Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Visualizing Emancipation

Yesterday's map post stirred up a few conversations here and elsewhere about the possibilities of visualizing data. This inspired me to direct all Cosmic Americans to the digital scholarship coming out of the University of Richmond. I am especially intrigued by the Visualizing Emancipation component of their Digital Scholarship Lab. There is a comprehensive timeline and you can set parameters with a number of different emancipation events. Head on over and check it out - you may be surprised by what you find.


Monday, October 29, 2012

Slavery in 1860

Maps. I could spend all day analyzing maps, especially ones that detail statistics like this one - showing the concentrations of slavery in 1860. Note the coastal, Piedmont, and river regions. One might also consider how the Emancipation Proclamation affected the institution in a practical sense in January, 1863, or how self-emancipation took hold from the beginning of the war. As Robert Gould Shaw said in early 1863, "Wherever our army has been there remain no slaves, and the Proclamation will not free them where we don't go."


Sunday, October 28, 2012

Johnny Cash - God Bless Robert E. Lee

Everyone who knows me knows that I am a big fan of Johnny Cash. Here is his take on the Confederacy's most famous general.  What are your thoughts?


Friday, October 26, 2012

The Great Emancipator in Mosaic

This image is part of a series of mosaics at Forest Lawn Cemetery in Los Angeles. These days, it seems that Abraham Lincoln, once deified as a "Great Emancipator," has fallen from such elevated graces. What do you think? Does this image strike you as an accurate depiction of the 16th president?

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Way Out West in '58

I have been working these days on trying to get a sense of which way the wind was blowing - so to speak - in Los Angeles immediately before the Civil War. I know that plenty of the small 1850s population tended to lean in a southerly direction and I am always on the lookout for first-hand accounts.

From my own library, as it turns out, I had a look in Almira Russell Hancock's 1887 publication of Reminiscences of Winfield Scott Hancock. Winfield, a career Army officer who would rise to fame as commander of the II Corps of the Army of the Potomac during the Civil War, found himself stationed in Los Angeles in November 1858, where he would remain until the outbreak of hostilities in '61. Allie wrote a wonderfully descriptive account of their time in Southern California noting many of the terrain features, wildlife, and population of the pueblo:

The Los Angeles of 1858-59 was not the Los Angeles of to-day; now it contains 25,000 inhabitants, then it boasted of 4,000. Its main street was lined on both sides with adobe houses of true Spanish type, and not very many of them; but the surrounding country, with its beautiful hills and valleys, its snow-capped mountains and variegated fields, was unsurpassably charming. The population consisted principally of Spaniards, a few rough American adventurers, and many Indians of a low order, who were treacherous and required watching, and were at times very disorderly.

As tensions reached a near breaking point in the East, Allie Hancock noted the rebellious sentiments both within the ranks of the Army as well as the general population and pointed to the uneasiness felt by her husband:

The presidential election was impending, and excitement ran high. In Mr. Hancock's opinion the situation was pregnant with danger in the event of Mr. Lincoln's success. This conviction caused him much uneasiness, which he did not hesitate to express, but few believed it possible that the South had the intention of actually seceding from the Union. Portentous rumblings came from the East, and from the utterances of those around him, a majority of whom were Southern sympathizers, Mr. Hancock concluded that rebellion was imminent. The reckless character of the large portion of the population composing the Disunionists, most of them adventurers, willingly participating in any movement which presented opportunity to themselves, made the situation very hazardous.

She then continued to connect previous efforts to form an independent Bear Flag Republic in California and noted how the Spaniards were entirely sympathetic to this cause - or really any cause promoting independence.

And for the record (for those of you who have seen the film, Gettysburg), nowhere in the text does she refer to her husband as "Old Winnie Boy." In fact, I have never seen that sobriquet used in any contemporary writing. And I don't recall if Shaara used it in Killer Angels. If not, I guess Ron Maxwell just needed a catchy nickname to go over well with the movie-going public.



Thursday, October 18, 2012

Action Shot

I would love to see some actual combat photography from the Civil War. Of course, the nature of photography in the 1860s was such that long exposures would render action shots nothing but big blurs. So nearly all images from the war are posed. From time to time, you might run across a "posed" action shot - like pretend sword fighting or something along those lines. And then there are the unusual shots of soldiers on the march - like this one of Confederates marching through Frederick, Maryland. It is a great image of soldiers on campaign - what they would carry and how they generally looked while on the move.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

A Conversation with Steven Spielberg and Daniel Day-Lewis

This is a fascinating interview with the star and director of Lincoln. The two discuss their interpretation of the man and the various methods they used to recreate the nineteenth century on film. I admire Spielberg for noting that his film is not meant to be the definitive Lincoln, but one strand of analysis depicting a compelling man who lived during a complex time.


Friday, October 12, 2012

Winter Quarters

You have to hand it to Civil War soldiers. They could be pretty resourceful when they had to. As you all surely know, active campaigning, more often than not, took place during Spring and Summer - when snow and ice was not busy fouling everyone's good time. During the winter months, armies would set up elaborate winter camps and build semi-permanent structures using whatever they could find. Pictured is a mighty fine example of an officer's hut near Brandy Station - with a chimney, log walls, and a pitched roof stretched from what appears to be a tent. They even have a sidewalk out front.

This place is nicer than my first apartment. Huzzah!


Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Kevin Levin's Remembering the Battle of the Crater

Let's get straight to the point here. Kevin Levin's new book, Remembering the Battle of the Crater: War as Murder,  is an exceptionally solid work. The book is meticulously researched, and most important, it provides insights into the ever-dynamic (and my personal favorite) sub-field of historical inquiry: memory studies. The book begins, fittingly enough, with the battle itself - underscoring the deeply ingrained racial prejudices against the black soldiers of the United States Colored Troops. It then traces, through the development of the Lost Cause narrative and the systematic exclusion of black people from the southern body politic, how blacks were essentially written out of the Crater story, not only in the South but for some northerners as well - even though they played a significant role in the bloody attack.

I found the chapter called "Whites Only" among the most compelling. This discussion of how early battlefield interpretation left little room for the commemoration of the black soldiers who fought there is clearly building (admittedly so) on David Blight's conclusions in Race and Reunion. Early reconciliation gestures formed the foundation of the park's development.  In the latter decades of the nineteenth century, northern (white) veterans would travel south to visit the sites of their past battles. In the case of the Crater, they were often treated cordially by their former enemies including William Mahone and others. When meeting, veterans from both sides discussed shared virtues of bravery and fortitude - and significantly noted "all feelings of sectional strife [were] entirely forgotten or blotted out." (91)

These meetings, aiding the efforts to put land aside for the creation of a national park, unfolded against the backdrop of a challenging balance between economic development and historic preservation. Without question - the promotion of tourism loomed large for Petersburg officials - and by 1932, land had been secured for the dedication of a national park. The Crater site (formally a golf course) was added in 1936. A subsequent battle reenactment (in 1937) and the National Park's interpretive signage and literature scarcely noted the involvement of African American soldiers in the Union attack.

This narrow commemorative focus took hold and continued through the twentieth century - into the era of the Civil Rights movement and the Civil War centennial. Early commemorative efforts combined to write a persistent message: reconciliatory gestures and shared racism worked to minimize the sacrifices of black participants at the Battle of the Crater. Only recently has the African American narrative gained a place on the battlefield.

Things that I would like to discuss with Kevin over beers:

Without question the interpretive stance at Petersburg (and many other battlefields) for the longest time framed the war as a white man's conflict. Equally true - northern veterans on missions of reconciliation intentionally played down issues involving race. This book does a splendid job at focusing in on a particular place as an emblematic site of one strand of Civil War memory.

Those who read Cosmic America regularly know that I think this particular strand of memory was atypical in the contexts of commemorative cultures broadly defined. But I admit that it existed in certain times and in certain places. I will also note that this strand of memory is significant in terms of how Americans write twenty-first century commemorative culture that challenges a national racist past. As such, Remembering the Battle of the Crater is an outstanding source, which convincingly shows how groups of people can interpret history according to their needs - reconciliation and economic benefit - and in fact, develop commemorative themes that dictate empowerment.

My bar-stool questions for Kevin (and he will have some time to think about it, we next meet in March 2013): what did the veterans (those whose reconciliatory efforts helped develop the site as a national park) have to say when their former enemies were not around? Were they so cavalier about dismissing racial issues or black peoples' involvement in the war? Were they quite as forgiving when it came to former enemies? How would you define a national commemorative ethos and where does the Crater story fit in?

Of course I have questions...that's what I do. And my own conclusions may diverge somewhat from those offered in Remembering the Battle of the Crater. But all of that notwithstanding, I say buy the book. Read it. You'll thank me later for the recommendation.



Monday, October 8, 2012

Blogging "Civil War Blogging"

Over the weekend, C-Span aired a panel on Civil War blogging from the Civil War Institute summer conference last June. It featured myself, Brooks Simpson, and Kevin Levin. You can watch it HERE. I have noted more than once that I feel the Civil War Institute is doing some of the best work out there in terms of connecting academics with the public - it is always a honor to spend a week with such a fine assemblage of historians and enthusiastic participants.

Now that I have had a chance to think about it, there are a couple of points on which I would like to elaborate (both Brooks and Kevin have offered their reflections on the panel). I thought CWI director Peter Carmichael did a great job moderating the panel - and posed numerous questions giving each of the chance to to explain the nuances of engaging the public through a relatively new medium in comparison to what some might term the work of a traditional historian. To begin, as I noted during the discussion, blogging is in its infancy - and in terms of blogging as it relates to academic pursuits, even more so. As the medium develops, the questions will certainly change. Bloggers' methods will undoubtedly change as well. While our objectives will surely remain - to engage with the broader public in a meaningful way - how we go about doing this will take various courses depending on technological developments, the creation of new platforms, and any number of other things. At the end of the discussion,  National Park Service historian John J. Hennessy offered some very kind remarks for those of us on the skirmish lines of historical blogging. I thank you, sir.

There are clearly some issues that need sorting out when it comes to defining the academic blogger's role in the context of the profession of historian. One aspect of the dialogue that I found troubling was Pete's suggestion that we relegate some contributors to the virtual cornfield. Those who, sometimes under the cover of anonymity, offer a counter narrative of a dubious nature are seeking to exploit the ease at which individuals garner information from the Internet. Historian-bloggers, by engaging with this narrow, even reckless segment of the public, are thus complicit - we are giving them the space to carry out their aims and whether we like it or not, the implication is that we could be offering up the platform of credibility to those who really have no idea what they are talking about.

At Cosmic America, unless threatening or unnecessarily vulgar, the authors of all comments get their chance to speak their mind (this is the case on my related Facebook and Twitter pages as well). One of the stated purposes of this blog is to unlock the mysteries of historical memory. People's interpretations of the past, whether based on evidence or purely delusional, are the foundation of historical memory. In the 21st century, conversations on the blogosphere  are a vital part of that collective memory - what in years to come will certainly be some bright graduate student's dissertation topic. In answering Pete's question: are we gatekeepers? I would say no - we are facilitators. Regarding the credibility issue, that will sort itself out in time. I always ask people who make questionable claims to offer evidence. They never do.



Saturday, October 6, 2012

New Construction in Fredericksburg Unearths Some Old-Timey Stuff

Yesterday  morning,  a Facebook friend alerted to me some Civil War related news out of the Old Dominion. I love it when this stuff happens. While preparing a site for the construction of a new court house in Fredericksburg, at Princess Anne and Charlotte streets, archeologists stepped in and had a look. They found what news sources are calling the site of a Civil War era building. Actually, it is most likely an early 19th century building that was standing during the Civil War, but I suppose they were close enough.

Anyway, they found all kinds of fun stuff, including a pipe, some Civil War era ammunition (presumably from the 1862 battle) and a few items the former residents left in the privy. You know, you can learn a lot about a society by what they threw down the outhouse. Check out the article HERE. I am sure the archeologists will find a lot more before they green light the contractors and the new courthouse construction gets underway.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Los Angeles and the Election of 1860 (update)

Yesterday I asked for help finding the 1860 election returns from Los Angeles via all the usual social media platforms. Within 24 hours, I had my answer. I will tell anyone who will listen (and some who won't) that blogging and social media act as a collective humanities accelerant. This recent episode certainly illustrates my point. My friend and former student Robby Colby had the information (a link to a comprehensive list on Google Books) and sent it my way after seeing my request on Facebook. You know, vast Internet connections and digital archives make research less of a challenge than it was only a few short years ago. I still like rifling through old documents in libraries, but in a pinch it is nice to know that the information I need is often only a few clicks away.

But on to the returns. The winner for Los Angeles County in the 1860 presidential election is (was)...John C. Breckinridge. How about that. While Lincoln took the state by a narrow margin, Breckinridge (James Buchanan's vice president) handily won in LA. We all know that overall, he finished a distant 3rd behind Lincoln and Douglas. Breckinridge went on to serve as a general in the Confederate Army and for the last few months of the war as the Confederate Secretary of War. He fled the country in May, 1865 - only to return to his native Kentucky in 1869 after being granted amnesty. But all of this is a story for a later date.

Here are the Los Angeles County numbers:

Lincoln - 352
Douglas - 494
Bell - 201
Breckinridge - 685

For the statewide returns, click Appendix A

So it appears that even though the three other candidates combined bested Breckinridge in 1860, a significant number of Angelenos saw it fitting to side with the southern wing of the fractured Democratic Party - running on a pro-slavery platform. A number significant enough for Breckinridge to take the county. I think it might be time to dig a little deeper.


Monday, October 1, 2012

Los Angeles and the Election of 1860

Los Angeles didn't look like much in 1860 - there really wasn't a lot there. A small military outpost, a few ranchos, some burros, a couple of dusty streets, and not much else. But there were voters and a growing population, and since California had achieved statehood in 1850, many good Angelenos with a sense of civic responsibility made their way to the polls to cast their vote in the 1860 presidential election.

Statewide, Lincoln barely edged out Stephen Douglas, with a popular vote of 38,733 to Douglas's 37,999. John C. Brekinridge, the Southern Democrat, managed to come in a close 3rd with 33,969 and John Bell, the Constitutional Unionist got 9,111. So by the narrowest of margins, Lincoln got to add California's 4 electoral votes to the Republican column.

These results say quite a bit about the Golden State's political diversity. From what I understand, northern Californians tended to go with Lincoln while southern Californians sided with his opponents. There was one bilingual paper in Los Angeles at the time that fervently supported Douglas Democrats  - The Los Angeles Star - and once the shooting started was so critical of the federal government that the paper's editor was accused of treason and his publication was banned from the mail. Wonderful information to have indeed. But I need the numbers form 1860.

I am on the lookout for a city by city report on the returns for the election in an effort to gauge support for the various issues unfolding in the East. If you have the numbers - please pass them along. I will be forever grateful!