Tuesday, June 28, 2011

On the Way to Manassas


Greetings Cosmic Americans!

Well, our invading force of 300 or so has boarded the busses and we are about to hit the road to the Mannasas battlefield. Ray Brown will in command of our unit, and the C-Span crew is attached. From what I understand, our invasion will air on July 24 on C-Span 3.

The last time I was on this particular field I got hopelessly lost...so I am looking forward to being led by someone who knows the lay of the land.

Assuming that Verizon doesn't fail me, I'll be reporting on the trip via my iPhone (i write this post with exactly that remarkable device).

And be sure to check all my social media links over the next few days. I'll be uploading more videos and pictures tonight and tomorrow. Yesterday's lectures were first rate - you'll want to check them out.



Monday, June 27, 2011

Civil War Institute Conference Day Two

Greetings Cosmic Americans!

Day two is officially in the books and we are just getting under way with day three.

In short - yesterday we heard a great deal on the goings on in 1861. Lincoln, mobilization, regular soldiers, and the Old Army were among the topics. The highlight of the day had to be Allen Guelzo's talk on Lincoln and the first year of the war.

As with all conferences such as these, there is always plenty of room for debate. In other words - don't believe everything you hear. The good news is, this is a very engaging group - on the parts of both the faculty and the participants. There have been some nice back and forth exchanges and some great conversations.

Today we are going to hear about some military actions - Balls Bluff and First Bull Run - I mean, after all...there was a war going on - we should hear a little about the battles!

On a side note - last night around ten or so, I walked out on to the Union line at the High Water Mark. It was nearly pitch black out and there was no one on the battlefield but yours truly. I hiked over to the Pennsylvania monument and hung out for a while until I heard a distant tour group (I assume....maybe they were ghosts) give three loud "huzzahs!" It was a most evocative moment indeed - and for a Civil War historian, the best kind of moment there is.

And then my phone started pinging...alerting me of messages. So as the twenty-first century invaded...I walked back to town and enjoyed a beer after a long day.

Hey Pete....if you are reading this - you see, I DO talk about myself (snicker).

Stay tuned friends - we hear from some first-rate historians today, including Joe Glatthaar and Gary Gallagher. I will provide the debriefing tomorrow.



Civil War Institute Conference Day One is in the Books - Day Two Under Way

Greetings Cosmic Americans!

Day two of the CWI conference is officially under way - this is jsut a quick post before I head to the next talk - this morning we heard from historian Jason Phillips on Civil War soldiers in 1861 and their prophetic imaginations - it turns out (according to Jason) that they didn't necessarily expect a short war after all...food for thought, anyway. But I am not sure I agree. At any rate, the topic is certainly worth further examination.

Last night, we heard from Peter Carmichael regarding the first year of the war. Pete's talk was among the most dynamic and engaging that I have ever heard - if you ever get a chance to hear him speak...by all means, take it! You can check out snippets from his discussion by going to my Youtube page - I will post segments from all the daily talks each night of the conference, so check back regularly. And of course, stay up to the minute by searching the #cwi150 hashtag on Twitter and following me on Facebook.


Sunday, June 26, 2011

Civil War Historians, Buffs, and Geeks Unite! The festivities begin in 3...2...1...

Greetings Cosmic Americans!

Things are just about to get under way. The first lecture is at 2PM EST: Leadership Issues in High Command at Gettysburg - featuring historian Chuck Teague. I will be there, iPhone and laptop at the ready updating as it goes. Be sure to catch the next lecture today at 7PM EST: The War in 1861 - featuring historian Peter Carmichael. For those of you on Twitter...keep an eye out for hashtag #cwi150. It will be almost like being here yourself...or at least a teaser to get you excited about signing up for next year.

So I am now well fortified with an overly indulgent breakfast from the Lincoln Diner (the unofficial Cosmic America HQ for the week) and I am ready to bring the Civil War Institute conference to you in real time. Enjoy!

The good news is - I have been given a reserved media table to set up shop. I will be blogging, tweeting and Facebooking as the events unfold. And if all goes well and Verizon does not fail me, there will be updates from the battlefield as well. Please feel free to weigh in on anything - I will be sure to forward your questions to whomever you direct them.



Saturday, June 25, 2011

Greetings from Gettysburg!

Greetings Cosmic Americans!

Well, I finally made it - the much anticipated Civil War Institute conference begins tomorrow...and I got here a little early just to have a look around.

I love Gettysburg - for a CIvil War historian who specializes in both history and memory, this is the place. Gettysburg is sort of like an epicenter for CIvil War remembrance and commemoration - and you meet all sorts of characters here. Check out these guys. I ran into them right next to the "High Water Mark" marker. We talked about all kinds of fun stuff, including why a WWII reenactor was hanging around Gettysburg (apparently - he really likes Ike, who retired here after his presidency) - and I got their trivia question correct (Who was the first president to graduate from West Point...hint: it is a trick question)

Anyway - the entire economy of this town is centered on Civil War commemoration, so you run across all kinds of interesting little tidbits - like this painting of Abraham Lincoln, for example. Now who wouldn't want this framed and hanging over their bed? I know I would. So stay tuned. I will be posting updates here and on Facebook and Twitter fr the rest of the week - keeping you all up to date on the goings on at Gettysburg!


PS - mission accomplished. 

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

More on Contingency - Ed Ayers's In the Presence of Mine Enemies

Greetings Cosmic Americans!

Continuing on with yesterday's post discussing (in part) contingency and the Civil War, I thought I might offer a few words on Edward L. Ayers's book, In the Presence of Mine Enemies.

Ayers crafts a narrative claiming to be free from such analytical impediments as simple explanations, stark opposites, and sweeping generalizations. Seeking to clarify how otherwise intricately linked communities - one northern and one southern - wound up on opposing sides of the conflict, Ayers builds a case for “deep contingency.” For Ayers, deep contingency emphasizes “dense and intricate connections in which lives and events are embedded.” Further, it rejects formulations of inevitability, particularly those that pit “progress” against “backwardness” implying an obvious victor. He does so by weaving together national events with sectional, political with cultural. Ayers considers previous analyses of chance, what he refers to as “surface” contingency, flawed. This scholarship, Ayers argues, has only emphasized and dramatized national affirmation and redemption thus obscuring the realities of the period. Arguments boiling down to simple “unfolding inevitabilities,” he claims, “ miss the essence of the story.” Yet, does observing contingency at a supposedly deeper level represent a significant departure from previous efforts to understand the Civil War era? I am not so sure.

Ayers’s principal objection to James McPherson’s brand of contingency refers to both his Pulitzer Prize winning Battle Cry of Freedom and his later publication illuminating the “turning point” at Antietam, Crossroads of Freedom. He acknowledges McPherson’s conclusions regarding battlefield contingency and admits that momentous events on the battlefield had dramatic repercussions for both the Union and Confederate causes. Further, Ayers agrees that events in the war were unpredictable and could have deviated in multiple directions with innumerable potential outcomes. Thus, he similarly emphasizes the so-called turning points of 1862 – the Valley campaign during the summer arresting the Union onslaught in Virginia, and Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation following the narrow Union victory at Antietam that autumn. However, while Ayers maintains that prior works concerning these events appropriately underscore the lack of predictability in a war, he concludes that they do not support the notion of deep contingency that frames his book. “We acknowledge contingency,” Ayers suggests, but because contingency eventually led to the end of slavery, we “still feel the pull of the inevitable.”

For Ayers, an understanding of deep contingency helps one read beyond the simplistic formulation of the Civil War as a slave society versus a non-slave society. To avoid “false impressions that we have explained something when we have not,” Ayers insists on gathering as much data as possible concerning the whole society. Only then will the profound web of connections between politics, ideology, culture, and economics be revealed. One can identify sudden historical shifts easily enough, but illustrating the root cause (or causes) is infinitely complex.

Ayers’s reading of Battle Cry and Crossroads suggests that McPherson has made the critical error of illustrating the forces of history working in a predictable and ultimately positive direction, and that McPherson illustrates contingent factors – the chance occurrences on the “surface” – as events further aligning the war toward the known outcome: the prevailing cause of freedom.

Well...maybe so, but I am still puzzled at the need to differentiate between deep and surface contingency. You be the judge - as always, your two cents are more than welcome.



Monday, June 20, 2011

Turning Points

Greetings Cosmic Americans!

One of the most useful tools for bloggers is something called Statcounter. Just in case you are not familiar with this free service, Statcounter is an invisible tracking service that you can configure to track just about anything that happens on your blog (or website). Where the hits came from, where they went, how long they were there, and what they searched for on Google (or whatever) to find you. It might seem a little obsessive to meticulously go over these stats every day. But really, the information gleaned from this site has really helped me tune Cosmic America to my liking.

Anyway....the reason I mention all of this is because the other day I noticed a few hits from someone who had done a Google search with this intriguing question: "Why was Gettysburg the turning point of the Civil War?" The phrasing is what caught my eye -  because the person asking presumed that Gettysburg was the turning point...as opposed to a turning point.  Suffice to say, Gettysburg was a significant battle in the overall scheme of things. It was the last time a major Confederate army advanced into United States territory and the Union victory greatly improved the morale of the loyal population in the North. But to suggest that Gettysburg was the turning point obscures the ebb and flow of prospects for victory for either side. The war was hardly a downhill ride for the Rebels from July 1863 on.

The notion of turning points is always a tricky matter. While is it tempting to view them, especially in the case of Gettysburg, as clear cut lines of delineation, in doing so we run the risk of falling into an ahistorical trap...that is, reading history backwards.

(sidebar: I once heard of a history class taught precisely this way. It began in the present...and worked backward to discover the origin of events. Honestly, I shuddered at the thought.)

Suggesting that Gettysburg (or Vicksburg or any other battle) was the turning point in the Civil War is is a sure-fired way to get it wrong. In fact, from our twenty-first century perspective, there were many turning points in the war. The ascendancy of Robert E. Lee in the early summer of 1862, the Battle of Antietam in the autumn of the same year. The fall of Atlanta in 1864. The reelection of Abraham Lincoln. The list goes on and on. We can point to any of these events and say with confidence: AHA! There it is! From this point the outcome of the war was set in stone. But we can only say that because we know how things turned out.

The point is, those in the ranks and on the homefront did not. Soldiers and citizens on both side sides had their doubts, their certainties, their hopes...and all of these could (and did) change with changing events.

James McPherson, in his Pulitzer Prize winning Battle Cry of Freedom warns against viewing the war as destined to end the way is did from any given point. His ideas regarding contingency illustrate that any number of things could have happened potentially changing the outcome of events. Meaning: the United States proving victorious at Gettysburg did not mean the war was over - not by a longshot. While McPherson in this regard provides a valuable lesson for Civil War students, I would caution nonetheless. Even esteemed historians can accent the battles and other events - providing a trajectory (contingency intact) of a steady movement toward Union victory and all that came with it. Contingency or not, a certain teleology bleeds through in Battle Cry. Nation, freedom...it almost seems foreordained from the onset.  There is an overall triumphal tone to his book, implying a progression toward the ultimate goal of victory and freedom. McPherson writes  always knowing what is at the end of the tunnel. He generally stresses the significance of contingency when it works in favor of the Union cause and Union victory, but does not give the same treatment to the Confederacy at Chancellorsville or Jubal Early’s shelling of Washington City in 1864, McPherson's work is strikingly similar in terms of the relationship between civilian morale and battlefield events…he concentrates on the tendency of northerners to steadily grow in support of things such as the Emancipation Proclamation.

And so we need to think carefully about turning points - or any events for that matter. What they mean to us...what they meant to those who lived through them - did they suspect that such turning of the tides were actually taking place? I have indeed looked at a number of soldiers' and civilians' letters and diaries written shortly after Gettysburg - from both sides. With a few exceptions (such as sensationalist newspaper headlines), I have seen scant trace of certain victory or certain defeat. Unionists were thrilled - Confederates were not...but the war dragged on.



Friday, June 17, 2011

The Day of Battle Has Arrived - The Daily Richmond Enquirer, November 6, 1860

Greetings Cosmic Americans!

And good morning to you all. It is a rainy day in Los Angeles, which is a rare - and welcome change.

This article from the November 6, 1860 Daily Richmond Enquirer should delight all of you...first year college undergrads taking a US survey, Civil War buffs, and the countless thousands who are thirsting for a greater understanding of the election of 1860 (wishful thinking on my part...?). Well, it probably won't be good news for those who insist that sectional strife did NOT hinge on the prospect of a probable attack on the institution of slavery - but too bad.

Yes...election day 1860 stirred the hearts of people all over the Union - North and South. The perception: fate of the country hung in the balance. Turns out...people were right.

I find this particular article illuminated for two reasons. One: the ideal of Union is paramount - suggesting that Virginians had clear nationalistic leanings. The important thing...they were Unionists on decidedly sectional terms...as the author indicates that the "whole South" should ban together to shape the vision of Union. This idea goes against the notion that Virginians (or at the very least, the author of this piece) saw themselves as Virginians - not nationalists. They were southern Americans to be sure and wanted to run the show, but that doesn't necessarily mean they did not embrace a national identity as well. Two: highlighting the threat of losing slavery is clearly the author's intention. Indicating that Lincoln was a "Black Republican" lumps the man and the party in with the radical abolitionists, which was neither Lincoln's bent nor his party's.

Below is the transcript in its entirety. Have a look and come to your own conclusions. As always at Cosmic America - I encourage you to argue away. I know one newspaper article comes no where close to proving an argument - but it is a good jumping off point!

The Day of Battle has Arrived.

Before another issue of the Richmond "Enquirer" can reach any of our readers, the most important and exciting election in which American citizens have ever participated will have taken place. Never were our principles more imperilled than in the present warfare waged upon our constitutional rights by Black Republican enemies, headed by their standard-bearer, Abe Lincoln. Nothing can defeat the aggressor but a concentration of the entire Southern vote on those well-tried and faithful patriots—BRECKINRIDGE and LANE. The destiny of this great American Union is now in the hands of the people. The importance of the contest now upon us cannot be over estimated. It involves all that patriots and friends of the Union hold dear, and upon the result hangs the hopes of the nation for all time to come.

The time for argument and discussion has passed. It only remains now for us, friends of the Constitution and the Union, to act—to act as freemen worthy of the noble heritage of liberty—to act as it becomes men to act who properly estimate the glorious privileges they enjoy, and who wish to transmit them to a free and happy posterity.

Democrats of Virginia! friends of Breckinridge and Lane! at this time shall there by any recreancy in our ranks? Will not every man, who desires the success of our gallant candidates, who desires the defeat of Lincoln and Hamlin, be at his post? Will there be one found to desert his colors in this trying emergency? Rather, let there be a grand rally of all our forces—let each man battle with might and main for the truth and right!

To work, then, friends of our glorious cause! To work with all your power, with your whole soul, and mind, and strength for liberty, and honor, and peace, and safety! We appeal to you to stand by your flag, by your candidates, by your principles, by your country—to devote THE WHOLE OF THIS DAY to the great cause you have espoused—to give your undivided, unselfish devotion to the Constitution, the Union, and the Equality of the States!



Thursday, June 16, 2011

The Charleston Mercury Defends the Fight for Slavery...in 1865!

Greetings Cosmic Americans!

I run across people all the time who try to convince me that the Confederacy was not established to preserve the institution of slavery. Of course I think that is nonsense - so I figured that from time to time I would a post tidbit of primary evidence to illustrate exactly how slavery was the driving force behind secession and war.

So here is a succinct, straight to the point newspaper article. Now I know that one article does not prove an argument. So stay tuned - I will give you lots and lots. This article from an 1865 edition of the Charleston Mercury - the day is unknown but it seems like the CSA is very close to the end - is a good place to start. Sorry, no picture of the actual article - so I posted and old page of the Mercury from 1861.

Pay special attention. The author notes slavery explicitly as the cause of the war and the reason to maintain the fight...despite the severe losses endured by the South. Further, alluding to the proposition that blacks be enlisted to fight for the Confederacy, the Mercury takes a firm stand against arming black people. It would only lead to emancipation, notes the author - thus rendering their secession pointless.

I have quoted the article below in full (in italics). Please note that when I quote primary evidence I leave the language, grammar, and spelling exactly as written. I do NOT sanitize for your protection. Therefore, some of you may be offended by the choice of words. Rest assured, these are the words of the AUTHOR OF THE MERCURY, not mine.

In 1860 South Carolina seceded alone from the old union of States. Her people, in Convention assembled, invited the slaveholding States (none others) of the old Union to join her in erecting a separate Government of Slave States, for the protection of their common interests. All of the slave states, with the exception of Maryland and Kentucky, responded to her invitation. The Southern Confederacy of slave States was formed.

It was on account of encroachments upon the institution of slavery by the sectional majority of the old Union, that South Carolina seceded from that Union. It is not at this late day, after the loss of thirty thousand of her best and bravest men in battle, that she will suffer it to be bartered away; or ground between the upper and nether mill stones, by the madness of Congress, or the counsels of shallow men elsewhere.

By the compact we made with Virginia and the other States of this Confederacy, South Carolina will stand to the bitter end of destruction. By that compact she intends to stand or to fall. Neither Congress, nor certain makeshift men in Virginia, can force upon her their mad schemes of weakness and surrender. She stands upon her institutions—and there she will fall in their defence. We want no Confederate Government without our institutions. And we will have none. Sink or swim, live or die, we stand by them, and are fighting for them this day. That is the ground of our fight—it is well that all should understand it at once. Thousands and tens of thousands of the bravest men, and the best blood of this State, fighting in the ranks, have left their bones whitening on the bleak hills of Virginia in this cause. We are fighting for our system of civilization—not for buncomb, or for Jeff Davis. We intend to fight for that, or nothing. We expect Virginia to stand beside us in that fight, as of old, as we have stood beside her in this war up to this time. But such talk coming from such a source is destructive to the cause. Let it cease at once, in God’s name, and in behalf of our common cause! It is paralizing to every man here to hear it. It throws a pall over the hearts of the soldiers from this State to hear it. The soldiers of South Carolina will not fight beside a nigger’ to talk of emancipation is to disband our army. We are free men, and we chose to fight for ourselves—we want no slaves to fight for us.... Hack at the root of the Confederacy—our institutions—our civilization—and you kill the cause as dead as a boiled crab.

So....there you go. Not enough, you say? Stick around - there is much much much more to come.



Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Paul Buck and the Road to Reunion

Greetings Cosmic Americans!

Historians speak often about the storied "road to reconciliation" after the Civil War. I, as you all probably know, have spent the last ten years talking about it, and I do not think that I will relenting any time soon.

The scholarly approach - at least how many understand it - is part of the foundation of the history and memory cottage industry that has been a hot topic for the last couple of decades.

The approach (most famously argued by Yale historian David Blight) boils down to a few simple lines. Reconciliation came at the expense of what was promised by Union victory. Black people - slavery and emancipation - were essentially whitewashed out of the war's memory. The Civil War was thus commemorated on southern terms. You can find out why I do not necessarily agree with this idea by doing a simple search for "reconciliation" right here on Cosmic America.

But Blight's take is only new in that is casts a negative light on effort by both by sides to reconcile. Others...earlier in the twentieth century, drew similar conclusions - although they were celebrating reconciliation in the process.

Among the first to assess the implications of reconciliation, Paul H. Buck tendered an affirming appraisal of veterans’ efforts despite the overt racism apparent at commemorative gatherings. In 1937, his The Road to Reunion, 1865-1900 lauded the “positive influences” paving the way for the “promise of ultimate peace” and applauded the breakdown of sectional animosity during the postwar years. He nevertheless admitted that reconciliation ushered in a “period where [black people] would no longer figure as the ward of the nation to be singled out for special guardianship or peculiar treatment.” Buck paid tribute to reconciliation but observed “the tremendous reversal of opinion” regarding freed people.

Just a few thoughts, I'll talk more about historiography earlier in the twentieth century later this week...then - a trip to Gettysburg for the Civil War Institute conference! Stay tuned for that one!



Saturday, June 11, 2011

John Neff's Honoring the Civil War Dead (his take on) the Problem of Reconciliation

Greetings Cosmic Americans!

And what a perfect morning it is - the sun is shining, the birds are chirping, and the helicopters are circling overhead. It is a beautiful day in Los Angeles.

Given my tendency to reflect on my work of the past several years, I thought it appropriate to discuss one of my favorite books on the issue of national reconciliation in the wake of civil war (sheesh - that would make a great book subtitle!).

John R. Neff is one of the few (and I mean few) who go against the grain by suggesting that all was not so benignly reconciliationist (for better or worse) during the post war decades - especially in terms of commemoration. Sure, as he admits, there were a great deal of spread-eagle, but alas, issue-free reconciliatory efforts/movements/gestures...or whatever you choose to call them...

...but what of those who persistently reminded citizens of the more troubling memories of the war years? What of those memories that did not fold neatly within the confines of the current understanding of reconciliation? Where do they fit in the commemorative ethos? Neff’s book, Honoring the Civil War Dead: Commemoration and the Problem of Reconciliation examines those outside the reconciliation framework defined by most scholars. Basking in the light of the “cause victorious,” Neff argues, many of the Union veterans mourning their fallen comrades harbored bitter resentment toward their former enemies.

Reasoning that veterans could in no way imagine the memories of their fallen comrades apart from the contentions of war, he suggests their sentiments represent the key challenge to reconciliatory efforts in the late-nineteenth century. This compelling study does more to expose the lingering bitterness than any of its predecessors.

Yet it oversimplifies antagonisms by reinforcing a dichotomy of reconciled versus unreconciled veterans. Analyzing these individuals in terms of stark opposition – those who were committed to reconciliation and those who were not – may indeed be a dead end.

It is this over simplification that I find so troubling - and what I also find to be the hardest thing to overcome when considering this era. But riddle me this - Can one favor....even embrace reconciliation on antagonistic terms? It seems that yes indeed, one can - especially if you were a Civil War veteran.

I have fired more than one warning shot right here on Cosmic America - and have written a (soon to be published) book on the subject. So stay tuned...there will be more to follow.



Friday, June 10, 2011

Cosmic America on Facebook

Greetings Cosmic Americans!

So - are social media the future of teaching? Well, maybe not entirely - I find it hard to imagine the classroom...in the traditional sense, ever disappearing in favor of Internet platforms. I will say this however. In terms of the dissemination of resources and searching the historical record, the Internet and its behemoth networking platforms like Facebook and Twitter are not going anywhere any time soon. So at the very least, we teachers should embrace them - and likewise utilize them to their full potential.

In the spirit of getting on board and not rejecting the "nonsense waste of time" that 14-year-olds flock to to get the latest on Justin Bieber, I have been a champion of social media for some time. And in this same spirit, I have created a Facebook "fan" page for Cosmic America. I will be stepping up my game over there - so I invite those of you who like to put in their two cents on the Civil War to join me.

The idea, naturally, is to discuss the various pictures, videos, and articles that I post on the page - and I suppose you can mention Justin Bieber too, if you feel so compelled. I have to admit that I have actually seen his film Never Say Never, and after I managed to get over my hives, I found his performance at Madison Square Garden....interesting. Do what you want with that information - I digress.

Besides the profoundly broad topic of Civil War history and memory, I propose no specific theme for this page - whatever comes up that day (like the picture to the left or this article on the sesquicentennial) will be wide open for comment, whether you love it or hate it or think I am way off base (that happens from time to time), the forum will be open to anyone.

At any rate - I anticipate some good and hopefully even valuable discussion. Civil War students, teachers, buffs, wingnuts...come one come all!



Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The Emancipation Proclamation: Three Views

Greetings Cosmic Americans!

I have thinking quite a bit these days about the Emancipation Proclamation, Lincoln's role as commander-in-chief, and the legacy of emancipation during the sesquicentennial. I recently revisited a very good book - The Emancipation Proclamation: Three Views, by Harold Holzer, Edna Greene Medford, and Frank J. Williams.

Fittingly, the authors choose to open their absorbing study of the Emancipation Proclamation with the words of Frederick Douglass – one of the most compelling figures of nineteenth-century United States history – to illustrate the varied reactions to a document that has traveled a “bumpy historiographical road.” Praising Abraham Lincoln’s (preliminary) Emancipation Proclamation as a “righteous decree” while questioning the president’s “hesitating and forbearing” caution, Douglass was both admirer and critic – a reaction that the authors suggest presaged the “complicated, almost schizophrenic, response [the document] has elicited.” As the authors point out, since 1862, analysis of the Emancipation Proclamation has developed into two opposing camps – one highlighting the document as the crowning achievement of Lincoln the Great Emancipator, the other focusing on the proclamation as an act of wartime desperation issued from the pen of a racist president.

To their credit, the authors do not simply argue from the comfortable (and well worn) position of one side of the historiographical debate or the other. Rather, they tap into contemporary reactions issued from diverse groups, including, significantly, those who were the subject of Lincoln’s decree – slaves – to illustrate the importance of the widely ranging series of responses, interpretations, and efforts of commemoration. While the subtitle of this book could imply a sustained debate contesting the contemporary meaning and legacy of the Emancipation Proclamation, the three contributors to The Emancipation Proclamation provide complementary arguments - each individual analysis accenting a particular context.

Edna Greene Medford examines how black Americans derived meaning from a document beyond the author’s intentions and seized every opportunity as active agents in freedom, Frank J. Williams argues that Lincoln’s genius for the law provided the means to maneuver around the inherent conflict between his constitutional obligations and his hatred of slavery, and Harold Holzer maintains that the “central document” of Lincoln’s administration gained prominence not during his lifetime, but through artistic representation and Lincoln iconography in the post-war realm of public memory. The overall result is a single volume that both admonishes reductionism and eschews present-minded critique.

Holzer, Medford, and Williams, together with eminent historian John Hope Franklin, who provides the foreword, should be applauded for collaborating on this succinct, well documented, and thought provoking study. Perhaps, a more nuanced analysis discussing the varied responses of “common” Civil War soldiers would further strengthen this volume by illustrating how the issues of slavery and emancipation reached white America beyond the upper echelons of politics and the military. This criticism aside, students of the era will greatly benefit from a collection of essays that illustrates how the Emancipation Proclamation was, in the words of Lincoln, “the great event of the nineteenth century.”



Thursday, June 2, 2011

Countdown to the Civil War Institute Conference

Greetings Cosmic Americans!

If you don't know already, between Jun 25th and July 1st, Gettysburg College and the Civil War Institute will be holding their annual conference. Yours truly will be on hand to provide up to the minute reports. Yes - I will be broadcasting on Facebook, Twitter, Youtube and right here at Cosmic America. I might even try to pull off a few Ustream live broadcasts. We'll have to see how it goes.

At any rate, This year's theme - in the spirit of the start of the sesquicentennial - is "Mobilizing for War and the Battle of First Bull Run/Manassas."  There will be an all-star cast of participants including Peter Carmichael, Joseph Glatthaar, and Gary Gallagher as well as a host of others. I even hear there will be a battlefield tour with Wayne Motts somewhere in the mix. I have been on his tours before - it is worth the price of admission.

My mission: do what I do best...talk about the Civil War - and I will get to interview some of the biggest names in the field. Some of the topics I will be discussing include - the cultural relevance of the sesquicentennial, why the Civil War is so compelling to 21st century Americans, what the war accomplished and left unfinished - and why that has a bearing on Americans today, sectionalism then and now - have things really changed that much? And of course - social media as a teaching platform.

So if you have any questions for anyone (the schedule of events can be found here) just let me know. I will ask them for you. I'll keep you posted with updates as the date draws near!