ECW on the Road: St. Bonaventure University, the 154th New York, and a Discussion of the Future of the War

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154th_exhibition

A to-scale mural of the 154th NY’s memorial at the Gettysburg Battlefield is also on display as part of the day’s events.

Emerging Civil War historians visiting St. Bonaventure University next Saturday won’t simply be reflecting on a battle that ended 150 years ago—they’ll discuss why the ripple effects of the nation’s darkest period still wash over us today.

The Confederate flag controversy that boiled to the surface in South Carolina after the church killings June 17 in Charleston is just one example.

“The Civil War is still very much with us today,” said ECW co-founder Kristopher D. White.

White will join ECW historians Eric WittenbergDaniel Davis, and Derek Maxfield for a panel discussion on Saturday, Aug. 1, at St. Bonaventure University in Allegany, NY. ECW’s Chris Mackowski, a professor at St. Bonaventure, will serve as moderator.

The program is free and open to the public—part of a larger series of events that day as part of the 30th annual reunion of the Descendants of the 154th New York Volunteer Infantry Regiment. ECW guest contributor James Brookes, flying in from England, will also present a program on portrait photography during the war.

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ECW Weekender: Barnes & Noble in Fredericksburg brings Civil War books to life

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History books come to life at Barnes & Noble in Fredericksburg, Virginia, this Saturday.

The bookstore, located in Central Park, Fredericksburg, is hosting a Civil War Living History Event on Saturday, July 25 from 10:00 am – 4:00 pm. ECW’s Chris Mackowski and novelist Eileen Kerns Goodman will be on hand to sign copies of their books as part of day-long series of educational programs.

“The event is free,” explains Cheryl Schneider, Community Business Development Manager for Barnes & Noble, “and it offers the opportunity for all ages to learn about how people lived during the time period.” Continue reading

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Being a Civil War Intern: Writing Tours

Of the many challenges one faces as a National Park Battlefield intern, preparing and delivering tours is certainly the most daunting. The process involves research, lots of writing, and finally the presentation. I would have thought that by now – having just completed my sixth tour outline – I would have the process down pat. Unfortunately I do not. Tour development is not an art one can master; each experience is completely unique (and a little nerve wracking). Still, the process is undeniably rewardable and serves as a learning experience for both tour guide and guest.

I didn’t think twice when I found out my internship at Stones River would include writing up to five tour outlines. Not only had I done this plenty of times before, but I also have considerable experience writing public history programs and interpretations during my two years as a graduate student. I was in for a surprise when I started researching for the first tour. I had forgotten just how much time and effort is involved…which brings me to the realization that, with nearly three quarters of the summer gone, I have only three tours finished.

Research, Research, Research

Research, Research, Research

The single most difficult aspect of tour writing is creating a “flow” that visitors will be able to follow and understand. While you may be an expert on a certain battle, it is the overall tour concept that makes a successful tour. In other words, knowing the facts of a battle is one thing; knowing how to convey that story to the public is another beast entirely. Interns are not experts. Heck, even our bosses can rarely be called experts on Civil War history. Yet visitors come in every day and expect everyone at the part to be an expert. My many internships have taught me that it’s okay to say “I don’t know.” While I certainly wouldn’t want to disappoint a visitor, a single person cannot have all the answers. Continue reading

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A Few Notes on Grant’s Last Battle

This first edition of Grant's memoirs is on display at Grant's Tomb in NYC.

This first edition of Grant’s memoirs is on display at Grant’s Tomb in NYC.

Part two of two comes from my “author’s note” in Grant’s Last Battle: The Story Behind The Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant.

As kids, my brother and I had a poster of the presidents on the closet door in our bedroom. My brother picked Lincoln as his favorite. I picked Ulysses S. Grant. I liked how grand the name sounded, and I knew he smoked cigars, which also seemed grand. That was about the extent of my knowledge.

My first real introduction to Grant came as it did for Robert E. Lee: in the Wilderness of central Virginia. There, I learned about the “dust-covered man” who had vowed that there would be no turning back. I have since spent a great deal of time on that battlefield, as well as the ones at Spotsylvania and North Anna, sharing stories of Grant’s time in the east. I have also visited the sites of his major battles out west. I have come to admire him a great deal. Continue reading

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Review: Lincoln’s Body

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Lincolns BodyBack in the 1990s when I was a starving graduate student, I had the good fortune to spend some time with Professor Merrill Peterson who was recently retired from the University of Virginia. I was working on a seminar paper on American historiography and had chosen Peterson’s work as the subject. I chose him because one of his books had played a significant role in my decision to become a professional historian – The Great Triumvirate: Webster, Clay, and Calhoun (1987). As I explored Peterson’s published works, I became a bigger and bigger devotee. Among the many wonderful books he authored were two that examined how individuals were remembered in American culture: The Jefferson Image in the American Mind (1960) and Lincoln in American Memory (1994). Though the two were written more than thirty years apart, they quickly secured a hold on imagination and nearly derailed my project because I could not put them away. I was transfixed by Peterson’s study of how America used and abused the reputations of Jefferson and Lincoln. Over and over I read these words: Continue reading

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8:08 a.m.

Grant's Clock

The clock at Grant Cottage still reads 8:08—the time of Ulysses S. Grant’s death on the morning of July 23, 1885.

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On Writing Grant’s Last Battle

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Part one of two

In the fall of 2012, I had the opportunity to speak to the Rappahannock Valley Civil War Round Table in Fredericksburg, Virginia, about Ulysses S. Grant’s memoirs. Grant’s work to write them was literally a race against death. Swindled by business partners and suffering from terminal throat cancer, he needed to finish his book before he died in order to save his family from destitution.

It was the ultimate deadline.

If a Hollywood scriptwriter made that up, no one would believe it. But it happened. For real. Continue reading

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Review: The Gettysburg Cyclorama

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Cyclorama coverHaving worked so much at the Wilderness, I don’t buy into that whole “Gettysburg as the turning point of the Civil War” nonsense. Aside from that premise, though, there’s little negative to say about Chris Brenneman and Sue Boardman’s stunning new book The Gettysburg Cyclorama: The Turning Point of the Civil War on Canvas.

Published by Savas Beatie, LLC, as an over-sized 8.5 x 11 hardcover, this book is a full-color Cadillac: more than 400 photos printed on glossy paper, accompanied by detailed text, exploring a fascinating subject. The book is as handsome as it is interesting. Continue reading

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“They Fought Because They Would Not Be Slaves”

RevWarWednesdays-headerRevolutionary War Wednesday and Emerging Revolutionary War is pleased to welcome guest historian Mark Maloy this week. 

African-Americans fought for the Americans during the Revolutionary War, right?  Many of us remember learning about Crispus Attucks dying during the Boston Massacre or have heard the oft-repeated saying that the Continental Army was the last integrated American army until the Korean War.

In this lithograph published in 1855, Crispus Attucks is portrayed front and center.  Crispus Attucks was lauded as the first martyr in the War for Independence much from the insistence of abolitionists like William C. Nell.  A Crispus Attucks Day was created in Boston in 1858 and a memorial placed for him and the other victims on Boston Common after the Civil War.  Despite all this, according to John Adams (who defended the British soldiers in court), Attucks was a rabble-rouser who actually helped precipitate the massacre.

In this lithograph published in 1855, Crispus Attucks is portrayed front and center. Crispus Attucks was lauded as the first martyr in the War for Independence much from the insistence of abolitionists like William C. Nell. A Crispus Attucks Day was created in Boston in 1858 and a memorial placed for him and the other victims on Boston Common after the Civil War. Despite all this, according to John Adams (who defended the British soldiers in court), Attucks was a rabble-rouser who actually helped precipitate the massacre.

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Review: “The First Battle for Petersburg: The Attack and Defense of the Cockade City, June 9, 1864″

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CoverThe First Battle for Petersburg: The Attack and Defense of the Cockade City, June 9, 1864, by William Glenn Robertson. (Savas Beatie: 2015). 3 pages preface, 147 pages main text, Appendix 1: Federal Order of Battle, Appendix 2: Confederate Order of Battle, Appendix 3: Confederate Casualties, Appendix 4: Interview with the Author. Footnotes, Bibliography, Index.

When one thinks of the city of Petersburg, Virginia in the summer of 1864, they think of the ten-month siege of the Cockade City; of exploding mines and sniping in the long trench lines. But for one small battle, this would not have been.

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