Flip Side of the Coin: The Unpleasant Reality of Hatred

By Cameron Sauers ’21

November 19th saw the anniversary of the Gettysburg Address, and with it, one of the highlights of the year: The annual Fortenbaugh Lecture. The goal of the annual Fortenbaugh lecture is to capture the spirit of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address and make academic history accessible to the general public. This year’s lecturer was Dr. George Rable, Professor Emeritus and formerly the Charles G. Summersell Chair in Southern History at the University of Alabama. Dr. Rable’s reputation as a prolific scholar of the Civil War era is well known, with 6 books to his credit, including Fredericksburg, Fredericksburg! which won the 2003 Lincoln Prize. As I sat in the Majestic Theater eagerly waiting for the lecture to begin, I talked with one of the other CWI Fellows about our work this semester. One of the things we mentioned was that, by constantly being exposed to the photos, first-hand accounts, and statistics of the Civil War, we had become somewhat numb to the horrors and atrocities of the conflict. This conversation ended up being the perfect lead-up to Dr. Rable’s talk, Fighting for Reunion: Dilemmas of Hatred and Vengeance.

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Dr. George Rable

Rable began with a disclaimer that his talk would not be pleasant, as he was going to explore hatred and vengeance. He then made a simple, but extremely important, assertion: Hatred and war go together. However, Rable argued that students of the Civil War ignore or take for granted the true meaning and far-reaching implications of this hatred. This introduction really hit home for me, especially since I had just discussed my own numbness to aspects of the Civil War. I knew that hatred existed on both sides, but I had never considered the full implications of that hatred. Hatred involves revulsion, disgust, and anger, all of which lead to social contempt and ostracization or, in extreme cases, unrelenting violence and the deep political ramifications of that violence. Laying this simple foundation was key to Rable’s topic of understanding northern hatred of the South, and vice versa.

Beginning with the start of the war, Rable pieced together primary source documents, such as letters and newspapers, to create an understanding of the northern political climate. Rable was motivated by what he called the “flip side of the coin,” the already well understood southern hatred for the North. He briefly explored southern hate of the North, including one startling anecdote from a southern newspaper about graffiti left on a Union hospital encouraging the wounded within to die “on the double-quick.” From this discussion, Rable pivoted to the North’s own assertion that they had never responded in kind to southern hatred. However, as the lecture progressed, Rable made it clear that the North lacked the self-awareness to understand the vitriol of hate they poured forth, as well as the breadth and depth of its ramifications. Henry Adams, grandson of President John Quincy Adams and United States Ambassador to the United Kingdom during the Civil War, recognized that politics as a practice, whatever its professions, had always been a systematic organization of hatred. Despite Abraham Lincoln’s inaugural address claim that North and South were friends, not enemies, the firing on Fort Sumter soon brought volleys of rhetorical and physical hatred from the North onto the South. Lincoln’s message had little effect on Wisconsin Governor Alexander W. Randall, who wrote that people would not be content with any cessation to the war until all of the traitors were hung or driven into exile, and that was only the beginning of Randall’s venom towards the South.

Rable did concede that, for a time, Lincoln’s message did have an impact on the North. At the start of the war, ministers and religious leaders in particular advocated that it be fought on Christian principles. Ministers wanted soldiers to develop or remain pious individuals who fought a conflict that adhered to their religious creeds. They wanted soldiers to shun drinking, gambling, and other forms of vice and sin while in camps. In battle, ministers encouraged soldiers to be merciful to wounded and captured, but most importantly to be brave in their faith – willing to accept martyrdom. To these leaders, the erring southerners were still Christian brothers. Even William Lloyd Garrison called for mercy toward the wayward southerners. These messages fit in neatly with Lincoln’s conciliatory policy towards the South at the start of the war. However, northern patience eventually ran dry. The more blood that was shed, the harder reconciliation was going to be. As the war became more violent, northern politicians began to debate how to act toward and think about southern soldiers and civilians.

As early as the Spring of 1862, schisms opened in the North amongst Copperheads and Republicans about the proper policies needed to wage war and pursue eventual reconciliation with the South. Political name calling, something not unfamiliar to a 21st century audience, was rampant as northern Republicans and Democrats jockeyed in Congress to validate their courses of action. This became especially prevalent as the war transitioned from a conciliatory war to a hard war, bringing Emancipation to the forefront of political consciousness. Divisions also opened up between religious sects, as Protestant and Catholics clashed over the Bible’s teachings and how they influenced this subject. Rable drew more than one laugh when he included an anecdote from a Catholic priest who derided the Protestants for their mercy towards the South, attributing it to the fact that Protestants are schismatic by nature.

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Rable tracked how northern ideas of hatred and vengeance changed throughout the war, with the Emancipation Proclamation and increasing bloodshed further intensifying the northern zeal for hatred against the South. Following the Emancipation Proclamation came the enlistment of USCT troops and subsequent northern fears that they would seek revenge on former slaveholders. While USCT troops did not seek revenge on former slaveholders, their presence did lead to hatred from politicians and Confederate soldiers. Throughout their service in the war, USCTs received horrific treatment from southerners, treatment much worse than what their white northern comrades experienced. For example, at the Battle of the Crater, USCT Troops were shown no mercy when they tried to surrender, with many of them being shot or bayoneted in cold blood. This horrific treatment of USCTs intensified politicians’ debates about the future and how to deal with whites and freedmen. For as vocal as northern politicians were with their own hatred and vengeance towards the South, they had yet to develop a plan for what should be done to slaveholders. Should they be punished? Politically ostracized? Northern politicians realized that the fates of former slaveholders and freedmen would be highly interconnected after the war, especially after witnessing the intense violence exhibited against USCTs. The surrender at Appomattox further raised the stakes for northern politicians. The long national nightmare was over. What had been rhetoric for four years was going to have to become enacted policy. While northern leaders were willing to entertain a merciful response to the South at the behest of Lincoln, his assassination made mercy an infeasible model.

Abraham Lincoln’s plan for the post-war years and Andrew Johnson’s actual actions differed greatly. Lincoln had wanted mercy for the southern states so as not to increase the hatred and divisiveness between the sections. Although Lincoln deeply hated slavery, he wanted mercy for the slaveholder, which followed the theme of “hate the sin, love the sinner” emphasized by so many northerners throughout the war. Johnson, a Tennessee man himself, harbored deep hatred toward southern elites. If Lincoln embodied New Testament mercy, Johnson reflected Old Testament vengeance. To many in the North, Johnson’s ascension to the presidency was a sign of God’s Will, making Johnson an instrument of Divine Retribution. The rhetoric of hatred and vengeance played a definitive role in shaping policy throughout Reconstruction, inhibiting progress and resolution to the conflict despite belief from both the North and the South that such hatred was needed to ensure the success of their cause.

Rable concluded by saying that some may have found his lecture vague and contradictory, which he admitted it was. However, that was exactly Rable’s point: Countless different viewpoints and perceptions of right and wrong existed during the Civil War, forcing northerners and southerners to grapple with their hatred and thirst for vengeance. Rable presented these conflicting ideas to the audience with the reminder that the “new birth of freedom” was not easily decided upon. Within “the new birth of freedom” was the complex task not only of national reunion, but also of emancipation and ensuring economic, social, and political legitimacy for African Americans, a monumental, but necessary, task for the nation.

As I filed out of the Majestic Theatre, I reflected on my takeaways from the lecture. Rable’s talk expanded the traditional historical narrative to include the evolving, and often conflicting, thoughts and ideas of different groups of northerners. He depicted the inner divisions within the North itself, which are frequently glossed over in celebratory or romantic narratives of a monolithic and strongly unified northern populace. Rable’s talk was a reminder about the destructive power of hateful rhetoric, and that even the “good guys” hate. When we generalize about how groups of people thought, felt, or act, we lose the divisions within that group. I had never considered that the North found itself consistently susceptible to in-fighting; the narrative I knew was always the North acting as a single cohesive political unit, which turns out to be far from the truth. The lecture was a reminder to me of the need to constantly analyze and dissect what we believe to be norms so that we remain open to new avenues for historical understanding. Complete with countless primary source references, Rable’s talk was an important example that there are no shortcuts to good scholarship.

The 2017 Fortenbaugh Lecture: “I’m a Radical Girl”

By Olivia Ortman ’19

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.

Thavolia Glymph
Duke University history professor and 2017 Fortenbaugh Lecture speaker Dr. Thavolia Glymph.

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. 

The 2016 Fortenbaugh Lecture: Individual Responses to Lincoln’s Assassination

By Hannah Christensen ’17

Every year on November 19th, the anniversary of the Gettysburg Address, a distinguished scholar of the Civil War Era is invited to speak as part of the Robert Fortenbaugh Memorial Lecture and present an aspect of the Civil War in a format that the general public can understand. This year, the 55th annual Fortenbaugh Memorial Lecture was delivered by Dr. Martha Hodes of New York University. Dr. Hodes’ lecture was based on her book Mourning Lincoln and argued, based on personal primary sources from the immediate aftermath of Abraham Lincoln’s assassination, that Americans’ responses were by no means consistent. Not everyone mourned, nor was everyone totally focused on the assassination, partly because there were differing visions for the nation’s future.

Martha Hodes' book Mourning Lincoln. Photo courtesy of Yale University Press
Martha Hodes’ book Mourning Lincoln. Photo courtesy of Yale University Press

At the beginning of her lecture, Dr. Hodes explained that she has always mentioned Lincoln’s assassination in the course she teaches on the Civil War, but  she did not become more interested in the event until after 9/11. She said it made her think about “how people respond to transformative events on the scale of everyday life.” She began to wonder how individual people responded to such a transformative event as Abraham Lincoln’s assassination and came up with the idea of writing a book about it because no one had written about the assassination using individuals’ own, private words. Continue reading “The 2016 Fortenbaugh Lecture: Individual Responses to Lincoln’s Assassination”

Fortenbaugh 2015: The Historian’s Biggest Fear: A Numerical Approach to the Past

By Jules Sebock ’18

Every November 19, the anniversary of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, the Robert Fortenbaugh Memorial Lecture is presented in honor of a late Gettysburg College professor. Each year, a distinguished scholar gives a presentation with the goal of offering a lecture that is understandable to the general public while maintaining its historical integrity.

Joining the likes of Kenneth Stampp, Drew Gilpin Faust, and Elizabeth Fox Genovese, Joseph T. Glatthaar of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill delivered this year’s 54th annual Fortenbaugh Lecture. “When I think of the incredible historians that have given this lecture, I’m absolutely honored,” he said of the distinction.

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Dr. Joseph T. Glatthaar.

Continue reading “Fortenbaugh 2015: The Historian’s Biggest Fear: A Numerical Approach to the Past”

Point/Counterpoint: Anchoring Historical Memory

By Bryan Caswell ’15 and Heather Clancy ’15

Bryan: Wednesday, November 19, 2014 saw citizens and students of Gettysburg crowd into the Majestic Theater for the fifty-third annual Robert Fortenbaugh Memorial Lecture. The audience listened attentively as Dr. Nina Silber, a renowned historian of the American Civil War, explored the nuanced application of the memory of Abraham Lincoln during the 1930s and ‘40s, especially as associated with the figure of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. A fascinating study of the evolution and utility of the public conception of an historical figure, Dr. Silber’s talk made manifest the common adage that each generation is possessed of their own Lincoln. Yet as I sat there in the Majestic pondering the implications of the lecture, I noticed a curious phenomenon. While Lincoln was every bit the pivotal character in Dr. Silber’s narrative, nowhere in her discussion could the historical Lincoln be found. The objective of the lecture was of course not to define the historical Lincoln but to explain the Lincoln of the New Deal era, so this absence could be understandable. Even with this concession, however, Silber’s strictly tangential references to the historical inspiration for memory continued to give me pause.

Heather: Silber’s more peripheral use of Civil War history in her exploration of the popular 1930s memory of Lincoln also sparked an initial uncertainty for me. In this particular case, though, I was ultimately reassured by the potential that a tangential discussion of history offers in the ongoing effort to make Civil War memory—and indeed perhaps all historical memory—more widely relevant beyond the confines of an otherwise very specialized subfield. In an area of academic study already so frequently criticized for what many perceive as a lack of pragmatic applications, the opportunity for a more general and interdisciplinary examination of historical memory is crucial.

Continue reading “Point/Counterpoint: Anchoring Historical Memory”

Ambivalent about Tragedy: David Blight on Bruce Catton

By Brianna Kirk ’15

November 19, 2013, marked a momentous day in the small Pennsylvania town of Gettysburg – the 150th anniversary of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. The 272 worded speech given four months after the Battle of Gettysburg assigned meaning to the intense fighting and death that had besieged the nation for two years. With the war’s end nowhere in sight, Lincoln directed the American people on how to fathom the tragedy that surrounded them, both figuratively and literally, at the dedication of the National Cemetery in 1863. 150 years after this speech, thousands gathered to celebrate and commemorate those few appropriate remarks Lincoln made at a time when the nation’s future was tragically uncertain.

Blight

Continue reading “Ambivalent about Tragedy: David Blight on Bruce Catton”

Fortenbaugh Lecture Review: The Dimensions of Freedom

By Drew Hoffman, ’15 On the crisp night of November 19th, the Majestic Theater in Gettysburg filled to hear Dr. Steven Hahn deliver the 51st Annual Fortenbaugh Lecture. His lecture sought to explore the relationship between Native and African-Amer…

By Drew Hoffman ’15

On the crisp night of November 19th, the Majestic Theater in Gettysburg filled to hear Dr. Steven Hahn deliver the 51st Annual Fortenbaugh Lecture.  His lecture sought to explore the relationship between Native and African-American experiences during the Civil War and Reconstruction and changes to the American state as a result of the war.  Hahn presented the convincing argument that the Reconstruction Era history of both groups fed the momentum of that change.Hahn Continue reading “Fortenbaugh Lecture Review: The Dimensions of Freedom”