“The Colored Volunteers”: A Recruiting Tune for the USCT

By Jen Simone ‘18

This post comes from the exhibit catalog for “Right to Serve, Right to Lead:  Lives and Legacies of the USCT,” an exhibition in Special Collections and College Archives at Musselman Library, Gettysburg College. During the spring of 2017, we asked the CWI Fellows to select a item on exhibit and discuss its history and context. The resulting exhibit catalog is available at Special Collections, where the exhibit will run through December 18, 2017.

“The Colored Volunteers.” Song sheet. This song, encouraging black men to enlist, makes light the threat posed by Jeff Davis’s Special Order 111. After Fort Pillow, the reality of Confederate policy towards captured USCT became all too clear. Despite Confederate atrocities, black men continued enlisting throughout the war. Courtesy of Special Collections and College Archives, Gettysburg College.

Given the dreadful reality of the Civil War, there was little use for songs that accurately reflected the duties and risks of soldiering when it came to recruiting civilians to fight.  The danger involved in the war was high for all men, but black soldiers faced additional, unique threats. The particular hostility of Confederates to armed black men and distrust from their white Union comrades meant that they were especially vulnerable targets of wartime atrocities. Possibly written by a private in Company A of the 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment, one of the first official African American units, “The Colored Volunteers” (also referred to as “Give Us a Flag”) was a song used as recruitment propaganda to encourage black men to enlist during the Civil War.  The song’s lyrics sanitize many very serious issues and threats soldiers faced, offering a romanticized representation of the challenges a black enlistee would face.

Continue reading ““The Colored Volunteers”: A Recruiting Tune for the USCT”

A (Colored) Picture is Worth A Thousand Words

By Jen Simone ’18

I’ll admit it. I was the kid who always protested when my parents suggested watching a show that was in black and white, and I know I’m not the only one. When given the choice of watching a show in color or in black and white, almost everybody will choose. Why? Because it’s more realistic and relatable. For the same reasons, many photographs of the Civil War were colorized both then and now.

Photographs became increasingly popular during the Civil War and were no longer exclusive to the big shots, so many soldiers had their photographs taken for family members. To meet the need, there were an estimated five thousand photographers in the business.

In 1850 Reverend Levi L. Hill was of the first to claim that he could add natural colors to daguerreotypes, but for over five years he kept his process a secret. In the meantime, others were trying to catch onto this trend. Colorizing, though, is a difficult process to master. During the Civil War, color was added to sepia-toned and black and white images to bring them to life. The most common method for applying color to daguerreotypes was with a finely pointed camel-hair brush. One would use this brush to apply a dry powdered pigment to the surface of the photo, and then it would be coated with a solution of isinglass which made a thin, transparent sheet. Photos were hand-tinted, and therefore the process took much time. Results were often uneven, and the addition of colors could often hide the photo’s details, so the most transparent colors were most preferable. Continue reading “A (Colored) Picture is Worth A Thousand Words”

PBS’s Mercy Street Shows No Mercy to Traditionalists

By Jen Simone ‘18

Spoilers ahead. 

Warning: This show is probably not enjoyable for those with hemophobia. Also, if you like to view the war as a clear-cut conflict between two distinct ideologies, this show is not for you either. 

I don’t know if it’s just me being cynical about public disinterest in history, but I was shocked to read that the premiere episode of PBS’ Mercy Street, titled “The New Nurse,” got 3.3 million viewers. Are there really that many people interested in Civil War Era history? There is a great chance that many people unintentionally left PBS on after Downton Abbey, but it wouldn’t shock me if they find themselves intentionally keeping it on again next week. The show was compelling and includes everything a drama should—intensity, romance, and controversy. Most importantly, though, I believe this show has the potential to significantly increase public interest in the Civil War and reveal to the public the true nature of the war.

Mercy
Hannah James as “Emma Green” in Mercy Street. Image Courtesy of Antony Platt/PBS.

The show is about a Civil War hospital operating in a mansion in Union-occupied Alexandria, Virginia. The producers certainly did not make this show to answer common questions about the Civil War, but rather to make people start thinking. No character’s belief in the show was left uncontested and many myths were broken. The topic of the show itself is daring, for it is not about the military history of the war, but rather the medical history mixed with civilian life. Continue reading “PBS’s Mercy Street Shows No Mercy to Traditionalists”

Letters from the Battlefield: George Washington Beidelman, July 4, 1863

By Jen Simone ’18 and Nicole Hindley ’18

In the second entry in our new series, “Letters from the Battlefield,” Jen Simone ’18 shares a letter from George Washington Beidelman, a Union soldier of the II Corps, written on July 4, 1863 from the Gettysburg battlefield. By July 4th, Beidelman knew that the Union had won a decisive victory… but he got a few facts wrong, even telling his father that General James Longstreet had been captured. Video produced by Nicole Hindley ’18.

From Tragedy to a Christmas Carol: The Story of Longfellow’s "Christmas Bells"

By Jen Simone ’18

In times of intense despair, it can seem impossible to have any hope. All of us get caught up in the tragedies occurring all around us and begin to believe that life is a constant struggle without any good in it. Christmas time, though often a time of mourning for people who have recently lost loved ones, also is a time of restored hope for many.

Christmas carolers may arrive at your door this season offering to sing the carol “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.” The carol tells of a man who is troubled by the hateful world, but then has hope restored as he is reminded of God’s power. Though two stanzas concerning the Civil War were removed for the carol, “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” was based on the poem “Christmas Bells” written during the Civil War by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

HenryWLongFellow1868
Portrait of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in 1868 with the beard he grew to cover his burn scars. Photography via Wikimedia Commons.

The poem begins with the peacefulness that characterizes Christmas:

I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet
The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!
And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along
The unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Continue reading “From Tragedy to a Christmas Carol: The Story of Longfellow’s "Christmas Bells"”

Letters from the Battlefield: Henry Berkeley, July 2, 1863

By Jen Simone ’18 and Nicole Hindley ’18

In our newest series, “Letters from the Battlefield,” Jen Simone ’18 shares a letter from Henry Robinson Berkeley, a Confederate artilleryman, written on July 2, 1863 from the Gettysburg battlefield. In his letter, Berkeley expresses the horror of finding a line of 79 men North Carolina cut down by a single volley of musketry. Video produced by Nicole Hindley ’18.

GettysBOOrg, PA: Complicating the Ghost Tour Debate

By Jen Simone ’18

Whether you believe ghosts exist or not, I think most visitors would agree that if they did in fact exist, there would be a whole community of them living in Gettysburg.  Upon entering the stores downtown and looking at the merchandise, it becomes very clear that store owners feed this fascination.  Any visitor is bound to see the typical “got ghosts? Gettysburg does” t-shirt or similar merchandise elsewhere in town.  The Gettysburg Tour Center even features a selection of books ranging from The Big Book of Pennsylvania Ghost Stories to I Met a Ghost at Gettysburg.  Just a few aisles over, next to the “Heritage Not Hate” mugs, there are mouse pads, shot glasses, and even snow globes with “Gettysburg Ghosts” printed all over them.

Some of Gettysburg's public art, found near Steinwehr Avenue. Photograph by the author.
Some of Gettysburg’s public art, found near Steinwehr Avenue. Photograph by the author.

While many historians ardently oppose the ghost tour industry for its inaccurate portrayal of historical events and trivialization of atrocities, paranormal tourism remains ubiquitous in Gettysburg. What explains this industry’s success?  I decided to go out into town and ask employees and visitors why they believe it is so successful, for they, not the historians, are the ones fueling it. Continue reading “GettysBOOrg, PA: Complicating the Ghost Tour Debate”

“We Can Never Forget What They Did Here”: What Draws People to Gettysburg?

By Jen Simone ’18

“I am so sick of hearing about the Civil War every single day.”
“I didn’t expect there to be so many history nerds at this school.”
“I don’t get why so many tourists come to a little place like Gettysburg.”

I hear constant complaints from fellow Gettysburg College students about how tired they get of hearing about the Civil War. What did they expect coming to Gettysburg College, situated in one of the most visited historic towns in America? More importantly, what is so wrong with hearing about the Civil War so often? I decided that I wanted to investigate—why are so many people drawn to this small town in rural Pennsylvania? What draws millions of people to take time out of their busy lives to explore this special place? I’m hoping that my findings will convince college students that it is worth exploring this history-rich town and maybe for once, get them to stop to read the interpretative markers while they’re out jogging on the battlefield instead of simply passing by.

What draws people again and again to this battlefield? Photograph by author.
What draws people again and again to this battlefield? Photograph by author.

I conducted my whole investigation by walking up to random people I met in town and asking them all the same simple question: “Why are you here?” I expected to get very similar answers throughout all of my interviews and was ready to keep a tally of people visiting because they are either history buffs or because they have never been to Gettysburg before and just thought they should visit and see what all of the hype is about. I was shocked, however, for no two responses I received were the same. Continue reading ““We Can Never Forget What They Did Here”: What Draws People to Gettysburg?”

Interpreting Civilian Experiences in Fredericksburg

By Jennifer Simone ‘18

This post is part of a series featuring behind-the-scenes dispatches from our Pohanka Interns working on the front lines of history this summer as interpreters, archivists, and preservationists. See here for the introduction to the series.

Battlefields administered by the National Park Service are in a process of transformation. Administered originally by the War Department, interpretation at many battlefield sites has for years been marked by the military actions that occurred on the ground, from orders given to regiment positions to how flank attacks work. The National Park Service now is working to expand the horizons of interpretation on battlefields. Though military history is still greatly (and rightly) emphasized and members of the US Armed Forces still travel to battlefields to study tactics or communication, military history is no longer the only topic of focus at many parks.

This is a relatively new concept, only being overtly implemented in the last two decades, so many visitors still arrive at the parks expecting a program entirely focused on the military history of the site. While it is certainly not a problem that many visitors are most greatly interested in military history, too few come to the parks looking to also learn about the social, political, and economic histories of the war as well. At Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park where I am interning this summer, we conduct “History at Sunset” programs each Friday at 7pm, lasting up to two hours. These programs have very specific topics, ranging from animals in war to the trail taken by Stonewall Jackson’s amputated arm. NPS Ranger Beth Parnicza has noticed that attendance at these programs is greatly dependent upon the type of history that the specific program reflects. Programs about street fighting in the town of Fredericksburg will draw two hundred people, while programs about slavery will likely only bring eighty. Is this because people are simply more interested in military history or because visitors are still stuck in the old mindset that these parks are only about the military history and they therefore do not look for or expect anything else? Continue reading “Interpreting Civilian Experiences in Fredericksburg”

Civil Warriors: The Next Generation

By Jennifer Simone ’18

NOTE: Applications to participate in the 2015 High School Student Scholarship Program are due March 15.

The day after my high school graduation, I headed off to Gettysburg College to attend the Civil War Institute Summer Conference. Even I questioned why I would want to go to a conference centered around learning within a day of graduating high school, but attending the conference turned out to be one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. I’ve always had a passion for history, but the extent of my knowledge from high school about the Civil War was mostly a list of battles and statistics. After being accepted at Gettysburg College as a member of the Class of 2018 and knowing that I would attend school on the nation’s most famous Civil War battlefield, I became motivated to learn more.

Photo credit to the author.
Photo credit to the author.

Continue reading “Civil Warriors: The Next Generation”