Saturday, May 28, 2011

Black Confederates in the News Again

Greetings Cosmic American!

There is an interesting article in the Charleston Gazette that should get people talking. It is all about how funding was denied for a commemorative panel that included a talk from the most famous supporter of the idea that blacks fought for the Confederacy. If you have not heard of him, his name is H. K. Edgerton -  a black man who parades around the South in Confederate gray claiming that thousands of blacks fought willingly for the CSA. He suggests that black people were fighting for their homes, just as the white Rebels did, and insists that the Civil War had nothing to do with slavery.

An interesting suggestion to say the least, and part (a very intriguing part) of an ongoing onslaught by neo-Confederates to portray secession in the most positive light. Have a look at the article and please leave your comments. This is always a good conversation piece. And while you are at it, check out my friend Kevin Levin's blog, Civil War Memory. He has done a great deal of work on this subject.



Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Gettysburg Tour

Greetings Cosmic Americans!

There is something special about being led around the Gettysburg Battle field by someone who knows what they are talking about I have had the pleasure of seeing the battlefield with some of the best. I have joined Gary Gallagher, Joan Waugh, Matt Gallman, and Glenn LaFantasie, just to name a few, on this field of epic battle.

If you do not happen to run into one of these acclaimed historians while visiting, I suggest checking in to some of the licensed tour guides that work for the NPS. I "liberated" the video from Youtube of Gary Kross giving his two cents on the Pickett-Pettigrew assault - he seems like he knows what he is doing. And I highly recommend Wayne Motts. I do not agree with everything he says - but you might...and at any rate - he is top notch when it comes to talking about the battle.

I'll be there in June and July for the CWI Conference reporting back with up to the minute updates on the battlefield and in the meeting hall. SO stay tuned - there will all kinds of virtual tours coming your way!



Wednesday, May 25, 2011

An (Almost) Bloodless Fight - The Battle of Woodland Hills

Greetings Cosmic Americans!

This will probably be the last post regarding the Civil War reenactment I attended in Woodland Hills California back on May 14.

I write this post more as a question to the Civil War reenactors (or anyone, for that matter) who stop by from time to time. Now, I am not bashing reenactors, by any stretch. It just seemed curious, to me anyway, that there were so few reenacted casualties at this particular battle. Is this a common theme? I mean - the "lead" was flying and hardly anyone fell. Oh sure, after a while, a handful of Rebel and Federal dead lay about the field - but not until they had blazed away at each other for about twenty minutes.

I would really be interested in a little insight to this phenomenon - the conspicuous lack of reenacted death and wounding.

I hope you enjoy the video - it was indeed a spectacular day!



Tuesday, May 24, 2011

James McPherson on Lincoln as Commander in Chief

Greetings Cosmic Americans!

I always like to pass along prominent historians' takes on the Civil War. Here is a mighty fine video featuring Pulitzer Price winning historian James McPherson speaking on Lincoln as commander in chief. It is nearly an hour long - but totally worth the time spent watching. You can also check out his book, Tried by War, on the same subject.



Monday, May 23, 2011

Blood and Guts and Grit

Greetings Cosmic Americans!

I am sure many of you are highly anticipating the premiere of Tony and Ridley Scott's Gettysburg on the History Channel this Memorial Day. I have learned over the years not to expect much from Civil War films in terms of action sequences. The one exception is Glory, which looked pretty least as realistic as I could ever possibly imagine, having read soldiers' letters and such. Maybe Cold Mountain....but the movie was so bad that I was distracted by the story to get much out of anything having to do with the war

The usual depiction of battle goes something like this - thousands of well-fed soldiers (with nice uniforms and good teeth) marching valiantly to their fate, clutching their chests when they fall, or catapulted into the air by shells exploding on the ground (as opposed to in the air, which is how things really happened).

It may seem somewhat perverse to be disappointed by the lack of realism in such scenes of war. Oh sure, every movie tends to have the obligatory amputation scene, with the victim screaming in agony as his wounded limb is sawed off. But if you have had a chance to get a look at some of the post-battle photographs from Antietam or Gettysburg, you will notice nothing of war is pretty - especially the twisted disemboweled bodies of soldiers killed in action. This is the realism that seems missing from so many Civil War films.

But that is not all. I have yet to see a Civil War film where the soldiers appear in any way anxious about their potential - and altogether probable fate. Raw emotion for the most part has alluded the actors (or the directors) in films like Gods and Generals and Gettysburg (the one with Martin Sheen). I would expect to see some men entirely terrified, or nervous, or at least clenching their teeth. Sure, you will see a guy or two run away from eminent danger, but that is not what I really mean. I want to look into an actors face and feel that he is experiencing combat of the most wretched sort. We need to look past the drums and bugles and the whoops and huzzahs. War sucks.

This feeling has been captured pretty damn well through the recent releases of various WWII miniseries. Both Band of Brothers and The Pacific, at least to me, convey a sense that war really is Hell. It is dirty, it is painful, it is agonizing, it is tormenting, it is chaotic, it is - well, gritty. I have never personally experienced combat. But I have read enough soldiers' accounts and interviewed enough veterans to know that fun was not had by all - or even any for that matter.

So let's just see how this version of "Gettysburg brought to the screen" goes - I will be sure to throw in my two cents shortly.


Sunday, May 22, 2011

Sneak Peek at the Latest on Gettysburg from the History Channel

Greetings Cosmic Americans!

This might be worth a look - Gettysburg, produced by Tony and Ridley Scott will premiere on Memorial Day. I will be sure to post my review. For now, let's just say that it looks gritty. Tomorrow I will talk more about this - but I think gritty is good.

Enjoy the rest of your Sunday!



Saturday, May 21, 2011

The Myth of the Lost Cause, 1865-1900 by Rollin G. Osterweis

Greetings Cosmic Americans!

Historians have a tendency to explain Confederate commemoration as if it was generally accepted across the nation – as if former Confederates ultimately won the war with the pen. In 1973, historian Rollin G. Osterweis attempted to explain this phenomenon. Osterweis analyzed images, literary and otherwise, of moonlight and magnolias, the “obliging old Uncle Remus,” and, the “good, gray Confederate veteran.” He observes a persistent sense of “southerness” despite a humiliating Confederate defeat and several years of infuriating Reconstruction politics. White southerners, Osterweis suggests, used these images a part of their efforts to romanticize and pay tribute to the antebellum South. He further notes, former Confederates clung fervently to a new American nationalism and, ironically, the righteous, fiercely sectional account of the Confederate States of America “[was] continually belied by the conduct of Southerners themselves.” In this way, veterans involved in Civil War commemorations seemingly connected the New South – characterized by “progress,” industry, and steadfast devotion to reunion – to a benign past that, while virtuous, inevitably gave way to modern America. In short, proponents of the New South who had shouldered muskets for the Confederacy looked to a promising future. They carefully recalled a few scattered memories that helped southerners come to terms with their greatest failure, retain a sense of regional dignity, and embrace a reunited nation.

Osterweis concludes that extensive (and nationwide) admiration of southern generalship, southern courage, and southern chivalry reinforced the myth of the superiority of southern armies in “everything except numbers and material,” thus lending credence to the Lost Cause rhetoric of the day. Ultimately, through vastly popular publications such as the Battles and Leaders series, Osterweis claims, “Yankeedom took to its heart the Lost Cause.” Northerners might have admired certain benign aspects of southern culture and even respected their former enemy’s fighting spirit. However, the implication embedded in many treatments on the Lost Cause – that former Confederates “won the war with the pen” – obscures the anxieties articulated by former Rebels clearly perceiving animosity all around them; that they in fact still fought a war with words.

Although I believe that Osterweis misses this glaring problem in postwar commemoration, the book is well worth reading. It is an important piece of the reconciliation story - one that is currently under revision. Sometimes there are a few copies available on Amazon - click HERE to grab one before they are all gone!



Thursday, May 19, 2011

Ed Ayers on the Civil War and the South

Greetings Cosmic Americans!

Edward L. Ayers, President of the University of Richmond, author of The Promise of the New South and In the Presence of Mine Enemies, mastermind of the Valley of the Shadow project, and one of my former professors at the University of Virginia, weighs in on the defeat of the Confederacy. In just over a minute, he puts things in perspective by illustrating exactly what the southern states lost in their effort to form a slave-holding republic.



Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Barbara Fields and James McPherson on Lincoln the Emancipator

Greetings Cosmic Americans!

Well as we know, historians disagree on just about everything. And it's a good thing too - if we didn't - there would only be one book on the Civil War...we would all read it...and that would be it. Not too exciting. The subject of "who freed the slaves" generally stirs up a lively debate - here's what two prominent scholars have to say about it.

Columbia University historian Barbara Fields insists that Lincoln’s dedication to freedom was superficial and never strayed from the confines of war necessity. Relying heavily on the oft-quoted words of Lincoln himself, Fields reminds readers that the president would have eagerly saved the Union “without freeing any slave.”

[caption id="attachment_615" align="alignright" width="110" caption="Barbara J. Fields"][/caption]

Fields attempts to show how Lincoln adopted a strictly limited policy of emancipation only as an attack on the Confederacy’s ability to wage war. A great many bondsmen, including those enslaved in loyal states or those residing in areas already occupied by United States forces, remained enslaved. Further, those laboring deep in the Confederacy, far from liberating Union lines, remained beyond the reach of the proclamation’s power. Fields admits that the Emancipation Proclamation was significant, but rather than illustrating a crucial development with roots in Republican ideology, she asserts that slaves provided the impetus for such a policy through self-emancipation. The slaves themselves forced the issue and convinced Republicans to attack the institution where it existed. “No human alive,” she comments, “could have held back the tide that swept toward freedom.”

[caption id="attachment_620" align="alignleft" width="129" caption="James M. McPerson"][/caption]

Princeton University historian James McPherson answers this challenge by pointing out that Lincoln and the Republican Party were not only committed to thwarting the expansion of slavery into the territories, but also that containment was the “first vital step toward placing it in the course of ultimate extinction.” Well before the outbreak of war, McPherson illustrates, Lincoln made it abundantly clear that a man governing another man was despotism, that the relation of masters and slave was a violation of the principle of equality embedded in the founding documents, and that the slave system undermined the “principles of progress.” Although Lincoln knew he lacked the authority to tamper with slavery where it already existed, he hoped that when the Union became either “all one thing or all the other,” that slavery would have met its demise. McPherson adds a further cautionary note in answer to Fields’s assertion of an inevitable “sweeping tide.” Her conclusions depend on a Union victory – a victory hardly foreordained in 1861.

Now you know I want your opinion - so sound off!



Tuesday, May 17, 2011

James A. Garfield on Partisanship, Treason, and the 1868 Elections

Greetings Cosmic Americans.

In 1868, as presidential and congressional races heated up, partisans on both sides invoked the Civil War to further their (or others') political campaigns. In the Republican camp, that wasn't all that hard to do. Jefferson Davis was a Democrat, most prominent Rebels were Democrats, and yes...the man who shot and killed Abraham Lincoln was a Democrat too.

Of course there were loyal Democrats as well - so Republicans did their best to discredit them by making the obvious association.

I recently came across this letter written by James A. Garfield in October, 1868. Garfield had served as a major general in the Union army, spent nine consecutive terms as a Republican congressional representative from Ohio, and eventually was elected (in 1880) the 20th President of the United States - where he served only 200 days before he fell to an assassins bullet.

In 1868, Garfield was trying to convince one of his former Union army comrades - prominent Democrat William S. Rosecrans -  that supporting a Democrat for the House of Representatives was a heinous mistake - perhaps as odious as supporting treason. Rosecrans had moved to California after the war and was heavily involved in land development in Los Angeles...where he also became a key Democratic Party spokesperson. The following letter is a great example of a former Union soldier "waving the bloody shirt," as it were, to make as argument.

“I cannot look upon your present political affiliations with out keen sense of regret – for it seems that the leaders of the Democratic party are so blinded by the fury of partisan feelings that they are quite ready to be led by the old secession rebel element of the south. Our good friends Gen. Schenck is fighting a desperate battle with the Democracy of the District – who are running Valandingham for Congress – I cannot for a moment suppose that were you here – you would differ with me in my purpose to so all in my power to defeat the traitor whom you and I sent through our lines – and electing his stead the Union soldier who helped save the Republic."

So those who had fought to save the Republic always had this card up their sleeve - and would pull it out regularly.

One last thing - someone came after me the other day for not posting footnotes when I quote original research. I have mentioned on several occasions that I would provide my sources to anyone who asked - just send me a note. But for the record, my snarky friend...

James A. Garfield to William S.Rosecrans, Oct 7, 1868, Box 12, Folder 71, Rosecrans Papers, Charles E. Young Research Library, UCLA.



Monday, May 16, 2011

Zouaves Before the Battle

Greetings Cosmic Americans!

I thought it would be nice to get a little military action in this morning - so here, courtesy of this company of Woodland Hills Zouaves - California Regiment, for lack of a proper unit designation, is an example of some first rate drilling.

You know, drilling is something that occupied a great deal of a soldier's time. Big battles, especially in the first two years of the war, were seldom. In short, Civil War soldiers spent a lot of time in camp - perfecting the art of killing.

One of my favorite soldier accounts of the war, Elisha Hunt Rhodes's All For the Union, discusses drilling and camp life at length...reading Rhodes, one might suspect that life in the army was actually pretty boring - only punctuated by fierce combat.

But it is here that we discover what military life was like - where we discover the insights of a Union soldier on Union, emancipation, secession, and religion. Coupled with scholarly accounts of Civil War soldiery, such as James McPherson's For Cause and Comrades, such writings are an invaluable resource. But if asked (and I often am), I would recommend a soldier account to get anyone started, and then offer what scholars think in comparison.


Sunday, May 15, 2011

Civil War Reenactors - the 2nd Vermont discusses Union, Emancipation, and Uncle Tom's Cabin

Greetings Cosmic Americans!

Yesterday I had a lovely time in Woodland Hills, California. Why on Earth would I go there, you ask? Well, I often find reasons to drive to the Valley - and this was one of them. Yesterday I attended a Civil War reenactment at Pierce College. I spent a lot of time talking with reenactors from both sides - trying to get a little insight in to what makes these guys tick.

Recently, some overly harsh criticism has boiled over from the academic world - I speak of one person, really - Civil War historian Glenn Lafantasie seems to think that reenactors are generally cut from the same cloth. I will not get in to too many details - let's just say that Lafantasie doesn't have to jump far from reenactors to right-wing extremism. Read his article and draw your own conclusions HERE, and for good measure, you should also check out this rebuttal HERE.

But at any rate - I did not come across any wing-nuts, whackjobs, or extremists this weekend. I did however meet a lot of men and women (and....something I did not expect, quite a few women reenacting as soldiers) who take understanding Americans at war in the nineteenth century pretty seriously. I sat in on and contributed to some discussions of both the issues at stake during the Civil War as well as military topics - weaponry, accoutrement, and tactics.

Now if you think that grown men and women dressing up and playing soldier is just a little strange, well....I am not going to disagree with you. I find it hard to imagine myself trying to replicate the look, feel and dare I say...attitude of the nineteenth century - if only because I live imbued with 21st century sensibilities, and thus striving for authenticity, as many reenactors do, would seem to me - not even remotely possible.

But I speak only for myself - this in no way implies that I will stand in judgment of reenactors or reenacting, as does my colleague Dr. Lafantasie. If yesterday's experience evidenced anything - it was that these people take great care to inform the general public about a wide range of Civil War topics. One might not agree with everything said...there was plenty of room for debate. But to my great relief I found that most welcomed discussion, embraced it, in fact.

Huzzah to you my reenacting friends!


PS - there is a documentary currently in production that focuses on this very intriguing culture - stay tuned for The Reenactors.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

One of the Most Telling Scenes from Gone With the Wind

Greetings Cosmic Americans!

It is hard to run out of things to say about Gone With the Wind. I have seen this film about a million times and shown it to students here and there too. It is a great way to get at the real themes of the Lost Cause interpretation of the war.

This is one of the most famous scenes when it comes to "the CSA never had a chance" theme. Rhett Butler, after an enthusiastic declaration by the other men in the room that the war would be over in one battle and the age-old claim that "a southerner can lick twenty Yankees," tells it (sort of) like it is. "There is not a single cannon factory in the whole South" - and goes on to describe how the North has all the industry and a fleet to bottle up southern harbors. All we have, claims Butler, "is cotton, slaves, and arrogance." Well - this naturally pisses the boys off, and Rhett almost has to fight it out with a young Charles Hamilton

Pretty standard stuff - but pay careful attention to some of the very first lines, when Scarlett's father, Gerald O'hara begins his rant. "It's time we made (the Yankees) understand we keep our slaves with or without their approval!" he shouts - something that seems to be the consensus among the gentlemen in the room enjoying brandy and cigars.

This is a peculiar deviation from the usual Lost Cause interpretation of the war - one that argues slavery was only incidental. This scene would suggest otherwise - indeed...slavery seems about as central as you can get - and straight from the mouth of a Georgia plantation owner.

So I have to hand it (somewhat) to Margaret Mitchell. Yeah...she follows the old "cavaliers and cotton fields" path - but at least gets at the central issue a little tiny bit. I wonder if the Daughters of the Confederacy have ever tried to get that few seconds cut from the film - or maybe somebody just coughs really loudly whenever it comes on. Who knows.

And one other thing - Ashley Wilkes might say that once the wars were over no one knew what they were about. Not in this case my friend - they knew damn well what this one was all about. Just sayin'



Friday, May 13, 2011

D. W. Griffith's The Birth of a Nation - an Unfavorable ContemporaryReport

Greetings Cosmic Americans!

I have received a few questions lately from CA readers about the unfavorable reports of D. W. Griffith's epic 1915 film about the Civil War and Reconstruction, The Birth of a Nation. So often, modern scholars suggest that this film stood for the broad consensus at the time of its premiere. Granted, a fair number of Americans North and South saw this film as accurate history - that the well worn Lost Cause narrative and the travails of Reconstruction rang true in this film adaptation of Thomas Dixon' s novels, The Leopard's Spots and The Clansman.

But despite the film's popularity and a certain level of acceptance for the film's analytical bent, others did not take so warmly to Grifith's "sensational photoplay" at all...especially Union veterans. The clip above is one of the film's most notorious - it depicts a legislative session in the South Carolina statehouse during the Reconstruction period. Here we witness what some would claim was the absurdity of Black legislators. The racist stereotypes are all there - black lawmakers, shoeless, intoxicated, eating chicken and leering at white women. The hall erupts in near riotous fervor at the passing of a bill allowing interracial marriage - what white South Carolinians feared most.

To underscore reactions by those who had fought for, and thus celebrated Union and Emancipation, I have included a report from the magazine, The Moving Picture World - dated August, 1915.

A state-wide fight on "The Birth of a Nation" is urged by Col. J. M. Snyder, of Canton, 111., who is department commander of the Grand Army of the Republic In Illinois. Three reasons are offered for Its suppression, one of which is that it is not fair to the Union soldiers.
A copy of a resolution passed by a Chicago post has been sent to every post in Illinois with a request from the state commander that a similar resolution be adopted. The resolution is as follows:
"The George H. Thomas Post, No. 5, Department of Illinois. G. A. R., protests against the exhibition called 'The Birth of a Nation.'
"First. Because It contains slanderous representations as to the soldiers who fought to preserve the Union, and caricatures the history of the war.
"Second. It represents the infamous Ku Klux Klun as a society of patriotic and chivalrous men.
"Third. Its whole Influence Is to excite and Intensify hatred of the negro race and to perpetuate sectional bitterness."

The GAR were hardly impressed by this film, which is not hard to imagine.


Thursday, May 12, 2011

The Defense of Washington City - Civil Warriors Round Table Debriefing

Greetings Cosmic Americans!

Yesterday I attended the monthly meeting of the Civil Warriors Round Table in the West San Fernando Valley of Los Angeles. The featured speaker was Greg Taylor, whose great, great grandfather served in a Pennsylvania heavy artillery unit at Ft. Lincoln - part of the Washington defenses.

Greg gave us a nice narrative on the scant defenses of Washington before the war, the anxiety felt by northern citizens concerning the potential capture of the capital, the process by which Union engineers constructed elaborate defenses after the embarrassing Union defeat at 1st Bull Run, and Confederate General Jubal Early's famous 1864 raid on the city.

What's more, he provided first hand accounts from his ancestor, William Beynon Phillips, an artillerist who was pulled from the defenses and ordered to join Burnside's IX Corps - Phillips was later captured at the Battle of the Crater in July 1864.

It goes to show that a presentation can be thoughtful and informative without being overly analytical.If you are ever in the LA area around the first Wednesday of the month, I strongly suggest you stop in for a visit. You are sure to hear a good speaker and the discussion afterward is always pretty heated.


Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The Silent Sentinel at the Los Angeles National Cemetery

Greetings Cosmic Americans!

Well, I believe that I have found what may be the most unimposing Civil War monument ever. Near the Sepulveda Blvd. entrance to the Los Angeles National Cemetery stands a solitary Union soldier, on top of a rock, at parade rest.

There is nothing particularly remarkable about this statue, except perhaps for the lack of a clear message. There are no inscriptions...and nothing denoting cause or comrades. Without close inspection, one could wonder whether or not this was even a Union soldier. The presence of a small "US" belt plate betrays the soldier's allegiance. But that is all. Does he commemorate Union? Emancipation? Or does he simply stand guard over his fallen comrades, which in this case, happen to be WWII soldiers?

I suspect that his silence speaks to each of us individually - make of him what you will...his very presence will get you thinking.


Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Renée Fleming and the Letter From Sullivan Ballou

Greetings Cosmic Americans!

It is my good fortune that those around me share their finds from time to time. I learned of this remarkable piece a while back, and I thought it would be a good idea to post it here. You all remember the "Letter From Sullivan Ballou" made famous by Ken Burns's epic documentary, The Civil War. Ballou wrote this moving letter to his wife, Sarah (which was never mailed) a week before he was killed at First Bull Run. The letter was found among Ballou's effects when his body was retrieved for burial after the war. After Ballou's death, Sarah moved to New Jersey with her son William. There she remained, never to remarry, until her death in 1917 at age 80. Sullivan and Sarah Ballou are buried side by side at Swan Point Cemetery in Providence, Rhode Island.

This evocative operatic piece performed by American soprano Renée Fleming is at once hauntingly beautiful and a touching tribute. I have provided the transcription below:

July 14, 1861
Camp Clark, Washington

My very dear Sarah:
The indications are very strong that we shall move in a few days—perhaps tomorrow. Lest I should not be able to write again, I feel impelled to write a few lines that may fall under your eye when I shall be no more . . .

I have no misgivings about, or lack of confidence in the cause in which I am engaged, and my courage does not halt or falter. I know how strongly American Civilization now leans on the triumph of the Government and how great a debt we owe to those who went before us through the blood and sufferings of the Revolution. And I am willing—perfectly willing—to lay down all my joys in this life, to help maintain this Government, and to pay that debt . . .

Sarah my love for you is deathless, it seems to bind me with mighty cables that nothing but Omnipotence could break; and yet my love of Country comes over me like a strong wind and bears me unresistibly on with all these chains to the battle field.

The memories of the blissful moments I have spent with you come creeping over me, and I feel most gratified to God and to you that I have enjoyed them for so long. And hard it is for me to give them up and burn to ashes the hopes of future years, when, God willing, we might still have lived and loved together, and seen our sons grown up to honorable manhood, around us. I have, I know, but few and small claims upon Divine Providence, but something whispers to me—perhaps it is the wafted prayer of my little Edgar, that I shall return to my loved ones unharmed. If I do not my dear Sarah, never forget how much I love you, and when my last breath escapes me on the battle field, it will whisper your name. Forgive my many faults and the many pains I have caused you. How thoughtless and foolish I have often times been! How gladly would I wash out with my tears every little spot upon your happiness . . .

But, O Sarah! If the dead can come back to this earth and flit unseen around those they loved, I shall always be near you; in the gladdest days and in the darkest nights . . . always, always, and if there be a soft breeze upon your cheek, it shall be my breath, as the cool air fans your throbbing temple, it shall be my spirit passing by. Sarah do not mourn me dead; think I am gone and wait for thee, for we shall meet again . . .


Monday, May 9, 2011

Gary W. Gallagher's The Union War

Greetings Cosmic Americans!

At long last my much promised look at Gary W. Gallagher's latest, The Union War. If you recall, a few months back I met with Gary and briefly discussed this volume. As you probably guessed, The Union War is a Companion piece to his 1997 publication, The Confederate War, in which Gallagher argues persuasively that the rebs did not pursue the war knowingly against impossible odds. They thought they could win, almost did on more than one occasion, and in the end...held on as long as they possibly could.

In The Union War, Gallagher argues against today's preoccupation with emancipation as the only noble and worthy Union cause. This, he offers, obscures the importance of Union for the wartime generation. The overriding motive for North was restoration of Union, not emancipation.

Now, I think it is safe to say that Americans today want the war to be about emancipation. But as Gallagher points out, even though Union soldiers knew that slavery was the war's cause, only a tiny fraction of the white northern populace hoped to use the war to eradicate the institution. The freeing of slaves, a reality as the Union armies maneuvered in Confederate territory, worked generally as a means to undermine the Rebel war effort. Thus, as a means to preserve the Union.

Detractors have, and will, argue - as has Eric Foner - that The Union War places undue emphasis on the Union Army's role in emancipation. One could indeed question exactly what kind of Union the war was being fought to preserve - and that slavery, the most troubling issue on the table in 1860, was foremost on the minds of the party in power. Unwilling to bend on the prevention of slavery's expansion into the western territories and even with gradual emancipation up for discussion, the waging of war against the seceding states had to mean that a new vision of Union - free from slavery - must have been a principle motivating factor - indeed the only "noble" one, considering that a Union with slavery intact seemed morally reprehensible to the beacon of democracy. After all, Lincoln could have easily preserved the Union by giving in to southern demands in 1861, which he did not.

Now Gallagher admits that emancipation became, as the war progressed, a viable solution to the problem of which would have been unnecessary had the war reached its conclusion with Union victory in 1862. But with all of this in mind he reminds us that "Union" has lost its meaning to modern observers. In the 1860s, loyal United States citizens embraced Union above all as paramount - the defining word of American exceptionalism. And so The Union War - using letters, newspapers, and diaries - reviews the centrality of Union in the mid-nineteenth century - a centrality that motivated millions of loyal citizens to rally around the banner...and save the best hope for democracy in the world.

Of course, after the war - as Gallagher mentions - the nobility of emancipation became increasingly popular, at times mirroring the celebration of Union. But this, as I have pointed out ad nauseum (and it seems that Gallagher agrees) was part of a moralizing self-righteousness that swept the nation in the postwar years. During the war, emancipation punished the enemy - in peace, it punished the vanquished.



Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Smithsonian Magazine and the Best Civil War Facial Hair

Greetings Cosmic Americans!

I am back and addressing one of my favorite subjects. That's right, the ever pressing issue of whiskers. I honestly do not believe that there is enough scholarship on this compelling topic. Perhaps, somewhere out there, an ambitious graduate student looking for just the right thing will read this and get down to business. I will look forward to that person's book.

But until then, Smithsonian Magazine ran a piece on Civil War facial hair that I thought worthy of a brief post. Thanks to my old friend Jedd (he's not so old...I just mean we have been friends for a long time) for pointing this out - he knows that I have gotten a lot of traction from other beard-related stories so I really appreciate the heads up.

So - if you too are intrigued by the various whisker stylings of the mid-nineteenth century, I encourage you to go to the Smithsonian website and vote for your favorite. I voted for George Crook...but that's just me. I would not want to influence your decision at all....



Sunday, May 1, 2011

Taking a Little Siesta

Greetings Cosmic Americans!

Well - I thought I would just let you know that I am taking a day or so to retool a few things on Cosmic America. But I will be back shortly - back at it with some new book reviews, videos, and all of that stuff.

So stay tuned my friends - there are good things coming your way.