Malvern Hill Farm saved

Some good news on the preservation front: A portion of the Malvern Hill battlefield has been bought by a conservation group. Virginia, due to its proximity to sprawling DC, has been heavily developed in recent years, and the battlefields are endangered. Nice to see some efforts being made (and funded) to preserve these sites before they’re plowed under for cookie cutter homes.

A nonprofit land preservation group has entered into a nearly $6.6 million contract to purchase a roughly 900-acre, heavily forested farm property in Henrico and Charles City counties that includes a portion of the Malvern Hill battlefield, site of the final, bloody clash between Union and Confederate troops during the Seven Days Battles in 1862.

Source: Deal will preserve roughly 900-acre Malvern Hill Farm, site of Civil War battle – Richmond Times-Dispatch: Local News For Richmond And Central Virginia

Virtual Reality Civil War Experience 

I cut my cable over 10 years ago, so I won’t be able to hunt this show down, but it does sound like a neat watch for those of you with access to the Discovery Channel’s spinoff network.

The Discovery-owned American Heroes Channel is bringing the Civil War from 2D to 360 degrees with a virtual reality experience.

The cable network’s short VR segment Civil War: Letter From the Trenches, from Cream 360 and Discovery VR, is a companion piece to Blood and Fury: America’s Civil War, a TV series set to debut Dec. 14 and transport viewers to tumultuous battles like Bull Run, Fredericksburg and Gettsyburg from a soldier’s point of view.

Set in 1865, Letter From the Trenches tells the story of a Confederate cadet dodging enemy fire on a muddy battlefield and uses a host of immersive sight and sound techniques to go beyond the surround sound experience you get at the local multiplex.

Source: Discovery’s American Heroes Channel Plans Virtual Reality Civil War Experience (Exclusive) | Hollywood Reporter

The Grant Presidential Library

I’m not quite sure how the Ulysses S. Grant Presidential Library ended up in Mississippi, but it’s being managed by John Marszalek, author of some wonderful Civil War biographies. The collection comprises official papers, diaries, photographs, and correspondence. If you’re a Grant scholar or even just a Grant enthusiast, it’s worth a digital visit.

Source: Mississippi State University Libraries Digital Collections

Abraham Lincoln’s Original Thanksgiving Proclamation

I was questioning my American brother in law – who spent this weekend overindulging and regretting between the moments of gratitude – why the US holiday happens on a Thursday. Little did I realise that it was actually the decision of Honest Abe back in 1863. I had never seen the full text of the Thanksgiving Proclamation before. For all of you in the States who are in need of some distraction from the dinner table, it’s worth a read!

It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently, and gratefully acknowledged, as with one heart and one voice, by the whole American people. I do therefore invite my fellow-citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next as a day of thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens.

Source: Abraham Lincoln’s Original Thanksgiving Proclamation Is Perfect

Thanksgiving in the Field

Another Thanksgiving weekend is upon us, and as Civil War buffs it’s worth remembering that Lincoln established the nation’s official observance of the holiday. I was surprised to read, in these soldiers’ letters, that gluttony has been a traditional part of Thanksgiving since before the war, but that so too was sombre gratitude. (Funnily enough, there’s no mention of discount shopping in any of these missives home!)

In 1864, the Union League Club of New York City pleaded for donations of “cooked poultry and other proper meats” as well as “mince pies, sausages, and fruits” for men in the field. The call brought in some $57,000 in cash donations, as well as nearly 225,000 pounds of poultry and large quantities of cakes, gingerbread, pickles, apples, vegetables, and cheese. One appreciative soldier saw the deeper meaning, writing that “it isn’t the turkey, but the idea that we care for.”

Source: Civil War soldiers celebrated Thanksgiving in the field | | rapidcityjournal.com

Minnesota’s Battle

There’s a battle going on at the Minnesota state capitol: Turns out some really beautiful canvasses were removed for restoration, and the discussion is now ongoing over whether to replace them with more modern and inclusive artwork. I am a little torn; I am all for modernizing and inclusive-izing the artwork, but one of the paintings at issue is this incredible work by Howard Pyle, “The Battle of Nashville”.  Here’s hoping Minnesota can find some room over its mantel for this excellent and moving piece. (And if they can’t, I’ll happily rehome it!)

Source: Fight erupts over Civil War art at the Minnesota State Capitol | INFORUM

A Few of My Favourite Things

I responded to a Reddit user’s call for Civil War book suggestions, and it occurred to me that – in this time of gift buying and giving – I could cross post my list here. In no particular order, I give you:

* Drew Gilpin Faust’s This Republic of Suffering deals with the mass death and the effect it had on grief, grieving, burial and memory on America

* Bell Irvin Wiley’s amazing two-part Billy Yank and Johnny Reb take a look at the life and living conditions of the average soldier. Hardtack and Coffee is a similar study.

* I admit, I haven’t read Race and Reunion yet, but I’ve listened to many of David Blight’s lectures on the Civil War in American memory and they are always fascinating. If ever I can find another job this one’s at the top of my wish list.

* Been in the Storm So Long was a book assigned in university that I barrelled through without waiting to find out which chapters were being covered. It investigates the aftermath of slavery in an admittedly depressing though very informative history.

* Team of Rivals deserves every award it racked up. It’s history, biography, and a non-fiction drama all rolled into one.

* Lincoln’s Men is one of my favourite biographies, and it’s a two-fer, though admittedly John Hay – with his extensive c.v. and long life, gets more pages than his friend John Nicolay. If you’ve ever read a touching anecdote about Lincoln in the White House, it was probably recounted by his secretaries. These are fun men to spend time with, and I can see why Lincoln was so endeared to them.

* Co. Aytch was featured in the Ken Burns series, and for good reason. It’s a quick read and really, really entertaining. Sam Watkins had some amazing experiences and tells them with both good humour and poetic sadness.

* I’ve read a few books by Burke Davis and they are always good reads. Not so thin as to be flimsy but definitely a much speedier read than the “heavy artillery” of Shelby Foote or Jim McPherson’s weighty tomes.

* Having said that, the Shelby Foote Narratives are worth the effort it takes to plow through them. It took me longer to read than the war took to fight, but his writing is wonderful. (Be warned: If you’re reading these with the intention of using them as research Foote’s works will not be accepted as historical references, as I learned the hard way in university!)

* Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet Jacobs is both a depressing look at life as a slave woman and an empowering realisation that slave women could sometimes use their own skill, cunning and talent to escape and make something of themselves. (See also: Harriet Tubman and Sojourner Truth)

* Mary Chesnut’s Diary served as one of the “voices” in the Ken Burns series. She was a well to do slaveowning society lady from South Carolina, and had access to the Confederate top brass during the war. (Note that her original diary is public domain but the C Vann Woodward edition is considered definitive.)

* Women are also central to the narrative in When the Smoke Cleared at Gettysburg. It’s a really eyeopening account of what was left behind after the armies moved on. Much as I enjoy reading about the war, military actions don’t interest me as much as the social effects and changes those battles wrought. There are a lot of really fascinating angles explored in this “over-published” historical event.

Lots and lots of excellent books out there. I wish you much happy reading for 2017!

C-SPAN Civil War

This article isn’t of much use unless you’re a Civil War writer or presenter, but this interesting tidbit caught my eye:

According to Mackowski, C-SPAN has a Civil War-themed spot to fill every Saturday at 6 p.m., and it’s always looking for new content.

Going to have to start checking the C-SPAN schedule to see if there are any interesting discussions to share!

Source: Mackowski moderates C-SPAN conversation – The Bona Venture

American Ulysses

There’s a new Grant biography for us all to enjoy. American Ulysses: A Life of Ulysses S. Grant is here reviewed very favourably by the Chicago Tribune. Given the fuss and fury of this year’s election campaign, it might be nice to spend 850 pages immersed in the company of a genuinely nice man. (Though the chapters dealing with corrupt and predatory businessmen might be a jarring reminder of our current situation.)

No presidential biography can avoid serving as a comment on its own time. In this regard, White’s book is an invaluable gift. The Grant he finds is, in every regard, the antithesis of what has come to be viewed as the modern politician — humble, modest, self-made; known as “the quiet man,” he spoke little, but thoughtfully and judiciously (he also wrote his own memoirs, of which Gore Vidal stated, “the author is a man of first-rate intelligence. … His book is a classic.”) He was fair, altruistic, loyal (sometimes to a fault and at his own expense), honest, decent, and deeply honorable. He was magnanimous in victory, concerned for the welfare of his country and his fellow citizens, open-minded, curious about the world and others. He fought against the nascent Ku Klux Klan, and for fair dealing with Native Americans, causing Frederick Douglass to conclude, “To him more than any other man the Negro owes his enfranchisement and the Indian a humane policy. … He was accessible to all men. … The black soldier was welcome in his tent, and the freedman in his house.”

Source: ‘American Ulysses’ tries to set the record straight on the Civil War general – Chicago Tribune

Nat Turner’s Skull

Nat Turner’s skull has been found, and with it comes a series of articles about the history of human body part smuggling and preservation. It’s all a bit gruesome, but particularly when you consider this fact:

Amrita Myers, Associate Professor of History at Indiana University, said the story of Turner’s skull is peculiar because there isn’t historical precedent of African-American body parts being passed down during slavery.

“Black men and women being used in that fashion was a very common phenomenon after the (Civil) War during the rise of lynching, but I’ve been a slavery scholar for the better part of two decades, and I’ve never heard of black men and women body parts under slavery being used for sale or for relics,” Myers said.

The implication being that the keeping of black body parts as trophies has emerged since Reconstruction. Says a lot about the post-bellum society.
Source: Skull thought to be Nat Turner’s, now in possession of former Gary mayor, to be returned to descendants – Post-Tribune