Walt Whitman Exhibit

The University of Virginia is marking Walt Whitman’s bicentennial with a new exhibit. If you’re in the area, it’s ongoing to July 29th.

This year, the University of Virginia celebrates the bicentennial of his birth with an exhibition, “Encompassing Multitudes: The Song of Walt Whitman.” The exhibit showcases various editions of his best-known volume, “Leaves of Grass,” and handwritten versions of these and other poems, as well as other writings, including essays against slavery and about Abraham Lincoln, and letters and notes detailing his time working as a nurse during the Civil War.


Our Native Daughters

I noticed this story on the Smithsonian page today, and clicked kind of idly. A few seconds into the first linked video, I was hooked. Rhiannon Giddens and some of her fellow black women banjo players have created a moving and haunting CD of music inspired by and based on slave tunes.  It really is astonishing and worth a click. I encourage you to take a listen!

Giddens—a native of North Carolina and the lead singer and a founding member of the GRAMMY award-winning Carolina Chocolate Drops—researched the songs and haunting narratives of enslaved Africans. Native Daughters is a collaboration with three other African-American songwriters whose work interrogates history and, as Giddens writes in the album notes, shines “new light” on stories of “struggle, resistence and hope.”

“Rhiannon had brought in this handwritten music from the 1700s, the first slave melody ever annotated in the New World, and we started working on it, adding chords to it,” Powell says. “She was very close to the mic, and her voice was so unselfconscious and unassuming, her intention so pure, and things got very intense emotionally. We just had to keep it.”

Read more: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smithsonian-institution/why-these-four-banjo-playing-women-resurrected-songs-enslaved-180971926/#AqgmK8RqpepqSiVE.99

Civil War Museum Opening

The Civil War Museum at Richmond’s old Tredegar complex is reopening with a splash, and some seriously high-brow fare! I don’t know when I’ll next go “On to Richmond!” but I can’t wait to visit once I’m there. The museum didn’t exist when last I was in the capital.

The glass-walled lobby incorporates the enclosed ruins of the old Tredegar Ironworks, which date to the 1800s. The ironworks produced iron for the railroad industry, as well as cannonballs and munitions for the Civil War.

The museum near the James River in downtown Richmond has been under construction since 2017, combining the American Civil War Center at Historic Tredegar and the Museum of the Confederacy into one new museum that aims to tell the stories of the Union and the Confederacy, as well as African-Americans, Native Americans, women, children and immigrant communities.

National Endowment for the Humanities Award

In this time of conservative governments and austerity measures, arts agencies such as the NEA and NEH are constantly threatened with cutbacks. This announcement is a good reminder that some really interesting projects are born out of federal grants. This book sounds like a promising read, and a welcome rebuttal to the Lost Cause, which is finally starting to be rethought (and re-fought) in popular culture.

LeMahieu has been awarded a $60,000 Fellowship to continue work on his book project “Reconstructing Civil War Memory in American Literature after Brown v. Board of Education.”

LeMahieu’s book will analyze how, in the wake of the landmark United States Supreme Court desegregation case, leading American authors took up the pen as an instrument of civil rights. His project will examine the work of James Baldwin, Gwendolyn Brooks, Ralph Ellison, Langston Hughes, Harper Lee, Flannery O’Connor and other writers.

Source: Two English professors receive National Endowment for the Humanities awards | Clemson University News and Stories, South Carolina

“Camp Followers”

The “camp followers” are an aspect of the war that don’t get a lot of press. Along with women offering different kinds of comfort (ahem), there were wives and – in this case – sometimes children accompanying their loved ones behind the armies. This is a pretty astonishing story!

“She got a notice from the commander of her husband’s troop. They were in Cape Girardeau, and he had fallen ill,” Ellis said. “They wanted her to come down there and nurse him back to health.”

It was unusual, Ellis said, but in those days there was no easy way of transporting soldiers who were sick or injured back home to their families. Sholley left her 3-year-old daughter with her mother, but put her 3-year-old son on the back of a horse with her and rode to Cape Girardeau to nurse her husband back to health.

“She did such a good job that the captain of the outfit asked her if she’d stay on and be a nurse for them,” Ellis said. “This was in the day when you didn’t have to have training to be a nurse, you just did the best you could. And so she did.”

Source: Adair Co. woman served alongside husband in Civil War – News – Devils Lake Journal – Devils Lake, ND – Devils Lake, ND

New PBS Series on Reconstruction

I find Reconstruction a very difficult subject to read, mainly because of all the missed opportunities and broken promises involved, but if you’re going to be depressed, you might as well be depressed with Henry Louis Gates’s shoulder to lean on, and PBS’s stellar production values to make everything prettier. PBS starts a multi-part series on Reconstruction tonight!


The Trailblazing Black Female Doctor That American History Forgot

This article is supposed to be about a Civil War era black woman doctor, but it is disappointingly light on details for her. There is this statement, though: “The Civil War, says James Downs, a professor of history at Connecticut College, “was the largest biological catastrophe of the 19th century. More soldiers died from disease than from battle or even battlefield wounds.” An interesting reframing of the discussion, which always looked at the war deaths as military, rather than medical byproducts!

It was an almost unimaginable public health crisis, and in 1865, Dr. Crumpler — one of the few Black women employed by Freedmen’s Bureau — rushed headlong into the breach, leaving Boston for Richmond to minister to the medical needs of as many of the freed slaves as she could. In addition to her desire to help a population of more than 30,000 people, she knew her extensive field experience in Virginia would provide her “ample opportunities to become acquainted with the diseases of women and children.” Accor

Source: The Trailblazing Black Female Doctor That American History Forgot | Flashback | OZY

Lincoln, Simon Wolf and the Jewish Deserter

The Miami Community Newspapers’ anecdote about Lincoln’s pardoning of a Jewish deserter is pretty basic, but it does open up the topic of Jews in the Civil War. Apart from some Jewish Confederate soldiers pardoned from the front lines during Yom Kippur, and Grant’s bizarre order expelling Jews from his camp, I don’t know much about this topic. There is a helpful citation from a book that promises more information, though: Jewish Participation in the Civil War.

A street in Jerusalem is named after America’s 16th president, Abraham Lincoln. The honor is well-deserved “as Jews throughout the world see Lincoln as a hero of unsurpassed stature and distinction.” Although he was not a deeply religious man, Lincoln read the Old Testament Scriptures and continually expressed how God “showered his blessing upon the Israelites in times if peril.”

Source: Historically yours : Lincoln, Simon Wolf and the Jewish Deserter – Miami’s Community News

Facial recognition software to identify Civil War soldiers

Modern technology is being applied to old time records. I admit, I am a bit cynical in suspecting that this kind of tech is just being trialed on Civil War photos, with the ultimate use intended for privacy invasion on the level of Google and Facebook, but it is no doubt going to make genealogists very happy!

According to Luther, the key to the site’s post-launch success has been the ability to build a strong user community. More than 600 users contributed more than 2,000 Civil War photos to the website in the first month after the launch, and roughly half of those photos were unidentified. Over 100 of these unknown photos were linked to specific soldiers, and an expert analysis found that over 85 percent of these proposed identifications were probably or definitely correct. Presently, the database has grown to over 4,000 registered users and more than 8,000 photos.

“Typically, crowdsourced research such as this is challenging for novices if users don’t have specific knowledge of the subject area,” said Luther. “The step-by-step process of tagging visual clues and applying search filters linked to military service records makes this detective work more accessible, even for those that may not have a deeper knowledge of Civil War military history.”

Source: Facial recognition software to identify Civil War soldiers — ScienceDaily

Beauty in the Beast

I feel like Ben Butler is a general whose star has dimmed a lot in recent thinking of the war, so it’s nice to see this newspaper article singing his praises. He may not have been the best military general on any given field, but he was one of the wiliest lawyers in uniform. Here’s one of several examples of his sneaky forward-thinking, applied liberally wherever he was stationed!

Butler took his troops to Annapolis by sea and commandeered the Naval Aca­demy as his base. When the governor called a special session of the legislature to consider secession, Butler declared that if they voted to secede, he would arrest ev­ery member. He then seized the great seal of the state, without which no legislation could become law.

He marched 1,000 troops to Baltimore, seized the city and declared martial law. He was able to open the rail line to Washington.