that did appear at these early events were always old wartime flags, nothing new. Newspapers took great pride in describing “the shell-torn and tattered banner which had waved…on many a hard fought field.”
Throughout the Confederate memorial period, the presence of the Confederate flag quickly increased. At the unveiling of Lee’s statue in Lexington, Virginia in 1883, there was only one U.S. flag displayed, while four old Confederate battle flags surrounded Stonewall Jackson’s grave alone. When another Lee monument was unveiled in Richmond in 1890, a North Dakota journalist complained that the Confederate flag was everywhere, and the authorities “refused to remove the traitorous colors.”
Around this time, reproductions of the flag became widespread, which sparked a large debate over the flag’s place in the nation. Union veterans were especially upset about the reproductions. General William Jackson Palmer started a press war in the early 1890s when he suggested banning the flag from memorial events. He and many other Union veterans had been tolerant of original flags, which were mementos of the war, but reproduction flags were outright treason. Even some Confederate veterans were upset about reproductions, believing they cheapened the integrity of the original war flags. Most Southerners, though, insisted their flags were just for commemoration of Confederate soldiers, not acts of disloyalty.
In the long run, Northern upset quieted down, and the Confederate flag was seemingly accepted in public. The 1905 Congressional act calling for the return of captured Confederate flags to Southerners appeared to signify the end of the debate. Some historians, like David Blight, have chalked acceptance up to reconciliation. Ultimately, Northerners were tired of fighting, and the presence of the Confederate flag was a small price to pay for peace and union. Other historians, like Caroline Janney, have argued that this acceptance was mostly for public show. Union veterans continued to harbor resentment towards the Confederacy and its battle-flag, but they accepted it at public events because it served their purposes. Using reunions to remember the war, soldiers could gain personal clarity and closure while connecting with other men who understood their traumatic experiences, even if those men had fought as their enemies during the war. By talking about the Confederacy and its flag in positive terms, Union veterans also glorified their own role in the war. Fighting and defeating a worthy Confederate army made Union troops all the greater. Both historians are right; people accepted the flag for a variety of personal reasons. However, an acceptance of the Confederate battle flag in public does not necessarily correlate to an acceptance of the flag’s symbolism. While the flag was tolerated at commemoration events, many Northerners, especially veterans, continued to hate it.
The inclusion of Confederate flags in memorial events had a profound impact on the flag’s symbolism. The most notable consequence was the adoption of the battle flag as the Confederate flag. During the war, the battle flag only represented ideas related to battle, whereas in the memorial period, it came to represent the ideals and principles of the Confederacy as a whole. The choice of the battle flag instead of the Confederacy’s national flag speaks a lot to the values Southerners wanted to favor in the Confederacy’s legacy. When discussing the Confederacy, orators spoke in great detail about military prowess of Southern soldiers and bravery on the battlefield. Although the Confederacy lost, its soldiers could still be hailed as heroes. As Jefferson Davis stated at a Memorial Day in Georgia in 1878, “it is better to have fought and lost, than never to have fought at all.” This focus on battle ensured that the Confederacy’s legacy would largely revolve around politically-neutral military tactics instead of the controversial causes of the war.
When speakers did mention the Confederate cause, they waxed poetically about states’ rights, carefully avoiding slavery. Only one of the dedication speeches I read included the word slavery. A Virginia senator acknowledged at an 1879 monument dedication that the Confederacy fought for the Constitutional right to hold slaves. All other speakers were either vague or completely silent about slavery. A speaker in 1894 shared, “in our Union there is trouble. Social disorder vexes the soul of the patriot,” which vaguely points towards the freedom of blacks but is not explicit. However, Southerners were comfortable asserting that the Confederacy, and therefore the flag, was dedicated to white supremacy. It was made clear that these memorial events, and the Confederate flag, were for white Southerners only. During this time period, African Americans held separate memorial days and commemoration events in the South where they could celebrate the Union and emancipation.
During the Confederate memorial period, the Confederate flag became an assertion of a unique Southern identity, one deeply intertwined with the Confederacy. Southerners may have lost the war and submitted to Northern demands, but they were still unique in their white heritage. They clung to their past and their flag to preserve their honor and pride. We can also see the start of many arguments that still surround the flag today: the acceptability of originals vs reproductions; where and when to display flags; heritage vs hate. A century later, we are no closer to resolving these arguments than Americans during the memorial period.
“Corner Stone Laid.” Daily Charlotte Observer (Charlotte, North Carolina), May 23, 1894. Accessed February 17, 2018. Readex.
“Corner Stone Laid.” The Knoxville Journal (Knoxville, Tennessee), May 22, 1891. Accessed February 17, 2018. Readex.
Coski, John M. Confederate Battle Flag: America’s Most Embattled Emblem. Harvard University Press, 2006.
Gallagher, Gary W., and Alan T. Nolan. The Myth of the Lost Cause and Civil War History. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 2000.
Ingraham, William M. “Address at the Dedication of the Virginia Memorial at Gettysburg, Friday, June 8, 1917 By Hon. William M. Ingraham, Assistant Secretary of War.” Address, Dedication of Virginia Memorial, Virginia Memorial, Gettysburg, PA, June 8, 1917.
Janney, Caroline E. Remembering the Civil War: Reunion and the Limits of Reconciliation. Chapel Hill, NC: The University of North Carolina Press, 2013.
“Lee Monument; Washington.” The Daily Herald (Grand Forks, North Dakota), May 30, 1890. Accessed February 17, 2018. Readex.
“Memorial Day.” The Macon Telegraph (Macon, Georgia), April 27, 1880. Accessed February 17, 2018. Readex.
“”Mustn’t Do It Again”.” The Macon Telegraph (Macon, Georgia), February 6, 1892. Accessed February 17, 2018. Readex.
Stuart, Henry Carter. “Address at the Dedication of the Virginia Memorial at Gettysburg, Friday, June 8, 1917 By His Excellency Henry Carter Stuart, Governor of Virginia.” Address, Dedication of Virginia Memorial, Virginia Memorial, Gettysburg, PA, June 8, 1917.
“The Confederate Dead.” The Inter Ocean (Chicago, Illinois), June 7, 1879. Accessed February 17, 2018. Readex.
“The Confederate Flag.” The Columbus Enquirer-Sun (Columbus, Georgia), October 27, 1891. Accessed February 17, 2018. Readex.
“The Historic 26th. Memorial Day in Macon.” Georgia Weekly Telegraph (Macon, Georgia), April 30, 1878. Accessed February 17, 2018. Readex.
“Unveiling Lee’s Statue.” The Sun (Baltimore, Maryland), June 29, 1883. Accessed February 17, 2018. Readex.
When I was in high school, I read The Things They Carried for my English class. It is a fiction book about the Vietnam War written by a Vietnam veteran. The author, Tim O’Brien, had the life experiences to write an autobiography based on true events, but he chose fiction as his vehicle. He explains this choice in one of the chapters in his book. O’Brien stated that, in an ironic way, fiction allowed him to share more truth than reality. His made-up stories allowed him to create the feelings and meanings of the war that his real experiences couldn’t get across for people who had not lived them. This is an idea that has stuck with me ever since, and it has been on my mind a lot lately.
This year, I was asked to work on a special project for the Civil War Institute that involves creating a new wayside for the Gettysburg battlefield. Another student and I have partnered with Gettysburg NPS to write a wayside for the Virginia Memorial. This is a very daunting task, especially in today’s political climate, which has made me all the more determined to do history and the monument justice. A lot of what I have been sifting through for the monument deals with Civil War memory, especially Gettysburg and Confederate memory. This is why I have kept going back to The Things They Carried. Like O’Brien’s book, the Virginia Monument is a fictitious image of a war scene. It was not meant to depict an actual scene of war but to share important feelings. The big questions for me have been what those intended feelings were and how they have shaped our memory of Confederate involvement at Gettysburg.
The speeches from the monument’s dedication answered many of my contextual questions. The memorial was revealed in June of 1917, two months after the United States entered World War I. The dedication speakers were quick to connect the monument’s significance to war efforts. The country needed men to enlist and families to support the war effort from home. The Virginia Memorial became a tool for inspiring those sacrifices. Each speaker explained that by remembering the martial valor of Virginians and their dedication to the Confederacy, Americans would find an example of what would be required of them in World War I. “We treasure the heroic deeds and inspiring example of all the brave soldiers living and dead who gave to us and to the world a new standard of American manhood,” proclaimed Henry Carter Stuart, Governor of Virginia.
This new standard of manhood was also used to reunite the country. Dedication speakers repeatedly stressed the greatness of American unity after such great sectional strife. Standing in the crowd on June 8, 1917 were Union and Confederate veterans. 54 years earlier, those same veterans had faced each other on opposite sides of the field for Pickett’s Charge with the intention to kill. Something like that doesn’t go away overnight. The design of the Virginia Memorial was an attempt to smooth over the still-lingering scars of war through a celebration of martial manhood. The Virginians at the base of the memorial represent the ideal soldiers. Although each man is from a different military branch, they are all strong and manly. Their faces and stances show a mixture of anxiety and determination. They are facing great odds, but they will go forward. Lee towers above the group, the picture of stoicism. He is calm and collected, even in the face of battle. At the time, he was also a reminder of Christian ideals. This was a man who believed God had a plan for him and allowed that faith to keep him steadfast. These were values that could be appreciated by men everywhere, regardless of their war loyalties. Those Union and Confederate veterans could stand beside each other in the crowd that June day and find common ground.
How these messages affect our memory of Gettysburg and the Confederacy is interesting. On the one hand, the romantic aspect of the Virginia Memorial obscures many realities. For example, the focus on the military side of war often excludes the Confederate cause. Like the Virginia Memorial, our conversations often jump right into the fight and skip past why the men were there fighting. The Confederacy was formed to protect the right to own slaves as property. The soldiers themselves had different reasons for fighting, but the ultimate Confederate goal was to successfully secede and protect slavery. We don’t see that in the monument, and subsequently, most of us aren’t having that conversation when we visit the battlefield. The Virginia Memorial also adds to the misconception that Gettysburg was the end of the Confederacy. When I talk to many of my non-history friends, they think that Gettysburg spelled the end for the Confederacy and that Appomattox was right around the corner. They are shocked when I tell them that the war continued for two more years after Gettysburg. Clearly, Gettysburg didn’t end the Confederacy if they could keep going for two years; it was just one of their defeats. However, the Virginia Memorial’s depiction of the soldiers as grimly determined to do their duty even though they knew they would lose makes Pickett’s Charge the last stand of the Confederacy in popular memory.
On the other hand, the Virginia Memorial also reveals a lot about Americans at the time. Seeing the celebration of martial manhood reminds us of the importance of rigid gender roles at the time. We can see that men were expected to defend their cause and prove their worth on the battlefield. The absence of slavery representation tells us that Americans have always been uncomfortable with our past connection to the institution. It also shows us that unification was important above all else. Even though the Union won, Northerners allowed Southerners to place this shrine of Confederate ideals on the Gettysburg battlefield. Northerners allowed Lee to top this monument in a somewhat defiant location that allows him to stare down Union General Meade. Northerners even accepted speeches which hailed Virginians of the Confederacy as the ultimate examples of ideal soldiers and men. Virginians compromised by displaying their state flag on the monument instead of the Confederate flag. They also made several revisions to the inscription at the base in an attempt to find a less inflammatory message. Both sides were willing to make concessions for the goal of unity. That’s the legacy that the Virginia Memorial gives us. We still have a lot of work to do as a nation, and we always will, but we treasure our unity and will always fight for that.
Dugan, David. 15-23-0327: Virginia Memorial. August 17, 2015. In Wikimedia Commons. Accessed November 13, 2017.
Foster, Gaines M. Ghosts of the Confederacy : Defeat, the Lost Cause, and the Emergence of the New South, 1865-1913. Cary: Oxford University Press, 2014. Accessed November 15, 2017. ProQuest Ebook Central.
Gallagher, Gary W., and Nolan, Alan T. The Myth of the Lost Cause and Civil War History. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 2000. Accessed November 15, 2017. ProQuest Ebook Central.
Ingraham, William M. “Address at the Dedication of the Virginia Memorial at Gettysburg, Friday, June 8, 1917 By Hon. William M. Ingraham, Assistant Secretary of War.” Address, Dedication of Virginia Memorial, Virginia Memorial, Gettysburg, PA, June 8, 1917.
O’Brien, Tim. The Things They Carried. Mariner Books, 2009.
Przyblek, Leslie A. Soldiers to Science: Changing Confederate Ideals in the Public Sculpture of Frederick William Sievers.
Stuart, Henry Carter. “Address at the Dedication of the Virginia Memorial at Gettysburg, Friday, June 8, 1917 By His Excellency Henry Carter Stuart, Governor of Virginia.” Address, Dedication of Virginia Memorial, Virginia Memorial, Gettysburg, PA, June 8, 1917.