Monthly Archives: September 2012

Confederate descendants carry on the work of their forefathers

…by seceding from their SCV camp.

It seems some members of Florida’s General Jubal A. Early Camp No. 556 (of ginormous Confederate flag fame) wanted to devote more of their efforts to historic preservation and education.  Their compatriots preferred to focus on charitable work and PR, so twelve of the historically minded gents accordingly took their leave and formed a new camp, named for Judah P. Benjamin.

When members of a Civil War heritage group can’t persuade fellow members to engage in Civil War heritage activities, I think you’ve got a case for secession that even the most radical of nineteenth-century Republicans would support.

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The ultimate Gettysburg souvenir

The original, honest-to-goodness Electric Map is up for grabs at a government auction site (with a tip of the hat to Brooks Simpson).

Need the perfect gift for that Civil War buff who has everything? Look no more. He’ll be the envy of all his fellow CWRT members. Oh, Bob, I heard your kids bought you another Kunstler print. Here, step into the living room for a minute and I’ll show you what the wife picked up for my birthday.

But wait, there’s more! During the holiday season, the Electric Map doubles as a festive lawn decoration! With a simple bulb reconfiguration, Longstreet’s July 2 attack on the Union left transforms into two elves dancing atop the words JOY TO THE WORLD.

All joking aside, think about this for a minute. On several occasions we’ve noted how an individual’s personal memories sometimes intersect with collective historical memory. When you’ve been visiting a site for many years and it’s become the locus for many fond recollections, you come to regard it as much for its personal nostalgic value as for its objective historical significance.

Now, consider how the Disney parks cater to hardcore fans. Some Disney rides stay in operation for decades, acquire enthusiastic followings, and become venerable institutions in their own right. A few years ago, the folks at the Mouse introduced a line of commemorative pins which contain tiny pieces of the actual attractions themselves, removed during refurbishment or when a ride is dismantled. They’re like little pop culture reliquaries.

Thus Disney enthusiasts get to have a tangible connection to something that’s dear to them, and the parks make a little money. Maybe historic sites are missing out on the nostalgic market. The uproar over the Electric Map and the Cyclorama building indicate that we’re a pretty sentimental bunch.

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Reputations and rankings

A few days ago Tom Clemens stuck up for George McClellan during a Department of Defense lecture.  Little Mac’s reputation, he argued, has suffered unfairly due to contemporary political meddling, unclear orders, and the towering stature of the men he opposed.  The 150th anniversary of Antietam seems like a good opportunity for public historians and popular writers to offer people a more positive portrait of McClellan than they’ve been accustomed to, but it doesn’t look like it’s going to happen.

On a much weightier note, online forum users are discussing the only presidential ranking method that really counts: Which chief executive would prevail in a mass free-for-all knife fight?  Jackson, Lincoln, and Teddy Roosevelt are the obvious odds-on favorites.  On the other hand, Washington was 6’2″, ripped, and long-limbed.  I think he’d hold his own with the best of ‘em.

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Has America neglected the Indian Holocaust?

One commentator seems to think so, and suggests that we might need a museum to remind us of it:

Americans are no strangers to willful denial of the past. American presidents have called for forgetting the past, not investigating wrongs of prior administrations, insisting that America is only and always the “good guy” on the planet. Indeed, this is a core ingredient of assertions that America is “exceptional.”

It is strange that there is a Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C., to commemorate what the Nazis did in WWII, but no museum to acknowledge what a long series of United States governments did in the anti-Indian wars that are inextricable from American history. There is no American Indian Holocaust Museum, even though there are documented incidents in which mass killings, not just mass arrests, occurred across the continent over decades.…

If the U.S. wants to take the high ground in the 21st century as a bulwark against state atrocities, it will need the credibility that can only come from admitting one’s own faults, one’s complicity in the evils that one now wishes to prevent. In short, there must be an atonement for wrongdoings to give foundation to a commitment to do the right thing.

There’s much here that merits agreement. Nobody with an iota of humanity should dismiss or justify this country’s terrible record when it comes to its first inhabitants. At the same time, though, I think the author is overstating his case.

I’m not sure which sector of American society has been engaged in “willful denial” of the U.S. government’s slaughter and displacement of Indians.  Certainly not the academy; there are reams of solid studies documenting the terrible treatment of Indians, and any introductory course in American history worth its salt will devote substantial time to the topic.  The subject has also become a staple of popular history books by authors like Dee Brown and John Ehle and of film projects such as Dances with Wolves and the 2005 miniseries Into the West.  Nor can we charge the federal government with totally ignoring its ugly treatment of Native Americans in its selection of important places to conserve and commemorate: Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site, Washita Battlefield National Historic Site, Nez Perce National Historical Park, and Trail of Tears National Historic Trail all interpret chapters in the dreadful story of America’s persecution of Indians.

I don’t say any of this to minimize the horrors of the past; those horrors were very real, very numerous, and very grievous. But in the past few decades, they’ve been studied, written about, and commemorated to a much greater degree than is indicated in the piece quoted above. There’s probably no such thing as an “ideal” state of American historical consciousness when it comes to the Indian past, but we’re certainly at a much healthier point now than we were when my parents were kids, when Native Americans (if they figured in historical memory at all) were either the bad guys or stock characters in Westerns.

A museum devoted to Indian genocide, removal, and suffering is a compelling idea, but I’m not sure it’s the best approach to preserving and teaching Native American history. We need to understand the American Indian experience in its totality. It’s as much a story of adaptation and determined resistance as it is a story of victimization, and thankfully it’s a story that’s being told more often than it used to be.

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A dozen Civil War sites

CNN Travel lists twelve top destinations for Civil War buffs.  Lists of this sort make for great debate fodder.  I’m actually pretty satisfied with these choices, except I’d be tempted to replace Mobile Bay with Ft. Sumter.  If you consider Springfield a Civil War destination with all of its Lincoln attractions, then you could probably throw that one in, too.

What we really need is a list of the top Rev War spots.  The tricky part would be deciding what constitutes a “location.”  Does the Philly area get one slot on the list, or do you separate Independence National Historical Park and Valley Forge?  How about Williamsburg and Yorktown?  And what in the world are we going to do about Boston?

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Labor Day miscellanea

A few items for your edification as you kiss your summer goodbye.

  • Joel McDurmon argues that David Barton failed to make his case in The Jefferson Lies.  The reason this is noteworthy is because McDurmon’s piece is posted at the American Vision website.  This organization calls for a nation “that recognizes the sovereignty of God over all of life, where Christians apply a Biblical worldview to every facet of society. This future America will be again a ‘city on a hill’ drawing all nations to the Lord Jesus Christ and teaching them to subdue the earth for the advancement of His Kingdom.”  It’s pretty interesting to see Christian Reconstructionists taking Barton apart.  (Hat tip to John Fea)
  • A few months ago Connecticut rolled out a $27 million tourism marketing campaign organized around the slogan “Still Revolutionary,” which “speaks to Connecticut’s deep roots in the founding of this country and reminds us that we still have that independent, revolutionary spirit,” according to Gov. Daniel Malloy. It’s a little odd, therefore, that Fort Griswold (site of the 1781 Battle of Groton Heights and one of the state’s most important Rev War attractions) is conspicuously absent in the ads that have been released so far.  It’s the thought that counts, anyway.
  • In a new book, Robert Sullivan does for the Revolutionary War in the middle states what Tony Horwitz did for the Civil War in the South.
  • Lutheran Theological Seminary in Gettysburg is getting a new museum, slated to open next July.
  • An Illinois Lincoln fan is heading out on a cross-country trip to read the Gettysburg Address from the steps of every state capitol.  If my reckoning is correct, that adds up to about an hour and forty minutes of actual speaking time.
  • Speaking of Lincoln, the folks at Simon & Schuster know an opportunity when they see one.

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