CWI 2016 Day Three

Sunday, June 19, 2016 began with a conversation on “The Return of the Union Veteran” with Lesley Gordon of the University of Akron, James Marten of Marquette University, and Barbara Gannon of the University of Central Florida. In her opening remarks, Professor Gordon made the point the veterans had a spectrum of experiences ranging from being unable to function after the war to having few, if any problems afterward. She said sources for research include pension and census records, soldier home papers, letters, diaries, newspaper articles, and several other sources. For most, their experience as veterans was a source of pride. Professor Gannon gave results of her research on the Grand Army of the Republic, the largest and most influential veterans group. It originated in 1866 in Decatur, Illinois and grew to hundreds of thousands of veterans, both black and white. It was one of the few interracial groups of the time. The Union army during the Civil War had been segregated, but the GAR was fully integrated. The ties that bound the veterans were strong, and shared comradeship was the key. There was an attempt by some white veterans in the South to segregate their GAR posts, but that attempt was rejected. There were over two hundred all-black GAR posts, but they were so because the African-Americans in those posts formed them for their own purposes, not because they were segregated. Her explanation was that while the units had been segregated during the war, the battlefields weren’t segregated. They took a broad view of suffering. All had suffered in battle and even during marching. They had a shared experience of being soldiers. Hundreds of thousands of veterans were functional and resiliant. The GAR fought for pension benefits and had a clear idea of what they had fought for: a Union of free men without slavery. Professor Marten spoke about Jim Tanner, a Union Army veteran who had had both his legs amputated below the knee and was fitted with prosthetic legs. He made the point that yes, Union veterans had a spectrum of experiences, but as Tanner’s life showed, they experienced that spectrum throughout their lives, and sometimes had a spectrum of experiences in a single day. Some days were good, others bad, and some days they experienced good, bad, and everything in between. Tanner, he said, had a sense of humor. One time he was bathing a horse and a man came up and said the water was too hot for the horse. He disagreed and said he bet the man five dollars he could stand in even hotter water without any trouble. The man, not knowing Tanner or the fact he had artificial legs, took the bet. Tanner stood in hot water on his artificial legs and collected the five dollars. Professor Marten said a shared commitment to a purpose united the veterans. As the veterans aged, more were disabled. African-American GAR members were better off than other African-Americans because the GAR would ensure they had jobs, and being veterans they had more social status. He did say, though, that the marginalized veterans represented more veterans than their numbers would justify.

Next, Carole Emberton of the State University of New York, Buffalo campus, spoke on “Ex-slaves’ Historical Memory of the War.” She tells us the formerly enslaved people didn’t leave us the kinds of written sources we have with other groups. A rich source, though one to be used cautiously, is the WPA Slave Narratives. In the 1930s, as part of the New Deal, the Works Progress Administration funded a number of interviewers to interview former slaves about what they remembered. One of those interviewed was Hannah Irwin, who was about 12 years old in 1865 and had been enslaved in Alabama. Her memories centered on the Ku Klux Klan. She was actually proud of what the KKK did, so she said.

“Speaking of the Ku Klux, Aunt Hannah. Were you afraid of them?”

“Naw’m, I warn’t afeered of no Ku Klux. At fu’st I though dat dey was ghosties and den I was afeered of ’em, but atter I found out dat Massa Bennett was one of dem things, I was always proud of ’em.”

Professor Emberton asked us if we can dismiss her account. Her interviewer was a white woman, Irwin was in her eighties at the time of the interview, and she got several details wrong in her account. Professor Emberton asked if the Jim Crow era required people like Hannah Irwin to manage their memory of Reconstruction. She posited African-Americans may have had an understanding of white expectations of what they should say. She also talked about whether confiscation of land was necessary for the freed people or if it was just a punishment for secessionists. She also brought in the Eufaula Massacre of 1874. Hannah Irwin was from Eufaula. Professor Emberton mentioned that Irwin said Mr. Bennett, her former “owner,” had been a member of the KKK and that made her proud. Professor Emberton made the point that it would have been impossible for vigilante groups like the KKK and their ilk to operate without the approval, if not the support, of the planters.

Next there was a conversation on “Lessons Learned by the U.S. Military from the Civil War,” with Christian Keller of the U.S. Army War College, Assistant Director of the Civil War Institute Ian Isherwood of Gettysburg College, and Jennifer Murray of the University of Virginia, Wise Campus. They started by talking about different themes in this field: the tension between the institutional and educational use of Civil War lessons and the practical utilitarian application of those lessons; the tension between the efficacy of hard war lessons learned and public sentiments; and the tension between the old school cadre and the safe leadership proponents. “Safe leadership” stresses military leaders have a responsibility to learn about war through the study of history and they are best to lead from behind. The period of 1865 to 1917 was a period of unconventional warfare for the United States. It also saw the growth of military professionalism. Emory Upton published a manual titled Infantry Tacticswhich emphasized having loose order formations, putting men in groups of four to allow them maneuverability on the battlefield. He also published Cavalry Tactics in 1874, Artillery Tactics in 1875, The Armies of Asia and Europe in 1878, and [posthumously] The Military Policy of the United States in 1904. Upton committed suicide in 1881. His notes on his last book were discovered, compiled, and finished for its publication. The Civil War was seen as leaving a heritage of attrition. A lesson was that exhaustion was more important than elan. There was a failure of the offensive, and a recognition of the strength and superiority of the defense. Many of these lessons were expounded on by the experience of World War I.

Next up was a conversation on “Reconstructing Southern Womanhood,” with Catherine Clinton of the University of Texas, San Antonio Campus, Sarah Gardner of Mercer University, and Judy Giesberg of Villanova University. Professor Gardner made the comment that Southern white women wrote, and wrote, and wrote after the war. They espoused the lost cause. The Romantic Period, she said, lasted a generation or so longer in the United States than it did in Europe. However, holding onto Romanticism became increasingly difficult for Southern white women. The transition to Modernism was slow going. Professor Giesberg spoke of modern usages of the Fourteenth Amendment. She said in the debate during the spring of 1865, lawmakers in Washington were worried about marriage. They asked how did the Civil War change marriage? How can marriage be protected? She brought up the scholars Hannah Rosen, Amy Dru Stanley, and Katherine Franke, who are scholars of women in Reconstruction. She also spoke about S.R. 82, wartime legislation known as “A Resolution to encourage Enlistments and to promote the Efficiency of the military Forces of the United States.” It freed the wives and children of USCT while the Thirteenth Amendment went to the states for ratification. On the last day of the same session, Congress created the Freedmen’s Bureau. Many freed people, she told us, were forcibly inducted into marriage through bigamy and anti-fornication laws. Federal legislators were seeking to protect traditional marriages from wartime disruption with this resolution.

After dinner we had a round table on “Finding Reconstruction at Historical Sites.” It featured moderator and Associate Director of the Civil War Institute Jill Ogline Titus of Gettysburg College, Gregory Downs of the University of California, Davis Campus, Turkiya Lowe of the National Park Service, and Emmanuel Dabney, interpretive ranger at the Petersburg National Battlefield. Professor Downs made the profound point that all too often at public history sites the discredited Dunning School of Reconstruction interpretation is replaced not with a corrective, but with silence. Instead of inaccurate information students there get not accurate information but no information. Ms. Lowe talked about the new Reconstruction Handbook the NPS just published. She said the handbook gives the official NPS scholarly position on Reconstruction. Dozens of the 410 NPS sites have Reconstruction stories, but there is not a single NPS site dedicated to Reconstruction. The Tuskegee National Historical Site was founded in Reconstruction, but it’s not interpreted as a Reconstruction site. It’s interpreted as an educational site. Ranger Dabney gave us an excellent overview of how Reconstruction interpretation happens at the Petersburg and Richmond National Battlefield Parks.

Scott Hartwig capped off our evening in fine style with a wonderful presentation on “John Bachelder’s Vision for Gettysburg.” Born in New Hampshire in 1825, Bachelder moved to Reading, PA in 1851 and became the principal of the Pennsylvania Military Academy. In 1852 he became a colonel in the Pennsylvania militia, which is why he’s often referred to as “Colonel Bachelder.” His time in Pennsylvania was short lived, however, and he moved back to New Hampshire in 1853, intending to write the definitive history of the Battle of Bunker Hill; however, that battle was poorly documented, so he couldn’t write the history he wanted to write. In the spring of 1862 he attached himself to the Army of the Potomac as a civilian observer and accompanied them up the Peninsula. He returned to New Hampshire after that campaign, but he had made contacts in the army and asked them to let him know when a major battle would take place. He wanted to be present for a decisive battle. As soon as he learned of the Battle of Gettysburg he left New Hampshire and arrived in Gettysburg somewhere around July 5. He spent about 84 days on the battlefield, riding all over the ground and sketching it. He spent time at the enormous hospital site Camp Letterman, speaking with wounded soldiers of both sides about where they fought and what they did. He documented every road, house, orchard, etc. He got permission to go to Brandy Station for the army’s winter quarters and spent all winter interviewing soldiers. He was able to interview at least one person from every regiment and every artillery battery that fought at Gettysburg. The result of this research was an 1863 isometric map. You can see Bachelder’s key to the map here. He also commissioned James Walker to do a panoramic painting of the repulse of Pickett’s Charge. Bachelder continued to conduct meetings with officers and men to walk on the battlefield with him to show where they were and what they did. He marked the positions for the regiments and the batteries. In 1869, 120 officers from the Army of the Potomac attended, along with three or four confederates. The Bachelder Papers, 2,081 pages in length, were at the New Hampshire Historical Society. Edwin Coddington found them and published them in three volumes. In 1873, Bachelder published the first guide book to Gettysburg, Gettysburg: What to See and How to See It. In 1876 he published a map set based on Gouverneur Kemble Warren’s map on the scale of one inch to two hundred feet. He also does a map of East Cavalry Field. In 1880 he did a series of 68 maps, but that set wasn’t published until the 1990s. Bachelder wrote a history of the battle, but though it was over 2,000 pages in length, all he did for it was string together official reports with short narratives to connect them. In 1883 Bachelder became the Superintendent of Tablets and Legends for the Gettysburg battlefield. In that capacity he determined the location of monuments, approved their design, materials, and inscriptions. He also wanted to mark the confederate units, but he needed the buy-in of the veterans and Congress. In 1889 he wrote to Oliver O. Howard. He received veteran buy-in, but on the condition that he simply mark the rebel positions and not put in one word of praise for the confederate units. Another condition was to have no monuments that teach a false history or sentiment. In Congress, though, the legislation failed twice, primarily due to the $25,000 price tag. Thanks to Bachelder’s continued lobbying, in 1893 the legislation pushed through, setting up a three-man commission with one engineer. He also wanted an iron fence to place around the copse of trees on Cemetery Ridge. In 1887, the GBMA approved the fence. Bachelder was given the task to design a monument for the high water mark, which he did. Bachelder was supposed to be part of the commission set up by the Congressional legislation of 1893, but he contracted pneumonia and died in 1894. Scott also went into the controversy surrounding the placement of the 72nd Pennsylvania’s monument on Cemetery Ridge.

This was another terrific day of learning about the Civil War.


  1. Shoshana Bee · · Reply

    Thank you again, Mr. Mackey for the Herculean effort to keep the CW student diaspora included in the CWI2016.There is much to comment on, but I will focus on this quote:

    QUOTE: Dozens of the 410 NPS sites have Reconstruction stories, but there is not a single NPS site dedicated to Reconstruction.

    Recently, I have been following along with over-arching question of: The Future of Civil War History. Black clouds ahead. If historians fear for the future of interest in the study of the Civil War, I suppose that it makes perfect sense to avoid the stepchild of CW study: Reconstruction. I can see the black sharpie marking THAT one off the driving tour when setting the family holiday itinerary. Sad. To leave out Reconstruction, is to leave the story of the CW unfinished, whether one views it as a continuation of the war or as an epilogue.

    On an upbeat tone: The CWI2016 knew that Reconstruction is perceived as neither romantic, popular, nor enticing as the basis of a seminar, yet they plunged ahead with it anyway — a risky, and ultimately, rewarding endeavor. Perhaps this could be the beginning of a new era for the study of Reconstruction, with CWI blazing the trail for other institutions to emulate and implement programs as they see fit. One can hope.

    1. While there is much concern at the ECW blog for the amount of interest in studying the Civil War, that was really a relatively minor portion of what the CWI was pursuing in their Future of Civil War History conference. They wanted to discuss what scholarly pursuits would be taking place, what new ways to interpret the war for the public would be explored, and where would the cutting edge of the field be in the future. Civil War history is a compelling story, and it will interest people. The question is how to best get that story to the people.

  2. Prof. Gordon is a good person and a fine scholar. She’s written about Pickett and his wife, and is moving to Tuscaloosa this fall. Her Ph.D. adviser is an old friend from my days at the University of Georgia, Emory Thomas.

    1. I agree about Professor Gordon, Jim.

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