Category Archives: Civil War

Flags…Blowin’ in the Wind

I spend a lot of time scouring the Internet looking for interesting things to discuss. For example, Poet Laureate, Natasha Trethewey, writes on reflections of the South, memory, and the racial legacies of yes, you guessed it, the Civil War. You can expect a post about her work coming up in the near future…just as soon as I have had a closer look at her poetry.

But my point today is meant to be a service for all of those in cyberspace who identify the various Confederate flags incorrectly. Many refer to the “Stars and Bars” when they actually mean something else, and this practice is something of a pet peeve of mine…I know, it’s the little things. But anyway, in an altruistic spirit of education, I offer the flags…and their proper names. (PS – the title of this post is an obscure reference that has nothing to do with Confederate flags but everything to do with an 80s pop band from Santa Barbara – guess who they are and get a shout out).

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First Confederate National Flag aka “The Stars and Bars”

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Army of Northern Virginia Battle Flag
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Second National Confederate Flag aka “The Stainless Banner”

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Third National Confederate Flag (note stain)

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Confederate Navy Jack

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Confederate flag of significance from Appomattox (sorry…I just couldn’t help myself.



So there you are – a test will commence shortly.

With compliments,


Gary W. Gallagher and the Battlefield as a Classroom

In this brief video, my colleague and mentor, Gary W. Gallagher, discusses the importance of the battlefield as a classroom. I have toured many such battlefields with Gary and can attest to the benefits of teaching on the very spots where individuals made history. The Civil War Trust, an organization of many virtues, is engaged not only in battlefield preservation, but organizes student “field trips” with education in mind. You can donate to the CWT Field Trip fund HERE.

With compliments,

The Americanist Independent

What to do at a Civil War Battlefield

Screen Shot 2014-10-06 at 12.38.40 PMMost people (read: tourists) tend to stay on the marked paths, follow the pre-programmed audio tours, or drive by, stop, read the signage, and move on. Want to have some fun? Seek out someone who knows the field (the NPS can most certainly arrange something for you) and ask to go off the beaten path. Seek out the rarely seen, the unusual, the forgotten. Visit the field during off hours or during the non-tourist seasons. I’ve done this all of these things myself and I have had quite the time. I have had the Shiloh and Perryville battlefields to myself, I have been to places at Gettysburg that only experts on the battle could ever hope to find. Do it. It will be worth the extra effort. And if all else fails, you can just stand by a cannon and point. This has been a battlefield tradition for over a century.

With compliments,


One of the Best Independence Days Ever

Screen Shot 2014-07-04 at 8.35.24 AMGood morning friends and a Happy Independence Day to you all! Today I would like to take a moment to commemorate the fall of the Rebel stronghold at Vicksburg – July 4, 1863. I am quite certain that the loyal citizens of the United States appreciated the significance of such a victory on such a day. Huzzah!

With compliments,


The Americanist Independent: A Monthly Journal of United States History

Counting the Dead – The Civil War Numbers Game

Screen Shot 2014-05-07 at 10.40.35 AMThis morning, I reread an article in the New York Times Disunion series entitled “Recounting the Dead” by J. David Hacker. Hacker concludes that although Civil War history has gone through any number of revisions, the generally agreed upon number of deaths resulting from that war amount to around 650,000.

Until recently.

Hacker illustrates how the death toll has risen to upwards of 750,000…perhaps as high as 850,000. Read the article yourself to find out how all of this came about. I want to talk about what these numbers mean.

It seems strangely perverse that we can throw numbers around like this…without a little explanation. Of course, Civil War literature is full of statements (somewhat cliche these days) such as “more died in the Civil War than all other wars combined” or the ever popular “at [insert battle here] thousands fell in a matter of minutes.” Then you have the “bloodiest” scenarios: bloodiest battle, bloodiest single day, bloodiest three days, bloodiest assault, bloodiest general, bloodiest regiment, etc., etc.

But apart from making modern observers shake their heads in disbelief, what do these numbers and observations tell us? Were nineteenth-century citizens extraordinary  marksmen? Did they care little for human life?  Did they flippantly cast soldiers pell-mell to their inexorable deaths? Not likely.

The staggering loss of life suggests something that so many journalists, historians, buffs, armchair generals, and narrators for the History Channel seem to miss: the citizens of the Union and the Confederacy were deeply and profoundly committed to their respective causes. Citizen soldiers were not fooled, tricked, duped, or hoodwinked. What’s more…they knew for what they were fighting. For the most part, they willingly (often enthusiastically) participated in a fight to the finish, despite the mounting casualty figures.

To put things in perspective – let’s do a little population comparison to see just how willing nineteenth-century Americans were to put up with such grim and devastating numbers. for the sake of argument, let’s also stick with the lower estimation of 650,000 deaths.

The population of the United States in 1860 (that is the whole enchilada…before secession) was roughly 31,500,000 people – and around 4,000,000 of these folks were held in bondage. Based on the laws of higher mathematics, that means that somewhere around 2% of the total 1860 population lost their lives as a result of this war.

Fast forward to 2010ish. The current census reports the population of the United States hovers at roughly 311,000,000…a shade less than ten times the 1860 population. Now…let’s just say (again for the sake of argument) that United States forces in Iraq and Afghanistan sustained  losses comparable to the combined Union and Confederate armies and navies. That would mean that 6,220,000 United States soldiers, sailors, and Marines would have been killed over the course of the last several years.

I find these statistics sobering to say the least…and doubt quite adamantly that Americans would tolerate such dismal numbers today. The total death toll in Vietnam eventually numbered close to 58,000, and Americans of the 1960s did not stand for it. Today, the media report military deaths on an individual level – and Americans are intensely divided over what such sacrifice means.  I cannot know for certain what would transpire if news of deaths by the thousands appeared nightly on CNN – but I can only imagine Americans taking to the streets in revolutionary fury.

A century and a half span the distance between our current wars, our wars in recent history, and the Civil War era – and I believe many have lost sight of exactly what Americans from both sides of the Potomac were willing to endure between 1861 and 1865. It seems clear that they were far more intensely committed to their respective nations and causes than what is often assumed. And because of this we lose sight of what nation meant to nineteenth-century Americans. The idea that southern soldiers favored regional (state rights, remember?) over national allegiance or that northern soldiers thought little of the concept of Union still holds a pretty tight grasp on both popular and scholarly takes on the war.

One side sought to preserve a nation, one side sought to establish an entirely new one. Of course there were some on both sides who opposed these efforts – opposed the war entirely. But overall, numbers do not lie…especially in a war between two democratic republics. The people of the 1860s supported their causes to the bitter end – enough so that they sustained unparallelled losses.

So next time someone quotes you numbers, whether they be 650,000, 750,000, or 850,000 – you might want to remind them what that actually means.

With compliments,