If you missed out on the second annual Emerging Civil War Symposium at Stevenson Ridge last weekend, you’re in luck: C-SPAN was able to catch a lot of the program for broadcast. We’ll keep you updated on that as news becomes available. In the meantime, we thought we’d share with you a few of our favorite highlights.
Keynote speaker Dana Shoaf, editor of Civil War Times magazine, kicked things off with “Give Them the Cold Steel (or Not): The Cultural and Military History of the Bayonet.”
During the question-and-answer session that followed, Dana also talked about his work at the museum. While the sesquicentennial did not lead to a huge bump in subscriptions like many people hoped it would, subscriptions did remain stable at a time when, industry-wide, other magazines saw their subscription rates continue to dwindle. Is there a future for traditional print journalism in the Civil War field? Yes, Dana said, who’s encouraged by the quantity of new material people are still able to find on a story that’s 150 years old.
Following his Friday night keynote, Dana sat in on a panel of ECW historians for a discussion on the legacies of the war. Kris White, Dana, Matt Atkinson, Emmanuel Dabney, Rob Orrison, and Eric Wittenberg talked about their take-aways from the Sesquicentennial and their hopes for the future of Civil War studies.
Chris pointed out that in April 1865, as Richmond was falling, Lee took with him a dress uniform and sword when he left the city. Why take those things, Chris pondered? Did he know even then what lay ahead?
Chris also identified Robert E. Lee’s “Order No. 9” as the foundational document of what would become the Lost Cause. “[T]he Army of Northern Virginia has been compelled to yield to overwhelming numbers and resources,” Lee said, articulating something that served as a central tenant of Lost Cause philosophy.
Phill Greenwalt picked up that thread next when he spoke on “Winning the War by Writing: The Formation of the Lost Cause.”
With the Confederate culture wars in full swing earlier this summer, Phill said the media has added an air of hysteria to issues that deserve rational discussion instead. “What’s happening in current pop culture has taken a kernel of truth and popped it into unmanageable popcorn,” he said.
Emmanuel Dabney wrapped up the Saturday morning sessions with “Contracts, Education, and Racial Violence: The Freedmen’s Bureau in Virginia.”
The Freedmen’s Bureau found itself trapped between its responsibilities to free blacks and its allegiance to radical Republicans in Congress. As a result, it left behind a mixed legacy.
You might not think a Mississippi native would like Ulysses S. Grant too much, but historian Matt Atkinson took a few minutes to check out the new book by Chris Mackowski, Grant’s Last Battle: The Story Behind the Personal Memoirs of Ulysses. S. Grant.
Military biography seemed to be the theme of Saturday afternoon’s sessions. Dave Powell, kicking things off after our barbecue lunch, addressed “The Legacy of John Bell Hood: The Confederacy’s Most Controversial Commander.”
Dave suggested that Hood’s reputation has suffered so badly because he died just 14 years after the war at age 48. “If you want to win the Civil War History Wars,” Dave said, “there’s a good rule to go by: Don’t die young.” Unable to tell his own story from beyond the grave, other people defined Hood’s story for him instead, and none of it was to Hood’s advantage.
Much of Hood’s poor reputation stems from his attacks at the battle of Franklin at the end of November 1864. “In some ways, the Lost Cause owes a debt to John Bell Hood because of Franklin,” Dave said. The battle provided the last great hurrah for the western Army of Tennessee, giving it a “glorious” exit from the war.
If Hood was the Confederacy’s most controversial commander, then William T. Sherman no doubt was the Union’s. Daniel T. Davis took him on.
Is it any wonder that Sherman’s name appears in Gone with the Wind on a backdrop that looks like the atomic bomb? While Sherman predated that technological development by some 80 years, his impact on Southerners seemed just the same.
However, Dan suggested that Sherman didn’t believe in “total war”; rather, he believed in a harder war than the one being fought at the time.
Meg Groeling (a.k.a. Meg Thompson) stepped up to the plate next. She discussed “The Legacy of Caring: Battlefield Medicine.”
“I often wondered whether, had I been confronted with the primitive system which [Dr. Jonathan] Letterman fell heir to at the beginning of the Civil War, I could have developed as good an organization as he did,” said WWII’s Maj. Gen. Paul Hawley, chief surgeon of the European Theater. “I doubt it. There was not a day during World War II that I did not thank god for Jonathan Letterman.”
The final piece of the day’s puzzle was Eric Wittenberg’s examination “Wade Hampton and Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain: Parallel Lives Well Lived.”
Both men came from privileged backgrounds before the war and, as citizen-soldiers, achieved distinguished success. Both went on to become governors of their states (South Carolina and Maine), both remained active in veterans’ affairs, and both tried to return to service (Hampton successfully). Both also had enormous roles in shaping postwar memory.
Eric offered a quote by Chamberlain to wrap up the day’s line-up:
In great deeds, something abides. On great fields, something stays. Forms change and pass; bodies disappear; but spirits linger, to consecrate ground for the vision-place of souls… generations that know us not and that we know not of, heart-drawn to see where and by whom great things were suffered and done for them, shall come to this deathless field, to ponder and dream; and lo! the shadow of a mighty presence shall wrap them in its bosom, and the power of the vision pass into their souls.
Summing up the symposium, Mackowski tied Chamberlain’s words back to Lee’s Order No. 9 as brought up by Kolakowski and some of the other Lost Cause writers mentioned by Greenwalt. The legacies of Hood and Sherman were also largely tied into who controlled their respective stories. And of course, Dana’s occupation as magazine editor was all about words. “Even Letterman’s name is literally ‘man of letters,'” he quipped.
“That’s the most important legacy of the war to me,” Mackowski said: “the stories. It’s a legacy we’re all taking part in and passing along. You are the people who are carrying on those stories.”
On Sunday, ECW co-founder Kris White led a battlefield tour across Chancellorsville.
“What better opportunity to get your fix of military interpretation than spending four hours on a battlefield with an author/guide currently researching a book on that topic!” said ECW’s Edward Alexander, who went along on the tour. “I can’t help but think of the Sunday tour as the highlight of the weekend rather than as just an ‘extra’ for those who stick around for another day.”
After the tour, Kris led folks back to the Chancellorsville battlefield visitors center. There, Ben Brockenbrough, the new executive director of the Central Virginia Battlefields Trust, met with the group to talk a bit about the importance of preservation.
Plans are already underway for next year….