Ken Burns on Monument Debate

Ken Burns gives a great response to the Confederate Monuments debate. I’ll have to keep this in mind for the next time the topic comes up in our Round Table group.

At one point, Tulane professor Walter Isaacson asked, “Do you think that by pulling down these monuments we’re losing some feel for history?” Burns responded, “No, we’re actually increasing our feel for history. We’re making it much more dimensional. We’re asking other people who have been involved in this narrative, who have systematically and consciously been excluded from the narrative to come in and have a place…”

Source: Ken Burns and the Importance of Portraying History Through Film

Charleston lab restores Civil War cannons

There are dozens of new “cannons recovered from swamp/river” stories every month, but this one is far more interesting and involved than most of the local news reports. Not only do you get a behind the scenes look at the preservation efforts, but you get a good deal of history – it was news to me that the Confederate foundries were churning out materiel in the last year of the war.

The cannons, recovered in 2015, were restored and preserved in a four-year effort by the Warren Lasch Conservation Center in North Charleston. They will be placed on exhibit outside the Veterans Affairs building in Florence at a date yet to be announced.

The ship might have been one of the South’s greatest weapons had it ever seen action. But it was finished in the desperate days of the Confederacy as the war drew to a close. While the Pee Dee likely never saw action, its guns had been powdered and primed. Conservators knew this because when they turned the key on a brass fuse it fizzed like a soda.

Source: Charleston lab restores Civil War cannons pulled from Pee Dee River in SC | News |

Undistorting the Civil War

I blogged previously about the new Civil War museum in Richmond. It seems to have officially opened now, and the NYTimes has some reflections on it. I’m fascinated by museum design in general, and designing one in the current fraught historical climate is of particular interest.

The new American Civil War Museum in Richmond, Va., sits next to the James River in the historic Tredegar district, where slaves and immigrants once produced munitions for the Confederate Army. The product of a merger of the American Civil War Center and the Museum of the Confederacy, the new museum seeks to tell an inclusive story of the war in hopes of dispelling some of the myths and misconceptions that still dominate popular understanding.

“This is a period of history that’s been so distorted for a variety of reasons,” the museum’s chief executive, Christy Coleman, told me, “where memory has taken over the actual history, and that collective memory is not historical in many cases.”

Modern scholarship on the American Civil War takes a broad view of the conflict, more interested in social, economic and political circumstances than battlefield tactics; more concerned with the perspectives of ordinary people — soldiers, civilians, Native Americans and enslaved people — than individual military leaders.

Source: Opinion | Undistorting the Civil War – The New York Times

Last Known Ship Carrying Captives For Slavery Found

Some archaeological news from Alabama – the remains of the last slave ship was found.

Researchers were also looking for a ship that had been burned and scuttled in the waters around Mobile — reflecting the captain’s attempts to block law enforcement from finding evidence of a crime.

From February to July 1860, the Clotilda carried 110 people from present-day Benin to the shores of Mobile, despite an 1808 U.S. law banning the import of slaves.

The prisoners were among the last known Africans destined for a life in captivity.

Source: Clotilda, Last Known Ship Carrying Captives For Slavery, Found, Researchers Say : NPR

In the Shadow of Stone Mountain

I’m not sure I agree with this lady’s take on Stone Mountain, but it’s a refreshing reminder that the Confederate statues debate is not always a black and white debate. (My issue is that the shades of gray most people promote are of a particularly Confederate hue.)

Brown, who is 78, and other longtime residents of Stone Mountain live with a reminder of that time: a huge Civil War memorial of Confederate heroes that was carved into the side of the mountain for which her town is named.

It features Generals Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson and Robert E. Lee, along with Jefferson Davis, who served as the president of the Confederacy.

Many people want the carvings erased, saying they honor slavery and are offensive to blacks. Brown, whose family history is tied to the memorial, isn’t one of them. She considers the carvings an important reminder of the life she has lived and the racial discrimination that shaped it.

Source: A Confederate memorial towers over Stone Mountain, Georgia. A local African American woman wants it to stay there. – The Washington Post

Forgetting Why We Remember

I mentioned David Blight’s discovery of the first Memorial Day yesterday. For those who don’t know the story, here’s a NYTimes article written by the historian himself that goes into detail.

Sidenote: I first heard about this in one of Blight’s speeches at historical conferences and symposiums, many of which are available on Apple’s wonderful iTunes U. His off-the-cuff speaking style can be a bit digressive, but the content of his talks is always worth a listen.

But for the earliest and most remarkable Memorial Day, we must return to where the war began. By the spring of 1865, after a long siege and prolonged bombardment, the beautiful port city of Charleston, S.C., lay in ruin and occupied by Union troops. Among the first soldiers to enter and march up Meeting Street singing liberation songs was the 21st United States Colored Infantry; their commander accepted the city’s official surrender.

Whites had largely abandoned the city, but thousands of blacks, mostly former slaves, had remained, and they conducted a series of commemorations to declare their sense of the meaning of the war.

Source: Forgetting Why We Remember – The New York Times

How Memorial Day began

Happy Memorial Day, my American friends! Being Canadian, I’m celebrating Queen Victoria’s birthday today instead, but I’ll spare some thought for the American celebration. It’s worth remembering that it was only in the past few years that the Memorial Day origins came to light, discovered in an archive by the Yale professor David Blight.

This day has many stories of its origin, and all quite probable. Basically we know for sure it was started after the Civil War. Civil War Veterans were its main focus. In May of 1868 three years after the war, former slaves in the Charleston South Carolina area began to dig up the 257 Grand Army of the Republic solders buried in a mass grave in a Confederate prison yard. Their idea was the result of an appreciation for their freedom. It took them two weeks to give these soldiers proper burial. Then 10,000 people were led by 2,800 African American children in a parade to the cemetery where flowers, prayers and singing of hymns took place.

Source: How Memorial Day began – News – Nebraska City News-Press – Nebraska City, NE – Nebraska City, NE

Nat Turner’s slave rebellion ruins are disappearing in Virginia

An interesting push by a county in Virginia to preserve and present historical artifacts and sites where Nat Turner’s rebellion took place. As the last quote in the article states, “Just because something bad may have happened at a place, or something that was distasteful, doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t be kept.”

Until recently, the all-white county historical society was uncertain how to handle its macabre legacy. Within the past 10 years, though, as popular interest in Turner’s story has grown — including through the controversial 2016 film “Birth of a Nation” — attitudes have loosened.

Work is underway to establish slave-insurrection-history trails: a walking route in Courtland and a driving tour through the southwest corner of the county where the rebellion took place.

Source: Nat Turner’s slave rebellion ruins are disappearing in Virginia – The Washington Post

Petersburg Battlefield Grows

More good news! I had to check that I hadn’t already posted this, but we’re getting a year’s worth of preservation in one week! Petersburg battlefield’s protected territory is expanding significantly. Here’s hoping I get to visit the newly massive-r park in 2017!

No property immediately will be added to the park, but the provision will authorize the National Park Service to incorporate battlefield land—up to 7,238 acres—that is now unprotected outside the park boundary. Over time, such additions could make Petersburg one of the largest historical parks in the nation.

Already, the national battlefield commemorates 18 separate battlegrounds figuring in the longest blockade in U.S. military history. Petersburg’s seesawing, hard-fought actions comprise one of the Civil War’s most complex struggles.

Source: Congress OKs bigger Petersburg National Battlefield, on track to be America’s largest Civil War park – Richmond Times-Dispatch: Virginia News

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