Writing About History in a Manichean Age

Given current events, I find myself asking how one will be able to write about the American Civil War now and in the future. This question has been brewing in my mind since 2015 when the debate over statues began in earnest. However, only now do we see the implications of the debate going beyond select statues.

On this blog and elsewhere I have identified the current consensus of the Civil War as the Just Cause. This interpretation, like the Lost Cause, has different varieties, but on a whole can be identified by a belief that the Civil War was inevitable, just, and/or necessary. It admits, either tacitly or overtly, that some questions cannot be solved by reform, elections, or even peaceful protest, but only by war. It also holds that the Confederates were not merely misguided, but one of the greatest villains of American history, beaten only by Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan, with the Soviet Union and George III’s Britain in distant fourth and fifth places. Continue reading

Posted in Memory | Tagged , , , , | 12 Comments

2020 Symposium Postponed

PostponedBecause of the resurgence of COVID-19 cases across the country, Emerging Civil War has made the difficult but necessary decision to postpone our annual symposium. Originally scheduled for August 7-9, 2020, the Seventh Annual Emerging Civil War Symposium at Stevenson Ridge will now be held August 6-8, 2021. We will keep the same theme, “Fallen Leaders,” and our keynote speaker, Gordon Rhea, has graciously agreed to headline the event.

Until this past week, the governor’s planned Phase Three reopening suggested we would be able to safely hold our event. Nationally, however, the number of cases continues to rise. Because we have attendees who come from all across the country, and because many of our attendees are in high-risk groups, we felt it would be in the best interest of everyone’s health and safety to postpone.

People who have purchased tickets have three options available to them:

  • They can receive a full refund.
  • They can “roll over” their ticket for admission to next year’s event.
  • They can make a tax-deductible donation to ECW.

Ticket-holders can indicate their preference by filling out this short survey.

Ironically, one of the big bits of news we intended to announce this year is that the IRS has granted ECW 501(c)3 status as a not-for-profit. We’ve always operated as one, but now we’re official. As such, supporters can make tax-deductible donations to ECW to help underwrite our educational mission.

As a way for ECW to say “thank you” to the folks who had signed up for the Symposium, we’re going to do a one-day virtual symposium later in August, and ticket holders will have exclusive, free access to the content. Details will be announced later this week, so stay tuned!

Posted in Emerging Civil War, Symposium | Tagged , , , | 13 Comments

The author speaks out on his work: Texas Brigadier to the Fall of Atlanta: John Bell Hood

TexasBrigadierEvery Civil War historian hopes that her/his work will add a few nuggets to the literature. Here’s a candidate from my recent book, Texas Brigadier to the Fall of Atlanta: John Bell Hood (Mercer University Press, 2019).

In Stephen M. Hood, ed., The Lost Papers of Confederate General John Bell Hood (2015) is the letter of General Polk’s widow to Hood, dated June 10, 1874: “I presume I have to thank you for a copy of the Times containing the second of your well discussed strictures on Gen. Johnston’s book.” (She was referring to Joe Johnston’s Narrative of Military Operations, which came out in the spring of 1874.)

Hmmm…which Times? Continue reading

Posted in Books & Authors, Campaigns, Newspapers, Personalities, Western Theater | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Resonance of The Field of Blood

Freeman Field of Blood-coverI recently finished reading The Field of Blood: Violence in Congress and the Road to Civil War by Joanne B. Freeman, and in all honesty, I can’t remember a history book that seemed more relevant or resonant.

Published in 2018, the book is a couple years old now (I’m that far behind in my reading list!). It traces Congress’s culture of violence, driven in large part by the South’s “code of honor” and the ever-present undertone of violence that kept slavery in check. Southerners threatened and used force to bully Northerners—a “might makes right” attitude that curtailed Northern free speech and gave the South tremendous political advantage. Once Northern politicians began to confront that violence rather than back down, tensions in Congress began a long, slow boil, with the issue of slavery sat at the very center of the pot.

The book resonated so strongly with me because as the nation unknowingly barreled toward Civil War, the decade leading up to that conflict grew increasingly fraught with political and social strife. Yelling and grandstanding replaced discussion and dialogue. Obstruction replaced debate. Compromise vanished. Moderation became rarer and rarer and, eventually, impossible. New technologies expanded the reach of the press, but society lacked the moral maturity to use those technologies responsibility (that went for not just the press but also media consumers), which only worsened rather than improved the situation.

Any of that sound familiar? Continue reading

Posted in Antebellum South, Book Review, Books & Authors, Politics, Slavery, Ties to the War | Tagged , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Question of the Week: 7/6-7/12/20

Last week the question was exclusive to Gettysburg, so let’s add a twist this week:

For the entire war, what piece of high ground was the most significant? Why?

Posted in Question of the Week | Tagged , | 17 Comments

Bucklin’s Hospital & Camp: “The Familiar Sound of Cannonading” (Part 15)

In Hospital and Camp, A Woman’s Record of Thrilling Incidents Among the Wounded in the Late War by Sophronia E. Bucklin

It’s Week 15 of our read-along with extra historical notes and images. If you want to catch up on the chapter notes, just click here for the collection in the archive. This week we are looking at chapters 29 and 30. Continue reading

Posted in Civilian, Medical, Primary Sources | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Week In Review: June 28-July 5, 2020

Lots of Gettysburg history articles this week, some spotlight for Glendale, and a few perspective pieces on current events. Hope you have had a safe and enjoyable holiday weekend! Continue reading

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Saving History Saturday: Historic Mill’s Dam Hoping For A Makeover

A Civil War logistics site in need of preservation? It’s different than battlefield preservation or even historic structure and material culture…

Historic Pickwick Mill in Winona, Minnesota is getting some much needed love from its local preservation community. Construction between 1856 and 1858, the flour mill operated 24 hours daily during the Civil War and ground 100 barrels of flour per day to be shipped to the Federal army. The mill building—standing six stories tall—has already been restored and the nonprofit organization, Pickwick Mill Inc., operates the museum. Continue reading

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Happy Fourth of July—2020

Wishing you a happy and safe Fourth of July!

Here are a few articles from the archive to celebrate the holiday with some Civil War history:

Continue reading

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Unintentional Reconciliation  – Memorializing the Cavalry Fight at Gettysburg

Though not far from the Civil War’s memorial epicenter, the cavalry battlefield at Gettysburg National Military Park sits relatively undisturbed by the crowds of tourists who come to see the site of the largest ever battle in the Western Hemisphere. Nearly every automobile, bicycle tire, and hiking boot that sets foot on the present-day battlefield eventually finds its way to the copse of trees and the monument to the High Water Mark of the Rebellion. There they find several artillery pieces, a small grove of trees, and an open bronze book—a monument that has guided thousands of visitors to the mistaken impression that the defeat of George Pickett and his Virginians (and J. Johnston Pettigrew and Isaac Trimble and their North Carolinians) meant the defeat of the Confederacy and that Gettysburg was the war’s great turning point. Continue reading

Posted in Battlefields & Historic Places, Memory | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments