Civil War Mythbusters: Grappling with the Lost Cause

Last fall, CWI Fellow (and now Gettysburg College graduate) Megan McNish ’16 shared this reflection on the experience of commemorating the Civil War in spite of having no family members who were in America during the conflict. A few hours later, we received a notification that someone had responded to the post. 

We receive many comments on the Gettysburg Compiler, and not infrequently do they come from adherents of the Lost Cause mythology. Few comments, however, have been as detailed and historically problematic as the one Megan’s post received. We invited the Fellows (past and present) to respond with their own comments to different parts of the argument, and now we are publishing their compiled responses along with the original comment. 

The text in the gray boxes below was originally published by the commenter as one long paragraph. We have divided it into sections (though maintained the original order) so that the Fellows’ responses could be inserted immediately after the sections to which they refer. We have also changed visible URLs into hyperlinks for the sake of aesthetic appeal. Apart from these tweaks, no edits have been made to the content, grammar, style, or spelling for either the Fellows or the original commenter. Not every possible critique of the comment is included below as each student was asked to hone in on one or two parts that they thought would most benefit from further discussion and context. 

Feel free to share your own impressions and reactions in the comment section. 

The comment begins:

I commend your passion on this subject and it is truly an honor to read about a youth that studies history. I would however like to set the record straight about the Civil War and the real reasons it was fought. This War just like many others throughout history were fought over greed. The South did not betray their fellow countrymen but rather the North oppressed the Southern states with unfair taxation and think about that for a moment UNFAIR TAXATION. Does that ring a bell think the Boston Tea Party.

Ryan Nadeau ’16:  What makes a tax unfair? Certainly, the case can be made for taxation without representation, as it was during the Revolution. By our standards of representative democracy, that’s just fine. However, prior to the outbreak of the Civil War, the South had plenty of representation. In the Thirty-sixth Congress, which sat from 1859 to the opening days of 1861, the states of the Confederacy held twenty-four of the sixty-six seats in the Senate (two for each state) and sixty-six of two-hundred and thirty-eight seats in the House of Representatives. Admittedly, this number for the House seems unusually low– and it was. Had the South abolished slavery, they would have received significant increases to their political representation. The Three-Fifth’s Compromise, as outlined in the Constitution, recognized only three out of every five slaves towards the population of a state when accounting for representation. Continue reading “Civil War Mythbusters: Grappling with the Lost Cause”

Special Collections Roadshow–Episode 10 (Part 2): Brogans

By Meg Sutter ’16 and Megan McNish ’16

Special Collections Roadshow was created by students at the Civil War Institute at Gettysburg College in the Spring of 2014. It normally showcases various artifacts from Special Collections at Gettysburg College. For our tenth episode, we went on the road to the Gettysburg National Military Park. Thank you so much to the park staff, specifically Andrew Newman for letting us film an episode on an enlisted man’s uniform and to film in their facility! #FindYourPark #GettysburgNMP

“The Union Forever”: Frederick, Maryland in the Elections of 1860 and 1864

By Megan McNish ’16

Frederick, Maryland has been remembered as a bastion of Unionist sentiment during the Civil War. However, in the Election of 1860, on the eve of the nation’s internal conflict, a large portion of the city’s 8,000 residents voted for a secessionist candidate. The Election of 1860 is famous for straying from the typical bi-partisan election; four candidates ran for office and each appealed to different political sentiments. John Bell and Stephen A. Douglas were the two moderate candidates, while Abraham Lincoln and John C. Breckenridge were on the extremes of the political spectrum. Lincoln, running on the Republican ticket, was by far the most politically progressive candidate with his desire to limit the expansion of slavery. Stephen A. Douglas, a Northern Democrat, was also progressive but was a more moderate candidate with his desire for popular sovereignty, the principle of allowing new states to decide if they would open to slavery. John Bell, like Douglas, was also a moderate candidate who had his regional loyalties. Bell ran on the Constitutional Union ticket but was pro-South in his political leanings. Finally, John Breckenridge was an extreme candidate who supported Southern causes almost exclusively. Breckenridge was the Southern Democrat candidate, a byproduct of the fissure that had developed in the party over the issue of slavery. Voting for Breckenridge was a mere assertion for Southern causes.

Photo credit to the author
Photo credit to the author

Continue reading ““The Union Forever”: Frederick, Maryland in the Elections of 1860 and 1864”

Harriet takes the $20: Black Bodies, Historical Precedence, and Political Implications

By Megan McNish ’16

If you have been watching the news at all lately, you’ve probably seen that Harriet Tubman will be placed on the front of the $20 bill, while former President Andrew Jackson will be moved to the back of the bill. Immediately there emerged an outpouring of support for the proposition. However, in the week that has followed, others have questioned the meaning that will arise out of an African American woman and former slave being placed on American currency. Some have argued that it is not a fitting legacy for a woman who fought against oppression and the system, which American currency represents, while others have suggested that this change is long overdue. A few politicians have argued that this change is no more than an attempt at political correctness. I disagree. There are a number of very good reasons why Harriet Tubman deserves this honor which has been reserved largely for white men up to this point.

H Tubman
Photograph by H. B. Lindsley ca. 1860-1875. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Harriet Tubman was born Araminta Harriet Ross and was enslaved on the eastern shore of Maryland. Tubman suffered a traumatic head injury as a child, a result of a blow to the head she received from an overseer. For the rest of her life, Tubman suffered from epileptic seizures. Not one to be put down by her circumstances, she escaped from slavery in 1849, but returned to the South numerous times to free others who were enslaved. In addition to her work with the Underground Railroad, Tubman became a militant abolitionist. She was supposed to be at John Brown’s Raid on Harper’s Ferry, but was ill and could not participate. During the Civil War, Tubman served as a nurse and spy. She helped orchestrate and execute a raid on South Carolina plantations known as the Combahee River Raid. Throughout her life she worked towards equality for women and African Americans. She spent much of the later part of her life fighting for a pension for her service to the United States Army. In 1897, she was rewarded twenty dollars per month. Continue reading “Harriet takes the $20: Black Bodies, Historical Precedence, and Political Implications”

Special Collections Roadshow — Episode Ten: Union Uniform

By Meg Sutter ’16 and Megan McNish ’16

Stay tuned for Part Two!

Special Collections Roadshow was created by the Civil War Institute at Gettysburg College in the Spring of 2014. It normally showcases various artifacts from Special Collections at Gettysburg College. For our tenth episode, we went on the road to the Gettysburg National Military Park. Thank you so much to the park staff, specifically Andrew Newman for letting us film an episode on an enlisted man’s uniform in their facility! #FindYourPark #GettysburgNMP

Find Your Park Friday: Meg and Megan Take Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania NMP

By Meg Sutter ’16 and Megan McNish ’16

The Civil War Institute will be celebrating the National Park Service Centennial this spring with its brand new “Find Your Park Friday” series. Inspired by the NPS #FindYourPark campaign, the series will challenge our fellows to share their experiences exploring America’s national historical, cultural, and natural resources through trips and internships with the NPS. In our first post, CWI Social Media Coordinators Meg and Megan discuss their time interning at Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park. 

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How long did you spend at Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park and what did you do while you were there?

Megan: I’ve spent two summers at Fredericksburg; the first summer I was a Pohanka Intern and the second summer I was able to return as a seasonal employee. I’ve worked at almost all the sites in the park in my two summers there. I’ve given tours at Chancellorsville, Fredericksburg, and the Wilderness. I’ve also spent time at the Stonewall Jackson Shrine and Chatham doing informal interpretation.

Meg: I was a Pohanka Intern at FredSpot from May 2014 to August 2014. I gave interpretive programs at the Fredericksburg Visitor Center and the Spotsylvania Exhibit Shelter and led tours daily. On the weekends I led the Children’s Program with a fellow intern. We led four different programs including a cemetery program, a soldier’s life program, a flags-and-signals program, and a regular Junior Ranger program which alternated each weekend. Continue reading “Find Your Park Friday: Meg and Megan Take Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania NMP”

A Thaddeus Stevens Musical: A 19th Century Hamilton?

By Megan McNish ’16

If you read my last post on the Broadway musical Hamilton, you’ve already read my waxing admiration of the show and might also remember that I listen to the soundtrack non-stop. The musical has shown the world the power that music has as a teaching tool. As someone interested in nineteenth century American history, I long for a Hamilton-esque musical regarding the Civil War era. One of the reasons Hamilton is so successful is its ability to draw connections between past and present issues, and that can be done easily for nineteenth century America. Women’s rights, slavery, immigration, emancipation, and workers’ rights are all issues that plagued the nineteenth century and, in many ways, we deal with their legacy today. I have thought long and hard about how a musical about the nineteenth century would be executed and on whose life it would focus. The obvious choice would be to focus on Abraham Lincoln. Our sixteenth president’s story has equal parts success and personal tragedy. Lincoln, however, does not satisfy me as the protagonist in the way that Hamilton does. His story has been told many times over and. Comparatively speaking, retelling Lincoln’s story would be a similar choice to telling Washington’s story in the context of the Revolutionary War era.

Stevens the Musical [82946].png
Parody image by author. Original copyright of Hamilton:  An American Musical.
Continue reading “A Thaddeus Stevens Musical: A 19th Century Hamilton?”

Special Collections Roadshow–Episode 9: Medical Kit

By Meg Sutter ’16 and Megan McNish ’16

For our ninth episode we welcome our guest Dr. Ian Isherwood ’00 to talk about a Civil War medical kit and how to do research relating to Civil War medicine, as seen in the PBS series Mercy Street.

Special Collections Roadshow was created by the Civil War Institute at Gettysburg College in the Spring of 2014. It showcases various artifacts from Special Collections at Gettysburg College.


Sources:

Clements, Lt. Col. Bennett. A Medical Record of the Army of the Potomac by Jonathan Letterman, M.D. and Memoir of Jonathan Letterman, M.D. Knoxville, TN: Bohemian Brigade Publishers, 1994.

Devine, Shauna. Learning from the Wounded: The Civil War and the Rise of American Medical Science. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2014.

Rutkow, Ira M. Bleeding Blue and Gray: Civil War Surgery and the Evolution of American Medicine. New York: Random House, 2005.

Schultz, Jane E. Women at the Front: Hospital Workers in Civil War America. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina, 2004.

U.S. Army Medical Department. Illustrated Manual of Operative Surgery and Surgical Anatomy. San Francisco, Norman Publishers, 1990.

U.S. Army Medical Department. The Medical and Surgical History of the War of the Rebellion (1861-65). Washington D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1870.

 

Hamilton: Musical Theater, Public History’s New Frontier?

By Megan McNish ’16

Hamilton is one of Broadway’s newest musicals and it’s the hottest thing to hit the stage in a long time. The show, a rap-opera, follows the life of Alexander Hamilton, the nation’s ‘forgotten Founding Father.’ The show has had immense success since it opened in August 2015, with thousands of followers on the show’s Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube pages. It has exploded from the stage into a cultural phenomenon, but what makes the story of this Founding Father so compelling for audiences? Previous productions of historical musicals and plays have failed on the stage, while Hamilton thrives. What is its secret?

Hamilton-Digital-ALbum-Cover-FINAL
The album cover for the original Broadway cast recording of the new musical Hamilton. Image Courtesy of Atlantic Records.

Continue reading “Hamilton: Musical Theater, Public History’s New Frontier?”

Special Collections Roadshow — Episode Eight: Emory Upton’s Tactical Blocks

By Meg Sutter ’16 and Megan McNish ’16

Special Collections Roadshow was created by the Civil War Institute at Gettysburg College in the Spring of 2014. Although the series usually showcases various artifacts from Special Collections at Gettysburg College, for our eighth episode we went on the road to the US Army Heritage and Education Center in Carlisle, PA.

Thank you so much to the AHEC staff for letting us film an episode on Emory Upton’s Tactical Blocks and to film in their facility! We would definitely recommend checking out their website at and visiting their museum and archives!