Monthly Archives: March 2013

Is the Gadsden flag too hot to handle?

The city of New Rochelle, NY has confiscated a Gadsden flag that flew outside a local armory due to “unspecified complaints” to the city manager and a request by the city council.  This happened just after the city manager told a group of veterans the flag could remain in place.  The situation is reminiscent of last year’s brouhaha over the Gadsden flags at Gettysburg.

As many commentators have pointed out, the Confederate battle flag is a symbol with multiple meanings because of the various groups that have appropriated it over the years.  Depending on the context, it can stand the Confederacy, the South in general, rebelliousness, racism, segregation, or the “redneck” stereotype.  If you’re going to display the CBF, you have to keep this multiplicity of meanings in mind; the meaning you intend to convey might not be the same one understood by the people who exposed to it.

In the case of the Gadsden flag, though, I think the case is a little different.  The Tea Party adopted the Gadsden flag, but unlike the CBF, the Gadsden flag hasn’t been stewing in its more modern political connotations for decades.  It remains primarily a symbol of the Revolution and America’s commitment to liberty and self-defense, and for that reason I don’t see anything wrong with flying it outside an armory.  But that’s just my opinion.

1 Comment

Filed under American Revolution, History and Memory

Jurassic nirvana achieved

I just met Ariana Richards. Any personal milestones I reach henceforth are thus rendered insignificant by comparison, and that includes marriage and the birth of my firstborn child.

1 Comment

Filed under Gratuitous Dinosaur Posts

Struggling for survival in the museum business

The world of public history is downright Darwinian, folks.  Here’s an item on efforts to revive the Charlotte Museum of History’s fortunes, and a piece on small museums’ endeavors to keep their heads above water in the current economic climate.  (Hat tip to John Fea for the latter.)

Leave a comment

Filed under Museums and Historic Sites

Site of the Battle of St. Louis/Ft. San Carlos

They’re building some sort of retail/entertainment complex on top of it.  Not much to see at the actual spot, but there’s a pretty cool mural at the Missouri State Capitol.

Wikimedia Commons

Leave a comment

Filed under American Revolution

Blagojevich finds new vocation teaching Civil War history

Here’s an exciting opportunity for all you loyal readers at the Federal Correctional Institution Englewood in Littleton, CO.

Your fellow inmate Rod Blagojevich, former governor of Illinois, is now teaching Civil War history.  If you’ve got some time on your hands—and I’d imagine you do—why not celebrate the sesquicentennial by learning a thing or two?

You might recall that, during his time in office, Blagojevich slashed funding for the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency and gave the state’s historic sites the cold shoulder.  I love a good redemption story.

2 Comments

Filed under Civil War

The Lincoln screed checklist

This guy’s got all his ducks in a row.

Reference to the USSR?  Check.  Use of the felicitously vague label “progressive”?  Check.  War attributed to tariffs?  Check.  The Greeley letter quoted in blissful ignorance of the chronology surrounding the decision for emancipation? Check.  Quote from the Charleston debate?  Check.  Lerone Bennett citation?  Check.

Bonus points for conflating the slavery debate as the cause of the war with abolition as a Union war aim from the get-go…”Moreover, if, according to the progressive version of history, abolition of slavery was the cause of the Civil War, why didn’t Lincoln free the slaves right off the bat?”

…and for overlooking the wee matter of the Battle of Antietam: “Why did he wait for many months — and do it only when the war took a bad turn for the Union, and, more important, when the superpowers of the day, Great Britain and France, were about to recognize the Confederacy and come to its aid?”

1 Comment

Filed under Abraham Lincoln, Civil War, History and Memory

Support a Civil War film project

I just got this message from a filmmaker named Alexander Fofonoff:

I am in my last year at NYU Tisch for film, and about to embark on my thesis film. It is a 19th century post civil war period piece that deals with how returning soldiers dealt with not only the transition from war to peace, but a national transition, how to accept half the country that’s been considered an enemy for the last four years, and what price is paid for that acceptance.

I recently launched an indiegogo campaign, in an attempt to have my project crowd-funded (small donations from a lot of people).

You can get more information at the film’s WordPress site, and make a contribution toward the production at Indiegogo.

Leave a comment

Filed under Civil War, History and Memory

Habemus Directoram

For today’s Gratuitous Dinosaur Post, I bring you tidings that Jurassic Park 4 now has a director.

And the world’s 1.2 billion dinosaur fans rejoiced.

The choice is a very unconventional one.  It’s Colin Trevorrow, whose only previous film is the low-budget Safety Not Guaranteed.  Didn’t see that one coming.  I was expecting Joe Johnston to take the helm again, not somebody with only one small movie to his credit.

One might say that Trevorrow is a dark horse.  And so, to return to our usual subject matter, here’s another dark horse candidate, James K. Polk.

Don’t move! Polk can’t see us if we don’t move…

Leave a comment

Filed under Gratuitous Dinosaur Posts

And speaking of tomahawks…

The most dynamic visual representation of tomahawk combat in modern times is probably the electrifying rescue sequence in The Patriot, in which Mel Gibson turns a detachment of British soldiers into hamburger.

This portrayal of tomahawk fighting is as elegant as it is ugly, equal parts martial art and straightforward butchery. I suspect the reality was a lot more grab-and-hack and less Jackie Chan.

One account of a tomahawk in action—or about to be put into action—comes from the pension application of Charles Bowen, who fought at King’s Mountain. During the battle, Bowen somehow heard that his brother Reese had been killed in action. As he tried to find him, he came across his own captain, dead or dying from a shot to the head. At that point, something in Bowen apparently snapped.

Making his way to a spot “within fifteen or twenty paces of the enemy” and taking cover behind a tree, Bowen shot down a Tory who was attempting to raise a flag of surrender. He was reloading when Col. Benjamin Cleveland approached him and demanded he give the countersign, which was “Buford” (after the commander of a Virginia unit defeated by British dragoons earlier that year). Bowen couldn’t come up with the word, perhaps because he was still in some kind of a berserk rage, so Cleveland assumed he was a Tory. Here’s Bowen’s recollection of what happened next, as transcribed and amended at revwarapps.org:

Col Cleveland instantly leveled his rifle at Declarant’s breast and attempted to fire, but the Gun snapped. Declarant jumped at Cleveland seized him by the collar, drew his tomahawk, and would have sunk it in Cleveland’s head if his arm had not been arrested by a soldier by the name of Beanhannon [sic, Buchanan?], who knew the parties. Declarant immediately recollected the countersign which was “Blueford,” [sic, Buford] named it and Cleveland dropped his gun and clasped Declarant in his arms.

There’s nothing fancy about what Bowen was about to do; he simply “seized him by the collar, drew his tomahawk, and would have sunk it in Cleveland’s head.” If this was typical of tomahawk combat, then that scene from The Patriot is probably too elaborate on the choreography, even though it gets the raw brutality exactly right.

Leave a comment

Filed under American Revolution

What’s offensive about tomahawks?

Last month a new Canadian basketball team announced that they’d be calling themselves the Ottawa TomaHawks (with a capital “h”).  The name wasn’t a reference to the weapon, but to a two-handed dunk.  Critics argued that the name demeaned Native Americans, and the franchise dropped it only a day after making the announcement.

I can understand why the word “tomahawk” might be considered offensive, since it connotes the old stereotype of Indians as warlike, murderous savages.  Still, tomahawks weren’t a strictly Indian instrument.  In fact, the tomahawk is a perfect symbol of the fusion of Old and New World elements that characterized colonial America.  Both the word and the weapon itself are of Indian origin, but the metal-headed tomahawks you see in pictures, movies, and museum displays weren’t available until European technology arrived in the Americas.  Both whites and Indians alike made use of them, and killing wasn’t the only thing they were doing with them, since metal-headed axes were common trade items. It’s a Native American instrument altered by Europeans and used by both Indians and whites as a weapon, tool, and commercial product.

When I see a tomahawk in a museum or at a reenactment, I don’t think about warlike Indians; I think about how two cultures encountered each other in the Americas, and how both changed in the process.

But if a substantial number of people of Indian descent found the team’s name offensive, then changing it was the right thing to do.  It’s not always about political correctness; sometimes it’s just a matter of basic consideration for the feelings of others.  Common decency shouldn’t have to be a political issue.

War club and tomahawk on display at Yale’s Peabody Museum, from Wikimedia Commons

1 Comment

Filed under History and Memory