There is little controversy in claiming that the Civil War casts a long shadow. Whether you’re a history enthusiast, a reenactor, or even someone who doesn’t study history, it’s hard to completely get away from it. Shifts in political discourse and race relations are the most commonly discussed results of the conflict, but the war also brought about a considerable change in dominant moral philosophies that led to the establishment of several organizations, which continue to enjoy prominence to this day at different institutions of higher learning across the United States.
I speak particularly about Greek letter organizations. You can debate their merit in current times until you’re blue in the face, but that’s not what this is about. The Greek system was directly influenced by the Civil War, and it is that development which I hope to trace. There is, after all, a reason why the span of three decades after the war is commonly referred to as “the golden age of fraternities.” The founders and advocates of Greek letter organizations all cite different interpretations of morality as the inspiration behind their actions, and a general consensus came about in the wake of the Civil War that there were several prevailing moral deficiencies which actively obstructed not only the integrity of individuals, but also the total reunification of the United States. The emergence of several Greek letter organizations after the war, particularly in the South, shows an attempt to aid civic reconciliation by creating societies and orders focused on codes of honor and integrity. Continue reading “A Bid for Brotherhood: The Civil War and the Emergence of the Lexington Triad”
I once met a man who was a dead-ringer for Joseph Goebbels. He had the same dour sort of face plastered to a gaunt skull that could only have been squeezed in a vice; the same thin hairline that had retreated in step with the Reich’s exhausted armies; the same curt manner that summed itself up in a curled finger–“come here.” Our introduction to each other began with a beep from an airport scanner in Frankfurt. With no words, he directed me to an isolation space behind the security station. I’d be a liar if I said that standing with my arms outstretched as he patted me all over with gloved hands and chemical swabs didn’t send my heart racing. I didn’t know what to expect.
But more than that, I was on my guard. This was my first time in Germany–a connecting flight to elsewhere. All I knew of Germany and its people was what my grandfather’s stories and the History Channel had accidentally made instinctual to me: they were the enemy. There was something of a reckoning in that moment. It seemed that history had left me with only one response to an nationality: suspicion.
My grandfather rode with the 2nd Armored Division from Normandy to the Rhine. At the age of thirteen, his future wife led her siblings to shelter under the stairs as the Luftwaffe bombed targets across Somerset, night after night. Her aunt lost a thirteen-month old daughter in the London Blitz. Her uncle served with the BEF in France, and, after his capture in Greece, he spent five years as a slave laborer in a Bavarian salt mine. A generation earlier, my family sent almost a dozen men to fight above and below the trenches of the First World War. While–miraculously–not one died in combat, my great-great-grandfather, a sapper at Ypres, wheezed with the effects of mustard gas for the rest of his life.
In academic terms, I do not consider myself a “Civil Warrior.” I find the Civil War to be very interesting, but unlike many of my fellows here, do not pursue its study as my main focus. In a way, this proves to be a minor difficulty writing for an institute dedicated to Civil War research. Experts – in this case, true Civil Warriors – often seem to have a way of drawing leads and context for events and sources out of thin air, much like a Sherlock or Poirot solving a seemingly unsolvable mystery by the power of sheer deduction and individual mastery. For me, however, I must take the route of a gumshoe, working step by step to solve the puzzle.
For writing history is indeed a lot like solving a mystery. Oftentimes, much like the work undertaken for many of the articles on this blog, you begin with a single source of information or a single subject to study—your first clue on the case, existing outside of all contextualization when first viewed. “What can I possibly do with this?” one might ask when reading an old letter that seems largely irrelevant to most studies. “What kind of case am I dealing with?” Continue reading “The Mystery of Penn Hall”
January 23, 2014, marked the opening of the exhibit “Out of Rubble” that features the work of eighteen international artists from more than ten countries. The show examines the complex issues and contexts surrounding war — from causes and consequences to the possibility of recovery. Prior to the exhibit’s opening, three professors from three different colleges gathered in Gettysburg College’s Kline Theatre for a symposium — a lecture that discussed the paintings and photographs that grapple with the aftermath of war. All wars have shown destruction and death, but how have these themes lingered through time? How have they changed from war to war?
On October 23, 1863, F.M. Stoke paused from his duties at the Gettysburg Hospital to write a letter to his brother. More than three months had passed since Union and Confederate troops had brought war to the rolling ground of rural Pennsylvania, but reminders of the recent conflict were everywhere. Stoke apologized for the span of time since his last letter home. He had been busy lately writing letters for the patients in the hospital and had found no time for even a brief note for his own loved ones. Things were going well enough at the hospital, he wrote.
The impromptu clinic was located about a mile east of town (about where Ewell formed his battle line, he added) and consisted of large tents set up over approximately eighty acres of land. The tents were organized in “streets,” much as in military camps, an outline that made the hospital look nearly like a city of its own. When he first arrived, there were already 5,000 sick and wounded convalescing in the tents and it was not uncommon for seventeen men to die in one day. Continue reading ““No More”: F.M. Stoke’s Letter Home”
The creation of the Soldiers??? National Cemetery in Gettysburg was designed to honor the fallen Union soldiers of the battle with a peaceful final resting place easily accessible for visitors. This was a difficult, costly, and momentous undertaking…
This post was first published on the Civil War Institute’s previous blog, 901 Stories from Gettysburg.
The creation of the Soldiers’ National Cemetery in Gettysburg was designed to honor the fallen Union soldiers of the battle with a peaceful final resting place easily accessible for visitors. This was a difficult, costly, and momentous undertaking, but its success is as important today as as it was in 1864. While only a small percentage of the total number of visitors to Gettysburg see the National Cemetery, it is important to recognize the hard work and dedication which went into its creation. Equally as important are those who were not buried in the cemetery, those who were left buried on the field until 1871, the Confederate dead.
After the initial burials of the dead soldiers of Gettysburg in July 1863, townspeople and officials noted a few problems with the grave sites: agricultural issues because bodies were buried on working farms, visitation issues for both known and unknown soldiers, shallow graves that failed to show the respect due for men who had died for their country, and the lack of a place for communal remembrance. As a solution, Dr. Theodor Dimon, a relief surgeon sent from New York, suggested part of the Evergreen Cemetery should be purchased and turned into a national cemetery for the interment of the Union dead, as made possible by the passage of a law in 1862 allowing the Federal government to purchase land for use as national cemeteries. David McConaughy, president of the board of directors for Evergreen Cemetery, made a similar suggestion to the state of Pennsylvania to buy plots of land and bury all of the state’s dead there. Understanding the need for reinterment, David Wills, a prominent Gettysburg attorney, spearheaded the movement to purchase the land and create a national cemetery at Gettysburg for all Union men.
???Burying the Dead ???Burial Parties were sent out, and those who could get away from their commands went out to view the scene of carnage, and surely it was a scene never to be forgotten. Upon the open fields, like sheaves bound by the reaper, in cr…
This post was first published on the Civil War Institute’s previous blog, 901 Stories from Gettysburg.
“Burying the Dead “Burial Parties were sent out, and those who could get away from their commands went out to view the scene of carnage, and surely it was a scene never to be forgotten. Upon the open fields, like sheaves bound by the reaper, in crevices of the rocks, behind fences, trees and buildings; in thickets, where they had crept for safety only to die in agony; by stream or wall or hedge, wherever the battle had raged or their waking steps could carry them, lay the dead. Some with faces bloated and blackened beyond recognition, lay with glassy eyes staring up at the blazing summer sun; others, with faces downward and clenched hands filled with grass or earth, which told of the agony of the last moments. Here a headless trunk, there a severed limb; in all the grotesque positions that unbearable pain and intense suffering contorts the human form, they lay. Upon the faces of some death had frozen a smile; some showed the trembling shadow of fear, while upon others was indelibly set the grim stamp of determination. All around was the wreck the battle-storm leaves in its wake—broken caissons, dismounted guns, small arms bent and twisted by the storm or dropped and scattered by disabled hands; dead and bloated horses, torn and ragged equipments, and all the sorrowful wreck that the waves of battle leave at their ebb; and over all, hugging the earth like a fog, poisoning every breath, the pestilential stench of decaying humanity”
On July 2, 1863, the Trostle Farm, located about two miles south of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, was home to unforeseen destruction. During the struggle for the Union???s left flank, Captain John Bigelow???s 9th Massachusetts Battery was ordered to hold …
On July 2, 1863, the Trostle Farm, located about two miles south of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, was home to unforeseen destruction. During the struggle for the Union’s left flank, Captain John Bigelow’s 9th Massachusetts Battery was ordered to hold their position at the Trostle Farm no matter the cost. General William Barksdale’s Mississippi Brigade had just broken the Union lines along the Emmitsburg Road and engaged Bigelow’s battery. The Union line made an ultimately unsuccessful effort to maintain their position on the farm and was forced to retire. Despite the death of many soldiers, the capture of four out of six of their field pieces, and the death of around fifty of their horses, the 9th Massachusetts’ stand gave the Union enough time to establish a secondary position east of the Trostle House. In the struggle, the attacking Confederate brigade strategically shot Union artillery horses to prevent them from maneuvering their cannon. This deliberate slaughter was not uncommon during the battle, as over 1,500 artillery horses were killed, many in attempts to cripple an opposing battery’s mobility.
Alexander Gardner, Timothy H. O’Sullivan, and James F. Gibson were the first photographers on the battlefield, arriving in the late afternoon of July 5th. Unlike many photographers of their time who focused on depicting the layout of the battlefield and the surrounding scenery, Gardner’s team preferred to capture and record the horrors of the war. Back home, the emotional response to photos of the dead was enormous as many people had never seen images of such large-scale carnage. In the photographers’ Gettysburg Series were close to sixty negatives, almost 75% of which contained images of bloated corpses, open graves, dead horses, and related images of death. The work of Gardner and his associates was unusual in relation to other photographers of the time, which begs the question, why were they so insistent on photographing the dead? Could it have been for the emotional response that such powerful, raw images produced at home? Or perhaps it was based more on humans’ natural gravitation toward, and preoccupation with, the concept of death and dying? Whatever their reason, it can only partially explain the impact of the Trostle Farm photos. Next to depictions of soldiers lying dead on the battlefield, why would anyone back home care about this equine barricade? Those men were someone’s brother, husband, or son; what impact would horses have on the general public? Continue reading “The Trostle Farm”
Dead in the immediate vicinity of Culp???s Hill, though not in danger of the farmer???s plow, had been buried in shallow, mass graves. Culp???s Hill had been the site of fierce fighting on July 2nd and 3rd as Confederate troops sought to dislodge the Ar…
Dead in the immediate vicinity of Culp’s Hill, though not in danger of the farmer’s plow, had been buried in shallow, mass graves. Culp’s Hill had been the site of fierce fighting on July 2nd and 3rd as Confederate troops sought to dislodge the Army of the Potomac’s right flank. The above photograph is illustrative of the manner in which Confederate dead were interred by the Union burial parties beginning on July 4th. On July 5th, civilian Clifton Johnson visited the hill and bore witness to the economized strategies of these men. At that point, burial parties were hurrying to deal with bodies that had been lying out for up to three days:
I went over to Culp’s Hill Sunday. They were burying the dead there in long narrow ditches about two feet deep. They would lay in a man at the end of the trench and put in the next man with the upper half of his body on the first man’s legs and so on. They got them in as thick as they could and only covered them enough to prevent their breeding disease.