Today’s the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Franklin. When it comes to the Civil War Sesquicentennial, I haven’t really done much in the way of commemorative posting. I’m taking notice of this anniversary, however, because I have a personal connection to Franklin. I don’t have an ancestor who died there or anything of that sort; it’s entirely a matter of happenstance.
I was born on November 30, and every year my dad—a longtime history teacher and Civil War buff—would remind me of the coincidence. (Luckily for him, my mom’s birthday is the anniversary of Bunker Hill, so he always remembered that one, too.) So here are a few links in recognition of a dark day for the Confederacy and an auspicious one for me.
Sorry for the absence, folks. I’ve been pretty busy with classes, so we’ve got some catching up to do. Here are a few items to amuse and inform:
The Institute for Advanced Study’s plan to build additional faculty housing at the Rev War battlefield has hit a snag. A state regulatory commission has blocked the proposal because of its proximity to a local stream.
Check out this article on the history of Civil War battlefield preservation at The Washington Post:
Despite admirable efforts to connect battlefields to the larger history of the Civil War, the one thing that battlefields can teach very well is the history of what happened in a particular place. If the goal is simply to inspire thoughts about the larger social history of the Civil War, one battlefield is pretty much the same as the next — and it becomes difficult to explain why we need to preserve so many of them, and with so much land taken off the tax rolls. If the goal is to make people passionate about battlefields and their preservation, visitors need to engage with the actual place to understand its strategic importance and the tactical back-and-forth.
I would argue that visitors need to get the strategic importance and tactical back-and-forth because they have intrinsic importance, not just because they inspire respect for preservation.
I seem to run across more discussions about how to effectively integrate non-military subjects into battlefield interpretation than about how to effectively interpret the battlefield itself. Don’t get me wrong—I’m glad that battlefield interpretation is more well-rounded and contextualized than it used to be. We rightly emphasize the fact that the battles didn’t happen in a vacuum, but that insight cuts both ways.
Just as the war’s larger issues determined the conflict, the “tactical back-and-forth” determined the resolution of those larger issues. Emancipation, Union, and all the rest of it ultimately hinged on the stuff of old-fashioned military history: maneuver, terrain, firepower, etc. We preserve these places not only because people suffered and died there, but also because what happened there mattered. It mattered that such-and-such a colonel held a particular position, that such-and-such a general flanked an enemy. Determining the outcome of larger questions, after all, is why battles tend to be fought.
This ought to bring some holiday cheer to anybody who cares about battlefield preservation. The Civil War Trust has an opportunity to acquire one of the most historic parcels of ground in the country at Brandy Station. I second Eric’s call to action: This is the time for all of us history aficionados to help make this happen.
If you’re like me and aren’t in a financial position to write a big fat check with lots of zeroes in it, here’s a simple way to pitch in. Lots of our friends and co-workers are scrambling around to find last-minute Christmas presents for us. What if we e-mailed these folks and asked them to take the money they’d normally spend on a gift for us and send the same amount to the Civil War Trust instead? Every little bit helps.
Alternatively, if you need to find a Christmas present for the history buff in your life, consider making a donation to the CWT in their name. They’ll appreciate that more than a sweater or fruitcake, and it’ll last longer.
Cavalry Charge near Brandy Station, by Edwin Forbes. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division (reproduction no. LC-DIG-ppmsca-22378)
The Civil War Trust is trying to raise $339,000 to close on three important parcels.
The report, which examines Civil War battlefield preservation over the past twenty years and offers some recommendations for the future, went online today at http://parkplanning.nps.gov/battlefields. The NPS will be taking comments until October 12, so take a look and sound off.