The Silent Sentinel at the Los Angeles National Cemetery

Screen shot 2014-02-28 at 9.36.20 AMWell, I believe that I have found what may be the most unimposing Civil War monument ever. Near the Sepulveda Blvd entrance to the Los Angeles National Cemetery stands a solitary Union soldier, on top of a rock, at parade rest.

There is nothing particularly remarkable about this statue, except perhaps for the lack of a clear message. There are no inscriptions…and nothing denoting cause or comrades. Without close inspection, one could wonder whether or not this was even a Union soldier. The presence of a small “US” belt plate betrays the soldier’s allegiance. But that is all. Does he commemorate Union? Emancipation? Or does he simply stand guard over his fallen comrades, which in this case, happen to be WWII soldiers?

I suspect that his silence speaks to each of us individually – make of him what you will…his very presence will get you thinking.

With compliments,

Keith

The Charleston Mercury Defends the Fight for Slavery…in 1865

Screen shot 2014-02-27 at 11.05.20 AMI run across people all the time who try to convince me that the Confederacy was not established to preserve the institution of slavery. Of course I think that is nonsense – so I figured that from time to time I would a post tidbit of primary evidence to illustrate exactly how slavery was the driving force behind secession and war.

So here is a succinct, straight to the point newspaper article. Now I know that one article does not prove an argument. So stay tuned – I will give you lots and lots. This article  from an 1865 edition of the Charleston Mercury – the day is unknown but it seems like the CSA is very close to the end – is a good place to start. Sorry, no picture of the actual article – so I posted and old page of the Mercury announcing the ordinance of secession.

Pay special attention. The author notes slavery explicitly as the cause of the war and the reason to maintain the fight…despite the severe losses endured by the South. Further, alluding to the proposition that blacks be enlisted to fight for the Confederacy, the Mercury takes a firm stand against arming black people. It would only lead to emancipation, notes the author – thus rendering their secession pointless.

I have quoted the article below in full (in italics). Please note that when I quote primary evidence I leave the language, grammar, and spelling exactly as written. I do NOT sanitize for your protection. Therefore, some of you may be offended by the choice of words. Rest assured, these are the words of the AUTHOR OF THE MERCURY, not mine.

In 1860 South Carolina seceded alone from the old union of States. Her people, in Convention assembled, invited the slaveholding States (none others) of the old Union to join her in erecting a separate Government of Slave States, for the protection of their common interests. All of the slave states, with the exception of Maryland and Kentucky, responded to her invitation. The Southern Confederacy of slave States was formed.

It was on account of encroachments upon the institution of slavery by the sectional majority of the old Union, that South Carolina seceded from that Union. It is not at this late day, after the loss of thirty thousand of her best and bravest men in battle, that she will suffer it to be bartered away; or ground between the upper and nether mill stones, by the madness of Congress, or the counsels of shallow men elsewhere.

By the compact we made with Virginia and the other States of this Confederacy, South Carolina will stand to the bitter end of destruction. By that compact she intends to stand or to fall. Neither Congress, nor certain makeshift men in Virginia, can force upon her their mad schemes of weakness and surrender. She stands upon her institutions—and there she will fall in their defense. We want no Confederate Government without our institutions. And we will have none. Sink or swim, live or die, we stand by them, and are fighting for them this day. That is the ground of our fight—it is well that all should understand it at once. Thousands and tens of thousands of the bravest men, and the best blood of this State, fighting in the ranks, have left their bones whitening on the bleak hills of Virginia in this cause. We are fighting for our system of civilization—not for buncomb, or for Jeff Davis. We intend to fight for that, or nothing. We expect Virginia to stand beside us in that fight, as of old, as we have stood beside her in this war up to this time. But such talk coming from such a source is destructive to the cause. Let it cease at once, in God’s name, and in behalf of our common cause! It is paralizing to every man here to hear it. It throws a pall over the hearts of the soldiers from this State to hear it. The soldiers of South Carolina will not fight beside a nigger’ to talk of emancipation is to disband our army. We are free men, and we chose to fight for ourselves—we want no slaves to fight for us…. Hack at the root of the Confederacy—our institutions—our civilization—and you kill the cause as dead as a boiled crab.

So….there you go. Not enough, you say? Stick around – there is much much much more to come.

With compliments,

Keith

Could You Pick Rutherford B. Hayes Out in a Line Up?

Screen shot 2014-02-26 at 10.05.42 AMOver the last couple of days I have brought up both the intersection of pop culture and history and my perceived lack of an American historical consciousness. The majority of the comments have led me to believe that many of my friends and colleagues think times are troubled indeed. I think it is safe to say that most would recognize Abraham Lincoln – after all, he is very distinctive looking. And as one commenter suggested, events like the Boston Tea Party sort of conjure up the notion of “freedom” in ways that allow modern political parties to hop on the historical train. While images of both Lincoln and the Tea Party are iconic and invoke something Americany, I am not convinced that many have any idea at all about the history surrounding the person and event. When it comes to lesser known figures and events, I suspect that many would simply draw a blank. For example, could the average citizen pick Rutherford B. Hayes out in a line up? Probably not…and he was a pretty important guy – the events surrounding his political career are worth knowing about, I guess.

What if I made things easier?

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Now could you do it? These are all important people (and frogs) in their own way…including Hayes.  Let’s talk about them.

With compliments,

Keith

Yes, That is Miley Cyrus Blowing Abraham Lincoln

Screen shot 2014-02-25 at 11.53.41 AMI ask you, what self-respecting Civil War historian who is fascinated by the ways history intersects with pop culture would pass on posting a picture of Miley Cyrus performing oral sex on Abraham Lincoln? Not me, that’s for sure.

It seems that Ms. Cyrus has a an exciting new stage show that includes a little one-on-one time with the president. I do not suspect that many of my readers will get the chance to see this show, but if you do…please report back.

With compliments,

Keith

Do Americans lack a historical consciousness?

Screen shot 2014-02-24 at 10.21.46 AMWell, I am starting to think so anyway – at least some of them do. Lately, I have been going full throttle with reading, writing, and discussing American history. Why not right? I went to college for a million years, why not do what I was trained to do?

At any rate, I am especially interested in engaging the public – to find out what they know…what they want to know…what they think about US history.

Twitter has been absolutely wonderful for this. Real time conversations with real people! Imagine that!! Who knew just a few short years ago that this would be how we interact?

But here’s what I have discovered – people say the darndest things. Oh sure I have had some great conversations with some very knowledgeable folks. But I have also run across a sort of alarming theme. Many Americans have no sense of their own history.

Case in point: I recently stumbled upon an Obama critic who claimed that the president was the “most divisive POTUS in American history.”

REALLY??? Say what you will about El Presidente but let’s see, I can think of at least one time in our history when things got just a tad stickier. You know…when Abraham Lincoln was elected, eleven states seceded from the Union, war broke out, and roughly 820,000 people died. I would say that the political climate of the mid-nineteenth century was just a hair more fractious than things today. But I tell you what – if more people knew about the issues that unfolded during the Civil War era, they would certainly better understand the divisions of today – whether they be racial, sectional, political, whatever.

The Civil War Trust suggests that the war is the “central event in America’s historical consciousness.” Now, I love the CWT but I think they have missed the mark – at least for those Americans whose historical consciousness extends only as far back as their own lifetime.

Well anyway – I called the Twitter guy out and he just got all angry and defensive. Whatever – choose your battles, right?

So – that’s my observation for this morning…Off I go to engage the public. The good news? I would be willing to wager that most of my readers are on the stick when it comes to historical consciousness. Maybe all is not lost. Huzzah!

Peace,

Keith

PS – if you happen to read this and think I am full of crap – let me know! I welcome all comments and criticism. I know….tell me on Twitter