Category Archives: Civil War

April 9, 2010, 11:51 am

Not Peace

On this day in history, April 9, 1865, at Appomattox Court House, Virginia, Ulysses Grant wrote the following:

General R. E. LEE:

GENERAL: In accordance with the substance of my letter to you of the 8th instant, I propose to receive the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia on the following terms, to wit: Rolls of all the officers and men to be made in duplicate, one copy to be given to an officer to be designated by me, the other to be retained by such officer or officers as you may designate. The officers to give their individual paroles not to take up arms against the Government of the United States until properly exchanged; and each company or regimental commander sign a like parole for the men of their commands. The arms, artillery, and public property to be parked and stacked, and turned over to the officers appointed by me to receive them. This will not embrace the…

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April 7, 2010, 12:21 pm

Reader response, he hopefully wrote.

Ari’s previous two posts inspire me to ask of our learned readership a question for each.1

1) Does the “which side are you on” rhetoric in response to industrial tragedy get the American public’s attention? Almost a hundred years ago Charles Beard, perhaps somewhat bitterly, said no:

Realizing the fact that a mere high mortality due to congestion will not seriously disturb a nation that complacently slaughters more people on its railways and in its factories and mines than any other country in the world, mathematically minded reformers are trying to reach the heart of the public through its purse by pointing out that there is a great economic loss in the death of persons of working age.

Which really works better to grab Americans’ attention? Rhetorical appeals to justice, or social scientific appeals to your wallet?

2) Let’s stipulate there is no greater historiographical swindle…

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April 7, 2010, 11:14 am

Heritage!

I think kb’s right: it’s worth putting Coates’s demolition of the Virginia GOP (and the Republican Party more broadly) on the front page. Responding to Governor Bob McDonnell’s decision to revive Confederate History Month, Coates writes:

This is who they are–the proud and ignorant. If you believe that if we still had segregation we wouldn’t “have had all these problems,” this is the movement for you. If you believe that your president is a Muslim sleeper agent, this is the movement for you. If you honor a flag raised explicitly to destroy this country then this is the movement for you. If you flirt with secession, even now, then this movement is for you. If you are a “Real American” with no demonstrable interest in “Real America” then, by God, this movement of alchemists and creationists, of anti-science and hair tonic, is for you.

Or, if you prefer a more scholarly approach to the…

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November 23, 2009, 2:53 pm

The banality of book reviews.

Does this (here and here) happen often? Does the Times often review the same book twice? I can’t think of another instance like this, I have to admit, but I don’t pay much attention to the Sunday Book Review anymore, so I can’t say for certain.

Regardless, in this case, if you don’t feel like clicking on links, the book in question is Sir John Keegan’s The American Civil War: A Military History. Which book, I should say, I haven’t read and won’t be reading. And not just because the second review linked above, authored by the normally genial James McPherson, savages Keegan’s efforts as terribly sloppy, but also because, coincidentally, just last week Eric and I taught Richard Evans’s Lying About Hitler in our graduate seminar.

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October 5, 2009, 8:00 pm

Who still cares for the American Civil War?

I like Mary Beard’s TLS blog. But this time I fear she has Gone Too Far. Or, perhaps more likely, she’s pulling our collective leg — though I don’t remember her pulling it in quite this manner before. Even out here at the veriest Edge, the cityscape is clotted with victors’ memories of the War of Eastern Aggression. Just yesterday I was out picknicking with fellow parents of future yuppies at the Black Point Battery; and of course the map is full of streets named for Vicksburg, Grant, Lincoln and the Union. (Not to speak of the Confederate general from Big Sur.)

Need we quote Faulkner again?

Image by Flickr user maduarte used under a Creative Commons license.

September 18, 2009, 1:16 pm

Worse

This chart, gratuitously stolen from Steve Benen at The Washington Monthly, suggests strongly that political discourse in the United States is going to get worse rather than better:

R2K_GOP.png

We have the perfect storm: an African-American President and an opposition party whose concerns, language, and obsessions is driven largely by the concerns, language, and obsessions of the American South. Those ideas–racial, cultural, martial–are what is going to drive the GOP until they escape their regional status. Jimmy Carter well knows this, and it is no coincidence that the current poster child for Republican obstructionism is South Carolina. We may date the finish of the Civil War to 1865, but the conflict has never really ended.

August 24, 2009, 10:59 pm

Panic

On this day in 1857, the New York branch of the Ohio Life Insurance and Trust Company (OLITC) failed, an event often (dis)credited with starting the Panic of 1857. But of course the Panic didn’t really begin there; as with all major financial catastrophes the story is more complicated than it initially appears.

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July 31, 2009, 12:49 pm

Too good to be true?

Given that I haven’t had a chance to read the book in question, I don’t know what to make of the ongoing, and increasingly nasty, fight over John Stauffer’s and Sally Jenkins’s new history of the Free State of Jones. But it seems like the struggle over the book is pretty interesting, as it raises all kinds of questions about the intersection of historical narratives and big-time entertainment. I also think there’s probably something to be said here about the nature of scholarship. But again, without having read the book, I’m not the one to say it. At least not yet.

Anyway, the fight started here and here and here, I guess, when Victoria Bynum, who’s written her own history of Jones County during the Civil War, posted a scathing review of The State of Jones. Take a look. See what you think.

Update: Stepping back a bit, it seems to me that there are other interesting questions…

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May 29, 2009, 1:20 pm

Cover with the highest honor.

As Abraham Lincoln would say. And it’s with Lincoln, on the highly honorable cover, that you’ll find Ari in this week’s TLS.

Even after winning the presidency, Barack Obama continues to channel Abraham Lincoln. Obama arrived in Washington via the same train route that Lincoln did in 1861. He swore the oath of office on Lincoln’s bible. He chose the same lunch that Lincoln ate on his inauguration day. And with the nation mired in a dizzying array of crises, Obama says that he looks to Lincoln for inspiration. Ron Paul, meanwhile, did not secure the Republican nomination, despite the passion of his supporters. Nevertheless, he, too, continues to use Lincoln for political purposes. On April 15, Paul and hundreds of thousands of limited-government activists took to the streets to rail about the long reach of federal authority. In addition to claiming that income tax is unconstitutional…

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May 19, 2009, 9:56 am

Medals

[Following up on this post.]

The valor that garners a Medal of Honor has changed since the Civil War, when the award was first created. In fact, many of the ways that the Medal was previously given no longer hold. Perhaps the most obvious of these is that it is now extremely difficult–if not impossible–to get a Medal of Honor while surviving the acts of bravery. The military denies that this is an official requirement, though there is skepticism:

The U.S. military appears to have toughened its standards for bestowing the Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest award for valor in battle, to exclude troops who survive their heroic acts, a California lawmaker charged Thursday.
Either troops are “not as brave as they used to be, which I don’t believe is true,” or the criteria for the award have been amended “so that you have to die” to receive it, Rep. Duncan D. Hunter, R-Calif., told the…

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March 31, 2009, 12:39 pm

This just in: Errol Morris is all kinds of cool.

The latest evidence? He’s doing some sleuthing over at the Times about a Civil-War-era photograph. The first of what will be a five-part series is linked above.

Here’s the hook:

The soldier’s body was found near the center of Gettysburg with no identification — no regimental numbers on his cap, no corps badge on his jacket, no letters, no diary. Nothing save for an ambrotype (an early type of photograph popular in the late 1850s and 1860s) of three small children clutched in his hand. Within a few days the ambrotype came into the possession of Benjamin Schriver, a tavern keeper in the small town of Graeffenburg, about 13 miles west of Gettysburg. The details of how Schriver came into possession of the ambrotype have been lost to history. But the rest of the story survives, a story in which this photograph of three small children was used for both good and wicked purposes. First, …

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March 2, 2009, 11:45 am

It’s fair to say that he exceeded expectations.

It’s always useful to remember how low expectations were for Abraham Lincoln when he took office. Even his ostensible allies sometimes described him as a rube, a hayseed out of his depth in troubled times. As for his political enemies, the editors at Harper’s Weekly*, a publication that had shilled for Stephen Douglas during the 1860 campaign, printed the above cartoon (click here for a larger image) on this day in 1861. Less than a week before Lincoln’s inauguration, the artist, John McLenan, depicted the president-elect, apparently drunk, joking with cronies as a funeral procession for the Constitution and Union passed by in the background.

* The editors at Harper’s maintained a Unionist stance throughout the war. And by the end of the conflict, the publication had become aggressively pro-Lincoln.

February 27, 2009, 2:48 pm

“The South designed beautiful flags, but it was on the wrong side of history.”

Of all the things I’ve read about Lincoln recently, this very moving something-or-other is among my favorites. The idea that a person unfamiliar with Lincoln might meet and then find herself falling in love with him warms my heart.

(Thanks to a reader for the link.)

February 12, 2009, 11:11 am

Bicentennial rehash.

Had he not been cut down by an assassin’s bullet, Abraham Lincoln would have been 200 years old today. How’s that for a lede? Honestly, I feel like I should try to write something grand on this auspicious occasion, but as Frederick Douglass noted in 1876, “no man can say anything that is new of Abraham Lincoln.” Douglass was right. And that was in 1876. So you can imagine how hard it is to be original about Lincoln today. But that hasn’t stopped people, lots of people, from trying. In fact, I’ve just finished reading six new Lincoln books for a longish essay I’m writing to mark the bicentennial. I learned some interesting stuff from these books — especially from James Oakes’s The Radical and the Republican — but nothing that changes my basic impression of the man, his politics, or his presidency. Truth be told, it’s probably time for a multi-decade moratorium on Lincoln…

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February 11, 2009, 8:07 pm

Um, are you sure that’s a good idea?

If I’m President Obama, I’m steering clear of Ford’s Theater, thank you very much. I mean, supporting arts and culture is one thing, but tempting fate is quite another.