We’re in full swing here at our summer conference. Bright and early this morning, Michael Birkner and John Quist kicked off our first full day with their lecture on James Buchanan and the Coming of the Civil War. John Marszalek followed on Henry Halleck, prompting lecturer and tour guide Brooks Simpson to observe that we scheduled talks two of the most unpopular men in American history back-to-back. It wasn’t a coicidence–certain themes carried over between the talks regarding how we think about unpopular figures. Our morning sessions concluded with Pulitzer Prize-winning historian T. J. Stiles discussing the life of George Armstrong Custer and the world he inhabited.
After lunch, we began our concurrent sessions with Earl Hess on Braxton Bragg, Brian Luskey on Bounty Men in the Union Army, and Kenneth Noe on late-enlisters in the Confederate Army. Rachel Shelden gave a popular talk on the culture of Civil War era Washington politics, while Fiona Deans Halloran spoke on Thomas Nast, the original American political satirist.
It has begun. This afternoon, hundreds of cargo-short-clad Civil War aficionados descended upon the campus of Gettysburg College. Joined by public and academic historians, they are friends old and new who together make up the “student body” of the Civil War Institute’s Annual Summer Conference.
The moment the clock stuck noon, we were flanked by guests eager to sign-in and receive their free #swagbags. After Director Peter Carmichael welcomed the audience, the program opened with Dr. Martin Johnson’s talk on the Gettysburg Address. Following dinner, WWI & WWII historian Dr. Michael Neiberg discussed the features of total war and how to make sense of how nations operate in war time. Dr. Carmichael then sat down with esteemed Lincoln scholar Harold Holzer for a wide-ranging conversation touching on everything from Lincoln to Confederate imagery. We ended the night with our annual ice cream social, made possible by the fine folks at Mr. G’s Ice Cream.
Over the course of this year, we’ll be interviewing some of the speakers from the upcoming 2017 CWI conference about their talks. Today we are speaking with Dr. Michael Neiberg, the newly appointed, inaugural Chair of War Studies at the U.S. Army War College in Carlisle, PA. An internationally recognized historian of World Wars I and II, Dr. Neiberg formerly served as the Henry L. Stinson Chair of History in the Department of National Security and Strategy at the U.S. Army War College. His scholarship focuses on the American and French experiences in the two world wars and seeks to make the history of warfare and international relations relevant to policy makers and practitioners. He is the author of numerous monographs, including Dance of the Furies: Europe and the Outbreak of World War I (Harvard University Press, 2011, named by the Wall Street Journal as one of the top five best books ever written about the war) and Potsdam: The End of World War II and the Remaking of Europe (Basic Books, 2015). His most recent work, The Path to War: How the First World War Created Modern America, was published by Oxford University Press in 2016.
CWI: How did warfare change (militarily, politically, and/or culturally) between the American Civil War and World War I? What were the impacts of those changes on the respective home fronts?
NEIBERG: The biggest change involved the industrialization of war, which enabled exponential expansion in the scale and scope of war. I think one of the biggest impacts of this slow, evolutionary change was that most people on the home front didn’t see it happening. Thus when the battles of 1914 produced exponentially higher casualties, home fronts were both stunned by the price of war and insistent that their governments achieve something worthy of that cost. Continue reading “Toward the Age of Peoples’ War: The Civil War to World War I”
Over the course of this year, we’ll be interviewing some of the speakers from the upcoming 2017 CWI conference about their talks. Today we are speaking with Dr. Earl Hess. Dr. Hess is the Stewart W. McClelland Chair in History at Lincoln Memorial University, where he teaches courses on the American Civil War, American military history, and the life and times of Abraham Lincoln. He is the author of more than 20 books, over 30 articles, and more than 100 book reviews for academic history journals. His most recent book isBraxton Bragg: The Most Hated Man of the Confederacy (UNC Press, 2016).
CWI: How did Braxton Bragg’s contemporaries view his prowess as a general? What impact did Bragg’s critics have on him, both personally and professionally?
HESS: The opinion of Bragg’s contemporaries proved to be one of his major and unsolvable problems. Newspaper editors tended to be excessively critical; many of his subordinate generals were recalcitrant and had no faith in his leadership. But, ironically, most Federal generals admired Bragg’s generalship, a handful of newspaper editors supported him, and many of his own generals retained an admiration for and a faith in him. Unfortunately, Bragg’s enemies were very vocal and his friends tended to be pretty quiet.
Historians had always portrayed Bragg as the instigator or the target of criticism and abuse, but have not been fair in assessing how the negative opinions of others affected Bragg’s own mind and morale. The truth was that the lack of faith in his plans among key subordinates dealt a devastating blow to Bragg’s self-confidence and his ability to command the Army of Tennessee. Some of his best-laid plans were spoiled by lack of cooperation. Continue reading “Reassessing Braxton Bragg with Earl Hess”
Over the course of this year, we’ll be interviewing some of the speakers from the upcoming 2017 CWI conference about their talks. Today we are speaking with Dr. Lisa Tendrich Frank, an independent historian, editor, and writer on issues related to the American Civil War and American women. She received her PhD from the University of Florida and has taught at universities and colleges across the U.S. Dr. Frank is the author and editor of several books and articles on women’s and American military history, including The Civilian War: Confederate Women and Union Soldiers During Sherman’s March (LSU Press, 2015); The World of the Civil War: A Daily Life Encyclopedia (Greenwood Press, 2015); and “Bedrooms as Battlefields: The Role of Gender Politics in Sherman’s March,” (in Alecia P. Long’s and LeeAnn Whites’s edited collection, Occupied Women: Gender, Military Occupation, and the American Civil War, LSU Press, 2009). She has also worked as a consultant for various non-profits and as a public lecturer.
CWI: What was the nature of the interactions between General Sherman’s army and Confederate women during the infamous March to the Sea?
FRANK: The interactions between Union men and Confederate women were incredibly gendered throughout the march through Georgia and the Carolinas. As a result, physical confrontations were rare. Instead, Union soldiers and Confederate women traded verbal barbs and largely fought over feminine material possessions. Union soldiers frequently entered and ransacked homes occupied by the region’s most privileged women, entered their bedrooms and parlors, and then seized various domestic treasures. Soldiers destroyed and stole an endless list of items that had no military value but instead struck at the heart of femininity and included wedding gowns, lingerie, sheet music, personal diaries, artwork, jewelry, and pianos. Continue reading “Confederate Women and Union Soldiers in Sherman’s March to the Sea”
Over the course of this year, we’ll be interviewing some of the speakers from the upcoming 2017 CWI conference about their talks. Today we are speaking with Dr. Andrew Bledsoe. Dr. Bledsoe is an Assistant Professor of History at Lee University, where he teaches classes on the Civil War and American military history. He is the author of numerous works on military leadership, citizen-soldiers, and the American military tradition, including Citizen-Officers: The Union and Confederate Volunteer Junior Officer Corps in the American Civil War (LSU Press, 2015), and “The Destruction of the Army of Tennessee’s Officer Corps at the Battle of Franklin,” (in Steven Woodworth’s and Charles Grear’s co-edited volume, The Tennessee Campaign of 1864, Southern Illinois University Press, 2016).
CWI: How did most junior officers attain their ranks during the Civil War? Who comprised the junior officer corps? Were there notable differences between the Union and Confederate junior officer corps?
BLEDSOE: There were typically three paths to a junior officer’s commission. Early on, the most common method was through the notorious election process, where volunteers chose their company and regimental officers by ballot. The election of officers seems peculiar to modern Americans, because we have become accustomed to the idea of a professional officer corps. For citizen-soldiers in the 19th century, however, officer elections had a long history rooted in the American militia ethos, and were an important prerogative of the republicanism that informed their military service. Junior officers could also attain their ranks by appointment, either currying favor through patronage or “wire-pulling,” or simply because of some demonstration of natural ability or merit. Finally, as the war dragged on and casualties and promotions mounted, experienced enlisted men were sometimes the recipients of battlefield commissions, or were able to secure commissions in USCT regiments.
Over the course of this year, we’ll be interviewing some of the speakers from the upcoming 2017 CWI conference about their talks. Today we are speaking with Dr. Jonathan White, Associate Professor of American Studies and the Senior Fellow at the Center for American Studies at Christopher Newport University. His research interests focus on the U.S. Constitution, the American Civil War, and treason in American history. He has authored, co-authored, and co-edited numerous books and articles for both scholarly journals and popular magazines. His most recent works include Emancipation, the Union Army, and the Reelection of Abraham Lincoln (LSU Press, 2014, winner of the 2015 Abraham Lincoln Book Prize, and finalist for both the 2014 Jefferson Davis Prize and the 2015 Gilder Lehrman Lincoln Prize); “Our Little Monitor”: The Greatest Invention of the Civil War (co-authored with Anna Gibson Holloway, forthcoming, 2017); and Midnight in America: Darkness, Sleep and Dreams during the Civil War (forthcoming, 2017). He is currently at work on a new book project entitled Abraham Lincoln and the Slave Trade.
CWI: What did dreams mean to Civil War-era Americans? What did their dreams reveal about their experiences during the war?
WHITE: Many Americans who lived through the Civil War were captivated by their dream lives. They recorded them in letters and diaries. Some even recalled them years later in memoirs and regimental histories. They wrote them down, I think, because they recognized that their dreams revealed something about who they were and how they experienced this tumultuous period. Some believed that their dreams were signs from God. For that reason they could find comfort in them–even when they were dreams that portended death or other harm.
This post is part of our series of interviews with speakers from the upcoming 2017 CWI conference about their talks. It also intersects with our new bimonthly series on the Confederate flag in history in memory, which you can read by starting here.
Today we are speaking with Dr. John Coski, the Historian of the American Civil War Museum in Richmond, Virginia. Prior to 2014, he served as the Historian of The Museum of the Confederacy, where he had worked in various capacities since 1988, and was the editor and principal writer of the museum’s quarterly magazine. He is the author of several books, most notably The Confederate Battle Flag: America’s Most Embattled Emblem (Harvard University Press, 2005) and Capital Navy: The Men, Ships, and Operations of the James River Squadron (Savas Beatie, 1996), and more than 125 essays, articles, and reviews. A leading authority on the history of the Confederate flag, he has lectured widely on Civil War topics and participated in many academic conferences and community discussions about Confederate symbols and controversies.
CWI: What specific aspects of the Confederate flag and its history will you be focusing on in your upcoming talk? What are some of the most common perceptions and/or misconceptions about the Confederate flag?
COSKI: Not to be too evasive about this, the specific emphasis of my talk will depend on the current events that are shaping discussion of the flag as of June 2017. In the 28 years that I’ve been studying the flag, it has never not been in the news. Assuming that the debates and actions that followed the June 2015 Charleston murders are still fresh in everyone’s minds next year, I will try to put what happened in the wake of Charleston into a larger historical context.
Over the course of this year, we’ll be interviewing some of the speakers from the upcoming 2017 CWI conference about their talks. Today we are speaking with Dr. Kenneth Noe. Dr. Noe is the Draughon Professor of Southern History at Auburn University, where he teaches classes on the American Civil War and Appalachian history. He is the author or editor of seven books, including Southwest Virginia’s Railroad: Modernization and the Sectional Crisis (University of Illinois Press, 1994); A Southern Boy in Blue: The Memoir of Marcus Woodcock, 9th Kentucky Infantry (U.S.A.) (University of Tennessee Press, 1996); The Civil War in Appalachia: Collected Essays, (co-edited with Shannon H. Wilson, University of Tennessee Press, 1997); Perryville: This Grand Havoc of Battle (University Press of Kentucky, 2002); Politics and Culture of the Civil War Era: Essays in Honor of Robert W. Johannsen, (co-edited with Daniel J. McDonough, Susquehanna University Press, 2006); Reluctant Rebels: The Confederates Who Joined the Army After 1861 (UNC Press, 2010); and, most recently, The Yellowhammer War: Alabama in the Civil War and Reconstruction (University of Alabama Press, 2014). He also has written many articles and essays for publications in scholarly journals such as Civil War History and The Journal of Military History.Dr. Noe was a Pulitzer Prize entrant and the winner of the 2003 Kentucky Governor’s Award, the 2002 Peter Seaborg Book Award for Civil War Non-fiction, and the 1997 Tennessee History Book Award. He currently is writing a book on Civil War weather. Dr. Noe is a frequent speaker on the Civil War Round Table circuit, a participant in the Organization of American Historians Distinguished Lectureship Program, and served as the 2008-2009 president of the Alabama Historical Association. He currently serves on the Board of Editors of Civil War History, and was a consultant for the NBC series Who Do You Think You Are?
CWI: Who do you define as a “reluctant rebel,” and why were these individuals “reluctant?”
NOE: In my study, “reluctant rebels” are men who enlisted in the Confederate Army no earlier than January 1862. While I also look at a few draftees, my real interest is the men who could have enlisted at the beginning of the war but chose not to do so. Their reluctance, I concluded, stemmed from many individual reasons, but generally speaking they were less politicized than those who went before them. Their decisions to not enlist after Fort Sumter and also to sign up later usually reflected more practical concerns, notably the threat of Union troops wrecking their small local worlds. Continue reading “Reluctant Rebels? Historian Kenneth Noe Talks Late-Enlistees in the Confederate Army”
Over the course of this year, we’ll be interviewing some of the speakers from the upcoming 2017 CWI conference about their talks. Today we are speaking with Amelia Grabowski, the Education and Digital Outreach Specialist at the National Museum of Civil War Medicine and the Clara Barton Missing Soldiers Office Museum. A graduate of Gettysburg College, she earned her Master’s degree in Public Humanities and Cultural Heritage from Brown University, where she received the Master’s Award for Engaged Citizenship and Community Service. Ms. Grabowski has previously worked for the Lower East Side Tenement Museum, the Bullock Texas State History Museum, humanities councils, and various community organizations.
CWI: What was the Missing Soldiers Office? When, why, and how was it created?
GRABOWSKI: Clara Barton opened up the Missing Soldiers Office in 1865. Her original intention was to connect prisoners of war with their families. However, this operation quickly grew. Clara Barton and her team received over 63,000 letters from people looking for missing Union soldiers. They ultimately found over 22,000 missing soldiers.
CWI: How did the Missing Soldiers Office operate, and what role did Clara Barton play in those operations? What challenges did Barton encounter in her work with the Office?
GRABOWSKI: Barton rented many of the rooms in the boarding house where she lived. She transformed these rooms into the offices of the Missing Soldiers Office. She hung a sign outside and paid fifty cents to have a mail slot cut into the office door. Soon, thousands of people were sending letters and visiting the office in person, searching for their missing loved ones. Barton and her employees used their own experience on the battlefield, their network of acquaintances, and the power of the press to find over 22,000 missing soldiers . . . living and dead. Using only pen, paper, and the printing press, Barton conquered the chaos and confusion of both battle and reconstruction to find as many missing soldiers as possible. Continue reading “Clara Barton and the Missing Soldiers Office: A Chat with Amelia Grabowski”