War’s Tragic Pawn

By Cameron Sauers ’21

Students, faculty, and local art buffs packed Schmucker Art Gallery here at Gettysburg College on October 25th to hear CWI Director, Peter Carmichael talk about visual depictions of warfare. The talk was given as a part of the ongoing exhibition, “The Plains of Mars: European War Prints 1500-1815,” which features an array of war prints depicting a range of both heroic and tragic moments of warfare. This semester I have been closely studying and writing about 19th-century images of warfare to help curate a photography exhibit for this summer’s CWI Conference, so I was intrigued by what Dr. Carmichael had to say about the artwork of war.

Carmichael began his talk on a personal note, explaining how his introduction to Civil War visual culture began with Bill Frassanito’s book, Gettysburg: A Photographic Journey in Time. As a child on vacation in Disney, Carmichael much preferred the book to anything the amusement park had to offer. The book, a product of Frassanito’s scouring of the battlefield for more than five years, gave the young Carmichael a sense of time travel. The young Carmichael was fascinated by the side- by- side comparison of historic photos and Frassanito’s modern photos of the battlefield. Frassanito followed his books on Gettysburg with a book of the photographs of Antietam, which are more graphic than the photographs from Gettysburg.

Following Frassanito’s lead, Carmichael transported the attendees back to the blood-soaked fields of Antietam by showing images of dead Confederates near Hagerstown Turnpike. These Antietam photos, taken by Alexander Gardner, were presented at Mathew Brady’s New York Gallery. Brady exhibited the photos in all of their gory detail, which earned him the scorn of numerous individuals who criticized his “unseemly” artwork. Following the exhibition of the prints, an unsigned New York Times editorial blasted viewers who pulled out magnifying glasses to inspect the gore in the photos, and through such voyeuristic enthusiasm, completely disregarded the humanity of the dead. The unknown editorial author was disappointed and disgusted by the public’s morbid fascination with the photos. Ultimately, the reason the author was disappointed with the images was because they challenged northern civilians’ romantic notions of death by showing the horrors of battlefield realities.

The images Gardner took were also published in Harpers Weekly as woodcuts, but these were sanitized of their grislier aspects. A woodcut of Burnside’s Bridge dominated a page of Harpers Weekly in October 1862, but for all the hard fighting that happened there, there was no destruction and death seen in the woodcut. Rather, the woodcut simply depicts two soldiers marching side by side towards the bridge. The emphasis is not on the men, though, it’s on the landscape. However, the land around the bridge has been cleared of any evidence of battle. Carmichael emphasized that what many members of the northern public were being shown as the horrors of war was actually a sanitized version of the gruesome reality. Other images published in the paper used shadowing and other doctoring techniques to obscure the more unpalatable images. The woodcuts of dead bodies could be just as jarring to the northern public, without being as offensive as the gore in the original photographs. The result of this doctoring was a public that thought they had experienced war, but had only experienced an image in a newspaper.

Although sanitized, these images were still shocking enough to cause significant political ramifications in the North. The images made the public contemplate the war’s purpose, especially as that purpose was altered after the battle of Antietam. The sacrifice of the soldiers captured in the images gave President Abraham Lincoln the political clout to announce the Emancipation Proclamation, which meant the Union dead had not died in vain. Their sacrifice gave Lincoln the stalemate, if not outright victory, he needed to be able to issue the Proclamation from a position of strength and legitimacy. The images softened public reaction to the Emancipation Proclamation, demonstrating to the northern public the necessity of the Proclamation to bring an end to the war.

Not only did the photos influence the public’s political views, they also reflected the shift in how the public engaged with and understood war. Carmichael spoke about the large role photographs play in influencing the way we remember events. He illustrated this by showing a picture of a Vietnam soldier whose forlorn face pulls on the heartstrings of the audience. Seeing the young man in distress reinforces the notion that war is inherently bad. However, Carmichael challenged the audience to look deeper for different interpretations of warfare as he presented more modern Civil War art. Pointing to one image that showcased a defiant Robert E. Lee at Appomattox, Carmichael noted that the artist sought to celebrate the heroic, or at least more noble aspects of war by creating a definitive homage to Lee and perhaps also offering a justification of the Confederate cause. The image does not condemn Lee or the Confederate cause, nor is there any reference to the issue of slavery that the war had been fought over. Rather than having Traveller (Lee’s horse) droop his head in defeat, Traveller’s head is raised and defiant. Traveller, like his owner, would not show deference to the United States. Similarly, a painting by Mort Kunstler of Joshua Chamberlain leading the 20th Maine down the slope of Little Round Top embodies the individual heroism that we want to believe carried the day on July 2 at Gettysburg. The heroic Chamberlain leads the 20th Maine in a gallant charge, and the only visible casualties have their faces covered and blend in with the dark ground. Behind Chamberlain, a massive United States flag is unfurled in one of the ultimate shows of patriotism. These works, which border on romanticizing war and soldiering, present a stark contrast to other works currently on display at Schmucker Gallery, like Jean Pierre Marie Jazet’s defeated French Soldier after Waterloo. This image focuses on a lone soldier sitting on a rock, a shovel in one hand and his head propped by the other hand. The soldier stares into the distance, no doubt contemplating his task of burying his fallen comrade, upon whom he has his wounded leg propped. He is too exhausted, or devastated, to even honor a fallen comrade. Carmichael explored how this image resonates with a modern audience because it validates what we have come to believe about war since Vietnam –that it destroys the emotional and mental state of the soldier who is nothing more than a tragic pawn caught in a deadly chess match.

In juxtaposing strictly heroic portrayals of warfare with images that spoke solely to the dehumanizing influences of war, Carmichael opened an effective window to discuss what war art continually lacks: A complex narrative. Carmichael emphasized the value of certain artistic tropes that armed conflict is inherently graphic, and he noted that the “Plains of Mars” exhibition is a necessary check on militarism because the exhibition displays the peril of war. However, Carmichael argued that war art has increasingly turned away from acknowledging that a heroic sacrifice for political reasons—namely, cause and country–does in fact exist. To validate his point, Carmichael showed the audience a painting done by Don Troiani of the 24th Michigan fighting on the first day of the battle of Gettysburg. The 24th Michigan’s battle flag is a symbol for the political causes endangered by secession, with that flag demanding courage of the men fighting under it. The battle flags amidst their ranks were made by their wives and sweethearts at home, often even sewn from wedding dress fabric. This knowledge drives home the idea that the men were fighting for their loved ones, in addition to fighting for their nation. This image plays into Carmichael’s lament that, since the Vietnam War, art has not portrayed the soldier as anything but a tragic pawn. Since Vietnam, the public has transitioned from romanticizing conflict to a cynicism about war. In general, a modern war image emphasizes the heroism of the act of fighting, but will not go as far as to confer heroic status onto those fighting. Despite the painting’s strengths, however, Carmichael still critiqued the lack of blood and fear amongst the men, arguing that war art needs to have a more complex narrative than even this Troiani piece, with subjects demonstrating characteristics other than heroic tropes. For all its strong political symbolism, the painting lacks reflection on the true horrors of war.

Carmichael then explored the political ramifications of war art, which can leave a long-lasting impact on a nation. Carmichael showed the audience pictures of Gordon, also known as “whipped Peter” whose scourged back from years of whippings while enslaved made him a symbol of the abolitionist cause. Gordon later enlisted in the Union army. Carmichael presented an image of Gordon in his uniform but noted that, for African Americans, it was not as simple as wearing the Union blue to achieve freedom. Gordon had gone from an enslaved man to a soldier, from “property” to hero. Images of Gordon reminded northern audiences that it took risk, and indeed sacrifice, to achieve the larger goal of liberty.

As he concluded his talk, Carmichael addressed the importance of images from the Civil War in reminding us that the great bloodletting and sacrifice of human life was done with the awareness that the nation’s future rested on individual heroism. Art can change how people actively view and remember events, allowing the malleable historical narrative to be shaped by influential images. An image can emphasize or sanitize a point of view, emotion, or event in the public consciousness, as photographs and woodcuts did during the Civil War. Carmichael asked the audience a hard-hitting question in conclusion: Should we remember the Civil War as a moment solely of heroic triumph? The art that has stuck in public memory of the Civil War does not give us full understanding of that conflict. We have to look deeper into the images. The Harpers Weekly woodcuts from Antietam depict corpses, but ignore images of grieving widows and orphans. Only on contemplation do we think of the families and the physical and emotional burdens they endured. And yet, even in their grief, these widows and orphans were individuals who understood that the sacrifice of their loved one was a part of a large and meaningful cause. For Civil War era Americans, imagery was key to reinforcing the importance of the individual, and the ability of the individual to ‘win the day’ with an act of heroism. These individuals did as much as anyone could do to advance the cause. Their sacrifice had to be made for a larger purpose. The images reminded those on the home front of the heroic, even if at times grisly, struggle.

Walking away from the gallery, I couldn’t help but reflect on one of the photographs from my own research this semester. The photo depicts the unidentified body of a Confederate soldier at Devil’s Den. This image, which was once difficult to look at, has become a common part of my day. The more I look at the image, the deeper connection I feel to the young man, who could be just about my own age. It hit home for me when Carmichael referenced the grieving families. The mangled body that northern audiences gawked at in the image was someone’s son. The young soldier had a family that loved and cared for him, and yet he became something for gallery visitors to gawk at. The image does not convey how his loved ones grieved, or what his death meant for the national struggle. Those narratives are for the historian to reconstruct.

Unspeakable Suffering; Eloquent Explanations: National Civil War Medicine Museum’s 26th Annual Conference

By Benjamin Roy ’21 and Cameron Sauers ’21

On Friday, October 12th, 2018, the National Civil War Medicine Museum kicked off its 26th annual conference and began its three-day event with a series of lectures on topics ranging from Confederate medical practice to cultural understandings of cowardice. A series of unique lectures given by a professionally diverse cast of presenters illuminated the often-peripheral field of Civil War Medicine.

Our day started on a high note with coffee and a thought-provoking inquiry into the position of Confederate Surgeon General. Dr. Guy R. Hasegawa, a pharmaceutical doctor and scholar, detailed the unique history of this crucial Confederate leadership position and the men who filled it during the war. The Confederate Surgeon General, identical to his Federal counterpart but without the benefits of the massive resources at Union command, was tasked with maintaining the health of the Confederate armed forces and citizenry. Building the medical department from the ground up presented the Confederate Surgeon General with challenges not experienced by his already established Federal counterpart. Hasegawa’s presentation provided particularly interesting insights into the life of Samuel Preston Moore, Confederate Surgeon General from 1862 until surrender. The lecture detailed the challenges, successes and controversies that defined Moore’s Confederate career. Among the engaging topics were the innovations pioneered by Moore and implemented by the Confederate medical department. Under Moore, the Surgeon General’s office established a medical journal, implemented exhaustive collection and analysis of medical data, and even pursued indigenous remedies. Moore also supervised the Association for the Relief of Maimed Soldiers, which provided prosthetic limbs to Confederate veterans. Hasegawa’s talk provided an insight into the struggles that the Confederacy faced as it tried to establish itself as a new nation.

Dr. Robert Hicks, Director of the Mutter Museum of Philadelphia, continued the theme of Confederate medical practice in his presentation on the mass vaccination efforts at inoculating both the Confederate Army and civilian populace. Hicks used Confederate efforts at inoculation during an 1863 smallpox outbreak to highlight the pioneering efforts of the Confederate medical staff in epidemiology. This insightful and interdisciplinary talk combined material culture, epidemiology, and more traditional historical records, like primary source documents, to explain the smallpox outbreak the Confederacy dealt with in 1863. The outbreak was exacerbated by Confederates who attempted to vaccinate themselves, but inadvertently gave themselves and their comrades the disease. Laid atop the solid foundation of Hasegawa’s introduction of important figures in the Confederate Medical Department, Hicks’s presentation was personable and engaging. Combining scholarship and personality, Hicks’s talk was one of the highlights of the conference. The lecture mirrored an essay he recently contributed to Joan Cashin’s new edited volume, War Matters: Material Culture in the Civil War Era. His research into Confederate vaccination emphasized the importance of those objects in his talk, with Hicks declaring, “Working with the stuff always gives you something you didn’t expect” and “material culture always produces surprises.”

Dr. Robert Hicks

Paige Gibbons Backus’s talk, entitled “Revealing the Chaos and Carnage of the Hospitals of First Manassas,” gave a stark contrast to the orderly medical system emphasized by Hicks and Hasegawa. The talk highlighted the disorder and panic that inhibited the treatment of the wounded during and after the First Battle of Manassas. Field hospitals were shelled, wounded were left on the field for days, and spooked Federal doctors fled mid-surgery for the safety of Washington. Backus then shifted into describing how Ben Lomond Historic Site, which served as a field hospital during the battle, interprets Civil War medicine through the sense of smell. The site contracts with a company that manufactures smell canisters that recreate the odors of a hospital, thus giving visitors a direct connection to the often-unimaginable environment of a Civil War field hospital. By using smell as an educational tool, the site provides visitors with an interpretation that moves beyond audio and visual demonstrations, allowing them to have a more immersive experience. Backus noted that she has become accustomed to the rank smell of gangrene emitted by these canisters. Like Backus, Civil War medical personnel would have gone nose-blind to the horrific smells due to constant exposure in their daily routines of aiding the wounded. (As an aside, the audience was most disturbed when Backus revealed that that same company contracts with Starbucks to manufacture the smell of coffee that permeates their locations, eliciting a common groan of disgust from all attendees).

Captain Frank K. Butler, M.D. gave the next talk on current standards of care in the armed forces, titled, “Battlefield Trauma Care – From Antietam to Afghanistan.” Butler immediately commanded attention from the audience by showing a picture of an Afghan mountain range in his title slide and remarking, “this is from when we were hunting for Mr. Bin Laden.” The talk focused on battlefield medicine in Afghanistan and Iraq, wars with high stakes in our own young lives. Remembering our friends in the armed forces made Butler’s talk one of the more personally resonant presentations for us. Using the tourniquet as the medical thread to tie Civil War soldiers fighting on the plains of Antietam to Special Forces Operators ascending the mountains of the Hindu Kush, Butler assumed a highly medical voice as he discussed the nature of military medical reform. Butler’s advocation of the TCCC (Tactical Combat Casualty Care) plan among the armed forces was the focus of the talk. The Department of Defense uses TCCC to teach Special Forces operators life saving techniques and strategies for tending to trauma injuries received on the battlefield. Often using graphic depictions of real wounds sustained by Special Forces soldiers in the war against terror, Butler’s presentation offered a sobering picture of battlefield medical care and the challenges it still poses today. Butler portrayed continuity by explaining how the use of morphine has remained relatively unchanged from the Civil War into today, reflecting a lack of innovation that mystifies Butler. Although TCCC significantly lessened the death rate for wounds to the extremities, Butler’s goal is to eliminate preventable deaths and keep innovating. Butler’s talk offered a poignant example of how professionals in their fields use material culture, like the humble tourniquet, and historical knowledge to highlight the evolution of battlefield trauma and make lifesaving innovations.

CWI Director, Dr. Peter Carmichael finished the first day with a thought-provoking inquiry into how sentimentalism shaped the way surgeons treated soldiers suffering under the pressures of Civil War combat. Very broadly, sentimentalism refers to a 19th -century belief that faith in God and strength of will would prevent moral failure. Dr. Carmichael stated that belief in sentimentalist prescriptions of manhood shaped Victorian Americans’ belief that cowardice, and the way it could manifest itself through various bodily “ailments,” was an affliction to be overcome through masculine force of will, not through medicinal treatment. Carmichael provoked the audience with passages from a war-time medical journal and engaging rhetoric that challenged conference attendees to see not the barbaric practices of early modern surgeons, but rather cultural tropes that directly shaped Americans’ views of soldiering, masculinity, and medical practice during the Civil War. Carmichael used the example of a northern surgeon who concluded in a medical journal that combat was the best cure for homesickness, as it allowed the men to drown individual sufferings and longings by expressing their manly impulses and created a community within the regiment. Using case studies of different Civil War soldiers, Carmichael nicely grounded this sophisticated talk about the complex concept of sentimentalism in the concrete reality of men’s experiences.

Jake Wynn, the Director of Interpretation at the National Museum of Civil War Medicine, started the second day with a talk on the functions of the Army of the Potomac’s medical department during the Overland Campaign. The Overland Campaign was the first campaign following the departure of Jonathan Letterman from his post as Medical Director of the Army of the Potomac. Letterman had revolutionized battlefield medicine by pioneering the use of the triage system and emphasizing the use of ambulances. The campaign’s aggressive and unrelenting drive to the South and East, and the bloody battles it produced along the way, overwhelmed the medical department. During May and June 1864, the medical department had treated 40,000 wounded men. Wynn noted that ambulances became a critical part of the campaign as wounded soldiers needed to be evacuated to the main Union hospital. The difficulty for the medical department was that, as Grant and Lee continued their southeasterly drive toward Richmond, new hospitals had to be constantly established in their wake. Wynn discussed the experiences of nurses and wounded soldiers during the campaign to highlight how the department performed without its now legendary head, Jonathan Letterman. The department kept Letterman’s reforms, which are still used today in battlefield medicine, to treat the wounded.

The final lecture of the conference came from Melissa DeVelvis, a doctoral candidate in history at the University of South Carolina, specializing in the Civil War era, gender studies, and sensory and emotional history. DeVelvis’s talk covered the impact of the senses in Civil War hospitals, focusing specifically on the experience of Civil War nurses. One topic of intrigue was how important touch was to recovering soldiers. DeVelvis provided an example of a Confederate nurse remarking that the Union soldiers in a Confederate hospital had a higher mortality rate because the nurses were less tender with them than they were with Confederates soldiers. Another interesting point was that nurses, especially in the Deep South, had to consider the men they were treating as their brothers and sons to avoid transgressing on Victorian morality. The intimate relationships between soldiers and nurses would have defied ideas of propriety if they were not considered to be family. The final topic of the lecture covered how Civil War nurses became numb to death through their constant contact with the dead and dying. DeVelvis noted that nurses wrote about tending to the dying as a minor occurrence, reporting it in their letters home as just a mechanical byproduct of their work. DeVelvis compared the numbness of hospital workers to soldiers who became accustomed to the fighting and killing on the front lines. The combined experience of soldiers and civilians led to a reevaluation of Victorian ideals, like the notion of the “good death,” and led to a renegotiation of certain moral values.

As we left the conference, we reflected on two days of lectures, the wide scope of topics covered by presenters, and how grateful we were to the National Museum of Civil War Medicine for providing scholarships so that we, and other Gettysburg students, could attend the conference. We witnessed an exciting example of how rich history can be when it embraces interdisciplinary methods. Examples of the application of material culture, gender studies, cultural history and numerous other disciplines inspired us to apply the same to our own research for the Civil War Institute. This semester, we are curating a photography exhibit that will be displayed at this summer’s CWI Conference comprised of images taken at Gettysburg following the battle. What we learned at the conference challenged us to re-consider the images in our exhibit in a new light. The topics interweaving both science and medicine gave broader perspective to two historically minded people like us. As historians, we normally view ourselves as the antithesis to medicine and science, but the Civil War Medicine Conference provided us the opportunity to see how the fields overlap. The field of Civil War history often can seem overpopulated with histories covering the same figures and events. We left the conference full of hope and convinced that our own scholarship could be groundbreaking in unique ways, like the presentations at the conference.


Hot off the Press: War Matters Review

by Cameron Sauers ’21

War Matters: Material Culture in the Civil War Era
Ed. Joan Cashin
University of North Carolina Press
ISBN: 9781469643205
262 pages

This collection of essays illustrates that a material culture approach to the past can help us better understand some of the deeper complexities of the Civil War era, such as the expansion of consumer culture, the common soldier’s experience, and behavioral history, as well as issues of race, bondage, and emancipation. Cashin argues that it is important to study the objects featured within the book to understand their multi-valenced roles in the daily lives of 19th-century Americans, as well as the cultural and emotional significance they held for those who utilized them. From Robert Hicks’s essay on vaccinating the Confederate armies, to Sarah Jones Weicksel’s examination of shelter in refugee camps, these pieces explore a wide assortment of artifacts. The authors reveal that these artifacts enabled historical actors to shape events in specific ways and give meaning to their surrounding world.

In her own essay, Cashin focuses on the relationship Civil War soldiers had with artifacts from the American Revolution. She specifically notes southern whites’ veneration of Revolutionary War artifacts and their desire to protect them from Union soldiers. Union soldiers were eager to find jewelry and cuts of wood from Founding Fathers as they campaigned, items that were valuable to them but were also easy to physically carry. Cashin argues that soldiers wanted physical contact with these artifacts to serve as second-hand connections to great figures, especially George Washington, which would serve as inspirational reminders of the past, as well as mementos that could be taken away as souvenirs of war. Cashin’s essay ends with a sentence that sets up this new subfield of historical scholarship: “The study of material culture can illuminate yet other undiscovered aspects of politics and memory in the long sweep of American History.”

Two other essays in the collection that complemented each other were Earl Hess’s, “The Material Culture of Weapons in the Civil War,” and CWI Director Peter Carmichael’s, “The Trophies of Victory and The Relics of Defeat: Returning Home in the Spring of 1865.” While exploring different aspects of the soldier experience, both pieces cover the tenuous relationship that many Civil War soldiers had with their weapons during the war. Hess explores the ambivalence that soldiers felt toward their guns and the act of shooting them. Some Civil War soldiers were petrified by the power of their rifles, realizing that the weapon purposefully took the life of an enemy or could accidentally discharge into a comrade. For other soldiers, America’s emerging gun culture made them supremely confident in the handling and use of small arms while campaigning. Carmichael discusses how rifles and other militaria carried heightened symbolism during the Confederate surrender at Appomattox. Some Confederate soldiers were so grief-stricken, or in denial, over the Confederacy’s demise that they could not bring themselves to personally surrender their weapons. Instead, they simply left their weapons in their tent and walked away rather than face the indignity of handing over these much-desired trophy pieces to Union victors. Enlisted men felt that the surrender of their weapons encroached on their personal honor because the decision to surrender was not theirs.

For casual buffs or serious scholars, War Matters is a rewarding read. Each author reconstructs the physical and symbolic importance of objects for readers. Moreover, the authors give voice to different human stories and the material objects through which individuals made sense of their world. The more we understand the artifacts themselves, the more we understand the people who used them. As the contributors to War Matters successfully showcase, material culture is an important complement to traditional history. Cashin and the contributors to the volume illuminate new subjects and provide another layer of understanding to the construction and unpacking of historical narratives.

Remembering the Violence of Antietam

By Cameron Sauers ’21

Ranger Keith Snyder from Antietam National Battlefield delivering his program Saturday afternoon in Antietam National Cemetery. (photo via Cameron Sauers)

Saturday, September 8th, saw a powerful collaboration between the Civil War Institute, Antietam National Battlefield, Eastern National, and Shepherd University. Together, these organizations hosted an event titled “Remembering the Violence of Antietam” which had a morning session at Shepherd University’s Robert C. Byrd Center for Congressional History and Education. Those fortunate enough to have secured a seat in the auditorium were treated to a thought-provoking and informative string of talks. The afternoon session took place at different sites around Antietam National Battlefield.

The day began in earnest with an insightful lecture from Amelia Grabowski, a Gettysburg College alumna from the class of 2013. Grabowski’s lecture, “The Making of the Angel of the Battlefield,” focused on Clara Barton , a school teacher and clerk in the patent office who became a nurse at the outset of the war. The lectured paid special attention to how Barton’s experience at Antietam field hospitals influenced her later work with the Missing Soldiers Office and the foundation of the American Red Cross. Clara Barton’s early life was illuminated for the audience, dispelling the common notion that Barton was some angel just dropped on the Antietam battlefield. One of the events in Barton’s early life that was highlighted was Barton’s experience nursing her brother to health for two years after he fell from a roof. This gave Barton the rudimentary knowledge of nursing that she would take to the battlefield with her.

Following Grabowski was CWI Director, Dr. Peter Carmichael, who delivered a talk entitled, “Where is the Blood? Imagination, Violence, and the Sunken Lane.” Dr Carmichael detailed the sanitization of the famous Alexander Gardiner photos of Antietam before public consumption. Gardiner’s original photos of carnage were stripped of their blood and gore before being published as woodcuts for Northern newspapers. This editing of the photos prevented Northerners from seeing the true carnage in Gardiner’s original photos of the battle. Dr. Carmichael also provided the case study of David Beam, who served in the 24th Indiana and fought at the Sunken Lane who wrote a series of emotional and revealing letters home in the days and weeks following Antietam. Carmichael’s example served to prove his point that Civil War soldiers were emotional and would share their feelings with those on the home front.

After concluding his talk, Dr. Carmichael introduced his good friend and newly appointed director of the Nau Center for Civil War History at the University of Virginia, Dr. Caroline Janney. Dr. Janney’s achievement as a Civil War historian is well known . She is the author of Burying the Dead But Not the Past: Ladies’ Memorial Associations and the Lost Cause and Remembering the Civil War: Reunion and the Limits of Reconciliation. Janney’s lecture, “On this Field Died Slavery: Remembering and Reconciling at Antietam,” captivated the assembled audience. One of the fascinating aspects of Dr. Janney’s talk was her detailing of how many soldiers, both northern and Southern, did not want to go to Blue/Grey reunions because they did not want to tone down their rhetoric about the war’s causes. Blue/ Grey reunions were reconciliation meetings that sought to commemorate the valor of individual soldiers and units but ignored larger political forces of the war. Union veterans may have preferred to lambaste the South’s secession, but would have been hesitant to do it on Southern ground in front of Southern veterans.

Janney also made the interesting argument that Antietam is a memorial park to the Union itself because many veterans of the Battle of Antietam, especially those who did not fight at Gettysburg, viewed the battle as the triumph that ended slavery. Following the war, many soldiers would take great pride in the fact that their sacrifice and victory at the battle of Antietam led to the Emancipation Proclamation. After the war, this sense of pride would lead to clashes between Union and Confederate veterans over what caused the war and what ended it, especially as former Confederates developed the Lost Cause mythology . Janney ended with Robert Penn Warren’s quote, “in the moment of death the Confederacy entered upon its immortality ,” which was a perfect example of this new mythology. The Confederacy, when it surrendered, still had ardent supporters who were not yet willing to admit defeat. They vowed to perpetuate “the lost cause,” which promotes Confederate honor and dignity and attempts to manipulate the historical memory of the war. For example, a common example of the lost cause is to say that ‘states rights’ caused the war, instead of slavery, or to sterilize the horrors of the institution of slavery. The sense of awe in the room was palpable as seminar participants headed for lunch.

In the afternoon, visitors were treated to a unique talk from Dr. James Broomall, the Director of the George Tyler Moore Center for the Study of the Civil War and Assistant Professor of History at Shepherd University. Broomall admittedly stepped out of his comfort zone to deliver a lecture on James Hope’s paintings of the battle of Antietam. Broomall claimed to not be an art historian, but his speech had the audience (myself included) captivated by the subject. Broomall focused on how Hope’s return to the battlefield two decades after the battle inspired him to begin painting once again. The resulting works capture the field of Antietam at its most brutal – from the fighting near Dunker Church, to piles of bodies in the Sunken lane. Seeing how a painter remembered the violence at Antietam was an interesting contrast to how photography and monuments commemorated the violence. Broomall’s talk about painting the battlefield was especially helpful as seminar attendees headed out onto the battlefield.

After Broomall’s talk, a brave few ventured out in the rain for the first of two battlefield tours. Park ranger Brian Baracz’s tour, “Memory in Bronze and Stone,” built on the morning talks, especially that of Dr. Janney. Baracz focused on the monuments erected at Antietam and how their stories differ from Gettysburg’s battlefield. Antietam has less monuments on the battlefield than Gettysburg because many states wanted to put monuments only at Gettysburg and considered the monuments erected at Antietam to be second in terms of importance. Fortunately, the rain started to disappear towards the end of Baracz’s talk and held off for Keith Snyder’s tour. Snyder’s tour, “The Global Sacrifice for Freedom at Antietam National Cemetery,” expanded the day beyond the Civil War. Snyder detailed, for the assembled audience, the stories behind a few of the graves at the cemetery. Included were the graves of Civil War soldiers, African American soldiers who battled against segregation during the first World War, and soldiers who fought on both fronts during the second World War. Snyder’s tour was moving, and it was hard not to become emotional. Even Snyder struggled to hold back tears as he recounted powerful stories of heroism and sacrifice . One story that impacted me personally was the story of Staff Sgt. Maxwell Leo Swain who was killed at the battle of the Bulge on Dec. 19, 1944. Swain’s youth at age 19 years old when he died particularly resonated with me, being 19 myself. The tour was a thought-provoking and appropriate end to a day focused on the remembrance of sacrifice, and the far-ranging impact of battlefield violence.