Friday, December 31, 2010

Civil War Sesquicentennial - Lots to do in 2011!

Greetings Cosmic Americans and Happy (almost) 2011!

This upcoming year is going to be jammed packed with Civil War events. But how on earth do you find out what going on? Well, being the hellofa nice guy that I am, I thought I would post a few links to get you started. To begin, The National Park Service site has conveniently posted a listing - state-by-state - of sesquicentennial events.

But that's not all. The states that took part in the Civil War have some sort of Sesquicentennial Commission that host detailed sites providing all the news and info you need to get your Civil War commemoration on sesquicentennial style. To get you going, Here are the sites for Tennessee, Virginia, Missouri, Indiana, and Maine.

If my hunch is right, these events should stir a few embers. From where I sit, the issues of the war are still alive and well. Treason, slavery, oppression, and tyranny are just a few buzz words that you will probably hear alongside the usual suspects such as bravery, fortitude, honor, and heroism.

Whatever your personal politics, I recommend that you attend at least one (if not more) of these events in your state or wherever you happen to be. If anything, you are bound to be educated on just how many differing opinions there are on this momentous period of United States history.

Whether it's the reenactment of Jefferson Davis taking the oath of office as the president of the Confederate States on February 19, 2011 in Montgomery, Alabama or the reenactment of General Benjamin Butler declaring enslaved persons contraband of war at Freedom's Fortress in Hampton, Virginia on May 25th, 2011, you are sure to get an earful from both sides of the Mason-Dixon.

You know what - I'll probably turn up at a few of these. So keep your eyes and ears open. The Cosmic America cameras will be rolling. And yours truly will be posting!



Thursday, December 30, 2010

I'd love to be a Civil War buff. ... What do you have to do to be a buff?

Jerry Seinfeld? Keith Hernandez? What do they have to do with the Civil War? a very popular episode of Seinfeld - you know the one...where Jerry sort of gets a man-crush on Keith Hernandez...there is a little dialog between Jerry and George that comes close to my corner of the world. It goes like this:

JERRY: You know who that is? That's

GEORGE: Keith Hernandez? The baseball player?

JERRY: Yeah, that's him.

GEORGE: Are you sure?

JERRY: Positive.

GEORGE: Wow, Keith Hernandez. He's such a great player.

JERRY: Yeah, he's a real smart guy too. He's a Civil War buff.

GEORGE: I'd love to be a Civil War buff. ... What do you have to do to be a buff?

JERRY: So Biff wants to be a buff? ... Well sleeping less than 18 hours a day
would be a start.

Yes...Jerry's right about that. Being a buff is hard work. You need an encyclopedic knowledge of every commander (at least down to the regiment level) and of need to know the battles cold. I have to say...I love it when popular culture and Civil War history intersect. I'll bet you a buck that book sales on the Civil War picked up a bit after this show aired.

But Hernandez aside, lots of academics (not all, mind you, but lots) sort of look down on buffs. They think of them as all "drums and bugles" and no substance. They (it is suggested) don't delve into issues...they don't read all the important scholarship...they dismiss complexity.

I say lighten up a little. Civil War buffs keep interest in this historical period alive. Buffs do buy books, they watch TV shows about history and yes indeed...they (thankfully) follow my Tweets, they watch my Youtube videos, and they comment on my Facebook posts.

I love buffs. Without them, I might not have an audience at all (or at least a much smaller one). So, Mr. Hernandez - I salute you and all like you who find the Civil War fascinating above all else. We are one and the same. If you ever want to talk - just hit me up. This February, I am traveling to Yermo, California to check out a Civil War reenactment. There should be buffs there by the score. And don't you know it - the Cosmic America cameras will be rolling. I can't wait to document everything they have to day.


Keith (scholar/buff)

Happy New Year (almost) from Cosmic America!

Greetings Cosmic Americans - well, since it is New Year's Eve Eve, I thought I would give one last 2010 shout out to ALL who contribute to the ongoing conversations we have on the various social media sites. Thanks much for a very interesting and compelling year!

I shot this video on Thanksgiving day while driving down Melrose Ave in Hollywood. Sooooo...all together now...HAPPY HOLIDAYS from Cosmic America and HAPPY NEW YEAR! Now don't drink too much and get arrested or anything. That's just embarrassing.

Have a wonderful 2011 and be sure to check in. I will have plenty to say.


Monday, December 27, 2010

Why Did Civil War Soldiers Fight? Scholars Weigh In.


Numerous factors motivated men to join the ranks of both the United States and Confederate armies in 1861 and 1862. Scholars have illustrated how community pressure, the promise of adventure, and a chance to earn glory on the battlefield numbered among soldiers’ many reasons for enlistment. Supported by patriotic √©lan, these men were by and large eager for action. A quick, decisive contest, a chance to prove their mettle, and a victorious return to civilian life characterized the typical volunteer’s understanding of how the war would play out. For many, this initial rage militaire – the patriotic inspiration for a rush to arms – quickly cooled, particularly as the realities of war became all too apparent. Constant danger cast a foreboding shadow over both armies, and the consuming desire to escape death, coupled with a longing for home, led some to shirk duty and others to desertion. Most men, however, remained with the army and fought. What kept volunteers in the ranks once they witnessed the abject brutality of war? How did Civil War soldiers overcome an understandable fear of death and continue to face the enemy?

James M. McPherson’s For Cause and Comrades stresses the ideology that supported soldiers’ motivation to fight throughout the Civil War. Although he does not pretend to speak for all soldiers, a sampling of letters and diaries representative of men who enlisted in 1861 and 1862 leads McPherson to assert that volunteers, both Confederate and Union, not only understood ideology but also supported national goals connecting politicized ideals to their respective war efforts. Soldiers, in most cases, were undeniably “sick of war,” but McPherson claims that perceptions of liberty, independence, or simply the “good of mankind” supported men’s sustained motivation to continue to fight and perhaps even die for their cause.

McPherson’s work represents a significant challenge to earlier understandings of Civil War soldiers. Published respectively in 1943 and 1952, Bell Irvin Wiley’s Life of Johnny Reb and Life of Billy Yank, for example, argued that ideological motivation was not a factor for Civil War soldiers. Rather, similar to American fighting men during World War II, unit cohesion – each man’s reliance on and concern for the other men in his primary unit – was the principal motivational force that kept Civil War soldiers in the ranks despite the constant threat of death. While Wiley’s scholarship was a major achievement in a field that at the time focused on the upper echelons of command and politics, his conclusions were nevertheless problematical. He failed to give proper attention to soldier testimony infused with ideological sentiment. McPherson agrees that mutual dependence and mutual support created the “cohesion necessary to function as a fighting unit” and was an integral factor in “combat motivation,” yet he suggests that this interpretation alone obscures the larger ideals at work. McPherson more closely examines the related thread of “sustaining motivation” and argues that the best combat soldiers were those most ideologically committed.

McPherson’s understanding of ideology is key to this additional layer of interpretation. He combines the broad notion of ideology as a system of beliefs, values, and fears with soldiers’ explicit nationalist sentiment. The politicization of belief systems and soldiers’ determination to advance national goals was the soldiers’ “cause.” Abstractions such as freedom, independence, and liberty coupled with Victorian notions of duty, honor, and manliness were paramount in the minds of many Union and Confederate soldiers alike. Their letters were filled with statements connecting intangible ideals to a national war effort, and in many cases, these connections served as justification to carry the fight forward. Sentiment suggesting ideology as a motivational force remained consistent for many soldiers throughout the war. Further, testimony reveals that issues generally connected only to patriotic sentiment at the point of enlistment were also an important part of sustaining motivation late in the war. Simply put, McPherson suggests that Civil War soldiers continued to fight for their respective causes because they believed in what they were fighting for.

Historians who focus on “war weariness” have exaggerated the connections between “harsh disillusionment” and the lack of determination to fight for ideological ideals. Gerald F. Linderman’s Embattled Courage, for example, argues that soldiers quickly abandoned the “war’s initial tenets” and fought not for cause but to simply stay alive. McPherson agrees that the “romantic flag-waving rhetoric” of the war’s first two years declined but claims that this was of little importance, particularly to those who enlisted in 1861 and 1862. The majority of these men clearly connected rhetoric regarding values such as duty and honor to national goals. Despite near universal grumbling and an acute war weariness that grew with each battle, whether preservation of Union or independence, each side’s national ideology was the primary factor for soldiers’ sustaining motivation.

In contrast, ideology figured little into one of the most well known accounts of soldier life written by a Union veteran. Published in 1887, John D. Billings’s Hardtack and Coffee, while briefly outlining the Republican Party’s ideological platform as a crucial factor in causation, focused primarily on the mundane. Billings, a volunteer artillerist who enlisted in 1862 to “stamp out” secession, offered the “unwritten story” to the public during a period where most first-hand accounts, such as those published in Century Magazine, concentrated on generals and battles. Hardtack and Coffee familiarized the reader with the day-to-day goings on of the common soldier. Concerns such as food, shelter, hygiene, and the idiosyncrasies of the author’s messmates and others are clearly the most important part of Billings’s life while serving in the army. While McPherson argues that ideology figured prominently in the mind of the Civil War volunteer soldier through 1865, sustaining ideological ideals are almost entirely absent from Billings’s story. How does one account for such a glaring discrepancy?

McPherson offers some possible clues. Importantly, works such as Billings’s and scores of others were written with the intention of publication, and thus must be read with a great deal of skepticism. Hoping for a wide public readership, veterans, for various reasons, were highly selective when it came to describing army life. Not unrelated, many soldiers refrained from describing combat experience to those who could not possibly understand. Ideological factors, profoundly connected to a soldier’s motivation to both enlist and continue the fight may have been intentionally filtered out of Hardtack and Coffee. Yet, there is the possibility that Billings lacked concern for ideology both in the 1880s and the 1860s. One cannot tell from his account. The fundamental point, one that McPherson emphatically makes, is that the type of sources used are crucial. Soldiers’ letters and journals, rather than work intended for publication, best reveal soldiers’ actual sentiment. Despite books such as Billings’s, McPherson persuasively illustrates the presence of ideology within the ranks through the unfiltered use of private correspondence. Ideological sentiment that appears so frequently and so forcefully in soldiers’ letters should not be dismissed, but rather, should be understood as the motivational factor that functioned to hold the armies together through the most difficult times until ultimately, either one side or the other prevailed on the battlefield.



Sunday, December 26, 2010

Office Hours at El Coyote

Greetings Cosmic Americans!

Have fun watching this week's episode of Office Hours - shot on Christmas Eve in one of my favorite Los Angeles restaurants, El Coyote. Seriously, I eat there like 27 times a week. It's been there since the 1930s, the decor is as cool as shit and the service is unmatched. They make a killer Patron margarita too.

So, this week, Louisa wants to know all about what I think is the best Civil War film (because I talk about them all the time) and William wants me to discuss Civil War horses. Cool - I like horses.

btw - if you want a really really good book on the Civil War in film and art, check out Causes Lost, Won and Forgotten: How Hollywood and Popular Art Shape What We Know About the Civil War by Gary W. Gallagher.


South Carolina's Secessionist Ball

Greetings Cosmic Americans!

Well, just in case you missed it, 6 days ago (December 20th) marked the 150th anniversary of South Carolina's secession from the Union. To commemorate this momentious event, 300 of the good citizens of the Palmetto State thought it appropriate to hold a Secessionist Ball.

Honestly, what were these people thinking? I suppose to an observer who had never ever heard anything at all about the Civil War this event might seem benign enough. A bunch of smiling white people dressed up in old-timey garb dancing around and stuff.

But how likely is complete ignorance? Even die-hard neo-Confederates must have known that their event would stir controversy. The more gentile "Heritage not Hate" crowd surely knew that their Ball would greatly offend many many people. So I guess they didn't really care.

Within sight and ear-shot of a large gathering of protesters, the would-be secessionists went on with their plans and essentially commemorated what some say was the execution of treason undertaken to protect the institution of slavery.

According to reports, the Ball's organizers rejected accusations that their event commemorated the protection of slavery. Rather, they insisted, it was a celebration of those who were willing to sacrifice their lives to protect their rights. (which, by the way, were the rights to own slaves - something the organizers didn't mention).

Now while the NAACP leadership compared Confederates to Nazis, Michael Givens, Commander in Chief for the Sons of Confederate Veterans stated,"We honor our ancestors for their bravery and tenacity protecting their homes from invasion." The group's central purpose, he noted, is to preserve the history and legacy of the South's "citizen-soldiers."

Mr. Givens - even the authors of South Carolina's Ordinance of Secession remark that slavery was being threatened, and thus the state had no other choice but to leave the Union. So quit squawking about all this bravery and tenacity whoop-dee-do.

Sure, Confederates were not Nazis - not even close. But let's be honest. They saw growing opposition to southern slavery in the North and were scared shitless. I mean...of course they were. The South's entire economic and social system rested on it.

So call it heritage all day long - good for you. You are commemorating a heritage of committing treason to preserve human bondage.


Friday, December 24, 2010

Reporting LIVE from the Civil War Institute 2011 Conference

Greetings Cosmic Americans!

Road trip, road trip, road trip!!!!

That's right, yours truly, Keith Harris, creator and host of Cosmic America's Civil War, is going to Gettysburg in June 2011 to cover the Civil War Institute's annual conference at Gettysburg College.

Here's the fun part - my plan is to integrate the conference - panels, tours, interviews, etc with social media. So here's what you can expect: Up to the minute Tweets, Youtube videos commenting on panels and discussions including interviews with scholars in attendance, Facebook discussion, and even some LIVE streaming. All of course free to the public!

It will be just like being there in the comfort of your own home (realistically, I know you will be watching from work...when you should be working - it's all good, though. I won't rat you out).

Distinguished historian and CWI Director Peter Carmichael, author of The Last Generation: Young Virginians in Peace, War, and Reunion has assured me that I can pretty much do my usual thing...meaning - no editorial restrictions. I get to be myself. I say that deserves a big HUZZAH!!! (thanks Pete)

Buckle up friends - you are in for some good times ahead and maybe even a tad of controversy. And stay tuned - I will keep you up to date on the events as we get closer to June. In the meantime, check me out on all the usual social media outlets (listed at the right) and visit the CWI website for information and all that crazy stuff.


Friday, December 17, 2010

History and Social Media - a Warning Shot

Greetings Cosmic Americans!

I have been thinking a hellofalot about this lately. So much so that I believe some sort of essay/article is in order.

This is what is going on in my head (in these...the preliminary stages of composition).

- I once thought social media was a useless waste of time.

- I was wrong (really wrong). There is enormous value in an "Academic Internetwork." Research can be broadcast worldwide instantaneously in real time.

- There is also enormous value in the creation of digital history resources - a related phenomenon that is taking place right now.

- This is significant in terms of historical publication. Will professional historians rise to the occasion and embrace social media? Should they?

- What are the implications of turning from an "Intranetwork" to an "Internetwork?" In other words...what happens when scholarship is no longer a member's only game? (It is, you it or not).

So that is where I stand today. And I am not the only historian giving this a lot of thought. Check out Kevin Levin's blog Civil War Memory. There could be some changes in the wind....YAY! (oh...and BTW - since we are on the subject, why not check me out on Facebook, Youtube, Ustream, and Twitter)


Again with the Black Confederates - check out my latest Office Hours!

Greetings Cosmic Americans!

Well - it seems that this is going to be a recurring theme. But at least it's one that I enjoy talking about. You guessed it...the ridiculous idea that blacks served as soldiers in the Confederate army. Oy.

This week takes us to Mao's Kitchen - A very good Chinese restaurant on Melrose Ave specializing in country cuisine. They have some appetizing and inexpensive lunch specials too.

So have a look and let me know what you think.


Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Time to Dust Off the Sabres - It's the South Carolina Secessionist Ball

Greetings Cosmic Americans!

Well - the countdown is ON! Only a few more days until the Civil War Sesquicentennial activities kick off in earnest. On December 20, 2010, The Confederate Heritage Trust (how official) will hold a Secessionist Ball In Charleston - 150 years to the day after representatives from the great state of South Carolina unanimously voted to leave these United States.

There will be period dancing, food, music, and costumes...all for the low cost of $100! I might just go, but only if I can pay with US currency (in Fives and Fifties, of course).

Yessiree...the only thing missing from this recreation of a glorious Confederate shindig will be...let's see now...oh yes...slaves.

Wait a sec, didn't the Trust mention that? No??? Did that little omission slip through the cracks?? I guess they just didn't want to remind anyone that the state seceded to protect the institution.

Don't worry guys, the NAACP will be there to protest and clue people in on exactly what the war was all about (spoiler alert: it was slavery).

On another note - I have decided to chronicle the commemoration of the war's 150th anniversary from a southern perspective. Being a historian who deals quite a bit with Civil War memory, I should have plenty to write about.

So stay tuned - the real fun is right around the corner...


Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Cosmic America's Civil War: Antietam!!

Greetings Cosmic Americans!

Yep - I've got your turning point right here! The Battle of Antietam was the bloodiest day in American history - but more than that, it was the battle that launched the Emancipation Proclamation off Lincoln's desk and into the war for real. No more mere lip service about freedom - now it was part of the Union cause ...forever changing the nature of the war.

For more the military stuff, which I am admittedly a little deficient on, check out Landscape Turned Red: The Battle of Antietam by Stephen W. Sears and for more on Antietam as a turning point, you will want to have a look at Crossroads of Freedom: Antietam by James M. McPherson.


Monday, December 13, 2010

Cosmic America's Civil War: Office Hours at In-N-Out Burger in Hollywood!

Greetings Cosmic Americans!

Man - I love doing these Office Hours shows! Getting questions from people all over the country is cool - thanks to Twitter, Facebook, Youtube, and the other usual suspects, there is never a shortage of questions. I promise to answer some way or another!

This week Terry asks about diseases during the war and Shauna asks about Confederate advantages. Great questions indeed!

By the way - the show was very low key today - just a quick stop in my neighborhood In-N-Out Burger - at the corner of Sunset Blvd and Orange...right next to Hollywood High. I highly recommend it - but only every once in a while.


Saturday, December 11, 2010

Jon Stewart’s Civil War Sesquicentennial - all comedy all the time

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
The South's Secession Commemoration
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical Humor & Satire BlogThe Daily Show on Facebook

HAHAHAHAHAHAHA - Ok peeps, John Stewart and "Senior Black Correspondent" Larry Wilmore pretty much hit the nail on the head with this one. So you don't think the war was about slavery - well have a look at this.

They cite South Carolina's session documents (better evidence, anyone?) to establish the principle motivation behind the state's withdrawal from the Union. You guessed it - it was slavery. I guess they forgot all about this kind of thing once the had lost the war and all.

One more thing they might have mentioned was the CSA Vice president Alexander Stephens's Cornerstone Speech from March 1861 - allow me to quote....

"The constitution, it is true, secured every essential guarantee to t......he institution while it should last, and hence no argument can be justly urged against the constitutional guarantees thus secured, because of the common sentiment of the day. Those ideas, however, were fundamentally wrong. They rested upon the assumption of the equality of races. This was an error. It was a sandy foundation, and the government built upon it fell when the storm came and the wind blew. Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its corner- stone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth."

So...what's all this about state rights, protecting your home, and other romantic notions of what the war was about? I don't think so my Neo-Confederate friends.

You know what - all this sesquicentennial stuff is bound to stir up the %#@&! Glory Hallelujah! The mother lode - I am going to have tons to write about for the next four years!! Now - for those of you who want to tell me to stick it...go right ahead (I'm a big boy, I can take it).



Monday, December 6, 2010

Office Hours at Anarkali - December 6, 2010

Greetings Cosmic Americans!

Ray from Ohio wanted to know what happened to the congressman captured at First Bull Run and Dylan from Ohio (hmmm...what's going with Ohio today?) wanted to know what the infamous Cornerstone Speech was all about.

So here you go my friends - from an all new location too. Now you know I love Ye Rustic Inn but I need to spread the love around. Today's Office Hours come from Anarkali. This is my favorite Indian restaurant in town - located on Melrose Ave in Hollywood. We'll be hitting all kinds of places so stick around.


Jewish soldiers in the Civil War

Greetings Cosmic Americans! And Happy Chanukah!!

I received an inquiry from a Twitter follower the other day (@LookBackMaps) that I thought was well suited for a blog post.

It had to do with Jewish soldiers fighting for both the Union and the Confederacy. He wanted to know numbers. How many fought for each side - how many from each state?

Well, the trouble is, exact numbers are a little hard to come by in the mid-nineteenth century. Record keeping departments were somewhat more relaxed (to say the least) than today - even more so in the Confederate States. And the destruction of records by retreating Rebels in the South only added to the problematic nature of the counting game.

We can, however, come up with some general figures. In 2008, a PBS documentary called The Jewish Americans cited 150,000 Jews living in the United States in 1860. Of these, roughly 3,000 fought for the Confederacy and 7,000 fought for the Union. That's approximately (based on the laws of higher mathematics) 10,000 Jewish soldiers taking up arms for their respective causes.

Jews held high ranks in the armies too. Their were 9 Jewish generals and 21 Jewish colonels in the war. Judah P. Benjamin, who from what I understand was a non-observant Jew, served as the Confederate Secretary of State and Secretary of War.

How about that.

But it's not all about names and numbers. In the news, U. S. Grant made headlines when he issued his infamous General Order no. 11 on December 17, 1862. This order essentially expelled all Jews from his military district (Tennessee, Mississippi, Kentucky) in an effort to curtail black market cotton trading, which Grant thought was being run "mostly by Jews and other unprincipled traders." Not Sam Grant's finest hour, to be sure. At least Abraham Lincoln had the good sense to immediately reprimand Grant (who then rescinded the order).

Many of the Jewish soldiers fighting in the Union armies were recent immigrants - from places like Germany and elsewhere in Central Europe. But not all were foreign born - especially in the Confederacy. A great number of these soldiers were native to the states (and country...I suppose) for which they fought. Some of the oldest synagogues in the prewar nation, for example, were in Virginia and South Carolina. There is a Jewish Confederate cemetery called Shockoe Hill in Richmond, Virginia, and Hollywood Cemetery (also in Richmond) has a Jewish section.

So there you have it. There are a couple of books worth checking out for further information. I recommend Jews and the Civil War: A Reader edited by Adam Mendelsohn and Jonathan Sarna as well as American Jewry and the Civil War by Betram W. Korn

Who knows...with all this info out there, maybe we can get Adam Sandler to write a new expanded version of his Chanukah song to include a few guys from the Civil War!


Friday, December 3, 2010

Cosmic America's Civil War: The Ascendancy of Robert E. Lee

Greetings Cosmic Americans!

I hope you like my latest episode - I just wanted to give you a little background on the man who, in June 1862, would assume command of the Rebel army in the East. Lee would of course rise to the occasion and become the most formidable Confederate commander out there.

But nobody knew it in 1862. In fact, "Granny Lee" was widely criticized by the southern press. Who knew he would become such a badass??

Have a look and comment if you like!