Confederate Memory

By Olivia Ortman ’19

This year as a CWI Fellow, I’ve been doing a lot of research and thinking on Civil War memory, specifically that of Confederate memory. When doing this work, the question at the back of my mind is always: How should monuments, symbols, and other examples of Confederate memory be handled? This is a very difficult question, so up until now, I’ve left it alone, knowing that there would come a time in the future that I would sit down and wrestle with my conflicting opinions on the matter. A couple days ago, the Civil War Era Studies Department here at Gettysburg College sent out an email sharing the news that New Orleans had begun removing Confederate monuments and several other cities were thinking of doing the same. After reading this, I knew the time had come for me, and all of you, to join the discussion about Confederate Memory.

The first question that I ask myself when thinking about how to handle Confederate Memory is what the people want. Confederate monuments have a variety of owners. In some cases, the monuments are owned by a private organization or individual who put them up, in other cases, the city, state, or federal government may own them. The same goes for the land they are on. If owned by individuals or private groups, it’s their choice what happens. When the monument or land belongs to the local government, as is the case with the New Orleans monuments, it should be the people’s choice what happens. Although the city council of New Orleans voted 6 to 1 to remove several monuments, the residents didn’t get the chance to vote. For many issues, allowing the council to take care of matters on their own is fine; the people elected them because they trusted them to make the right decisions. In matters that generate a lot of public concern, though, residents are usually asked to vote. We vote on taxes, why not on monuments? If the majority of city residents agree with the removal of a Confederate symbol or monument, remove it and say no more. If the majority of residents are against the action, however, it doesn’t seem right to disrespect their wishes. The popular vote in New Orleans may have agreed with the removal of the monuments, but without that formal vote, we can’t know for sure.

Continue reading “Confederate Memory”

No, Trump’s Election Does Not “Feel Like the Fall of Reconstruction”

By Jeffrey Lauck ’18

On January 20, 2017, Chief Justice John Roberts administered the presidential oath of office to Donald Trump, making him the 45th President of the United States. Many Americans have variously perceived his election as “unprecedented,” “revolutionary,” and “terrifying.” Some historians found the turn of events leading up to and including Trump’s election to be rather familiar. In November, the Huffington Post ran a story titled “It Feels Like the Fall of Reconstruction.” In it, University of Connecticut professor Manisha Sinha outlined the parallels between 1877 and 2016. On Facebook, I have seen many of my liberal friends weigh in with similar analyses. This evaluation is misguided. To compare the rise of Trump to the end of Reconstruction is to undermine the chaos, violence, and widespread racial ambivalence that defined the Gilded Age.

donald-trump
Then-candidate Donald Trump campaigning in Fountain Hills, Arizona in 2016. Via Wikimedia Commons.

In a broad scope, it is not difficult to see some similarities. By and large, the end of Reconstruction was brought about by rising indifference among white liberal Republicans toward continuing Reconstruction. Support for federal occupation of the South was growing stale ten years after Appomattox, and economic woes in 1873 distracted many business-minded Republicans from continuing to advocate for black civil rights in the South. In the election of Trump, perhaps we can see a parallel in many white voters’ ambivalence to candidate Trump’s pejorative statements on women, people of color, Muslims, and queer Americans as well as his prospective policies that would harm these groups. The majority of Trump voters likely did not vote for Trump because of these statements or policies, but they were at least indifferent enough toward them to vote for him anyway. Continue reading “No, Trump’s Election Does Not “Feel Like the Fall of Reconstruction””

Brooks Simpson on Ulysses S. Grant and the Politics of Reconstruction

Brooks Simpson
Brooks Simpson. Image courtesy of ASU.

By Ashley Whitehead Luskey

Over the course of this year, we’ll be interviewing some of the historians scheduled to speak at the 2016 CWI conference about their upcoming talks and their thoughts about Reconstruction and its legaciesToday, we’re speaking with Brooks Simpson, ASU Foundation Professor of History at Arizona State University. His numerous publications include: The Reconstruction Presidents (University Press of Kansas, 2009), Union and Emancipation: Essays on Politics and Race in the Civil War Era (Kent State University Press, 2009, a volume co-edited with David Blight), The Civil War in the East, 1861-1865 (Potomac Books, 2013), and The Civil War: The Third Year Told by Those Who Lived It, an edited volume published in 2013 by the Library of America. He also maintains the blog Crossroads.

CWI: What were Ulysses S. Grant’s goals for the newly reunited nation during the Reconstruction period? How did his vision for postwar America evolve over time?

SIMPSON: Grant sought to balance sectional reconciliation and reunion among whites with protecting the freedpeople in the aftermath of the destruction of slavery. Over time, he came to realize that African Americans needed protection and assistance as they defined what freedom meant, adding political rights (including suffrage) to the need to secure equality before the law regardless of race. Grant contended that reconciliation did not require the acceptance of continued rebellious behavior. Furthermore, he believed that the continued resistance to Reconstruction by those people in the North who had not wholeheartedly supported the war effort should not be tolerated. Grant never doubted the cause for which he fought and saw no reason to apologize for or tolerate criticisms of the Union war effort. Continue reading “Brooks Simpson on Ulysses S. Grant and the Politics of Reconstruction”

When Confederates Came Marching Home: Jason Phillips on Southern Veterans and Reconstruction

By Ashley Whitehead Luskey

Jason Phillips. Image courtesy of West Virginia University.
Jason Phillips. Image courtesy of West Virginia University.

Over the course of this year, we’ll be interviewing some of the historians scheduled to speak at the 2016 CWI conference about their upcoming talks and their thoughts about Reconstruction and its legacies. Today, we’re speaking with Jason Phillips, the Eberly Professor of Civil War Studies at West Virginia University. He is the author of Diehard Rebels: The Confederate Culture of Invincibility (University of North Carolina Press, 2007) and the editor of Storytelling, History, and the Postmodern South (University of North Carolina Press, 2013). He is currently at work on a second book, Civil War Looming: A History of the Future, which examines how Americans anticipated the Civil War and how those prophecies ultimately shaped their experiences and memories of the war.

CWI:  What obstacles—physical, emotional, political, social, financial, cultural—did the Confederate veteran face upon returning home, and how did he seek to deal with them? In what ways did Confederate veterans’ expectations of returning home match with the reality of the homecoming experience, and in what ways were they unprepared for or confounded by the realities of their homecoming?

PHILLIPS: As your question suggests, defeat stared Confederate veterans in the face in every facet of their lives. Failure was a physical, emotional, political, social, financial, and cultural fact that confronted and confounded returning rebels. Patrick Gilmore’s song, “When Johnny Comes Marching Home,” encapsulated how Confederates anticipated their homecoming. Communities would welcome returning heroes with fanfare. Church bells would peal with joy. Reality mocked such dreams. But if Confederates were unprepared for defeat, they were also unprepared for federal leniency. Many rebels expected the government to punish treason. The Confederate rank and file didn’t fear personal imprisonment or execution, as their generals and political leaders did, but they dreaded disfranchisement, confiscation of property, and a prolonged military occupation of the South. What happened was far less severe, and that federal leniency in 1865 emboldened Confederate veterans to resist Radical Reconstruction years later.

Confederate veterans reunion, Little Rock, AR, 1911. Image courtesy of the Encyclopedia of Arkansas.
Confederate veterans reunion, Little Rock, AR, 1911. Image courtesy of the Encyclopedia of Arkansas.

Continue reading “When Confederates Came Marching Home: Jason Phillips on Southern Veterans and Reconstruction”

The Invention of the New South? An Interview with William A. Link

By Ashley Whitehead Luskey

William Link
Bill Link. Image courtesy of the University of Florida.

Over the course of this year, we’ll be interviewing some of the historians scheduled to speak at the 2016 CWI conference about their upcoming talks and their thoughts about Reconstruction and its legacies. Today, we’re speaking with William A. Link, the Richard J. Milbauer Professor of History at the University of Florida. Link’s publications include: A Hard Country and a Lonely Place: Schooling, Society, and Reform in Rural Virginia, 1870-1920 (UNC Press, 1986), The Paradox of Southern Progressivism 1880-1920 (UNC Press, 1992), Roots of Secession: Slavery and Politics in Antebellum Virginia (UNC Press, 2002), and most recently, Righteous Warrior: Jesse Helms and the Rise of Modern Conservatism (St. Martin’s Press, 2008).

CWI:  What were the defining elements of the New South?  What were some of the major forces and players who helped to create the New South?

LINK: Henry W. Grady, newspaper editor and publicist, perhaps became best known for popularizing the concept of the New South. In 1886, speaking before a distinguished group of northerners in New York City—which included Gen. William T. Sherman—Grady explained how a New South arose following the end of the Civil War. “We have let economy take root and spread among us as rank as the crabgrass which sprang from Sherman’s cavalry camps,” he declared, “until we are ready to lay odds on the Georgia Yankee, as he manufactures relics of the battlefield in a one-story shanty and squeezes pure olive oil out of his cotton-seed, against any downeaster that ever swapped wooden nutmegs for flannel sausages in the valleys of Vermont.” The New South, a term in common usage during the period after Reconstruction up until the early 20th century, became both an ideological construct and a social movement. It was a device, above all, serving to describe how the region was open for business to northern investors. According to Grady’s New South, adopted in what amounted to a social movement by promoters and boosters to define the South differently, the region was no longer dependent on slavery, fully reconciled to the Union, but also fully invested in the principle of white supremacy. Continue reading “The Invention of the New South? An Interview with William A. Link”

Southern Reconstruction and Constructed Memory: Anne Marshall Talks Veterans, Heritage Groups, and Reconcilation

By Ashley Whitehead Luskey

Anne Marshall History professor environmental portrait
Anne Marshall. Image courtesy of Mississippi State University

Over the course of this year, we’ll be interviewing some of the historians scheduled to speak at the 2016 CWI conference about their upcoming talks and their thoughts about Reconstruction and its legacies. Today, we’re speaking with Anne Marshall, Associate Professor of History at Mississippi State University. Marshall’s most recent publications include Creating a Confederate Kentucky: The Lost Cause and Civil War Memory in a Border State (University of North Carolina Press, 2010), and “The Jack Burden of Southern History: Robert Penn Warren, C. Vann Woodward, and Historical Practice,” in Storytelling, History, and the Postmodern South, ed. by Jason Phillips (Louisiana State University Press, 2013).

CWI: What role did memory, memorial associations, and the prolific creation of Civil War monuments play during the Reconstruction era?

MARSHALL: The efforts of both former white Confederates and white Unionists to commemorate the memory of the dead and surviving soldiers played a significant role in helping the American public deal with the trauma of war. Monuments and veterans associations became about much more about honoring the past, however. They also served as an effective way to shape the present during Reconstruction. Union veterans associations like the Grand Army of the Republic served as an advocacy group within the Republican Party, while black Union veterans often drew upon their service in the U.S. Army as grounds for obtaining and retaining the rights of citizenship in the post-war era. Most notably, white southerners created an entire worldview surrounding the concept of the Lost Cause, which they wielded to turn back the tide of federal Reconstruction and maintain white supremacy. In many ways, the very different aims of memorial groups who channeled the memory of the Civil War toward different ends became a way of continuing to fight the war in culture and in policy well after the fighting on the battlefield was over. Continue reading “Southern Reconstruction and Constructed Memory: Anne Marshall Talks Veterans, Heritage Groups, and Reconcilation”

The Forgotten 150th: Why the Civil War Sesquicentennial is Far From Over

By Jeff Lauck ’18

Last spring, my friends told me that it was the perfect time to get into Civil War reenacting. “The 150th is over,” they said, “No one is going to care about the Civil War anymore, so everyone will be selling all their stuff.” Somehow, this bit of insider trading information meant more to me than just bargain brogans and frock coats.

For many, indeed most, the Civil War ended when Robert E. Lee surrendered at Appomattox on April 9th, 1865. For reenactors and amateur historians today, the Civil War ended last April with the 150th Appomattox events or maybe even last May with the 150th anniversary of the Grand Review in Washington D.C. And then it was over. The four year frenzy concluded as if the spring of 1865 was the end of America’s great 19th century identity crisis. Yet in a broader sense, the Civil War lasted much longer than its affixed truncation date of April 1865, and its sesquicentennial commemoration should likewise project well into the next few decades. Victories like the passage of the Reconstruction Amendments and the Civil Rights Bills of the postbellum era should be celebrated just as much as the victories at Gettysburg and Antietam. Likewise, the tragedies of the Colfax Massacre and the founding of the Ku Klux Klan should be remembered just as well as the assassination of President Lincoln.

Union reenactors at the 150th Anniversary of the Battle of Appomattox. Photo by the author.
Union reenactors at the 150th Anniversary of the Battle of Appomattox. Photo by the author.

Continue reading “The Forgotten 150th: Why the Civil War Sesquicentennial is Far From Over”

Our Reconciliationist Pastime: How Baseball Contributed to the Reunification of White America

By Jeff Lauck ’18

As early as the 1850s, the game of baseball was being referred to as “our national game.” At a time when the nation was being ripped apart at the seams, it served as a relatively new symbol of national identity. Baseball did not fully reach its unifying potential until after a bloody war that pitched North against South. However, these reconciliationist qualities did not strike at the heart of all Americans.

Civil War soldiers often turned to baseball between battles. George Putnam, a Union soldier fighting in Texas, recalled a game that had to be cut short due to a surprise Confederate attack.

“Suddenly, there was a scattering of fire, which three outfielders caught the brunt; the centerfield was hit and was captured, left and right field managed to get back to our lines. The attack…was repelled without serious difficulty, but we had lost not only our centerfield, but the only baseball in Alexandria, Texas.”

Abraham Gilbert Mills, a sergeant with the 165th New York Volunteers (Duryea’s Zouaves), carried a bat and ball with him in addition to his rifle and accoutrements. He also participated in a Christmas Day 1862 baseball game at Hilton Head, South Carolina before a crowd that numbered as many as 40,000 – more than can fit in Fenway Park to watch a Boston Red Sox game today. Continue reading “Our Reconciliationist Pastime: How Baseball Contributed to the Reunification of White America”

A New Angle on the Freedmen’s Bureau: A Conversation with James Downs

Jim Downs
Jim Downs. Image courtesy of Connecticut College.

By Ashley Whitehead Luskey

Over the course of this year, we’ll be interviewing some of the historians scheduled to speak at the 2016 CWI conference about their upcoming talks and their thoughts about Reconstruction and its legacies. Today, we’re speaking with James Downs. Downs is an Associate Professor of History and American Studies at Connecticut College. He recently published Sick from Freedom: African-American Illness and Suffering During the Civil War and Reconstruction (Oxford University Press, 2012), which tells the largely unknown story of the many former slaves who died at the moment of freedom. Dr. Downs has also published on the representations of slavery in museums and historic landmarks in the United States, England, and the Bahamas. He is currently working on two book projects—the first on the international outbreak of the 19th-century cholera epidemics, and the second on the history of sexuality. The recent recipient of a prestigious New Directions Fellowship, Dr. Downs is spending the 2015-2016 academic year on sabbatical as an Andrew W. Mellon fellow at Harvard University.

CWI: What was the Freedmen’s Bureau? Who operated it, and what purposes did it serve?

DOWNS: The Freedmen’s Bureau was a federal government agency that helped to ease former bondspeople’s transition from slavery to freedom. Established by Congress in 1865 as the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Land, the Freedmen’s Bureau negotiated labor contracts; established provisional schools; constructed schools and began the first-ever system of federal medical care—building over forty hospitals, employing over 120 physicians, and treating an estimated one million formerly enslaved people. Continue reading “A New Angle on the Freedmen’s Bureau: A Conversation with James Downs”

The Literal Reconstruction of VMI: To Obliterate or Not to Obliterate?

By Kaylyn Sawyer ’17

My family-driven fondness for the Virginia Military Institute is not a secret. I actually have a vintage gridiron-inspired VMI bobble head doll, an inheritance from my great grandmother who was proud to see both her sons graduate from the Institute. While thinking about the Civil War history of VMI for an academic course, I was struck by a most obvious question: Why was Virginia allowed to rebuild the Institute, described by some as a factory for the mass production of Confederates, after its destruction in 1864? I considered the challenge an opportunity for engaging research, and I offer this as the first in a series of three posts focusing on the literal reconstruction of the Virginia Military Institute. My hope is to explore the challenges the Institute faced following the Civil War, examine how the Institute’s story reflects greater movements in the nation, and assess how the Institute functions and influences today.

The story begins in June 1864, two months after Confederate forces achieved victory at the Battle of New Market with the help of VMI’s Corps of Cadets. Union General David Hunter arrived in Lexington, VA after a march up the Shenandoah Valley. Abandoned without mounting a significant defense, the Virginia Military Institute was left at the mercy of General Hunter and his guns. In Hunter’s own words, “On the 12th I also burned the Virginia Military Institute and all the buildings connected with it.” The Institute’s Board of Visitors quickly began making plans to rebuild, but the defeat of the Confederacy one year later left VMI uncertain of its very existence.

Ruins_of_Barracks_at_end_of_Civil_War_1866
Cadet barracks in ruin following General Hunter’s raid in June 1864. Photograph by Boude and McClelland, courtesy of Virginia Military Institute Archives.

Continue reading “The Literal Reconstruction of VMI: To Obliterate or Not to Obliterate?”