Category Archives: Civil War

Confederate spy Loreta Velazquez is headed to the screen (sort of)

Remember that PBS documentary from last year about Loreta Janeta Velázquez, the Cuban woman who passed as a soldier and spied for the Confederacy?  A recent interview with actress Diane Guerrero (from Orange is the New Black) includes this tidbit:

We just finished shooting in Nantucket. It’s this film called Peter and John where I play a Cuban woman who’s a confederate spy, set in the 1800s. It was loosely based on the life of Loreta Velazquez.

Loosely based indeed; even the character’s name is different.  Here’s a bit more info from the movie’s website:

Kingdom County Productions has announced that actress Diane Guerrero will play the role of Lucia Childs in its film Peter and John, now shooting on Nantucket. Lucia Childs is the mysterious young woman who, during the spring of 1872, arrives on Nantucket island. She brings long-buried secrets with her and attracts the attention of brothers Peter and John Roland. Diane Guerrero plays the recurring character of Maritza on the new Netflix hit series, “Orange is the New Black.”

The story is adapted from a Maupassant novel.  Not sure where Confederate spies fit into the picture, but anyway, there it is.

I could’ve made a “Gray/Butternut is the New Orange” joke, but I didn’t.  You’re welcome.

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100 Civil War websites

MilitaryOnlineColleges.org has created a pretty handy list of 100 Civil War websites. It’s aimed at military personnel, but anybody interested in the Civil War should find plenty of useful stuff listed—databases, blogs (including this one), CWRTs, museums, and so on.  Definitely worth checking out.

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Bigger and bigger battlefields

In The Face of Battle, John Keegan noted how the environment of combat changed over the course of history.  One way it changed in America during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries is immediately apparent—battles got a whole lot bigger.

If you had four and a half hours to lead a tour of a major Civil War battlefield, what would you highlight?  You’d never have this problem with a Rev War battlefield, at least not a Southern Campaign site.  You could probably lead three back-to-back-to-back tours of King’s Mountain or Cowpens in four and a half hours.

Take a look at King’s Mountain, Cowpens, and Gettysburg on Google Maps, all at the same zoom level.  The Cowpens field would likely fit between the Round Tops and Emmitsburg Road, and I think you’d still have room for King’s Mountain.

Numbers engaged illustrate the difference, too.  Greene had something like 4,500 men at Guilford Courthouse; the Confederates fielded ten times that many at Shiloh.  Washington had over 14,000 at Brandywine, which sounds like a lot until you consider that the Union suffered over 12,000 casualties at Antietam.

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Casualty-free reenactments

Here’s a little unintentional hilarity for you:

There are few things more ludicrous and worthy of scorn than a poorly-executed death scene.  That’s why, in the past few years, my thinking on battle reenactments has come around to a stance similar to what Kevin Levin recently expressed: “It becomes problematic when reenactors cross the line from representing how units drilled and maneuvered on battlefields to simulating death. There is just something incredibly distasteful about it in my mind.”

I have no objection to reenacting “casualties” in theory.  In practice, it’s another matter.   I can’t tell you how many living history events I’ve been to where the dead and wounded have drawn chuckles because the participants were either having a little too much fun or were terrible actors. All it takes is one corny “fatality” to turn an ostensibly educational enterprise into a travesty.

One of the best reenactments I ever saw had no casualties at all. It was at a national park. Since the NPS doesn’t allow casualty reenactments, the soldiers did everything but take hits. They advanced, retreated, yelled, and took cover, but nobody feigned an injury or death, while a ranger narrated the action.  It was both enlightening and entertaining, and the crowd seemed to enjoy it.

You might argue that a reenactment without casualties would give the public an artificially sanitized view of battle, one that trivializes the reality of warfare.  Personally, I don’t think it’s nearly as trivializing as the spectacle of some guy who couldn’t carry a background role in an Ed Wood movie rolling around on the grass, clutching his abdomen, and yelling that he’s a goner.

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Belle Boyd visited Knoxville

It turns out the famous Confederate spy had relatives living at Blount Mansion during the war. Pretty neat!

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Ulysses Grant was like unto a Velociraptor

I didn’t say it, folks. Gordon Rhea did.

Gordon brought up a popular view of Grant is that he was a slow-moving general who didn’t like to maneuver, would charge wildly and sacrifice huge numbers of men. He said that popular view reminded him of the view of dinosaurs when he was a kid, of a slow, lumbering brontosaurus.…Gordon said that after studying Grant during the Overland Campaign he’s come to think of Grant as the “Velociraptor of the Civil War.” He was a general who could maneuver, who tried to apply thoughtful measures of force and to maneuver to reach a successful conclusion.

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2014 Lincoln Symposium at the Abraham Lincoln Library and Museum

Cross-posted to the blog of the Abraham Lincoln Institute for the Study of Leadership and Public Policy

The Abraham Lincoln Library and Museum (ALLM) will host Lincoln scholars from around the country for the 2014 Lincoln Symposium April 4-5, 2014, in Harrogate, Tenn.

Entitled “Lincoln and the War,” the symposium will address issues facing Lincoln during his administration as a war president. Featured speakers include Warren Greer, director of Kentucky’s Lincoln Heritage Trail Alliance, Dr. Anne Marshall, professor of history at Mississippi State University; Dr. Brian McKnight, professor of history at University of Virginia at Wise; Dr. Daniel Stowell, director and editor of The Abraham Lincoln Papers; and Frank J. Williams, retired chief justice of Rhode Island Supreme Court.

The program will open with a banquet featuring McKnight as the keynote speaker on Friday evening. Saturday will open with a continental breakfast followed by the four remaining speakers and a panel discussion to close the symposium. Each speaker will discuss a different aspect of the Civil War and how Lincoln managed it.

Registration for the symposium is open. The cost to attend the entire program is $60, or $25 for the Friday banquet and $35 for the full-day session on Saturday. For more information or to register, contact Program and Tourism Director Carol Campbell at 423.869.6439.

The Abraham Lincoln Library and Museum is located on the historic campus of Lincoln Memorial University in Harrogate, Tennessee. Housing one of the top five Lincoln and Civil War private collections in the world, the Museum is open Monday-Friday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday from noon to 5 p.m. and Sunday from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. For more information about this and other programs at the Abraham Lincoln Library and Museum, call 423-869-6235.

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Bowdoin’s Howard papers getting digitized

Bowdoin College is Maine has received a $150,000 grant to digitize a collection of Oliver O. Howard’s papers.  In addition to his military exploits and running the Freedmen’s Bureau, Howard founded a number of educational institutions, including my alma mater.  In fact, our museum at LMU has quite a substantial collection of Howard material.

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Watch a new Civil War documentary at the East Tennessee History Center

On March 2 at 2:00 P.M., the East Tennessee Historical Society will host a screening of the documentary Civil War: The Untold Story, followed by a discussion with the film’s director and NPS historian James Ogden.  Admission is free.

If you can’t make the screening, the film will be airing on public television this year, so keep an eye on your local listings.

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How much privacy do we owe to Civil War soldiers?

This story out of Connecticut is more than a little bizarre.

The state mental health commissioner is fighting efforts by freedom of information advocates to undo a law — which they say passed under last-minute, “murky circumstances” in 2011 — that blocks historians’ research into Civil War soldiers afflicted with what’s now called post-traumatic stress disorder.

The Connecticut Council on Freedom of Information, the state FOI Commission and the Connecticut State Library all gave legislative testimony this past week in favor of H.B. 5124, a bill that would change the law so that medical and mental-health records could be released 50 years after the death of the person involved.

History professor Matthew Warshauer of Central Connecticut State University also testified and said that the state’s position is frustrating valuable historical research into the treatment of veterans a century before the term PTSD was invented to describe the lingering results of wartime trauma.

Warshauer and his students have fought in recent years for access to state mental hospital records of Civil War veterans. They prevailed in a 2010 case at the FOI Commission, which ordered release of the records. But the state Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services (DMHAS) fought back in a different way, persuading legislative leaders to tuck the current prohibition into a 98-section public health bill in the 2011 end-of-legislative-session rush.

Why the sensitivity about Civil War-era medical records, you ask?

Rehmer said in her testimony: “Though the individuals … are deceased, it is our firm belief that records of this nature are very sensitive and that family members of those who have been in state hospitals would not want that information disclosed.”

…Deron Drumm, executive director of Advocacy Unlimited Inc., said, “While historical accounts of what treatment entailed fifty years ago would be valuable to the public — releasing the names of individuals involved with psychiatric services will result in discrimination against their relatives.”

Historians shouldn’t be allowed to access the mental health records of Civil War soldiers because it will result in discrimination against their relatives? Can anybody out there actually imagine a scenario where that would be possible?  Is somebody going to get turned down on a job application because his great-great-grandfather developed PTSD after the Overland Campaign?

Look, I think we can all agree that people’s health records should be kept private for a good, long while after their death. But in this case we’re talking about a span of multiple generations.  Indeed, many Americans do not even know the names of their Civil War ancestors, let alone harbor any sensitivity over those ancestors’ mental state.

Is fifty years after someone’s death too soon to open their private records to the public? Maybe, maybe not. But I dare say that a century is quite enough water under the bridge.  Amend the legislation accordingly and open those files.

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