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.
Once again, I have spent the semester working on the Civil War Institute’s Killed at Gettysburg project. This project continues to be one with which I feel a strong connection, as I have always taken an interest in the stories of Gettysburg’s fallen. As such, I am glad to have had the opportunity to work on it again.
As before, I have focused on two soldiers in my research this spring, one an enlisted soldier in the ranks and one a regimental commander. The latter, Colonel Augustus van Horne Ellis of the 124th New York Volunteer Infantry, has a life-sized statue of him on the battlefield, while the former, Private Franz Benda, 26th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry, remains obscure. Both of them, though, lived fascinating lives, and each of their deaths reverberated far beyond the rolling hills of southern Pennsylvania. Through text narratives and interactive story maps, I sincerely hope that both of their stories can be told to broader audiences who can thus gain a greater appreciation for these men who heroically gave their lives for the cause of the Union.
Writing about these two soldiers has been extremely valuable for me in that it has encouraged me to think about different perspectives. For example, Franz Benda immigrated to the United States from his birthplace in Bohemia at a young age. He and his parents built a new life for themselves as farmers in Wisconsin, and the young man appeared well on his way to achieving a piece of the American dream. Everything changed in 1862 when he joined a regiment that made up part of the ethnically-diverse Eleventh Corps. The unit’s failures at Chancellorsville brought down heavy nativist criticism against Franz Benda and his comrades, making them feel as though they did not belong as fighters for the Union.
His story also ended in a heartbreaking fashion, as after his death at Gettysburg, his parents lost their farmland and died in poverty. While I knew the stories of the Eleventh Corps before this project, I had never taken the time to deeply consider what it must have been like for a young man like Franz Benda to experience that sort of pain and shame, much of which was undeserved. To consider his family’s tragic loss of both the human life of their son and the way of life they had made together. Benda’s story provides a powerful example of how soldiers could reach such psychological lows in the Civil War, and how the friends and relatives of those who died often lost so much more than their loved ones. As such, I feel proud to have developed a concise narrative of his life and legacy so that more people can learn about these themes as I did.
The story of Augustus van Horne Ellis has raised other valuable questions in the course of my research. For example, what qualities of a man and a leader could inspire those he commanded to include a statue of him atop their monument decades after his death? Ellis’s story is one of leadership and loss delicately intertwined. He clearly had the sort of strong personality to win over the hearts and minds of his fellow soldiers, as they elected him captain in his first term of duty. Ellis led his men well at First Bull Run but also had to grapple with the heartbreaking loss of his brother at that battle. He became known as a strong disciplinarian and a good recruiter, leading to his becoming colonel of the 124th New York, a regiment he played an instrumental role in raising and with which he forged a strong bond. Ellis died near Devil’s Den leading his men in a valiant but ultimately brutal charge, sealing his place in their memories as a brave commander to the last. Yet, his young wife of just four years had to deal with the loss of her husband in a profoundly emotional way that changed the course of her life. These twin narratives intersected throughout the short life of Augustus van Horne Ellis in different ways, raising issues of what it meant to lead men in the Civil War and what it meant to lose loved ones as well. Just as Franz Benda’s story creates certain important questions in the mind of the reader, Ellis’s does too, and I am happy to be able to bring the New Yorker’s story to the public.
The stories of the past continue to hold relevant connections to the lives of the present, and the Killed at Gettysburg project this semester has been valuable to me in this way. Considering the perspectives of others, whether that of a young, poor immigrant private or of a colonel born and bred in the nation’s largest city, remains extremely important today, in addition to the specific details of their lives and legacies. Working on the Killed at Gettysburg project has once again been highly enjoyable for me, and I hope that through it more people can ponder the lessons of the past and how we can apply them to our presents and our futures.
Case Files of Approved Pension Applications of Widows and Other Veterans of the Army and Navy Who Served Mainly in the Civil War and the War with Spain, compiled 1861 – 1934, National Archives, Washington D. C.
McAfee, Michael. “The Sons of Friends and Neighbors: Orange County’s 56th and 124th Regiments of New York Volunteer Infantry.” The Hudson River Valley Review 22, no. 1 (Fall 2005): 1-9. http://www.hudsonrivervalley.org/review/pdfs/hrvr_22pt1_mcaffee.pdf.
Military, Compiled Service Records. Civil War. Carded Records, Volunteer Organizations. Records of the Adjutant General’s Office, 1890–1912. National Archives, Washington, D.C.
Pula, James S. The Sigel Regiment: A History of the Twenty-Sixth Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry, 1862-1865. Campbell, CA: Savas, 1998.
Weygant, Charles H. History of the One Hundred and Twenty-Fourth Regiment N.Y.S.V. New York: Journal Printing House, 1877.
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?
Every year over a million visitors flood Adams County, Pennsylvania to tour the famous, or rather infamous, site of the Battle of Gettysburg. While most visitors primarily come to Gettysburg to learn about the battle, many leave with understandings of the unending impact of the Civil War on race relations. However, for a town that sparks such a progressive mentality in some, Adams County, and specifically Gettysburg, is often criticized for being ‘frozen in time,’ unwilling to keep up with progressive race relations after the battle ended. A panel entitled “Black Experiences in Adams County in the 19th & 20th Centuries” sponsored by the Adams County Historical Society and the Gettysburg College History and Africana Studies departments, addressed the importance of remembering this African American story. The panel included Gettysburg College Professor Scott Hancock, author Peter Levy, and Adams County residents Darryl Jones and Jane Nutter.
The Great Migration in the early 20th century shaped the nation as six million African Americans moved from the Southern United States to urban cities elsewhere. The experience of African Americans in Northern cities has been highly discussed in recent scholarship, yet often left unattended are rural areas like Adams County. More specifically, within Adams County, there is also a portion of the story left incomplete–the story of the African Americans who lived with the legacy of the Civil War years after the last shots were fired and the Gettysburg Address was delivered. In a town dedicated to preserving history, one will see acres of preserved land, hundreds of plaques, and over one thousand monuments placed throughout town; yet despite all of this preservation, hidden before the visitors’ eyes are the black experiences in Adams County in the years following the war.
The goal of this panel was to paint a picture of what life was like for African Americans in Adams County in the 19th and 20th centuries since so much of it is lost to history with only oral tradition to keep the memories alive. Gettysburg College is dedicated to educating youth, and according to Jane Nutter, this is nothing new. She explained how 49 years ago, in 1969, she was sitting in a lecture by renowned African American anthropologist Dr. Louis E. King in the exact building she was currently speaking in. Growing up, she and other young, poor African Americans would come to the College to expand their understanding about what was going on in the world. She expressed immense gratitude for these opportunities and challenged the audience to use these experiences to become enlightened and then enlighten others as well. Remembering a quote she heard at that lecture 49 years ago, she warned the audience, “You’ve got to be carefully taught.”
You do have to be carefully taught. In a country where the 13th Amendment abolished slavery and the 14th Amendment guarantees equal protection, it seems that all is well. However, upon hearing the testimonies of African American Adams County residents Jones and Nutter, it became clear that the Civil War did not end the struggles within the African American community. Though Jones admits they ‘had it pretty good’ growing up, he and Nutter both recognized the racial inequality that shaped their lives. Segregation marked many aspects of their lives from residency to education.
Concerning residency, African Americans were restricted to living on certain streets, all in the ‘Third Ward’ of Gettysburg. If attempts were made to live outside of the Third Ward, requests were never granted, and it was no coincidence. Nutter explained that it is painful to know the truth, but so important. The truth is, though African Americans were no longer enslaved, most African Americans in Gettysburg in the 1950s did domestic work for white families. Nutter’s mother did so, but she always made it clear to Jane that “I may be a maid, but I’m not a servant.” African Americans often found themselves having to advocate for themselves and the rights that should be naturally endowed upon them, as for all people. Adams County was one of the last counties in the country to get food stamps, something highly ironic for an agricultural community. Though great quantities of food were produced in the area, it was not accessible to the poorer residents who did not have food stamps. They only received food stamps once someone personally called officials concerning the issue. This delayed effort was largely due to resistance within the white community to food stamps, believing that they would be mostly for African Americans–an inaccurate assumption because most recipients were white.
When it came to education, there was also a delayed effort. York schools were only reintegrated in the 1950s, and though Jones and Nutter went to integrated schools, Civil Rights Era antipathy was evident. From resistance to being admitted into the gifted program to being discouraged from going to college, African Americans were often degraded by teachers and guidance counselors simply because they did not share the same color of skin. One’s heart could not help but ache when hearing Nutter recall a story of high school homecoming. She celebrated, remembering how her friend Missy was the first black homecoming queen in her high school, but her face turned grim as she recalled that when the photographer came to take a picture of the homecoming queen he said “you?” when he saw Missy. She called upon the audience to imagine Missy being their child and the immense hurt they would feel. While African Americans were no longer enslaved as they once were before the Civil War, they were still enslaved in an unequal society.
The news is filled with stories of protesters fighting for Confederate monuments to stand, something Nutter found troubling since African American schools and churches have often been torn down in silence. It is no secret that the Civil War did not free African Americans from the chains of their past and we cannot change the past; however, by being informed today, we can shape the future. We, as intellectuals and concerned citizens, have a responsibility to take this knowledge with us and use it to shape the world. As Jones explained, this is not some noble mission. It is just being a decent person, and “I’m hoping that because you’re in here [or reading this] that you are that already.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.