The 2017 Fortenbaugh Lecture: “I’m a Radical Girl”

By Olivia Ortman ’19

In Gettysburg, we celebrate the anniversary of the Gettysburg Address in two ways: the Dedication Day ceremony and the Fortenbaugh Lecture. Every year on November 19, Gettysburg College and the Robert Fortenbaugh family invite a scholar to present their new Civil War research. This year, that scholar was Dr. Thavolia Glymph who presented her lecture titled “I’m a Radical Girl”: Enslaved and Free Black Women Unionists and the Politics of Civil War History. As the title reveals, her lecture revolved around black women unionists and their place in war efforts—a role which has often been overlooked.

Thavolia Glymph
Duke University history professor and 2017 Fortenbaugh Lecture speaker Dr. Thavolia Glymph.

During the Civil War, the title “unionist” was given to Southern women helping the Union cause. These women were accorded favors and gifts from Union soldiers and the government, often being given any aid they required with no expectation of repayment. When the Union soldiers came into town, there were many benefits in being a unionist woman. Unfortunately, black women were excluded from those ranks. Even though black Southern women were contributing to the Union cause, they were not honored with the title of unionist or with the benefits that went along with it. That didn’t stop these women from sacrificing, though, or from forcing their way into American politics.

Towards the beginning of the lecture, Glymph showed a picture of a young African American woman with a small American flag tucked into the waistline of her dress. When the picture first popped up on the screen, it meant very little to me. It was just the picture she had chosen for the cover of her book, probably a photo of one of the women she had talked about as an example of black unionists. I would have completely forgotten this image if it weren’t for the pointed question Glymph posed. Why would a woman who has been dismissed by Northerners, a woman who would have to work extra hours to pay for rations from Union soldiers whom she helps, why would that woman wear the Union flag? Blacks were treated poorly by Union soldiers. Runaway slaves who went to Union troops were often given deserted tents and forced to sleep on the ground, made to pay for food rations and supplies, and in one extreme case, a group of runaway slaves were put on a train and sent to Chattanooga where they were left at the side of the tracks. The American flag was not necessarily a symbol of sympathy for blacks.

Yet, in spite of all those dismissals of blacks by Union supporters, or because of those dismissals, that black woman has stuck an American flag in her dress. By doing this, she asserts her ability to change what that flag stands for. She claims the freedoms that flag promises for herself and forces the Union to reevaluate their ideas of what they should do for blacks. All that black women unionists sacrificed in support of the Union war efforts made it clear that they had as much a right to be a part of the Union as any white person. They refused to be forgotten or pushed aside.

Talking to Dr. Glymph at breakfast the next morning, she explained that she always took her time with her writing because lives were at stake. She was referring to the people she writes about. Their lives and how we remember them are influenced by how she portrays them in her books. Decades after their deaths, she still has the power to guard or take their agency. I cannot speak for those black women unionists, but I think she gave them a platform for their voices to be heard. She brought those women back into our historical consciousness and finally gave them the title they deserved 150 years ago: unionist. 

The Real 54th Massachusetts: Dr. Douglas Egerton on the Lives of United States Colored Troops in Lincoln Lyceum Lecture

By Nick Tarchis ’18

Two weeks ago, the Gettysburg College community was treated to a lecture by special guest Douglas Egerton, one of the recipients of the 2017 Gilder-Lehrman Lincoln Prize. Dr. Egerton works at Le Moyne College in Syracuse, New York, where he teaches courses on race in 19th century America. Egerton’s most recent book Thunder at the Gates: The Black Civil War Regiments that Redeemed America chronicles the lives of ten men from the 54th and 55th Massachusetts United States Colored Troops, documenting their experiences from the pre-war era to their deaths.

Egerton_sm
Dr. Douglas Egerton. Photo courtesy of lemoyne.edu.

Audience members were most familiar with these regiments because of the 1989 movie “Glory,” which depicts the story of Robert Gould Shaw and the black troops of the 54th, culminating in their famous assault on Fort Wagner. Egerton’s lecture, however, examined the lives of Shaw’s soldiers—rather than Shaw himself—and the country’s attitudes toward United States Colored Troops. After the Emancipation Proclamation, Americans began to ask if black citizens and former slaves would be willing to fight for a country in which many of them felt unwanted. In the South, the Confederate Government was quick to declare that, if captured, black soldiers would be enslaved and officers would be executed. While this policy would change later on, there was still a fair share of worry in the North that black troops would run from the battlefield and abandon their posts because of this Confederate threat. This was the crux of Egerton’s lecture: looking at the how the soldiers were depicted versus how they acted and examining the impact that the 54th and 55th Massachusetts had on public perception.

The history students in the crowd might have recognized Egerton’s work as “history from the bottom up.” Instead of emulating the film “Glory,” which focuses more on Shaw than the black soldiers, Egerton discussed the rank-and-file and told their stories through their own experiences. This confronts a large issue in the history field, in which many choose to study presidents, generals, kings, and other important leaders rather than opt for the harder story to tell: that of the common man. While historians such as James McPherson and Earl Hess have examined why soldiers enlisted, Egerton studies the motivations of a more marginalized group who faced institutional oppression and still chose to fight.

Egerton worked to emphasize that, unlike in the movie “Glory,” not all USCTs were escaped slaves. Those who joined the ranks as freeman—including Frederick Douglass’ sons, Charles and Lewis—saw a palpable public outcry against black troops and sought a way to prove that they would not turn and run in a battle but would fight just as bravely as white troops. This was an opportunity to reunite the nation and make it a better place for themselves and their families. For those who had escaped from bondage, however, the motivation was simple: fight for the families back in the South. Many who escaped had left someone behind, be it a wife, son, or daughter, and they wanted to ensure that they could secure their loved ones’ freedom and build a nation they could call their own.

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Print depicting the 54th Massachusetts charging Fort Wagner. Photo via Library of Congress.

Edgerton’s lecture, like his book, had a melancholy ending, as many of the troops who survived the war and served with distinction were not able to achieve the goals they had hoped. Many of them lived long lives and were able to reunite with their families, but while the South was defeated, the nation restored, and the 14th amendment ratified, some troops still faced persecution after the war. Jim Crow soon took the place of slave drivers and catchers. As for their place in memory, the soldiers were quickly forgotten by history. When the United States returned to war in the 1890s, the 1910s, and 1940s, the same issues surfaced again. The public forgot about the heroism of the USCT regiments that fought during the Civil War and again believed that black soldiers would surely run at the first sight of combat and prove to be a liability on the battlefield. “Glory” does not necessarily help combat this image, as a majority of the film is told through Shaw’s perspective and portrays many of the soldiers as runaway slaves with little to no motivation. Thankfully, historians like Dr. Egerton are working to tell these men’s stories and ensure that they will have their rightful place in American memory.

Reconciling with the Past: Ana Lucia Araujo’s Lecture on Coming to Terms with the Past When Monuments Are Taken Down

By Daniel Wright ’18

On Thursday, November 2nd, Howard University History Professor Ana Lucia Araujo visited Gettysburg College to give a lecture titled “Slavery, Memory, and Reparations: Coming to Terms with the Past When Monuments Are Taken Down.” The historian, author, and professor talked about the history of slavery as well as the concepts of memory and reparations. One form of reparations discussed recently has been the removal of Confederate monuments in the United States, which has been heavily debated for years.

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Revisiting Fredericksburg: Using Provocation to Explore New Questions

By Jonathan Tracey ’19

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. 

To Freeman Tilden, provocation was an essential ingredient to effective interpretation, and I tend to agree with that idea. Both my walking tour at the Fredericksburg Battlefield Visitor Center and the interpretive exhibits at Chatham Manor utilize provocation in different forms, with different challenges and opportunities. Overall, the atmosphere of Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park is one that supports and encourages provocative thinking by visitors.

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Provocation through Accessibility at Special Collections at Musselman Library

By Chloe Parrella ’19

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. 

Gettysburg College Special Collections is a place where the worlds of archiving, preservation, and interpretation intersect. In the climate-controlled stacks, shelves lined with volume after volume attest to the centuries of history that the college has witnessed. It is the role of the current staff and interns to disseminate the seemingly infinite artifacts, manuscripts, and other primary sources that come through the door to those who travel to Special Collections to learn, discover, and enrich themselves. As Freeman Tilden wrote, “Information, as such, is not interpretation. Interpretation is revelation based upon information”. However, interpretation is not something that should be rigidly defined and passed from person to person without question. In places such as Special Collections, we seek to provoke interactions between the sources and those using them; we hope to facilitate an environment where such interpretations can be made.

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Concord’s Wayside: Home of What?

By Olivia Ortman ’19

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. 

This summer, I have had the privilege of interning at Minute Man NHP in Concord, Massachusetts. My primary station here is the Wayside: Home of Authors. Right about now, you might be wondering what the Wayside is. That’s alright, I didn’t know what the house was until just this summer. The Wayside was the home of Louisa May Alcott, Nathanial Hawthorne, and Harriet Lothrop (or Margaret Sydney) – all prominent authors in the 19th century. This house also stood witness to the “shot heard round the world” and provided brief shelter to a fugitive slave. This house is a gold mine of history, yet with all this history comes challenges.

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Choosing Your Battles: Provoking the Public at Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park

By Abby Currier ’17

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. 

During training to be an intern at Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park, our instructors continuously stressed the importance of reading our audience. Whether we were greeting visitors at the front desk or leading walking tours, our job was to always watch the visitors and gauge what they are interested in. For me, this was initially very frustrating. I prefer to deal with concrete things instead of making judgement calls. It all sounded pretty wishy washy and that I would somehow ‘know’ what the visitor wanted just by looking at them. Needless to say, I was not convinced.

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Making the Most of Interpretative Tours at Fredericksburg and Spotslyvania National Military Park

By Julia Deros ’17

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. 

Freeman Tilden argues that the purpose of good interpretation is to inspire people to want to discover and learn for themselves in order to gain an understanding and appreciation for what they see. After having experienced the challenges of interpreting the battlefields at Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park, I agree that provocation is important to good interpretation.

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A Different Sort of Park: Interpreting POW Experiences at Andersonville National Historic Site

By Andy Knight ’19

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. 

Unlike many other historic sites, Andersonville does not fit neatly into any one box. It is not a battlefield, although we still interpret the experience of soldiers and the ideas they fought for. It is not a historic home or building; the only original parts of the site left are earthworks. Andersonville is a Civil War site but tells a story common to every war. Andersonville National Cemetery contains the remains of American soldiers from every American war except for 1812. Unlike any other National Cemetery entrusted to the National Park Service (except for Andrew Johnson National Historic Site) Andersonville is an active cemetery. Andersonville does not have just one story to tell but rather many different narratives throughout different time periods. It quickly becomes difficult to cover this wide range of topics in a relatively short public program.

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Interpreting the Life and Times of Maggie Walker

By Lucy Marks ’19

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. 

As a part of my orientation as an intern at Maggie L. Walker National Historic Site, I was told that 90% of visitors who come into the site have a very limited knowledge of who Maggie L. Walker was and what she had accomplished in her 70 years of life. Equipped with that information I felt a heightened sense of responsibility for the overall quality and accuracy of my tour of her home. In my opinion, Mrs. Walker is one of the most extraordinary people in history, a big claim to make, but this claim speaks for itself even in the smallest of details within her home. Mrs. Walker once fell down the stairs and broken her kneecap, a very painful injury with a drawn-out healing process. To prevent future injury, she had a skylight added to the stairwell to illuminate the staircase for safer travel. While this is a comparatively small change to her home, I think it speaks volumes about who she is and how she addressed obstacles in her life. Mrs. Walker lived in Richmond, Virginia during the height of the Jim Crow era. Mrs. Walker faced laws and restrictions that limited her not only as an African American, but as a woman. She didn’t just fight these laws; rather she sought creative solutions to benefit herself and others. Continue reading “Interpreting the Life and Times of Maggie Walker”