The Author’s Corner with David Prior

between freedom and progressDavid Prior is Assistant Professor of History at the University of New Mexico. This interview is based on his new book, Between Freedom and Progress: The Lost World of Reconstruction Politics (LSU Press, 2019).

JF: What led you to write Between Freedom and Progress?

DP: I stumbled into the project through primary source research. When I started my graduate work, my advisor encouraged me to look at U.S. foreign relations during Reconstruction. In the process of doing that, I wrote an early seminar paper on American interest and involvement in an insurrection by Greek Orthodox Christians on the island of Crete against Ottoman imperial rule from 1866 to 1869. I was struck by how people in and from the United States, including former Confederates, not only discussed the insurrection, but argued over its meaning through competing sets of analogies to slaveholders, Apaches, Mormons, Poles, and Russians. Those analogies, and the underlying worldview they stemmed from, became what my book was about. I researched a number of seemingly disparate case studies that people at the time connected to each other and to Reconstruction, which is itself a term borrowed from Europe through analogy. I found myself attempting to fathom why these events, places, and individuals all called out for attention from people who, one would think, would have been narrowly focused on the South and its relation to the Union.

JF: In two sentences, what is the argument of Between Freedom and Progress?

DP: In the broadest sense, the aim of the book is to take a new look at the cultural, intellectual, and political landscape inhabited by Reconstruction’s partisans—those who struggled over and with Reconstruction’s core issues. Between Freedom and Progress does this by recovering why and how they imagined themselves as actors in world history, and in particular how a belief that struggles for freedom and progress transcended the globe stood in creative tension with a closely related assumption that history was about and made by coherent, distinctive groups of people (nations, races, religions, tribes) with their own characters.

JF: Why do we need to read Between Freedom and Progress?

DP: To recover a sense of the otherness of the past, even while we continue to acknowledge the ways that racism and inequality link the United States and the world today back to the contested politics of the postbellum decade.

JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian?

DP: I loved history, as well as economics, going back to high school and double majored in college. When I started thinking about graduate school, I decided I enjoyed history a touch more, although I’ll admit I’ve always missed being able to engage with both disciplines.

JF: What is your next project?

DP: Right now I am working on an edited volume entitled Reconstruction and Empire that looks at the various ways in which the legacies of the Civil War and abolition shaped the imperial moment of the late 1890s and early 1900s.

JF: Thanks, David!

The Author’s Corner with John Brooke

there is a northJohn Brooke is Arts and Sciences Distinguished Professor of History and Professor of Anthropology at Ohio State University. He is also Director of the Ohio State University Center for Historical Research. This interview is based on his new book, “There is a North”: Fugitive Slaves, Political Crisis, and Cultural Transformation in the Coming of the Civil War (University of Massachusetts Press, 2019).

JF: What led you to write “There is a North”?

JB: I am thrilled that my book is out, and want to thank the University of Massachusetts Press for doing such a nice job with the production. I began thinking about this project in 2010 for two reasons: I wanted to write about how people experience “events,” and I wanted to address the central issue of the history of the republic. Here, I was dissatisfied with the dominant narrative, which focuses on why the South seceded. The new literature on the politics of slavery during the American Revolution and Early Republic makes it plain that the South would secede whenever the slaveholders faced a fundamental threat to “the institution.” 

JF: In two sentences, what is the argument of “There is a North”?

JB: The central question regards how and when the fundamental threat to slavery emerged. It is equally clear that, while the abolitionists worked long and hard, they had not before the 1850s convinced a strategic block Northern opinion to stand up against slavery.

JF: Why do we need to read “There is a North?

JB: Readers should consider “There is a North” because it describes this conversion between the fall of 1850 and the spring of 1856, focusing on the way in which the Fugitive Slave Law was turned into a cultural weapon against slavery through the efforts of Harriet Beecher Stowe in Uncle Tom’s Cabin, but also the efforts of hundreds of other authors, musicians, and theatrical producers and performers. This process involved a fundamental though fleeting creolizing encounter of black and white American cultures, unfolding in a contested by real confluence of black and white interest against slavery and the Slave Power. By the time that the Kansas-Nebraska Act was passed in 1854, this drawn out “media event” had reshaped public opinion. While both the political and cultural dimensions of this story have been the subject of important works, “There is a North” is the first to focus on both equally, and on their synergies.

JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian?

JB: My interests in American and also world history have their origins in my childhood, and were nurtured at Cornell and then at Penn, where I became an early American historian, eminently advised by Michael Zuckerman and his many colleagues. “There is a North” is my fourth book on society and culture in the American North from the Age of Revolution to the Civil War.

JF: What is your next project?

JB: Teaching global environmental and climate history at Tufts and Ohio State led to my global book, Climate Change and the Course of Global History: A Rough Journey. The next several years will be devoted this project, producing a 2nd edition and a spin-off undergraduate text.

JF: Thanks, John!

The Author’s Corner with Niels Eichhorn

liberty and slaveryNiels Eichhorn is Assistant Professor of History at Middle Georgia State University. This interview is based on his new book, Liberty and Slavery: European Separatists, Southern Secession, and the American Civil War (LSU Press, 2019).

JF: What led you to write Liberty and Slavery?

NE: The project started in my freshman year in college when I took a Civil War history class (senior-level class), where I became interested in German-U.S. relations. I was especially curious about Rudolph Schleiden, Bremen’s diplomatic representative in the United States. Schleiden, a former 1848 revolutionary, who had tried in April 1861 with a visit to Alexander Stephens in Richmond to stop the war, seemed to have a unique story to tell. I wanted to know more about him. As I continued in graduate school, I expanded to include other Schleswig-Holstein revolutionaries of 1848 and how they translated their experiences from Europe to the United States. Aware that this was still a narrow subject matter, I went even larger and decided to also include Irish, Polish, and Hungarians, who shared a similar set of arguments about political and national oppression with the U.S. South. All four of these migrant groups had important leaders involved politically or militarily in the U.S. Civil War. Born was Liberty and Slavery, European revolutionaries facing southern secession.

JF: In three sentences, what is the argument of Liberty and Slavery?

NE: Liberty and Slavery illustrates that separatism was a universal experience across the Atlantic World during the middle decades of the nineteenth century and the various movements intellectually and personally influenced each other. European separatists who had feared political or national enslavement in Europe frequently looked to a southern minority forcing its will on, enslaving, the United States, whereas the vast majority of European migrants supported the Union against an aristocratic-looking minority intend on destroying or at least dominating the United States, eliminating the beacon many European separatists had looked to for help and inspiration during their own rebellions. Their European background and interpretation of the sectional struggle influenced their decision to side with Union or Confederacy.

JF: Why do we need to read Liberty and Slavery?

NE: Because it is a really important book … humor aside, Liberty and Slavery illustrates that residence alone did not determine allegiance. Only because Hungarians resided in the North did not mean they automatically sympathized with the United States. The book aims to illustrate the complexities of the ideological baggage migrants brought with them to the United States, especially revolutionaries, and their difficulty of translating their arguments and experiences into the United States. Furthermore, while the Irish are a relatively well-known group fighting in the Civil War, the Hungarians and Polish are much less familiar. The book has a heavy dose of European history in the first two chapters because scholarship of 1848 revolutionaries in the United States often overlooks the background these revolutionary migrants bring with them, their language and experiences, creating the perception that they are Union-loving, liberty-embracing anti-slavery advocates when they get off the boat. It was not that simple. Liberty and Slavery illustrates the complexities of nationalism and the construction of identity, especially when in a foreign country.

JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian?

NE: Well, there are some out there who have openly wondered if I am actually a U.S. historian, I do think so, even if my approach is rather unique. The first spark came when my VHS recorder gave out on the last hour of Gettysburg–I had school the next day and could not stay up until midnight. It was incredibly tough finding any literature about the U.S. Civil War in German bookstores. That is where I started to read about U.S. history, mostly books brought home from vacations in the United States. The decision to pursue history professionally, came in my freshmen history class when I realized that German-U.S. relations had no literature. Thus I went from military history-interested to diplomatic history to transnational history.

JF: What is your next project?

NE: The difficulty here is that Liberty and Slavery has two concurrent projects. While working on this book, I have also been working with my friend and colleague Duncan Campbell at National University in San Diego on The Civil War in the Age of Nationalism, the first-ever study placing the Civil War in a global context. I also have forthcoming later this year The Atlantic World in the Nineteenth Century (Palgrave), which takes a broad look at the Atlantic region and how people, ideas, commodities, and money continued to crisscross the Atlantic during the nineteenth century and how that helped to create a coherent and vibrant Atlantic community. These three were concurrent projects. About two months ago, I asked myself the same question you asked, what next. I am/was torn between two projects that really interest me going forward: a nineteenth-century history of the South to illustrate continuities within the region or my long thought about work on Civil War diplomacy. I have opted for the latter for the moment since I have most of the research in hand, but as I am going through the thousands of microfilm scans and archival-material photographs, I am not sure where this project will lead yet.

JF: Thanks, Niels!

California Confederates

Confederates in Cali

There were apparently a lot of Confederates in California.  Kevin Waite, a history professor at Durham University, explains at The New Republic:

Earlier this month, the last major Confederate monument in California came down. It was a curious one: a nine-foot granite pillar in an Orange County cemetery, bearing the names of several Southern leaders, including Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee, who never even set foot on the Pacific coast.

Dead Confederates are hard to find in California. Yet the Golden State once contained far more rebel tributes than any other state outside the South itself.

Beginning in the early twentieth century and continuing into the twenty-first, Confederate memorial associations in California established more than a dozen monuments and place-names to the rebellion. They dedicated highways to Jefferson Davis, named schools for Robert E. Lee, and erected large memorials to the common Confederate soldier.

Why was a free state, far removed from the major military theaters of the Civil War, once such fertile soil for Confederate memorialization?

Read the rest here.

Drew Gilpin Faust on Growing-Up in Virginia

Faust

In a piece in the latest issue of The Atlantic, Faust, the recently retired president of Harvard and an American historian, reflects on what it was like to growing-up in the racist South.  Her piece is a wonderful example of how to blend personal memoir and American history.

Here is a taste:

I was 9 years old when the news reports about “massive resistance” and battles over segregation made me suddenly realize that it was not a matter of accident that my school was all-white. I wrote an outraged letter to President Eisenhower—outraged because this wasn’t just, but also outraged that I only now understood, that I had been somehow implicated in this without my awareness. I have wondered whether I was motivated in part by my growing recognition of my own disadvantage as a girl whose mother insisted I learn to accept that I lived in a “man’s world.” I resented that my three brothers were not expected to wear itchy organdy dresses and white gloves, or learn to curtsy, or sit decorously, or accept innumerable other constraints on their freedom. I was becoming acutely attuned to what was and wasn’t fair. And because my parents seemed to take for granted that this was both a white world and a man’s world, I took it upon myself to appeal—without telling them—to a higher power: “Please Mr. Eisenhower please try and have schools and other things accept colored people,” I wrote. “Colored people aren’t given a chance … So what if their skin is black. They still have feelings but most of all are God’s people.” And I acknowledged the accident of my own privilege: “If I painted my face black I wouldn’t be let in any public schools etc.” I seem to have figured out “etc.” before I recognized the realities of the racial arrangements that surrounded me. And, curiously, I framed what I had recognized as the contingency of race and the arbitrariness of my own entitlement by invoking blackface.

Read the entire piece here.

Nice Work Ted Cruz…Kinda

As readers of this blog now, I am not a big Ted Cruz fan.  I criticized him heavily during the 2016 campaign and also covered him in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.

But I am glad to see this:

Thanks, Ted Cruz!  Here is a Washington Post piece.

ADDENDUM:  These days I am just happy when a leading Republican calls out racism and white supremacy.  But as Al Mackey notes in the comments, let’s not pretend that Cruz’s references to Forrest as a delegate to the 1868 Democratic convention is not sending a subtle message rooted in the idea, popular among the Right today, that the Democrats continue to be the party of racism.  Kevin Kruse and others have debunked this view of history for its failure to recognize change over time.

Flannery O’Connor on the Lost Cause

Flannery

Check out Peter Candler‘s piece at The Christian Century on a little-known Flannery O’Connor short story in which she wrestles with memory and history in the South.  Here is a taste of his piece, “Flannery O’Connor’s challenge to the Lost Cause myths of the Confederacy.”

Propping up an illusory history has a price, and not just on balance sheets. The human cost of such self-deception is the subject of an early and little-known story by Flannery O’Connor, “A Late Encounter with the Enemy.” Originally published in Harper’s Bazaar in 1953 and included in A Good Man Is Hard to Find two years later, the story is about the ways in which the burdens of history, when honestly confronted, can bring not enlightenment but devastation.

“Late Encounter” is barely ten pages in the Library of America edition. It is hardly one of her major works (O’Connor described it as “not so bad”), and it rarely figures in critical studies of her work. But it is notable for being the only piece of her fiction that directly treats the Civil War and its legacy. The story is only superficially about the war, though; it is really about the way in which the war is—or is not—remembered. It is a story about memory and the deep conflict between public commemoration, sectarian mythology, and historical reality.

“Late Encounter” is structurally simple: there is a single main scene framing one flashback. Sally Poker Sash is about to attend her college graduation, the joyful fruit of a protracted education spread out over 20 summers while she was teaching school. It’s such a big deal that she has invited her 104-year-old grandfather, a Confederate veteran, to attend in full military dress. Sally arranges for him to sit up on stage—not so that he will have a good view of the proceedings but because she wants him to be seen: “she wanted to show what she stood for, or, as she said, ‘what all was behind her,’ and was not behind them. This them was not anybody in particular. It was just all the upstarts who had turned the world on its head and unsettled the ways of decent living.” She wants the crowd to see him, and herself through him—“Glorious upright old man stand-in for the old traditions! Dignity! Honor! Courage!”—as a rebuke to their wanton ways.

And here is Candler’s conclusion:

What if history is not at all the way we prefer to remember it? Could it be that monuments—not just public ones but also those our own personal histories are made of—are tokens of a tacit agreement to forget certain difficult truths? Directed both generally at an inveterate human skill for self-deception and specifically at the mythology of the Lost Cause, the question that O’Connor’s “Late Encounter” puts to the reader is both blunt and surgical: What if you are wrong about what it is you think you were fighting for?

Read the entire piece here.

Loyal Slave Monuments

Loyalist Slave Monument

We have debated and debated the role of Confederate monuments in public spaces, but I have not heard much about “Loyal Slave” monuments.  Over at The Nation, Kali Holloway tells us more about these monuments that celebrate the myth of the loyal slave.  Here is a taste:

As America’s racist historical myths go, the loyal black slave is one of the most enduring, destructive, and tightly held. Emerging from the white Southern racial imagination in the 1830s, the faithful slave personified slave owners’ defensiveness against a growing abolitionist movement and its condemnations of slavery, and slaveholders, as evil and immoral. The loyal-slave trope insisted that enslaved blacks labored for their enslavers not out of self-preservation and deeply instilled fear, but as an expression of love, fidelity, and devotion. After the Civil War ended in their humiliating defeat, white Southerners attempted to retroactively justify the Confederacy with the “Lost Cause” ideology, an ahistorical narrative that further reimagined the Old South as filled with happy enslaved blacks. The loyal slave became a stock character in slavery apologia from Gone with the Wind to pancake-mix ad campaigns to—perhaps less famously—a little-known subgenre of Confederate monuments. Nearly all of those overtly racist memorials still stand in sites around the South.

As with Confederate monuments generally, loyal-slave markers communicated not only the white South’s nostalgia for a counterfeit version of what once was, but also its belief in what should have been. Constructed not during slavery but between the 1900s and 1930s, like nearly all Confederate monuments, loyal-slave markers served as the visible component of an anti-black backlash against black civil-rights gains. In the face of African-American empowerment struggles, loyal-slave monuments telegraphed the idea that slavery had been the natural state of things. Faithful-slave markers also warned black folks working to overturn the racial-caste system in the late-19th and early-20th centuries that they risked the same brutal violence that had kept racial order during slavery. In fact, black defiance had manifested in 250 slaveuprisings, more than 100,000 escapes via the Underground Railroad, and thousands more escaped slaves’ joining the Union Army before slavery was abolished in 1865.

Confederate apologists erected loyal-slave monuments to blot out that evidence of black rebellion. “They memorialized a narrative that undercut the myriad ways that African Americans resisted,” says Tera Hunter, a professor of American history and African-American studies at Princeton University. “It was a source of embarrassment for slaveholders that they had to resort to the use of brute force to keep enslaved people in line, because if they were actually content, why would there be a need for corporal punishment? Loyal-slave stories and monuments hid that history. 

Read the rest here.

The Author’s Corner with James Broomall

Private Confederacies the emotional worlds of southern men as citizens and soldiersJames Broomall is Director of the George Tyler Moore Center for the Study of the Civil War and Assistant Professor of History at Shepherd University. This interview is based on his new book, Private Confederacies: The Emotional Worlds of Southern Men as Citizens and Soldiers  (The University of North Carolina Press, 2019).

JF: What led you to write Private Confederacies?

JM: I have always enjoyed reading works of cultural history and anthropology. I have also been a student of the Civil War era since childhood. Over time my varied areas of study merged as I became interested in how Americans understood, portrayed, and experienced civil war and reconstruction. Ultimately, then, I wrote Private Confederacies to better grasp the impact of war on the individual and to explore modes of cultural expression.

My project started to take shape and my research questions crystallized after reading the letters and diaries of white Southerners in the post-Civil War era. Confederate veterans, in particular, compelled me because the sentiments they offered did not align with what I had read about antebellum Southerners. Before the Civil War, as it is often related, men had largely been defined by public postures, governed by arcane codes, and permitted few personal disclosures. Yet, in the letters I read veterans reached out to old military comrades searching for emotional support and to discuss wartime events with startling transparency. In other cases, men’s diaries meditated on trauma and loss. The disclosures were raw and intimate. The more I read, the more I wanted to understand the broader arc of how white Southerners configured, indeed reconfigured, notions of masculinity and how they translated their feelings on paper and to friends and family. To address these issues I created a study that spanned peace, war, and reconstruction (moving from the 1840s to the 1870s) and examined the lives and expressions of white Southern men and women.

The American Civil War is often, and rightly, portrayed as a transformative event that had profound social, economic, and political consequences. I wrote Private Confederacies because I sought to understand had individuals interacted with and responded to their worlds during a period of massive transition and change. The conflict changed the lives of individuals in deeply personal ways. We as scholars are just beginning to plumb the depths of Southerners’ emotional lives. Stories of loss and trauma—the long shadows of war—have received more of scholars’ attention over the past decade, especially, resulting in a number of important works. I wanted to both enter and expand that historiographical conversation.

JF: In two sentences, what is the argument of Private Confederacies?

JM: I argue that Confederate soldiers, raised in an antebellum culture that demanded self-control, struggled to maintain traditional notions of manliness because of the privations of camp, the harsh regime of military life, and the traumas of combat. Veterans came to rely on each other for physical comfort, psychological support, and personal security; accordingly, they held a heightened sense of brotherhood with their comrades-in-arms and forged transformative emotional communities that lent support during military service but also underpinned paramilitary campaigns of white supremacy in the Reconstruction era.

JF: Why do we need to read Private Confederacies?

JM: I believe, with due humility, that there are three primary reasons why audiences should read my book.

First, Private Confederacies expresses the significance of emotion and gender to cultural evaluation and explores the association between private feelings and public acts. I worry that many audiences have both underestimated the power of emotions and failed to historicize feelings. I use insights from emotions history to frame my study—an approach that is rather unique to studies of the Civil War-era. Further, I draw upon the sensibilities of anthropology, art history, material culture, and intellectual history. I therefore feel that Private Confederacies, though rooted in the mid-nineteenth-century American South, speaks to wider audiences because of its methodological breadth.

Second, at its heart, Private Confederacies takes seriously the importance of emotional communities—a powerful explanatory framework developed by Barbara H. Rosenwein. I find that, on the one hand, men endured the difficulties of military service by relying on their fellow soldiers of psychological support and material comfort. Men’s reliance on homosocial communities, on the other hand, became essential to the formation of paramilitary organizations and the Ku Klux Klan in the Reconstruction era. Emotional communities, therefore, demonstrate how power was constructed and maintained by white Southerners during the periods of emancipation and reconstruction—when the world was remade but freedom not fully realized.

Finally, I deliberately used a narrative writing style throughout the work, yet I did so without sacrificing scholarly rigor so as to remain relevant to the historiography. The book weaves together the personal stories of white Southerners in war and peace and draws more freely upon their words than is typically witnessed in history books. It is my hope, once again, that these choices will appeal to broader audiences.

JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian?

JM: My passion for American history is rooted in my childhood. I had incredibly generous parents who took me to antique stores, battlefields, house museums, and historic sites around the country since before I can remember. Moreover, they cultivated my love of books by filling my shelves with works of history and literature. My interest in and approach to the past matured over time and graduate training became of paramount importance. I gravitated toward the study of the 18th and 19th centuries in the American South. Once again, I benefited from incredible mentors who taught me not only to examine my sources critically but also to consider a wide range of evidence—from manuscripts to material culture. I came to specialize in the Civil War era because of my deep interest in how black and white Southerners shaped and understood the massive changes enacted by war and reconstruction.

JF: What is your next project?

JM: I am moving from inward descriptions of men’s emotional lives to outward visual representations of war. Currently, I am researching and writing about a Union veteran, James Hope, who was a member of the Hudson River School of art. Hope, a member of the Vermont Brigade and a veteran of the battle of Antietam, created a series of monumental canvases tracing the ebb and flow of battle on September 17, 1862. The striking depictions strip away notions of glory capturing instead blasted landscapes and bloated bodies. The broader project will explore the interplay between material culture and visual art to understand how soldier-artists, such as Hope, portrayed the personal dimensions of war. Peace may have marked an end of military operations but artists maintained a martial culture on canvas and paper. Through this art soldiers processed their military service and created powerful representations of the conflict. Scenes of camp life illustrated the emotional linkages to their comrades-in-arms, while grim depictions of battle sought to enshrine the roles of the rank-and-file. Soldier-artists often focused on the intimate aspects of war, for they wanted to represent the conflict’s impact at a personal level.

JF: Thanks, James!

The Author’s Corner with Philip Gerard

The Last Battleground The Civil War Comes to North CarolinaPhilip Gerard is a Professor of Creative Writing at The University of North Carolina Wilmington. This interview is based on his new book, The Last Battleground: The Civil War Comes to North Carolina (University of North Carolina Press, 2019).

JF: What led you to write The Last Battleground: The Civil War Comes to North Carolina?

PG: The book began as a series of monthly narratives for Our State magazine, which has a wide readership in the South and beyond—fifty in all, spanning the four years of the Sesquicentennial of the conflict. The idea was to report the war as if it were happening right now. Addressing the American Historical Association in 1912, Theodore Roosevelt (was there ever a more vivid figure in American history?) said, “The true historian will bring the past before our eyes as if it were the present.” I wanted to make the war present—to get beyond the usual chess game accounts of regiments maneuvering here and there and put a human face on it. The Civil War was a profound human trauma that engulfed a nation, and for me the most important thing to remember is this: at the time, no one knew how it would turn out. All those caught up in it—soldiers, sailors, generals, privates, free persons of color, Cherokees and Lumbee Indians, liberated slaves, farm wives, wealthy plantation owners, working men and women, railroaders, even nuns of the battlefield who nursed the wounded—endured a true and terrible suspense. From the start I knew it was going to be a book—a whole coherent narrative made up of their many personal stories. So I re-reported all the narratives; edited, revised, and re-sequenced them; and added my own reflections.

JF: In two sentences, what is the argument of The Last Battleground: The Civil War Comes to North Carolina?

PG: North Carolina provides the perfect lens for capturing the whole epic sweep of the war: its white population was evenly divided in their loyalties; it was a homefront, a battleground, and occupied territory all at once; it contributed more soldiers than almost any other southern state, including so-called U.S. Colored Troops—and North Carolinians served on both sides; it was home to the Heroes of America, actively subverting the Confederacy; it was the refuge of the CSA government once it fled Richmond; it was the birthplace of Andrew Johnson, who gained the presidency upon the death of Lincoln and made such a shameful hash of Reconstruction; it was the ground of Sherman’s Final March and the cataclysmic Battle of Fort Fisher, guarding the last open port of the Confederacy; and it was the site of the Great Surrender of 90,000 troops that ended the war militarily and politically in the main theater of war.

JF: Why should we read The Last Battleground: The Civil War Comes to North Carolina?

PG: Our nation remains divided by many of the same existential issues for which the war was fought at such cost. The Civil War remains the unreckoned-with backstory of our current state of affairs, and if we understand it in all its terrible complexity, we might be better able to really enjoy “a new birth of freedom.”

JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian?

PG: My interest in history goes all the way back to childhood. My father used to bundle us all into the station wagon and drive us to historical sites such as Gettysburg, Brandywine Creek, Valley Forge, and the Daniel Boone Homestead. Every year we would ride the excursion boat to Fort Delaware and explore its battlements and tunneled galleries, playing hide-and-seek with the uniformed Civil War reenactors.. Walking the ground even then instilled in me a sense that history was real and urgent, dramatic and important. I learned early that history has a future, and we are that future. And so I adventure into the past to find the truth of my own—and our own—identify.

JF: What is your next project?

PG: My novel Cape Fear Rising, which peeled the scab off a long-suppressed historical event in my hometown—a white supremacist coup and racial massacre—is relaunching in May in a special 25th anniversary edition with a foreword by Randall Kenan and an author’s afterword discussing the creative process of writing it and the ugly backlash that followed from some in the white community. I have been writing a narrative series called “Decades” for Our State—addressing the wartime 1940s and the 1950s, the cauldron of Civil Rights, among other stories. And I am writing a novel about the building of the Fontana Dam on the Little Tennessee—a wartime project conceived in deception and built in haste, which changed forever the lives of an entire displaced farming community—as well as inspiring a generation of kids who spent four remarkable years in a town of 5,000 people erected virtually overnight, as they watched their fathers construct the highest dam east of the Rockies.

JF: Thanks, Philip!

The Author’s Corner with James Davis

maryland, my maryland

James Davis is Professor of Musicology and Chair of the Music History Area at the School of Music at the State University of New York at Fredonia. This interview is based on his new book, Maryland, My Maryland: Music and Patriotism during the American Civil War (University of Nebraska Press, 2019).

JF: What caused you to write Maryland, My Maryland?

JD: Curiosity, at first. For years I had wondered how a song dedicated to a state that never joined the Confederacy could be considered – then and now – a Confederate anthem. Once I began digging deeper, I realized that “Maryland, My Maryland” was in many ways the ideal case study of the life cycle of a war song. As I pulled together the story, I also came to realize how changing concepts of patriotism were entwined with the song’s use and reception. By this point I thought I had a book-length study on my hands, and, to my good fortune, the University of Nebraska Press agreed.

JF: In two sentences, what is the argument of Maryland, My Maryland?

JD: Maryland, My Maryland demonstrates how popular music simultaneously reflects and shapes events both large and small; that an anthem is an indispensable tool for gauging the depth and definition of patriotism; and that musical taste often triumphs over social class, politics, religion, and other social elements

JF: Why do we need to read Maryland, My Maryland?

JD: Maryland, My Maryland serves as reminder that there is a human factor behind everything we study about the Civil War. Aesthetics, or music taste and popularity, may seem tangential to great battles or ground-breaking legislation, but these are the issues that speak to the emotional foundation upon which everything else resides. By singing a song a person can express something that is impossible to convey in any other way. If we truly hope to understand what that person was experiencing, we should do our best to know that song and to understand what that performance meant.

JF: When and why did you decide to become an American Historian?

JD: I moved into American history about 3 years after graduate school. My dissertation dealt with the intersection of philosophy and music theory – a very esoteric subject. After publishing a few articles, I realized that I had little desire to pursue this line. I spent about 2 years doing a great deal of reading and thinking, and finally decided to dive into work that combined three of my passions – musicology, American history, and military studies. A friend of mine mentioned having seen a collection of letters from a Civil War band leader in an archive, so I ordered a microfilm, began reading, and I was hooked.

JF: What is your next project?

JD: I have a few small Civil War projects underway, such as veterans and late-century music criticism, humor and music, and musical nostalgia. There is also a book possibility that would examine the notion of “proximity” (geographic, temporal, emotional) and musical meaning during the war. However, having spent over 20 years on the Civil War, I am anxious to expand my horizons. I hope to investigate similar topics (musical nationalism and patriotism, military music) in the Mexican-American War and the Spanish-American War. I am also fascinated by bandsmen stationed in western forts from 1870-1900.

JF: Thanks, James!

The Author’s Corner with Hampton Newsome

The fight for the old north state

Hampton Newsome is an independent historian and co-editor of Civil War Talks: Further Reminiscences of George S. Bernard and His Fellow Veterans. This interview is based on his new book, The Fight for the Old North State: The Civil War in North Carolina, January-May 1864 (University Press of Kansas, 2019).

JF: What led you to write The Fight for the Old North State: The Civil War in North Carolina, January-May 1864?

HN: I was drawn to this project by the intriguing mix of military and political issues involved with the battles in eastern North Carolina during the first half of 1864. These events, which included Confederate attacks on New Bern and Plymouth, form a compelling story complete with battles on land, naval combat between ironclads and wooden gunboats, Unionist resistance to the Confederacy, and a crucial state election.

JF: In two sentences, what is the argument of The Fight for the Old North State: The Civil War in North Carolina, January-May 1864?

HN: In attacking key Union positions in North Carolina during the first months of 1864, Confederate leaders sought to secure vital supplies for Robert E. Lee’s army and to dampen a growing peace movement that threatened to pull the state out of the war. These military operations, particularly the capture of the Federal garrison at Plymouth in April, helped achieve these goals for the rebellion.

JF: Why do we need to read The Fight for the Old North State: The Civil War in North Carolina, January-May 1864?

HN: This book provides an in-depth look into a compelling chapter of the war that has received limited attention in the past. It covers George Pickett’s New Bern expedition, Robert Hoke’s assault on Plymouth, the fall of “Little” Washington, and Hoke’s final approach on New Bern in May. Although the study focuses on specific military engagements, it also sets these events in a broader context. It delves into the gubernatorial contest between Governor Zebulon Vance and William Holden, emancipation in the state, the activities of North Carolina Unionists including those recruited into Federal units, the construction of Confederate ironclads, and Union strategy for coastal North Carolina.

JF: When and why did you become an American historian?

HN: Though I’m not a historian by profession, I have a long-standing interest in the Civil War. I’ve always been drawn to learning about battles and campaigns as well as the broader political and social picture behind those events.

JF: What is your next project?

HN:  I’m gathering research on several Union raids in Virginia and North Carolina in 1863.

JF: Thanks, Hampton!

In Defense of Keeping Silent Sam

Silent Sam

Get up to speed here and here.

University of Pennsylvania historian Jonathan Zimmerman is in favor of keeping the statue on campus.  He writes in the wake of the UNC-Chapel Hill administration’s decision not to build a special interpretive center for the statue.  Here is a taste of his piece at The Chronicle of the Higher Education: “Historians Should End Silence on Silent Sam“:

The Confederate statue known as Silent Sam is a monument to white supremacy, so it should be removed from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Right?

Wrong. It’s precisely because the statue embodies white supremacy that it should remain on the campus, in a history center that tells its full and hateful story. And my fellow historians should be the first people to say that.

Alas, we’ve gone mostly silent on the removal of Silent Sam. Historians have carefully exposed the racist roots of such Confederate memorials, which were typically erected in the early 20th century to burnish slavery and buttress Jim Crow. But when Chapel Hill’s chancellor, Carol L. Folt, proposed that Silent Sam be placed in a new history center, sparking protest by students and faculty members, few members of our guild rallied to her side. And late last week, when the UNC Board of Governors voted down Folt’s plan, most of us kept quiet.

Even worse, some historians embraced the attack on the proposed history center. In a statement last week, the National Council on Public History argued that placing Silent Sam on display “threatens to discourage open dialogue about the white-supremacist history” of the monument and about “the negative effects of its continued presence on members of the UNC community.”

Come again? Putting Silent Sam out of sight will also put him out of mind, suppressing rather than promoting the kind of “open dialogue” that the council hails. And ultimately that will have negative effects for the entire UNC community, including its minority members.

I understand and respect that many minorities at UNC denounced the history center, arguing that a racist symbol like Silent Sam has no place anywhere on the campus. But I think they’re wrong, and the best way to show respect for them is to explain why. Anything less isn’t respect; it’s condescension.

Read the rest here.

University of North Carolina Proposes Building a House for “Silent Sam”

Silent Sam

The University of North Carolina is proposing a $5.3 million dollar building to house a Confederate monument that was recently toppled by students. Here is a taste of an article at CNN:

Administrators at the University of North Carolina are proposing a new $5.3 million building to safely house a controversial Confederate monument that was toppled by protesters in August.

UNC Chancellor Carol Folt said that experts concluded that the rifle-carrying statue, known as “Silent Sam,” could not be returned to its previous home on campus because of public safety concerns.

However, the statue also cannot legally be moved to a museum, mausoleum or cemetery because of a state law that limits the removal of public monuments.

So the university plans to build a new indoor facility on campus to house Silent Sam, Folt said on Monday. The new building, at a proposed cost of $5.3 million plus another $800,000 in annual operating costs, will provide historical context for the statue and for the university’s broader history.

“(We plan to) make it a truly strong interactive center that tells our full history of this university, from before settlement to its emergence this day as one of the leading public state research universities in America,” Folt said.

Read the rest here.

Other coverage:

The Chronicle of Higher Education

Students at UNC are not happy about the decision.

Adam Harris reports at The Atlantic

The editorial board of the Charlotte Observer opposes the building.

I am sure some American historians will weigh-in today.

Episode 43: Reconciling the Church and Slavery

PodcastSadly, the Church, both in America and abroad, has a long history of supporting the institution of slavery. So what can a single congregation do to reconcile their past with a contemporary commitment to social justice? In today’s episode, host John Fea and producer Drew Dyrli Hermeling discuss truth and reconciliation within the Church. They are joined by public historian Chris Graham, who serves as the chair of the History and Reconciliation Initiative at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Richmond, Virginia.


Sponsored by the Lyndhurst Group (lyndhurstgroup.org) and Jennings College Consulting (drj4college.com).


The Author’s Corner with Ben Wynne

5afdd229cb854.jpgBen Wynne is professor of history at the University of North Georgia. This interview is based on his new book The Man Who Punched Jefferson Davis: The Political Life of Henry S. Foote, Southern Unionist (LSU Press, 2018).

JF: What led you to write The Man Who Punched Jefferson Davis: The Political Life of Henry S. Foote, Southern Unionist?

BW: My doctoral dissertation dealt with politicians in the South who argued against the idea of secession during the years leading up to the American Civil War, and in the course of doing my research Henry Stuart Foote’s name kept popping up. The more I read about him, the more interested in his life and career I became, to the point where I thought his life story might make a good book. Not only was he involved in a number of important national events in his lifetime, but he was a bit of a maniac. All of his contemporaries seemed to have an opinion about him, and those opinions ranged from genius to buffoon. I was also intrigued by his relationship Jefferson Davis. Foote was Davis’s most outspoken political enemy, and the hatred that the two men had for each other was epic.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of The Man Who Punched Jefferson Davis: The Political Life of Henry S. Foote, Southern Unionist?

BW: The book is a strait biography. It captures the highly unusual spirit of the subject as well as his unique contributions to American history and politics from the 1830s until his death in 1880.

JF: Why do we need to read The Man Who Punched Jefferson Davis: The Political Life of Henry S. Foote, Southern Unionist?

BW: Henry Stuart Foote’s life included many unusual twists and turns, making for an interesting read. In general, Foote was one of antebellum America’s true political mavericks with an eccentric and sometimes violent personality. He was a polarizing figure who was beloved by supporters but reviled by critics. During his career, he participated in innumerable physical altercations—including a fistfight with then-fellow U.S. Senator Jefferson Davis that provided the title for the book—and he carried bullet wounds from several duels. He once brandished a pistol during proceedings on the Senate floor, and on another occasion threatened a fellow solon with a knife. During his career he was also very well-travelled. He was in Texas during the early 1840s as the Texas annexation debate was in full swing, and he represented Mississippi in the U.S. Senate during debates over the Compromise of 1850. In 1851, he defeated Jefferson Davis in an exceedingly bitter campaign for Mississippi governor. Later, he moved to California where he ran unsuccessfully for another senate seat, and then back to Tennessee, where he was elected to the Confederate House of Representatives. As a Confederate congressman, he remained a thorn in Davis’s side for the duration of the Civil War, publically lambasting the Confederate president again and again. A lifelong Democrat, Foote became a Republican after the war and ended up as superintendent of the U.S. Mint in New Orleans.

JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian?

BW: Like others in the field, I have been fascinated with American history and culture all of my life. It seemed like a natural profession for me. I believe strongly in the cliché that you will not know where you are going if you do not know where you have been.

JF: What is your next project?

BW: I am currently researching for a book on the history of music in Macon, Georgia from the 1830s to the 1980s, that will include material on iconic American musical figures such as “Little Richard” Penniman, Otis Redding and the Allman Brothers.

JF: Thanks, Ben!

Jefferson Davis’s New Home at UT-Austin

Davis

University of Texas workers remove the Jefferson Davis statue

What should we do with Confederate monuments?  Should they be destroyed?  Should they remain standing?  Should we supplement them with additional monuments or  interpretive signs and plaques?

In 2015, the University of Texas at Austin moved a bronze statue of Confederate President Jefferson Davis from a public space on campus to an exhibit at the university’s Dolph Briscoe Center for American History.

Over at The Chronicle of Higher Education, Cailin Crowe describes what happened next:

The Davis statue’s exhibit, “From Commemoration to Education,” was unveiled last year in tandem with renovations to the Briscoe Center’s first floor. The exhibit chronicles the statue’s life from its 1916 commissioning by George W. Littlefield, a Confederate veteran and the university’s largest original benefactor, to its removal, in 2015.

The Briscoe Center also features the statue’s campus life with an interactive display that includes digitized documents. So far, the exhibit has received largely positive feedback from students and professors because the statue was moved from a commemorative space to an educational one, Wright said.

Instead it has become a learning tool for academic conversations. “The object itself has sort of developed this second life, where it now acts as a teaching moment,” he said.

Read the entire piece here.

I would encourage the University of North Carolina to do the same with Silent Sam.

Evangelicals Come to Stone Mountain

Stone Mountain

Wait–I thought evangelicals were racists and white supremacists?

Here is a taste of Josh Shepherd’s piece at Christianity Today:

Rising 825 feet over the skyline of Atlanta, Stone Mountain is the most-visited destination in the state of Georgia. On its north face, a carving in the granite wall depicts three figures central to the Confederacy: Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis, and Stonewall Jackson.

Against this backdrop, observers might have puzzled over the scene unfolding on a recent Saturday at the top of the monument. An ethnically diverse crowd of more than 3,000 people, the majority under age 30, sang as a full rock band led the crowd in Christian praise songs.

Nearly all lifted their hands, shouted, and even danced as pop-rock worship music blasted from speakers. Then a black man in a bright red shirt with white letters reading Reconcile took the mic.

“Heaven is among us,” said Jonathan Tremaine Thomas, a young pastor from Ferguson, Missouri. “The kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

Thomas was followed by civil rights leader John Perkins, who was followed by apologies from Christian leaders to two Jewish leaders for the history of Christian anti-Semitism, who were followed by declarations of forgiveness for Dylann Roof by family members of Charleston church shooting victims. And this was all in the first 150 minutes.

Read the rest here.

Washington and Lee University in the Wake of Charlottesville

Lee College

One might expect that Washington and Lee University, a school named after George Washington and Robert E. Lee, might respond to the tragic events of Charlottesville 2017 by removing Lee from its name or removing on-campus memorials to the Confederate general.  According to Susan Svrluga’s piece at The Washington Post, this has not happened.  But other things have changed.

Here is a taste:

In the days after the Charlottesville conflict, the new president of the private university in Lexington, Va., William Dudley, convened a group and asked it “to lead us in an examination of how our history — and the ways that we teach, discuss, and represent it — shapes our community.”

As this school year began, Dudley announced the changes that would — and those that would not — take place on this storied campus, where traditions carry tremendous weight: The university will keep its name, Lee Chapel will remain an integral part of campus, and the school will find ways to tell its history more fully.

The school has begun a national search for a director of institutional history, a historian who will lead the design, construction and operation of a museum and oversee all of the school’s historical sites. The museum will be dedicated to the university’s many connections to American history. Dudley envisaged close collaborations with students and faculty members to create interactive exhibits, such as a campus walk, that would delve into lesser-known parts of the institution’s history — including the role of slavery.

The challenge for Washington and Lee was different from what other colleges confronted as they considered the fate of Confederate relics. Duke University removed a statue of Gen. Robert E. Lee last year after it was vandalized. At the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, protesters recently toppled a monument to alumni who fought for the Confederacy. At Washington and Lee, named for two generals who helped the school endure and thrive, “they aren’t just honorifics,” the school’s president said. Both men played important, direct roles. And Lee is buried on the grounds.

Read the entire piece here.

Goodbye Silent Sam

In case you have not heard, last night protesters (apparently students) at the University of North Carolina pulled down a Confederate statue called “Silent Sam.”

A few quick comments:

  1. I support the spirit behind this act.  The statue needed to be removed from its prominent place on campus.
  2. I understand what Silent Sam stands for, and I oppose it, but I was bothered by the hate and rage I witnessed during this video.
  3. The UNC History Department has made an earlier statement about the monument.  The department proposed removing the monument from its prominent position on campus and moving it to an “appropriate place” where it could “become a useful historical artifact with which to teach the history of the university and its still incomplete mission to be ‘the People’s University.'”  I wish the UNC administration would have acted sooner on the UNC History Department’s recommendation.