Category Archives: Civil War

Cemetery Finds

2-screen-shot-2016-10-18-at-2-20-58-pmI spend a lot of time in my local cemetery – Hollywood Forever. The cemetery,  among the most interesting in Los Angeles, is the final resting place for all kinds of Hollywood celebrities – from Cecil B. DeMille to Rudolph Valentino to Dee Dee Ramone. But nearly every time I visit, I find the grave of someone who strikes a historical chord – often having some Civil War connection. Just the other day, I encountered this rather dignified looking fellow: one Cornelius Cole. Cole served a single term in the House of Representatives representing the Republican Party from California from 1863 to 1865, and then in the Senate from 1867 to 1873.

After the war he practicscreen-shot-2016-10-18-at-2-38-46-pmed law in San Francisco and then Los Angeles where he purchased one of the original Spanish landgrants – he called it Colegrove.

Well…Colegrove is now Hollywood. But at least they named a street after him. So if you are in town and find yourself on Cole Street – you’ll know where it got its name.

With compliments,

Keith

 

Music in the Classroom

When I was an undergrad at UCLA my Civil War professor, Joan Waugh, would open each class with martial music of the day…blaring from every speaker as the students filed into the room and took their seats.  I thought it was a great way to introduce the history – it got us in the mood, so to speak.

screen-shot-2016-10-01-at-8-06-12-amAnyway…I have continued that legacy with my own students, and it has become one of the staple features of my Civil War history course. I have had students send me music that they have found on their own and some have brought in different versions of the music they heard in class – we once had an impromptu sing-a-long break out to close the week.

So far – the class favorite has been Eating Goober Peas, a folk song probably originating the southern states  that was popular with Confederate soldiers…I would imagine that some Yankees joined in the chorus from time to time – or at least sampled the southern delicacy.

So – let’s all join in with this remarkable version – a duet featuring Burl Ives and Johnny Cash.

With compliments,

Keith

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American Civil War Web-Course

Screen Shot 2016-04-11 at 8.04.38 PMGreetings all! I have been posting updates on Twitter of late chronicling the progress of my next web-course: The American Civil War. I am very pleased to announce that the launch date is May 14, 2016. The course includes nearly forty video lectures and other projects covering military, social, political, and economic aspects of the conflict.

I am most excited to offer this course to my founding web-students for a 50% discount off the already reasonable price. You won’t find this deal anywhere but through this site – and the offer goes away on launch day. So you had better get on the stick. Here’s what you need to do:

ONE – be a current student or enroll now in either my Gettysburg or Reconstruction Era web-course for the regular discounted price available only from Keith Harris History.

TWO – sign up to be part of the Keith Harris History CREW so I can be sure to get you the info you need.

Get that all squared away and on launch day you will receive your discount code via email. And that’s it. Easy right?

With compliments,

Keith

 

Union Veterans Reflect on Robert E. Lee

Screen Shot 2016-01-31 at 4.43.30 PMAfter the Civil War, the renown of Robert E. Lee spread far beyond the borders of the former Confederacy. He was respected and praised in the North for his virtues, his fighting prowess, and his conciliation in defeat. Historians such as Alan T. Nolan have noted that the North, whose people “had to acknowledge the honor of the South,” fully embraced the Lee tradition. “Revisionism,” especially in terms of Lost Cause interpretations of the war where Lee figured centrally, argues Nolan, “could not become part of the Civil War legend without northern acceptance, and the North did accept the South’s rewriting of the record.”

While some in the North may have been retrospectively kind to the former Rebel general, Nolan has made far too great a generalization. Union veterans, for example, were hardly generous in their assessment of Lee. To them, Lee was a traitor. In 1891, the Grand Army Record passionately objected to the “saintly slopping over Robert E. Lee,” and others agreed. In fact, GAR protests against Lee helped create a lasting thread in northern commemorative literature. In 1910, one Union veteran wrote, essentially expressing in the same breath how some might find Lee both virtuous and reprehensible: “Though in his Confederate uniform [Lee] may possess all the culture and personal worthiness he had before he thus clothed himself, this badge of disloyalty – of rebellion – so characterizes him that by it he must be judged.” As late as 1922, a variety of groups continued to honor the veterans’ legacy by protesting in “unmeasured terms” the organizations that celebrated the Rebel chief, arguing that treason should never be forgotten, much less rewarded. “No Grand Army man,” offered one Union veteran, “can honorably lend his name to any movement which shall dignify to posterity the name of the traitor Robert E. Lee, or shall make him the equal of the loyal, victorious Grant.”

Union veterans remained determined to praise only the Union heroes who saved the country, rather than a Rebel who had tried to destroy it. The praise allotted to the rebel chieftain wore Grand Army veterans particularly thin. One Collier’s Weekly article citing Lee as America’s most “noble citizen” especially drew fire from the GAR’s patriotic instructor, Robert Kissick of Iowa. “If Lee was all you claim, then the men I represent were wrong in fighting to preserve the nation he fought to destroy.” Further arguing that “Lee did not follow his state out of the Union,” but rather, “his state followed him,” Kissick lambasted the Confederate hero and heaped much of the blame for upper South secession on Lee’s shoulders. As decades passed, few Union veterans could stomach the praise of Robert E. Lee. In 1922, when the American Legion attempted to honor Lee’s birthday, veterans of the Pennsylvania GAR shuddered at the idea that anyone would “place a premium on Disloyalty to the Flag and our Country.”

Although adulation of the Rebel general found a place among northern civilians who perhaps sentimentalized or romanticized the genteel south and all that the Lee family embodied, Lee’s standing among Union veterans never reached the heights the general obtained in the South.

With compliments,

Keith

Edmund Ruffin – A Man Without a Country

Screen Shot 2015-12-29 at 11.40.04 AMWell, he had one for a while anyway. But things didn’t quite turn out the way he had hoped.

Ruffin was what we could call a fire-eater in every respect of the word. He hated Yankees, supported state rights, and was vehemently pro-slavery.

Before things started heating up that would eventually lead to war, Ruffin made his mark as an agriculturalist – a pretty prominent one, at that. He came from a noted land-owning family, and his talents in the agricultural realm served him well in his pre-war career. In 1833 he founded a journal: The Farmer’s Register, which brought agricultural innovations to a wide range of farmers. He also worked diligently to counter soil exhaustion with great success.

But during these years Ruffin became more and more radicalized. By the 1850s, intent on protecting the right to slave property in the South, he became convinced that the slave-holding states would eventually have to secede to protect their property. John Brown’s raid on Harper’s Ferry just added fuel to Ruffin’s fire. When Brown was hanged, Ruffin made his way to Charles Town, Virginia to witness the execution (he posed as a VMI cadet at the age of 65 – civilians were not permitted to watch the execution). From here he acquired several of Brown’s pikes meant to be used in a slave revolt and sent them to southern governors as a reminder of northern aggression.

But the fun really began for Ruffin in 1861. He somehow found himself in Charleston, South Carolina on April 12 and joined in with the troops as they initiated the firing on Fort Sumter. He claimed to have fired the first shot himself. Well, we can’t really be sure of that, but we do know that he was there when the firing began, so I guess that is close enough.

The collapse of the Confederacy naturally affected Ruffin in profound ways. A man without a country, he committed suicide on June 17, 1865. These days you can hear all kinds of stories about Ruffin – that he stated “I will never live under Yankee rule,” or that he wrapped himself in the Confederate flag before doing the deed. Whether true or not, stories seem to romanticize this wiry gray headed secessionist in ways that turn him into a hero of sorts…at least for neo-Confederates.

We do not hear much else about Ruffin, except that he fired the first and quite possibly the last – self inflicted – shot of the war. He even gets a little placard by his grave. The marker highlights Ruffin’s agricultural work and the first shot story, but curiously omits his suicide. Would such an admission of defeat be too much for the modern tourist to handle? I often wonder why they left that little factoid out. It just seems kind of important to me.

With compliments,

Keith

PS – I am kind of featuring his vibe…I aspire to look this cool when I’m in my 60s