Sunday, March 24, 2013

The End of Cosmic America

This will be my final post as a Cosmic American. The monicker has run its course and alas, it is time to change directions. This is not to say that I have given up on the blogosphere. Far from it. Indeed, I think still, as I have for some time, that this particular medium is a vital component to the intersection of academic and public history. But it is time for a change of focus. As I move more towards my scholarly work concerning American commemorative cultures and national identities, I feel a change in my Internet presence is necessary. So those of you who will undoubtedly be on pins and needles until I have written something new, you will be able to access the new site HERE.

So what will become of Cosmic America? For now...nothing. Many of the posts and exchanges here are well worth keeping online. I will also continue to maintain the CA Facebook page. In time, these posts will be stored for reference (yours and my own) elsewhere. But there will be no further Cosmic America Civil War blog posts. Ever.

I have greatly enjoyed being a part of the Civil War online community and will continue to make my contributions as a Civil War historian here and there. The new site - currently in development, will be much broader. In a sense, I am simply casting a wider net - and doing so under a different name.

Stay tuned...and as always,



Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Hattie McDaniel's Academy Award Acceptance Speech

Greetings All, this week, in my course on Reconstruction at UCR, we discussed a few scenes from Gone With the Wind. The discussion included Hattie McDaniel's portrayal of Mammy as well as a few notes on the actress herself. She was a fascinating woman off the screen - a outspoken supporter of civil rights, she once lobbied the city of Los Angeles to purchase a home in an exclusive all-white neighborhood. We watched her Academy Award acceptance speech for her role as Mammy as well.
What does this suggest to you about race, historical memory, and Hollywood in 1940?


Wednesday, March 6, 2013

John Steinbeck and the Nineteenth Century

I adore John Steinbeck. I really do. His words, his works, they capture so very much. The human experience. The American experience. I have recently been reading East of Eden for the who knows how manyth time and I was once again taken by his distillation of the nineteenth century. The step toward verse - near poetic, but yet not. So cold and matter of fact. And I think he got it right.  I offer...

History was secreted in the glands of a million historians. we must get out of this banged-up century, some said, out of this cheating murderous century of riot and secret death, of scrabbling for public lands and damn well getting them by any means at all.

Think back, recall our little nation fringing the oceans, torn with complexities, too big for its britches. Just got going when the British took us on again. We beat them, but it didn't do us much good. What we had was a burned White House and ten thousand widows on the public pension list.

Then the soldiers went to Mexico and it was a kind of painful picnic. Nobody knows why you go to a picnic to be uncomfortable when it is so easy and pleasant to eat at home. The Mexican War did two good things though. We got a lot of western land, damn near doubled our size, and besides that it was training for generals, so that when the sad self-murder settled on us the leaders knew the techniques for making it properly horrible.

And then the arguments:

Can you keep a slave?

Well if you bought him in good faith, why not?

Next they'll be saying a man can't have a horse. Who is it who wants to take my property?

And there we were, like a man scratching at his own face and bleeding into his own beard.

Well, that was over and we got slowly up off the bloody ground and started westward.

There came boom and bust, bankruptcy, depression.

Great public thieves came along and picked the pockets of everyone who had a pocket.

To hell with that rotten century!


Tuesday, March 5, 2013

The Civil War - in Living COLOR!

Color? Perhaps. But living? I am not quite certain. I recently had a conversation with my Twitter friend (tweep?) @Hungry4History regarding the merits of colorized Civil War photographs. We agreed that they offer an new look at a familiar subject. One on hand, the images let our imaginations take the helm. The color allows a modern observer to - perhaps - get a little closer to realism. But of course we do this with the full understanding that the colors chosen are left to the discretion of the artist. There is no way of knowing for certain the precise shade of blue a Union soldier's pants had faded to after a hard campaign. Still, as someone who has more than a passing interest in style - I think it is fun to imagine President Lincoln wearing a dark purple necktie as opposed to the customary black. Hello.

I am also troubled by these images for precisely that reason. We don't know. So in a sense, these are more like forgeries...or at best, cases of tampering with historical documents. And they never really look quite right - the eyes of the living resemble the eyes of the dead. Like the cold lifeless eyes of a fish staring back at you in the supermarket. These efforts to resurrect the Civil War to a vibrant new life of color are reminiscent of the Ted Turner campaign years ago to colorize classic black and white films. We all remember how that worked out. They were...and still are...quite horrible.

These people are all dead now, some killed in battle, others by disease, and still others of natural causes decades removed from the conflict. But they were quite alive when their images were captured - painstakingly so with the technology of the age. And the black and white stills do offer life. Look closely at their faces. The subtlety of shade and deep texture reveal so much more than you might at first think. The history of the war is written on their countenances in black, white, and every shade in living detail. Does the colorization enhance this notion, or distract us from it?


Tuesday, February 19, 2013

The Grant v. Lee Twitter Experiment










From time to time, as Cosmic Americans know, I ask some sort of little question on Twitter to get the ball rolling toward a conversation. Recently I asked the hypothetical: "Who would you rather have on your side, Grant or Lee...and why?" Kind of a silly question of course, since there are so many other factors to consider when it comes to victory and defeat, but my point was to get people talking about the military prowess of each commander. 

The most interesting thing happened. The votes were unanimously cast for Ulysses S. Grant. This surprised me a little - the Twitter universes is a big place, and surely there have to be some Lee fans out there. But not this time.

A number of things could explain this. One, we are naturally looking at these two men retrospectively and well, we know who won. So yes, we all like to pick a winner.

But I think there is more to it than that. Answers indicated that Lee was overrated both in his time and by subsequent generations...that he was too audacious and unnecessarily bled his army to defeat. Grant, on the other hand, masterfully used the resources that those before him did (or could) not. This suggests to me that myths surrounding both men have changed drastically over the last several decades. 

Others suggested that northern leaning sentiment is slowly taking over the Internet - that perhaps a less technologically savvy older generation favors the Lee camp and thus doesn't really use social media platforms to speak their minds. I'm not sure if I agree with this - I have seen plenty of web-based pro-Confederate groups who maintain active forums declaring the many virtues of their beloved Robert E. Lee.

At least one person figured that I might have driven the pro-Lee crew away and they just did not participate. After all, besides being a "Yankee metrosexual wearing purple sunglasses" I am also on record as favoring the Union cause...maybe I was just baiting them. (I wasn't. I am also on record as stating that I think RE Lee was a hell of a soldier) 

I'll give the Lee crew a chance to weigh in here. But as it stands so far - Grant is a clear winner in the "who would you rather have on your side" contest.

And by the way, the winner of last week's "Bibliophiles Unite" contest on Twitter was @WeezieWeaver - she figured out after a few helpful hints that the book in question was Marshall W. Fishwick's Lee After the War published way back in 1963. Well done.


Sunday, February 10, 2013

Bibliophiles Unite! I like this game.

Avid readers, book nerds, and just regular geeks should enjoy this game. The rules are simple: I Instagram a shot of some text from a book that I am currently reading, post it to Twitter, and you guess what it is. Sound like a tall order? Don't fret. There will be plenty of hints on my Twitter feed. Get the answer correct and I will give you a shout out right here on Cosmic America. The book pictured is The Mind of the Master Class: History and Faith in the Southern Slaveholders' Worldview by Eugene Genovese and Elizabeth Fox-Genovese. Congrats to @BobRBogle for getting it right. Nice work, Bob!


Friday, February 8, 2013

President Ben Wade


As you all know by now, i have a strong dislike for counterfactual history. I find it entirely useless, as a matter of fact. So you can rest easy. I am not going to try and construct some "what if" scenario featuring the gentleman from Ohio ascending to the executive office.

But not so very long ago, Senator Wade came within one vote of doing exactly that. During the 1868 impeachment trail of Andrew Johnson, Wade was serving as president pro tem of the Senate. Since the vice president's seat was vacant, then Wade was next in line should something happen to Andy Johnson. Something...for a conviction in an impeachment trial.

But too bad for Ben Wade. It seemed a few of his fellow republican colleagues thought him a touch too radical for the job. His ascendency would surely have secured his nomination for president in '68 - and many thought he was too radical to win. What's more - he was pro-labor and favored a high tariff. This made northern business interests cringe. And what's worse - I don't think his colleagues liked him very much at all. I'm not sure how Mrs. Wade felt.

Sure, pleny of people would have loved to sack AJ, but not if it meant filling his seat with Ben Wade. In the end, he missed it by a tad - only one vote short of the 2/3 necessary to make him president.

Some alleged that Senator Ross of Kansas - the deciding vote - may have been helped along by promises from the Johnson camp. Ben "the Beast" Butler launched an inquiry to check in to such matters, but nothing really came of it.

Poor Ben Wade just couldn't catch a break.


Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Election of 1868 - Campaign Posters

The campaign posters for the Democratic nominee Horatio Seymour and the Republican nominee Ulysses S. Grant in the 1868 presidential contest show remarkable similarities. But there are a few significant difference as well - care to give them a shot?


Thursday, January 17, 2013

The Gettysburg Semester

Greetings Cosmic Americans - This will certainly be of interest to any college undergraduate who is looking for a full-immersion Civil War experience (I especially direct this to my current UCR students who seem particularly interested in Civil War era history).

Each fall semester, the Civil War Era Studies program brings a group of undergraduate students to Gettysburg College, where they are immersed in the study of the American Civil War. From living in a 19th-century mansion to treading the battlefields where America’s fate was decided, The Gettysburg Semester students enjoy a unique experience. As part of the program, they generally take four courses: Interpretation of the Civil War, Field Experience in Civil War Era Studies, and two courses of their choosing. Many students elect to forgo a fourth course and substitute it with a public history internship. In the past, we have had students intern at Gettysburg National Military Park, Antietam National Battlefield, Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, the Adams County Historical Society, and the Shriver House Museum. Such hands-on internships and interdisciplinary study help to reveal a multifaceted history and shed light on the men and women who lived it.

Below is a testimonial from Phillip Brown, a veteran of the Gettysburg Semester 2011 who is currently a seasonal park ranger at Gettysburg National Military Park.

On July 1, 1863, the Union Army of the Potomac and the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia collided on the outskirts of the small Pennsylvania town of Gettysburg. The collision would quickly evolve into the largest battle of the American Civil War and ultimately cost both sides over 50,000 casualties. In the opening hours of the engagement, elements of the Union Eleventh Corps and the Confederate Second Corps smashed into one another on the campus of Pennsylvania College. Today, that very same institution exists under the name Gettysburg College, and it remains an institution devoted to offering high quality education to students from across the country in a wide range of programs. Given its rich history, it is only fitting that Gettysburg College also boasts an academic department devoted entirely to Civil War Era Studies.

The Civil War Era Studies department, which is run by Dr. Allen C. Guelzo, is much like any other academic department on campus but for one unique feature—it allows students to travel from other colleges and universities to come and be immersed in the Civil War for one semester. In essence, this experience stands as a sort of in-country “study abroad” program, and it is called The Gettysburg Semester. Every fall semester, a select group of students from around the country is privileged to spend time exploring the environs surrounding the hallowed ground of Gettysburg and many other Civil War sites.

I have been interested in the American Civil War in one capacity or another since I was about four years old.  If it wasn’t films such as Glory, Gone with the Wind, or Gettysburg, I found myself in Civil War themed coloring books, children’s novels, or Time-Life series books on the Civil War. While growing up, I tried as hard as I could to be a veritable sponge of all things Civil War, and I soon realized I wanted to spend my entire life doing something involving the Civil War. After visiting numerous battlefields and other National Parks, I decided in the sixth grade that a career in the National Park Service would be my primary career goal.

When I began looking at colleges and universities in 2007, Gettysburg College caught my attention, but as a native of Charlotte, North Carolina, I decided to stay closer to home and attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. However, I still wanted the Gettysburg experience, and The Gettysburg Semester afforded me that opportunity. After applying and being accepted into the program, I became a member of the fall 2011 Gettysburg Semester cohort.

Upon arriving in Gettysburg, the first thing that struck me about the program was the living situation. The Gettysburg Semester students are housed in the Appleford Inn, a historic bed and breakfast that dates back to 1867 and which is almost exclusively reserved for Civil War Era Studies minors and history majors. Living in a house full of like-minded people afforded some excellent friendships and professional connections as well. I also found the formal courses that come along with the Gettysburg Semester extremely engaging, and Field Experience in the American Civil War was among my favorites. It is a two part course. On Thursdays, students meet in the classroom, and lectures are given on the military aspects of the war. On Fridays, students take to the field and spend the entire day exploring the battlefields that were discussed in the Thursday lectures. There are few other opportunities like The Gettysburg Semester that allow students to study events at the actual locations where they took place like.

While completing my coursework for The Gettysburg Semester, I had the opportunity to take on an internship with the National Park Service at Harpers Ferry National Historical Park.  This is one of the major benefits of The Gettysburg Semester. Gettysburg College has a great relationship with the National Park Service, and this relationship has yielded internships to many Gettysburg Semester students seeking careers in the Park Service. This was one of the features that really attracted me to the program. At Harpers Ferry, I worked in the Education Department and helped students from across the country connect with their nation’s history and enjoy their national park. It was through my experiences at Harpers Ferry and Gettysburg College that I have begun my journey in a career with the National Park Service. Before the semester ended, I received the opportunity to become a Seasonal Park Ranger with Gettysburg National Military Park.

Without my experiences in the Gettysburg Semester and the opportunities the Civil War Era Studies department afforded me, I would have likely never had the opportunity to intern at Harpers Ferry NHP or work at Gettysburg NMP. I would encourage any undergraduate student who is serious about gaining more academic experience in the Civil War to take a look at The Gettysburg Semester being offered at Gettysburg College.

The Semester program is offered every fall with applications being due for next year’s program on March 1, 2013. To learn more about the program visit The Gettysburg Semester Website as well as The Gettysburg Semester Facebook Page.  If you would like to speak personally with me to learn more about my experiences in the program, feel free to contact the Civil War Era Studies office at Gettysburg College.


-Philip Brown

Gettysburg Semester ‘11

I have known others, including one of my graduate school colleagues at UVA, who enrolled in the  Gettysburg Semester and they have all told me that is was a rewarding experience indeed. You can find information and applications HERE.


Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The Most Important Year

Last year, at the CWI conference in Gettysburg, I took part in a general question and answer panel, where the audience could pretty much ask anything they wanted. One of the questions was something along the lines of "What was the most important year of the Civil War." Fair enough - we all pondered the question and added our two cents - 1863 and 64 probably won the contest for reasons you can surely imagine. And then, our panel moderator, the ever-astute Peter Carmichael, pointed out the obvious that was right under our collective noses. 1865, the year the war ended, was clearly the most important to those who were fighting it. Pete made a good follow-up point: we historians tend to over-analyze things.

But in the spirit of over analysis - I ask you the same question. What was the most important year? You had better explain yourself, too.


Tuesday, January 8, 2013

The South Carolina Sea Islands - from a New Englander's Perspective

Edward L. Pierce, a member of the so-called Gideon's Band, soon after traveling South to the Sea Islands of South Carolina, wrote an article describing the scene for the Atlantic in 1863. Here is a passage from the article, illustrating the newness of the southern landscape in the eyes of those from New England.

“The unaccustomed New England eye sometimes missed the hills of home and saw the landscape at first as rather monotonous and uninteresting, but few lived long in the islands without responding to the somber spell of the great live oaks with their festoons of Spanish moss. In spring the islands became intoxicatingly beautiful, alive with lush greenery and the lush color and fragrance of yellow jasmine, roses and acacia blossoms. In the fall the scarlet cassena berries gleamed across the roadside hedges with the white tuffs of the mockingbird flower. The creeks abounded in fish, oysters, and crabs; on the outer islands wild deer and game birds grew fat and plentiful. One asset the visitor never failed to note was the remarkable song of the mockingbird.” 

This is, visually speaking, very enticing indeed. But what a different world it must have been for traveling reformers such as Pierce and others.


Wednesday, January 2, 2013

The Press Reacts to the 1866 New Orleans Riots

The New Orleans Riot on July 30, 1866, was the culmination of mounting tensions since the 1864 Louisiana Constitutional Convention, black codes, and the Louisiana legislature's refusal to grant suffrage to black citizens, many of whom were veterans of the Union army. More on that later, today I offer the reactions issued by the press. Political allegiance comes through quite clearly in these two reports - one from Virginia and the other from New York. And both figure Andrew Johnson as the primary figure in the cause and outcome of this riot. Reading the two side by side makes for a nice comparison.

Charles Wynne in the Richmond (Va.) Times, August 2, 1866

RADICALISM, REVOLUTION, TREASON, and INSURRECTION in the Southern States have just received a death-blow at the hands of the President. His order to the military in Louisiana, which we publish elsewhere, crushes in the egg the atrocious Radical conspiracy to bring about an immediate war of the races at the South. It arrays, by an imperative order, the army against the [Republicans] and all others in rebellion against the existing State Governments and laws. There is no more temporizing with the vile incendiaries who have been instigating the negroes to organize regiments, clamor for equal suffrage, and overthrow, by force, the present State Governments.
It is a fact, as disgraceful and infamous as it is undeniably true, that these demoralized traitors and revolutionists have had the sympathies of not a few military officers holding important commands at the South. One of this class of Radical tools was, beyond question, the federal General to whose criminal remissness the late riots in New Orleans are justly ascribed.
He permitted an illegal assembly to convene composed of men whose objects were the disfranchisement of nine-tenths of the white inhabitants of Louisiana, and the enfranchisement of the negroes. He also allowed the streets of New Orleans to be thronged by shouting, yelling, malignant negro companies, armed and ripe for deeds of lawless violence. Sympathising with these negroes and their vile white associates, he failed to lend timely assistance to the State authorities. A white citizen of New Orleans was insulted and outraged by a negro procession, and an alarming riot at once commenced, which resulted in the loss of many lives.
The wicked and gigantic conspiracy, Andrew Johnson crushed by the order to which we have referred. The whole power of the Government of the United States is hereafter to be employed to annihilate these traitors.
It is providential that there is no disloyal Congress in session to break the force of this crushing blow at Insurrection, Rebellion, and Treason. The President is master of the situation at last, and the Radical satrap who refuses to obey the order of his commander-in-chief will now have his head sent spinning from his shoulders.
A splendid opportunity is offered to all the military tools of Thaddeus Stevens to indulge in harri karri. They must obey their master or rip themselves up. The dilemma is painfully embarrassing but should they elect the “happy dispatch’ the sabers of the squelched negro companies are at their disposal. It is the favorite weapon of the disgruntled Japanese officials when they disembowel themselves at the gracious command of the Tycoon.

Well...he certainly gets right to the point. Here is another take on the situation:

Horace Greely in the New York Tribune, August 1, 1866

If any doubts existed as to President Johnson’s connection with the massacre in New Orleans it will be removed by reading his dispatch to Attorney General Herron of Louisiana. This dispatch, written with the knowledge that loyal citizens of the United States were dying from wounds received y a rebel mob assumes the responsibility of the deed. The policy that prompted Mayor Monroe and his followers finds its inspiration in Washington.
This conclusion fills us with inexpressible sadness, but we cannot resist the facts. It is a dreadful thing to arraign the President of the United States as being in any possible sympathy with the unlawful shedders of blood, but when a plain fact is to be stated, the plainest words are the best. In the first place the President recognizes a usurped power to communicate his wishes. James M. Wells is the Governor of Louisiana, and the official representation of the State. To him the President should have spoken. But Gov. Wells, a duly elected Governor by rebel votes, has called this convention together and the President steps over the theory of State Rights, and sends his commands to an officer of his Cabinet - his Attorney General - one Andrew S. Herron - a conspicuous Rebel in the days of treason. The President directs him to call upon Gen Sheridan for “sufficient force to sustain civil authorities in suppressing an illegal or unlawful assemblies.” If the President really believes that States have rights, and Governors of States privileges, then his course in recognizing an officer of Gov Wells’s Cabinet as the proper authority to call out troops is a usurpation.
It is folly to use soft phrases in speaking of this appalling crime. The policy of Andrew Johnson engendered the demon fury which has shed blood in the streets of the Crescent City. His statesmanship has once more raised Rebel Flags in New Orleans. The time has come for the people to speak - and let it be in tones so distinct and unmistakable that even Andrew Johnson will not dare disobey the warning.

What are your thoughts on Andrew Johnson's policies and southern violence?


Tuesday, January 1, 2013

January 1, 1863

The Emancipation Proclamation, issued on January 1, 1863, lacked Lincoln's usual poetic flourish. The proclamation was a war measure - aimed at hastening the end of the rebellion. Still, it changed the meaning of the war and added to the Union cause by putting emancipation on the table.

Below is the text of the document. I believe it makes for good reading on this first day of 2013.

By the President of the United States of America:

A Proclamation.

Whereas, on the twenty-second day of September, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-two, a proclamation was issued by the President of the United States, containing, among other things, the following, to wit:

"That on the first day of January, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, all persons held as slaves within any State or designated part of a State, the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States, shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free; and the Executive Government of the United States, including the military and naval authority thereof, will recognize and maintain the freedom of such persons, and will do no act or acts to repress such persons, or any of them, in any efforts they may make for their actual freedom.

"That the Executive will, on the first day of January aforesaid, by proclamation, designate the States and parts of States, if any, in which the people thereof, respectively, shall then be in rebellion against the United States; and the fact that any State, or the people thereof, shall on that day be, in good faith, represented in the Congress of the United States by members chosen thereto at elections wherein a majority of the qualified voters of such State shall have participated, shall, in the absence of strong countervailing testimony, be deemed conclusive evidence that such State, and the people thereof, are not then in rebellion against the United States."

Now, therefore I, Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States, by virtue of the power in me vested as Commander-in-Chief, of the Army and Navy of the United States in time of actual armed rebellion against the authority and government of the United States, and as a fit and necessary war measure for suppressing said rebellion, do, on this first day of January, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and in accordance with my purpose so to do publicly proclaimed for the full period of one hundred days, from the day first above mentioned, order and designate as the States and parts of States wherein the people thereof respectively, are this day in rebellion against the United States, the following, to wit:

Arkansas, Texas, Louisiana, (except the Parishes of St. Bernard, Plaquemines, Jefferson, St. John, St. Charles, St. James Ascension, Assumption, Terrebonne, Lafourche, St. Mary, St. Martin, and Orleans, including the City of New Orleans) Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, and Virginia, (except the forty-eight counties designated as West Virginia, and also the counties of Berkley, Accomac, Northampton, Elizabeth City, York, Princess Ann, and Norfolk, including the cities of Norfolk and Portsmouth[)], and which excepted parts, are for the present, left precisely as if this proclamation were not issued.

And by virtue of the power, and for the purpose aforesaid, I do order and declare that all persons held as slaves within said designated States, and parts of States, are, and henceforward shall be free; and that the Executive government of the United States, including the military and naval authorities thereof, will recognize and maintain the freedom of said persons.

And I hereby enjoin upon the people so declared to be free to abstain from all violence, unless in necessary self-defence; and I recommend to them that, in all cases when allowed, they labor faithfully for reasonable wages.

And I further declare and make known, that such persons of suitable condition, will be received into the armed service of the United States to garrison forts, positions, stations, and other places, and to man vessels of all sorts in said service.

And upon this act, sincerely believed to be an act of justice, warranted by the Constitution, upon military necessity, I invoke the considerate judgment of mankind, and the gracious favor of Almighty God.

In witness whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed.

Done at the City of Washington, this first day of January, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty three, and of the Independence of the United States of America the eighty-seventh.

By the President: ABRAHAM LINCOLN
WILLIAM H. SEWARD, Secretary of State.

Happy New Year from Cosmic America!