David Graham is an assistant professor of history at Snow College. This interview is based on his new book Loyalty on the Line: Civil War Maryland in American Memory (University of Georgia Press, 2018).
JF: What led you to write Loyalty on the Line: Civil War Maryland in American Memory?
DG: My interest in Maryland and Civil War memory began when I visited Antietam National Battlefield in Maryland while in graduate school. It was a dreary day with on and off rain. I was practically alone on the battlefield and as I visited the various parts of the landscape and the different monuments, I became interested in learning more about the history of the preservation of the battlefield and the monuments that dotted it. I ended up writing my Master’s thesis on the commemoration history of Antietam and that led me to look at Maryland’s place in the Civil War and American memory for my PhD dissertation at Purdue University. This research formed the basis of my new book.
JF: In two sentences, what is the argument of Loyalty on the Line: Civil War Maryland in American Memory?
DG: Maryland did not adopt a clear, postbellum Civil War identity. The divisions within Maryland during the war persisted after 1865 and not only reflected the divisions of the country but also revealed the importance of the border state experience to American society decades after the Civil War.
JF: Why do we need to read Loyalty on the Line: Civil War Maryland in American Memory?
DG: It is my hope that this book offers an important argument to not only the field of Civil War memory but that it can also help inform our current conversations about the legacy of the Civil War and the manifestations of that legacy in our public spaces. In August of last year, the mayor of Baltimore made the decision to remove the city’s Confederate monuments. There was intense reaction and debate regarding this decision. I discuss these monuments in my book and add historical context to the current controversy. One of the themes in the book that I think is pretty clear is that controversy surrounding Civil War memory, monuments and otherwise, is not new. There is a long history of struggling with these symbols. That is a major part of my book.
JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian?
DG: My interest in history was actually sparked by a high school English teacher. I always enjoyed history but never thought of it as a career until her class. She was a Civil War reenactor and her passion for Civil War history was clear. We read The Killer Angels (one of the few books in high school I actually read from cover to cover). I enjoyed the book but the life altering moment happened when we visited Gettysburg as a class. Standing on the battlefield imagining the events of those three days in July 1863 was surreal. The experience was heightened by the fact that we read the novel shortly before the trip to the battlefield. At one point in the battlefield’s museum, I was left behind by the rest of my class because I lost track of time while gazing at the artifacts and I completely forgot what I was supposed to be doing. From that point on, I knew I wanted to study history and I wanted to become a teacher of some kind. Preserved historic sites and wonderful educators are the reason I am an American historian.
JF: What is your next project?
DG: My second book project centers on reunions of former slaves during the postbellum period. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, freedpeople and their descendants began holding reunions throughout the United States as a way to reconnect with those who they labored beside before the outbreak of the Civil War. These gatherings indicate that the intimate relationships and neighborhoods that slaves cultivated during the antebellum period did not conclude with emancipation or the end of the war but persisted for the remainder of their lives. I’m currently researching the motivations of these reunions, their frequency, and the response they generated from white southerners. Looking forward to see where the research takes me.
JF: Thanks, David!