Friday, June 22, 2012

A Thought (or two) on Turning Points

Greetings Cosmic Americans!

Gettysburg, my place of residence for the next few days, is a wonderful place to contemplate turning points. Not because I believe the battlefield represents one (or the, as it were), but precisely because the field persists as the culmination of the Confederate war effort in public memory - as the turning point of the Civil War.

I find this troubling primarily because nobody thought this in July 1863. The "high water mark" is a post war construction - written into history by those looking retrospectively for the exact moment when the Rebel cause came at last crashing down...never to rise again. I suppose if you tilt your head to the side, squint, and ignore 1864 entirely, you might arrive at a similar conclusion. But even then the logic is more than slightly flawed.

It might be instructive at this juncture to provide my definition of Civil War turning points - so as not to ruffle too many "high water mark" feathers. A turning point represents a contemporary sea change in opinion, attitude, strategy, or tactics. The battle of Gettysburg does not suggest this to me - nor did it suggest it to the soldiers who fought there (for the most part).

As part of the Civil War Institute Conference, I will be speaking on - and leading a discussion about - turning points in 1862. My talk, titled - strangely enough, 1862: A Year of Turning Points, will cover topics from Ironclads to Emancipation...but not the Battle of Gettysburg  There is also an analytical component to the talk that might surprise the audience. I do not want to give away too much before the fact, so I will save the slam dunk for the debriefing next week.

Until then - be sure to follow the Civil War Institute Twitter feed at #cwi1862 and as always - Peace,


1 comment:

  1. Totally agree, 'turning points' are literary constructions with little basis in fact. It does, however, appeal to the public for those reasons. Right now, Canada is commemorating the bicentennial of the War of 1812. Various governments and private interests bill the occasion as "the war that made Canada" or "gave birth to Canada." This is wrong. At most, it sustained the status quo of the British ruling in the northern part of North America, while the United States kept its territory south of that (Mexico, just freeing itself from Spanish rule, had the rest). The combined effects of the Seven Years War/French and Indian War 1754-63, and the American Revolution, set that situation. The only real change came in 1867 when British rule gave way to the new Dominion of Canada - the current regime up there (not forgetting the loss Mexico suffered of its northwestern territories, now the U.S. western states.)

    Yet Canadian celebrations of the War of 1812 aren't dealing with this. They concentrate instead on the only time American and Canadian forces ever fought each other (even if British regulars and Indians made up most of the opponents). Kids and adults alike dress up in Redcoats, firing off muskets just like Civil War re-enactors. They travel to battlefields and historic sites and events (which are nothing compared to those for the American Revolution or the Civil War). Although the Canadian federal government is contributing $28m to this, the locals can still make a lot of money off this over the next two years. If doing so requires twisting history, simplifying it and making it more dramatic, then so be it. They'll ignore the ties to British imperialism as symbolized by the redcoats (go to India, or even Boston and wear one), what happened to the Indians afterwards (they suffered horribly ), and the close ties Canada and the United States have developed ever since. It's just more bad history for profit. Neo-Confederates would envy this.