Southern Reconstruction and Constructed Memory: Anne Marshall Talks Veterans, Heritage Groups, and Reconcilation

By Ashley Whitehead Luskey

Anne Marshall History professor environmental portrait
Anne Marshall. Image courtesy of Mississippi State University

Over the course of this year, we’ll be interviewing some of the historians scheduled to speak at the 2016 CWI conference about their upcoming talks and their thoughts about Reconstruction and its legacies. Today, we’re speaking with Anne Marshall, Associate Professor of History at Mississippi State University. Marshall’s most recent publications include Creating a Confederate Kentucky: The Lost Cause and Civil War Memory in a Border State (University of North Carolina Press, 2010), and “The Jack Burden of Southern History: Robert Penn Warren, C. Vann Woodward, and Historical Practice,” in Storytelling, History, and the Postmodern South, ed. by Jason Phillips (Louisiana State University Press, 2013).

CWI: What role did memory, memorial associations, and the prolific creation of Civil War monuments play during the Reconstruction era?

MARSHALL: The efforts of both former white Confederates and white Unionists to commemorate the memory of the dead and surviving soldiers played a significant role in helping the American public deal with the trauma of war. Monuments and veterans associations became about much more about honoring the past, however. They also served as an effective way to shape the present during Reconstruction. Union veterans associations like the Grand Army of the Republic served as an advocacy group within the Republican Party, while black Union veterans often drew upon their service in the U.S. Army as grounds for obtaining and retaining the rights of citizenship in the post-war era. Most notably, white southerners created an entire worldview surrounding the concept of the Lost Cause, which they wielded to turn back the tide of federal Reconstruction and maintain white supremacy. In many ways, the very different aims of memorial groups who channeled the memory of the Civil War toward different ends became a way of continuing to fight the war in culture and in policy well after the fighting on the battlefield was over. Continue reading “Southern Reconstruction and Constructed Memory: Anne Marshall Talks Veterans, Heritage Groups, and Reconcilation”

A New Angle on the Freedmen’s Bureau: A Conversation with James Downs

Jim Downs
Jim Downs. Image courtesy of Connecticut College.

By Ashley Whitehead Luskey

Over the course of this year, we’ll be interviewing some of the historians scheduled to speak at the 2016 CWI conference about their upcoming talks and their thoughts about Reconstruction and its legacies. Today, we’re speaking with James Downs. Downs is an Associate Professor of History and American Studies at Connecticut College. He recently published Sick from Freedom: African-American Illness and Suffering During the Civil War and Reconstruction (Oxford University Press, 2012), which tells the largely unknown story of the many former slaves who died at the moment of freedom. Dr. Downs has also published on the representations of slavery in museums and historic landmarks in the United States, England, and the Bahamas. He is currently working on two book projects—the first on the international outbreak of the 19th-century cholera epidemics, and the second on the history of sexuality. The recent recipient of a prestigious New Directions Fellowship, Dr. Downs is spending the 2015-2016 academic year on sabbatical as an Andrew W. Mellon fellow at Harvard University.

CWI: What was the Freedmen’s Bureau? Who operated it, and what purposes did it serve?

DOWNS: The Freedmen’s Bureau was a federal government agency that helped to ease former bondspeople’s transition from slavery to freedom. Established by Congress in 1865 as the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Land, the Freedmen’s Bureau negotiated labor contracts; established provisional schools; constructed schools and began the first-ever system of federal medical care—building over forty hospitals, employing over 120 physicians, and treating an estimated one million formerly enslaved people. Continue reading “A New Angle on the Freedmen’s Bureau: A Conversation with James Downs”

A Complex Homecoming for Union Veterans: An Interview with Lesley Gordon

Lesley Gordon
Lesley Gordon. Image courtesy of the University of Akron.

By Ashley Whitehead Luskey

Over the course of this year, we’ll be interviewing some of the historians scheduled to speak at the 2016 CWI conference about their upcoming talks and their thoughts about Reconstruction and its legacies.  Today, we’re speaking with Lesley Gordon, Professor of History at The University of Akron. Gordon’s publications include: General George E. Pickett in Life and Legend (University of North Carolina Press, 1998), Intimate Strategies of the Civil War: Military Commanders and their Wives (Oxford University Press, 2001), and This Terrible War: The Civil War and its Aftermath (Longman, 2003). Her latest book, A Broken Regiment: The 16th Connecticut’s Civil War, was published in 2014 by the Louisiana State University Press.

CWI: What challenges and opportunities did US veterans encounter upon returning home from the war?  What was the process of re-assimilation back into civilian life like?  How did that process vary across different regions, classes, races, and ethnicities?

Gordon: Union veterans came home after the war hoping to return to normalcy. Demobilization happened quickly, especially considering how many soldiers had served and how long this “terrible” war had lasted. However, many found resuming their prewar lives difficult. Some of course did successfully return to their families, jobs and lives and blended smoothly and quietly into postwar society. We know more about those who struggled and failed—they simply left more records or drew more public attention. Some veterans were recovering from lingering wounds, physical, emotional and psychological ones. Yet, increasingly all veterans realized that they faced a changed postwar society, and a civilian population largely ready to move on. By the turn of the century, a growing perception of the Union veteran was that of the dependent pensioner, reliant on the state for care and financial support.

Continue reading “A Complex Homecoming for Union Veterans: An Interview with Lesley Gordon”

The Occupation of the South: An Interview with Andrew Lang

By Ashley Whitehead Luskey

Andrew Lang
Dr. Andrew Lang. Image courtesy of Mississippi State University.

Over the course of this year, we’ll be interviewing some of the historians scheduled to speak at the 2016 CWI conference about their upcoming talks and their thoughts about Reconstruction and its legacies.  Today, we’re speaking with Andrew Lang, Assistant Professor of History at Mississippi State University. Lang is the author of Waging Peace in the Wake of War: United States Soldiers, Military Occupation, and the American Civil War Era (currently under contract with Louisiana State University Press), as well as several scholarly essays.

CWI: What roles—political, economic, social—did the U.S. military play in the reconstruction of the South during the postwar occupation of the region?  What was the nature of its interactions with Confederate veterans? With women? With free blacks?  What regional variations did members of the U.S. military encounter during its occupation of the South in the Reconstruction era?

LANG: The U.S. military played a substantial role in the Reconstruction South. Following Confederate surrender, the Army was demobilized at a stunning, rapid pace, yet the institution retained important war powers which had guided Union arms to victory during the Civil War. In many ways, the Army assumed peacetime responsibilities with which it had rarely before been tasked, especially in politics and civil-military relations. The American tradition had long viewed a powerful military establishment, wielding strong political, economic, and societal influence, with suspicion. And yet it seemed that Union victory would not be assured without a substantial military force to maintain peace in the wake of wartime destruction while also ensuring the safety of freedpeople, southern Unionists, and Republicans who inhabited the South in the months and years after Appomattox. Serving as a formal peacekeeping force, overseeing elections and constitutional conventions, regulating local courts, policing the countryside, and engaging in a degree of counterinsurgency, the Army was perhaps the most important institution in the South during the Reconstruction era. This was true especially in managing the post-emancipation order. After playing a key part in the processes of wartime emancipation, the Army performed a crucial role in running the Freedmen’s Bureau, safeguarding African American rights, negotiating labor contracts and challenging the re-authorization of old planter regimes, acting as a buffer between freedpeople and former slave owners, and serving as a refuge to which freedpeople, notably women, could turn to report white transgressions and violence. As with most military occupations, the Army found that its presence in the South was welcomed warmly in some places and with much more hostility in others. Southern Unionists—white southerners who had opposed the Confederacy—as well as those pockets of the South that had long been under wartime military supervision, welcomed Union soldiers as forces of stability and protection. Some white southerners got along amicably with Union occupiers, while others expressed abject hatred and defiance, usually in areas hardly touched by Union patrols or in regions of formerly concentrated slave holding. Ironically, some evidence suggests that former Confederate soldiers—but certainly not all—were inclined to give Union soldiers the least amount of trouble. However, the occupiers eventually learned that some of those who had once filled the ranks of rebel armies were also those who joined the clandestine terror organizations that spread political and racial violence across the region. Continue reading “The Occupation of the South: An Interview with Andrew Lang”

Reconstruction in the North and South: An Interview with Andrew Slap

By Ashley Whitehead Luskey

Dr. Andrew Slap
Dr. Andrew Slap

Over the course of this year, we’ll be interviewing some of the prominent speakers scheduled to speak at the 2016 CWI conference about their upcoming talks and their thoughts about Reconstruction and its legacies. Today, we’re speaking with Andrew Slap, Associate Professor of History at East Tennessee State University. He is the author of several books, including The Doom of Reconstruction: The Liberal Republican in the Civil War Era (Fordham University Press, 2006)He is also the editor of This Distracted and Anarchical People: New Answers for Old Questions About the Civil War-Era North (Fordham University Press, 2013) and Reconstructing Appalachia: The Civil War’s Aftermath (The University Press of Kentucky, 2010). Slap serves as the series editor for “Reconstructing America” and “The North’s Civil War,” both published through Fordham University Press.

CWI: How was Reconstruction in the North similar to, and different from, Reconstruction in the South?  What challenges or opportunities existed in the North, and for whom, during the era of Reconstruction?

SLAP: Reconstruction in the North was strikingly different than Reconstruction in the South. For the South, Reconstruction meant massive upheaval (including almost four million African American slaves becoming free citizens), an occupying army, and having to rebuild an economy devastated by armies fighting across the South for years. By contrast, Reconstruction in the North was more about opportunities created by the war, and these extended throughout northern society. Economic legislation passed during the Civil War, such as the Homestead Act and the Transcontinental Railroad, helped open the West to new waves of settlers. Many veterans left the army ready to improve their lives with bonus money, new networks of friends, and a sense of optimism. Debates about African American voting rights helped spur the Women’s suffrage movement, including the Wyoming Territory’s women’s suffrage provision in 1870 and Victoria Woodhull becoming the first female candidate for president of the United States in 1872. Continue reading “Reconstruction in the North and South: An Interview with Andrew Slap”

Historic Sites and the Interpretation of Reconstruction: An Interview with Emmanuel Dabney

By Ashley Whitehead Luskey

Emmanuel Dabney. Image courtesy Gettysburg College.
Emmanuel Dabney. Image courtesy Gettysburg College.

Over the course of this year, we’ll be interviewing some of the prominent speakers scheduled to speak at the 2016 CWI conference about their upcoming talks and their thoughts about Reconstruction and its legacies.  Today, we’re speaking with Emmanuel Dabney, park curator at Petersburg National Battlefield in Petersburg, Virginia. Dabney holds a B.A. in Historic Preservation from the University of Mary Washington and an M.A. in Public History from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.  He maintains the blog Interpretive Challenges.

CWI: At what types of sites might we locate the history of Reconstruction?  What sites, specifically, lend themselves especially well to an interpretation of Reconstruction?

DABNEY: We should encounter the history of Reconstruction at a variety of sites including, but not limited to, local and state historical societies; historic house museums; and local, state, and National Park Service-operated sites and battlefields.

There are a host of sites that lend themselves to interpreting Reconstruction: State Capitol buildings with visitor centers (especially those located in the South), every Civil War battlefield and Civil War-era National Cemetery, historic plantations, and National Park Service units that relate to the Reconstruction presidents, such as President’s Park (aka The White House), Andrew Johnson National Historic Site, and Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site. Continue reading “Historic Sites and the Interpretation of Reconstruction: An Interview with Emmanuel Dabney”

The Legacy of the Lost Cause: An Interview with Kathryn Shively Meier

By Ashley Whitehead Luskey

Over the course of this year, we’ll be interviewing some of the prominent speakers scheduled to speak at the 2016 CWI conference about their upcoming talks and their thoughts about Reconstruction and its legacies.  Today, we’re speaking with Kathryn Shively Meier, Assistant Professor of History at Virginia Commonwealth University. She is the author of Nature’s Civil War: Common Soldiers and the Environment in 1862 Virginia (University of North Carolina Press, 2013).  Dr. Meier is currently working on a biography of General Jubal Early.

Image #1: Dr. Kathryn Shively Meier. Image courtesy Virginia Commonwealth University.
Dr. Kathryn Shively Meier. Image courtesy of Virginia Commonwealth University.

CWI: What are the core elements and ideas that comprise the “Lost Cause?” When and why did it emerge, who were some of its prime architects and supporters, and in what forms did it manifest itself?

MEIER: The Lost Cause, or the collective Confederate memory of the Civil War, most notably emphasizes states’ rights, rather than slavery, as the cause of the war. In the words of Jubal A. Early, a former Confederate general and key architect of the Lost Cause, “During the war, slavery was used as a catch word to arouse the passions of a fanatical mob . . . but the war was not made on our part for slavery.” Early’s 1866 assertion directly opposes the declarations of secession passed by several seceding states in 1861. For example, Mississippi’s declaration of secession read, “Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery–the greatest material interest of the world.” Other primary tenets of the Lost Cause include the claim that secession was legal, the portrayal of slavery as benign, an explanation of Confederate defeat chiefly as the result of inferior manpower and materiel, the glorification of Robert E. Lee and his lieutenant Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, and the practice of extolling Confederate soldiers and Confederate women. Continue reading “The Legacy of the Lost Cause: An Interview with Kathryn Shively Meier”

"Competing Memories of the War": An Interview with Dr. Caroline Janney

By Ashley Whitehead Luskey

Over the course of this year, we’ll be interviewing some of the prominent historians scheduled to speak at the 2016 CWI Summer Conference about their upcoming talks and their thoughts about Reconstruction and its legacies. Today, we’re speaking with Dr. Caroline Janney, Professor of History at Purdue University. Janney is the author of Burying the Dead But Not the Past: Ladies Memorial Associations and the Lost Cause (University of North Carolina Press, 2008), and most recently, the multi-award-winning Remembering the Civil War: Reunion and the Limits of Reconciliation (University of North Carolina Press, 2013).

Caroline Janney

CWI: How did Reconstruction shape the public memory of the Civil War? Who participated (or was not allowed to participate) in the shaping of Civil War memory and why?

JANNEY: Memory is a multi-faceted process that is at its heart about contemporary events. That is, the way in which people (northern and southern, black and white) thought about the war between 1865-1877 was in response to what was happening between 1865-1877. One of the best examples of how the policies of Reconstruction – or at least the uncertainty of what lay ahead – affected memory is the Lost Cause. Because former Confederate men were fearful of being charged with treason, southern white women took the lead in memorializing the Lost Cause. By invoking their maternal obligations to care for the dead, they were able to create Confederate cemeteries and establish the practice of Memorial Days as early as 1866. Continue reading “"Competing Memories of the War": An Interview with Dr. Caroline Janney”

An Interview with Dr. Gregory Downs

By Ashley Whitehead Luskey

Over the course of this year, we’ll be interviewing some of the prominent speakers scheduled to speak at the 2016 CWI Summer Conference about their upcoming talks and their thoughts about Reconstruction and its legacies. Today, we’re speaking with Dr. Gregory Downs, Associate Professor of History at the University of California, Davis. Dr. Downs is the author of Declarations of Dependence: The Long Reconstruction of Popular Politics in the South, 1861-1908 (University of North Carolina Press, 2011) and most recently, After Appomattox: Military Occupation and the Ends of War (Harvard University Press, 2015), which uses the lens of occupation to examine the immediate period after Confederate surrender as an extension of wartime.Greg Downs

CWI: It is popular perception that the Civil War definitively and “neatly” ended at Appomattox, and so most media outlets declared the commemorations of the Civil War Sesquicentennial over in the summer of 2015. In what ways have such understandings of the war inhibited a fuller understanding of the enduring challenges and unanswered questions that Americans faced in the postwar period? Continue reading “An Interview with Dr. Gregory Downs”

“The Battle of Cold Harbor & the Soldier’s Psyche”: An Interview with Ashley Luskey

By Emma Murphy ’15

Ashley Luskey will be speaking at the 2014 Civil War Institute’s Summer Conference on the War in 1864 during which she will give a lecture on Cold Harbor and its contested memory. Luskey is currently a Park Ranger at Richmond National Battlefield and is working towards her PhD in History at West Virginia University. In anticipation of the Summer Institute, Ashley Luskey answered student questions about her research, her lecture topic, and her connection with Gettysburg College and the Civil War Institute. Let’s see what she has in store for us this summer:

Luskey

Continue reading ““The Battle of Cold Harbor & the Soldier’s Psyche”: An Interview with Ashley Luskey”