In case you were wondering what might have befallen us if the Confederacy had gotten its hands on the Super-Soldier Serum, here it is. I’m guessing the next installment will have Horace Hunley as Tony Stark and Belle Boyd as Black Widow.
Tag Archives: Civil War memory
If even half of her controversial autobiography is true, then Loreta Janeta Velázquez led one of the most fascinating lives of the nineteenth century. She’s the subject of Rebel, a new documentary airing Friday, May 24 to open this season of Voces on PBS.
According to her 1876 book The Woman in Battle, Loreta was born in Cuba in 1842 to a prominent Spanish official. Sent to New Orleans as a young girl, she displayed a rebellious personality from a young age, dressing in boys’ clothes and eloping with an army officer at the age of fourteen. Deciding to see something of combat, she was one of hundreds of women who disguised themselves as men and fought in the Civil War. Calling herself Harry T. Buford, she experienced some of the war’s most famous battles, including 1st Bull Run, Fort Donelson, and Shiloh. After her exploits as a soldier, she took up spying, enjoying a remarkable career as a double agent.
That, at least, is the story she told in her memoir. How much of it is true has been a subject of debate ever since its publication. Jubal Early, who met her in Virginia after the book’s publication, denounced her as a fraud. Some historians have likewise found her claims hard to swallow, although researchers have found enough documentation to verify a few parts of her story.
Rebel doesn’t spend much time separating fact from fiction. Instead, it focuses on the outline of her story as she told it herself, using it to examine the role of Hispanics in Civil War America, gender in the nineteenth century, and contested historical memories. The concern here isn’t really whether her account is true, but why its accuracy was a matter of such concern to her contemporaries. The program suggests that her autobiography offered a challenge to the society in which she lived, not only because she stretched the truth but also because of who she was—a Hispanic woman involved in the business of war and espionage who was determined to go public with her exploits. It’s a fascinating story, and I enjoyed watching it.
The Old Dominion has embraced Honest Abe, at least according to this article.
The writer claims that Tredegar’s sculpture of Lincoln and Tad is “the only statue of Lincoln in the South, where many people still refer to the Civil War as the War of Northern Aggression.” I must beg to differ. In fact, if you visit my alma mater here in East Tennessee, you’ll find three of them: a standing Lincoln at the main entrance, a copy of Paul Manship’s larger-than-life “Hoosier Youth” in the museum atrium, and a depiction of Lincoln as a lawyer in front of the library.
There’s also a Lincoln statue at the state capitol in West Virginia, and Kentucky has more Honest Abes than you can shake a stick at.
One more quibble. I’ve lived in the South for more than thirty years, and I’ve only heard one person refer to the Civil War as “the War of Northern Aggression.” The guy who said it was a reenactor; ironically, I was at an event in a state that never joined the Confederacy. Most of my fellow southerners aren’t nursing a grudge over a war that ended before their great-grandparents were born.
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?”
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).
Now, here’s the sort of thing that’s perfect for stirring up debate in the historical blogosphere:
A new bill proposed in the Georgia legislature would prohibit local governments from hiding or removing statues of Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee or other Confederate army heroes indefinitely.…
Rep. Tommy Benton, R-Jefferson, introduced the proposal at the request of the Sons of the American Revolution and the Sons of Confederate Veterans.
The bill, if passed, would require that monuments be kept in a prominent place. It would also make it illegal to “deface, defile, or abuse contemptuously” any memorial dedicated to the Confederate army.
“We’re not saying they can’t move them,” Benton said. “We’re just saying they can’t just put them in a field somewhere.”
You can read the proposed bill yourself by clicking here. It’s pretty short, so go ahead and give it a look.
Of course, I’m in favor of throwing the book at anybody who mutilates or damages historic monuments and markers, but I would assume Georgia already has vandalism laws to cover that sort of thing. As for the bill’s more novel provisions to stop such monuments from being “relocated, removed, concealed, obscured, or altered,” I’m not sure what to think.
My inclination in disputes over older monuments is usually to let them be and keep them in good condition, since they have intrinsic historic value. But I’m not sure it’s a good idea to have a state law prohibiting local government agencies from moving monuments except in cases of construction projects, since the bill (if I understand it correctly) makes no distinction among monuments “dedicated to a historical entity” based on their age or significance.
What do you guys think?
- International audiences for Spielberg’s Lincoln will see a slightly different opening sequence to provide context for viewers who might not be as familiar with American history. Maybe some additional background would’ve been a good idea for American moviegoers, too; Black Hawk Down and Argo both needed historical prologues even though the events in question happened during the lifetimes of many of the people watching the films.
- Readers of ScreenCrush selected Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter as the worst movie of 2012, indirectly proving the continuing viability of democracy as the best available form of government.
- Saving Lincoln, the upcoming film about Ward Hill Lamon, made HuffPo.
- That high-pitched, ecstatic shrieking sound you heard? That was me: We now have a trailer for the twentieth anniversary 3D re-release of Jurassic Park and an official release date for JP4.
…If I ever meet an editorial writer who’s capable of discussing sectionalism in modern American politics without invoking the Civil War, I’ll be pleasantly surprised.
Seriously, guys, find some original metaphors. How about Federalists vs. Republicans, just to try something new?
If I ever meet an editorial writer who’s capable of discussing sectionalism in modern American politics without invoking the Civil War, I’ll be pleasantly surprised.
When I wrote my own review of Lincoln, I said this: “You buy a ticket to Transformers to see fighting robots, and you buy a ticket to Titanic to see the ship sink. Most of us who buy tickets to Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln are probably going to see Abraham Lincoln himself, and in that regard this movie doesn’t disappoint.”
Based on some of the responses to the movie that have hit the Interwebs since then, I might need to revise that statement. Daniel Day-Lewis’ performance was the main draw for me, but at least some viewers apparently had different expectations.
I have a tendency to judge all Lincoln-related movies by how convincingly they depict him. If a film can sell me on its Lincoln, I can overlook any number of other flaws. Conversely, if I don’t buy the Lincoln, then it’s hard for me to appreciate other strengths a movie might have. I’ve enjoyed quite a few good Lincoln portrayals over the years, performances that have captured particular aspects of the genuine article—Henry Fonda, Walter Huston, and Sam Waterston are favorites of mine—but I don’t think I’ve ever seen anybody inhabit the role as completely as Day-Lewis. I didn’t love everything about Spielberg’s film, but what I really wanted to see was Lincoln himself, and I left the theater satisfied.
Some historians have noted the movie’s inaccuracies, which is a perfectly proper thing for historians to be doing. Other commentators, though, seem less interested in what the filmmakers did wrong as much as they’re interested in what they didn’t do at all.
Over at The Atlantic, for example, Tony Horwitz writes, “I enjoyed Lincoln and agree that it strips away the nostalgic moss that has draped so much Civil War cinema and remembrance. But here’s my criticism. The movie obscures the distance Lincoln traveled in his views on race and slavery. Probing this journey would have made for better history and a finer, more complex film.” Sure, but it also would’ve made for a completely different film. Spielberg and Kushner made a conscious decision to focus on the last months of Lincoln’s life. Including his transformation from a fairly conservative Whig into the man who embraced the Thirteenth Amendment and made public references to limited black enfranchisement would have required not a longer movie, but another one.
Historian Kate Masur, meanwhile, complains that “it’s disappointing that in a movie devoted to explaining the abolition of slavery in the United States, African-American characters do almost nothing but passively wait for white men to liberate them.…Mr. Spielberg’s ‘Lincoln’ helps perpetuate the notion that African Americans have offered little of substance to their own liberation.…[I]t reinforces, even if inadvertently, the outdated assumption that white men are the primary movers of history and the main sources of social progress.” But this isn’t a movie “devoted to explaining the abolition of slavery.” It’s a movie about the twilight of Lincoln’s presidency. Any examination of the men who stood at the pinnacle of the American government in the 1860′s is inevitably going to spend most of its time on white men.
William Harris wrote a book about the last months of Lincoln’s second term; I don’t think anyone who would criticize that book for failing to analyze the evolution of Lincoln’s views on race from 1858 to 1865 would get much of a hearing. Similarly, I think most of us would be quite surprised if a reviewer referred to a novel about Lincoln as “an opportunity squandered” because the book didn’t deal with African-American life in nineteenth-century Washington.
Yet Masur ultimately concludes that the move is “an opportunity squandered.” That sort of reaction is legitimate when it comes to major museum exhibits or interpretation at an important historic site, since those are educational institutions which can and should try to tell definitive stories about their subjects. Movies shouldn’t have to be so authoritative.
We seem to hold filmmakers to a lower standard when it comes to getting the facts straight, but a higher one when it comes to deciding what to include and what not to include. The reason, I think, is because movies reach so many people and leave such an impression. We envy filmmakers their audience and their influence, and since we know how many stories about the past need telling, we want filmmakers to use the tremendous resources at their disposal to tell the ones that matter to us, as well as to tell their own stories well.