Category Archives: Civil War
From Andy Hall comes word that the Mariners’ Museum has been forced to temporarily close the USS Monitor conservation lab. The Monitor wreck and the artifacts are government-owned, but the Mariners’ Museum has undertaken the task of conserving these items for the American people. The museum depends on assistance from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration for this project, and NOAA is waiting on congressional budget approval to see how much funding they can provide.
If you want to help out, sign this petition to let the folks in Washington know that this is a project worthy of support.
One of the things I’ve been working on lately is a short video to accompany a Civil War exhibit, which opens next month in D.C. We’re lucky to have a TV/radio center on campus with a professional staff; they’ve been handling the recording and editing. All I had to do was give them the narration and accompanying images, so I’ve been spending quite a bit of time looking at wartime photographs and engravings.
Every history buff has probably had the experience of watching a documentary and noting an image that doesn’t exactly match up with the narration—a photo of casualties at Antietam during a segment on a battle in Tennessee, for example. There are so many great Civil War images that it’s easy to criticize filmmakers for this sort of thing, but sometimes the most “correct” picture isn’t necessarily the right one.
And sometimes you have to sacrifice accuracy in one direction for the sake of accuracy in another. Let’s say you’ve got a first-person voice-over taken from a primary source, in which someone recounts his first impressions upon meeting Lincoln in 1861. The text emphasizes his long legs, hollow face, and overall awkwardness. Ideally, you’d accompany this voice-over with a picture of Lincoln that really shows off these physical qualities, like this one:
That photo isn’t from 1861. In this case, though, the writer’s visual impression of Lincoln is what matters. Chronological concerns aren’t as important, at least in my opinion.
But what if the subject is Willie Lincoln’s death and its tremendous emotional toll on the president? This photo of a worn, haggard-looking Lincoln would suit the tone:
But this sitting was a few years after Willie died. You could probably make a legitimate case that using this photo to illustrate that event is a little bit misleading. It wouldn’t be a major point of criticism, but it would still be a valid one.
I’ve done quite a bit of image acquisition before; back when I was putting together exhibits for a living, it seemed like I spent all my time poring over Civil War photographs. But this video project is a different animal, because you don’t have as much room to explain the images the audience is seeing. Film is a visual medium, of course, so you’d think it would be particularly well suited to the use of historic images. With an exhibit, however, you’ve got the luxury of adding a detailed caption to the pictures you’re using, giving you the opportunity to qualify, annotate, and explain them. Video doesn’t give you the chance to do that. You’ve got a little more freedom in your use of imagery, but it comes with some added risk.
A few items worthy of note as we ring in 2014.
- This list of New Year resolutions for Kentuckians includes a few history-related things to do, including some sites that every citizen of the Bluegrass State should visit. I’ll add one more assignment for Kentuckians in 2014: If you haven’t already, read either Thomas Clark’s classic history of the state or the more recent volume by Lowell Harrison and James Klotter.
- Speaking of knowing your local history, all you folks in Winston-Salem should get acquainted with your town’s Rev War namesake.
- We’re getting a new statue of Sam Houston here in Tennessee, where he made a name for himself before heading off to Texas. There’s also a new Civil War Trails marker going up in Maynardville, just down the road from my neck of the woods.
- Zachary Keck argues that Americans’ fondness for revolutions is misplaced, and stems partly from our own revolutionary beginnings. But he also claims that the American Revolution wasn’t all that revolutionary, because it didn’t upset the status quo. Keck notes that most revolutions don’t create stable, free societies; real progress is due more to evolution than revolution. But should we consider the democratization of the nineteenth century to be an effect of the American Revolution or an example of gradual evolution? Gordon Wood took the long view of the Revolution as a process that turned America away from the hierarchical, colonial past and toward the democratic, egalitarian nineteenth century. Taken as a discrete event which ended in the 1780s, though, the Revolution seems more limited in scope. I guess it all depends on your perspective.
- By far the year’s most popular post here at Past in the Present was a 2012 item about an off-color anecdote told by Abraham Lincoln which made its way into Spielberg’s film.
- I’d like to pick a best American history book of 2013, but most of the books I read this year had already been in circulation for a while. People have been writing history books for a lot longer than I’ve been reading them, so I spend most of my reading time trying to catch up with backlisted titles. As for the best American history book I read in 2013, I’d probably go with Rachel Klein’s Unification of a Slave State: The Rise of the Planter Class in the South Carolina Backcountry, 1760-1808.
- High point of 2013 for me? Under any other circumstances, visiting the Freedom Trail, Lexington and Concord would be impossible to top, but…
Jefferson Davis Memorial Historic Site, which preserves and interprets the location of the Confederate president’s capture in 1865, was in serious danger of closing because the State of Georgia pulled its funding. Some folks have thankfully stepped in to keep it open, with the SCV pledging up to $25,000 annually. We historical bloggers are seldom reluctant to criticize the Sons of Confederate Veterans when they do wrong, so it’s only fair that we commend them when they do right.
Brief digression on the origins of the NAACP thrown in for good measure. This church is about an hour from my hometown. Maybe a field trip is in order.
I award this fellow two facepalms: one for propagating ludicrous pseudohistory, and another for wasting his pulpit to do so.
By the way, if you’re looking for Internet conspiracy theory horseflop at its very best, Google “Abraham Lincoln Rothschilds.” This site in particular is a masterpiece of unintentional hilarity. Apparently Lincoln was Jewish, he fathered twins with a German ruler’s illegitimate daughter, and Mary Todd killed her own husband and pinned the murder on Booth, who was also her drug pusher. Good times.
Historic sites and Cretaceous fossils in the same news story. Woo-hoo!
A fossil leaf fragment collected decades ago on a Virginia canal bank has been identified as one of North America’s oldest flowering plants, a 115- to 125-million-year-old species new to science. The fossil find, an ancient relative of today’s bleeding hearts, poses a new question in the study of plant evolution: did Earth’s dominant group of flowering plants evolve along with its distinctive pollen? Or did pollen come later?
The find also unearths a forgotten chapter in Civil War history reminiscent of the film “Twelve Years a Slave.” In 1864 Union Army troops forced a group of freed slaves into involuntary labor, digging a canal along the James River at Dutch Gap, Virginia. The captive freedmen’s shovels exposed the oldest flowering plant fossil beds in North America, where the new plant species was ultimately found.
The National Museum of Civil War Medicine in Frederick, MD just opened an exhibit on PTSD among Civil War soldiers.
The Mariners’ Museum in Newport News, VA isn’t letting any wall space go to waste. All their public restrooms now feature cartoon panels about the history of using the toilet at sea, mounted so that you can read the text right there while doing your business. I kid you not.
In 1863 Nov. 29 fell on a Sunday instead of a Friday, but it was a pretty black day nonetheless, at least for the hapless Rebel soldiers who launched a disastrous assault against Fort Sanders at Knoxville. Those twenty bloody minutes ended Longstreet’s effort to re-take the city for the Confederacy, following its occupation by Burnside that September.
The attack on Ft. Sanders was neither a particularly big battle as far as Civil War engagements went nor as consequential as what was going on down in Chattanooga. But it’s a pretty big deal for history buffs here in my neck of the woods, so here’s another anniversary link-fest for you.
- Knoxville’s own historical columnist Jack Neely on the assault
- The Knoxville News-Sentinel‘s sesquicentennial coverage of the war in East Tennessee
- If you haven’t seen the McClung Museum’s exhibit on Ft. Sanders, you should definitely check it out. They have fossils, too! (By the way, that new Edmontosaurus is now called “Monty.”)
- The East Tennessee Historical Society has some nifty Civil War displays of their own, and they’re commemorating the Ft. Sanders anniversary with a free admission day.
- Need to read up on the contest for control of Knoxville? I recommend The Knoxville Campaign by Earl Hess, Lincolnites and Rebels by Robert Tracy McKenzie, and Divided Loyalties by Digby Gordon Seymour. For additional background, try Noel Fisher’s War at Every Door and W. Todd Groce’s Mountain Rebels.
- Last year we paid a virtual visit to the site of the battle. The fort is long gone, but there are still a few landmarks from the Knoxville Campaign around. Click here to book a guided tour, or stop by Longstreet’s headquarters and the Mabry-Hazen House.
- Watch the battle reenacted at a replicated Ft. Sanders, constructed for a documentary produced in conjunction with the McClung Museum’s exhibit.
And finally, here’s a depiction of the attack by Lloyd Branson, the same Tennessee artist who did the painting of the Sycamore Shoals muster at the top of this blog:
When asked which side they would’ve taken in the Civil War, only 10% of Americans responding to a new poll picked the Confederacy. That’s less than the number of respondents who said they would’ve tried to be neutral. Republicans were more likely to say they would have supported the South, but would-be Confederates still made up a mere 20% of GOP respondents. I don’t know about you folks, but I would’ve expected the percentages to be higher, especially among those on the Right.