Easter “Outside My Window”

LeRoy Grisham

LeRoy Wiley Gresham’s diary offers remarkable insight to an invalid’s life, the reporting of news on the homefront, culture and literature, and medical practices. The Georgian teenager found himself suffering from a cruel disease that racked his body and worsened as the years passed. While other boys his age hated their school studies, dreamed of enlisting, or got packed off to boarding or military schools, LeRoy saw the war pass “outside my window” and created a written record of his painful days, literary habits, visitors, and opinions on the conflict.

Today is Easter Sunday, and I wondered what LeRoy had to say about the sacred celebration through the years of the Civil War. He and his family were religious and attended the Presbyterian church regularly, and at various points in his journal LeRoy writes about ministers, chaplains, and his own studies of the Bible. What if we could compare all his entries on the four Easter Sundays of his life and the war? What would we learn?

After a little research to find the correct dates since the holy day moves on the calendar each year, here are the correct entries. This is Civil War Easter – according to LeRoy W. Gresham… Continue reading

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Emerging Scholar Ashley Towle

Towle, AshleyAs part of our partnership with the American Civil War Museum in Richmond and Civil War Monitor, we’re pleased to introduce the next of our “Emerging Scholars,” Ashley Towle. Ashley will be presenting her work at the museum’s Grand Opening May 4.

A Tale of Two Cemeteries: African American Memorial Efforts at Arlington and Chalmette

On May 30, 1871, Arlington National Cemetery was the scene of an elaborate Decoration Day ceremony. After giving an address to those in attendance, Frederick Douglass and a procession wound their way through the rows of lavishly decorated graves in the main portion of the cemetery en route to a distant section of the cemetery where black soldiers and black refugees had been laid to rest. When they arrived, they were astonished. In this segregated corner of the cemetery the group found that there was “no stand erected, no orator or speaker selected, not a single flag placed on high, not even a paper flag at the headboards of these loyal but ignored dead. . . . Deep was the indignation and disappointment of the people.”[1]

Angered by the lack of care for these USCT graves, the group hastily arranged an “indignation meeting,” calling on the secretary of war to remove the black soldiers from the segregated portion of the cemetery to the main grounds where they could be appropriately honored.

On that same Decoration Day in Chalmette National Cemetery in New Orleans, Louisiana, African Americans raised similar concerns to those of Douglass and his followers about the neglect of black soldiers’ graves. William G. Brown, the editor of the Weekly Louisianian, lamented the “thoughtless disregard,” and “studied neglect in regard to the place of burial for the colored soldiers of the Union army,” and informed cemetery officials that by shamelessly allowing these grounds to fall into disarray, they had “outraged the living and insulted the memory of the dead.” Continue reading

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Saving History Saturday: What the Notre Dame Fire Can Teach Us About Historic Preservation and Natural Disasters

On April 15, 2019, the worst happened. For fifteen hours that day, the 900-year-old Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris burned. On top of losing her roof and spire, the cathedral had suffered catastrophic damage to her interior, causing the loss of irreplaceable relics, artwork, and other artifacts from early-Christian history. We do not know the precise cause of the fire yet, but we in the history community can take away valuable lessons in the way we preserve and protect our most valuable historic resources.

The interior of the Notre Dame Cathedral was extensively damaged from the April 15, 2019 fire. Courtesy of ABC News.

Unfortunately, disasters are a constant threat to historic structures: fire, earthquakes, tornadoes, flooding, hurricanes, arson, vandalism, et cetera. Other disasters can include criminal activity, light and UV radiation, dissociation, pests, and fluctuating humidity and temperature. Disasters are at times out of our control, but many times disasters are caused by human error. One of the most common issues is a lack of proper maintenance. Some historic preservation experts have hinted that the lack of proper maintenance for electric lines may have caused the fire in Notre Dame.[1] The 2018 fire that incinerated nearly 20 million artifacts at the National Museum of Brazil in Rio de Janeiro was caused by “exposed wires and poor safety standards.”[2] Though many sites are unable to afford major fire suppression or security systems, they must have emergency preparedness plans to mitigate damage and have a plan for preventing such disasters. Continue reading

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“A comment about the importance, indeed the righteousness, of our cause.”

Dr. Mike Award SpeechEditor’s Note: At its annual dinner on Saturday, April 6, the Central Virginia Battlefields Trust presented its Ralph Happel Award for lifetime achievement to Dr. Mike Stevens, a former president of the organization (and early ECW contributor!) renowned throughout the preservation community for his impassioned work. In accepting the award, Dr. Mike offered what he called “a comment about the importance, indeed the righteousness, of our cause.” We’re proud to pass along, with his permission, a portion of Dr. Mike’s comments:

A Civil War battlefield is literally sacred soil, consecrated by the blood and by the bravery of the men who fought and fell there, and we who are in full possession of the heritage purchased by that blood and by that bravery, we who are the future for whom they fought, stand quite literally as the guardians of their memory and stewards of their sacrifice.

We preservationists have a deep desire and commitment to honor and to remember these men, and we believe there is no better way to do that than to save the very ground they sanctified with their suffering and their sacrifice, ground “well-watered with the blood of heroes,” ground which because of our efforts will be there for as long as there is an America. Continue reading

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ECW Weekender: Trinity Episcopal Church

It was a rainy day in August 2016, and I needed to find somewhere with history to wait out the storm in Staunton, Virginia. Huddled under my umbrella, I studied the historic walking tour map and realized I was close to a church. I made a dash for the big, heavy doors and found sanctuary inside.

Today is Good Friday, and we approach Easter Sunday this weekend. For those of the Christian faith, these are important days of remembrance and celebration. With a sober mindset at this time, I want to take you inside this historic church, share some historical facts, show you some amazing artwork, and invite you to make this location a stop on your next weekend trip to Staunton. Continue reading

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“Somebody’s Darling!” . . . And The War Came Home, Part 3

Kissing his sword

The Civil War affected all of America. The Irish and German families who had sent their sons alone to a land across the Atlantic seeking a better life, the elite planter parents and siblings who bid goodbye to a cherished loved one, the “mudsill mothers and fathers” who walked to the train stations of the Midwest to offer their boys farewell—all nursed full hearts and pushed back fear so their soldier would see no faintness of heart. Continue reading

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Paul Revere and the Civil War

“Paul Revere, the torch-bearer of the Revolution” (1916)

“Listen, my children, and you shall hear, Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere, On the eighteenth of April in ’75, Hardly a man is now alive Who remembers that famous day and year…”

Thus begins Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s epic (albeit not accurate) version of Paul Revere and his famous ride to warn to the local militias that the Redcoats were on the march. The patriot himself died in 1818, but his memory – interpreted by Longfellow – became an inspiring recruiting tool for the Union cause and helped ensure that Revere’s name would be long remembered and recited.

However, it was not just poetry that connect Paul Revere to the American Civil War. His descendants heard “the hurrying hoofbeats” and the “midnight message” of the Union in peril and rallied to their country’s cause. One of those descendants – a grandson – had vital role in leadership of the 20th Massachusetts Regiment and helped ensure that the family name had a place of honor in the continuing decades of American history. Continue reading

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Wah-Who-Eeee! … And The War Came to the Rebels, Part 2

General P. G. T. Beauregard

Author Margaret Mitchel wrote her version of the sound of the rebel yell as “Wah-Who-Eeee,” and that was the sound heard throughout the Southern states when Confederate general P. G. T. Beauregard opened his well-prepared cannon on shabby little Fort Sumter. The cannonade began at 2:30 am on April 12, 1861. Surprised by Major Robert Anderson’s move of his garrison from Fort Moultrie to Fort Sumter, the Confederate movers and shakers were in no mood with which to be trifled. Continue reading

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Emerging Scholar Ashleigh Lawrence-Sanders

As part of our partnership with the American Civil War Museum in Richmond and Civil War Monitor, we’re pleased to introduce the next of our “Emerging Scholars,” Ashleigh Lawrence-Sanders. Ashleigh will be presenting her work at the museum’s Grand Opening May 4.

While current discussions over Civil War memory have centered on Confederate monuments, memorialization and the lingering vestiges of the Lost Cause, my research highlights African American Civil War memory. It would be difficult to understand the current moment of activism against monuments without first understanding African Americans’ long struggle to assert their own ideas about the Civil War and to counter the Lost Cause.

My dissertation covers African American Civil War memory from 1865-1965. My work begins with examining African American thoughts and ideas about the war during its duration. African Americans linked the war to freedom early, and it guided their thinking about the war’s purpose and legacy for decades after its end. Continue reading

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Huzzah! …And The War Came to the Yankees, Part 1

View of Ft. Sumter from Charleston

Despite the messages, threats, and concerns, brave little Fort Sumter held on. The waters were cold, the food was minimal, and information even more scarce than the food. Major Robert Anderson, garrison commander, had moved his group of Army regulars to Sumter from Fort Moultrie on December 26, 1860. Continue reading

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