Tag Archives: commemoration

Should a Battlefield Visit be a More Solemn Occasion?

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View from the Angle at Gettysburg…looking across the field at Seminary Ridge.

Tourists in cars, tourists in buses, tourists on Segways, tourists with selfie sticks, tourists yelling, arguing, dropping garbage. This is the typical scene at the most visited section of the Gettysburg battlefield: The Bloody Angle. Much of Gettysburg takes on a carnival atmosphere. The town itself is tuned almost entirely to the tourist industry – and the associated tourist revelry spills out to the surrounding fields of battle in ways that are – shall we say…less than dignified.

As a historian who studies memory, commemoration, and historical interpretation, I find battlefield tourism fascinating. Especially these days as the commemorative landscape is in a clear state of flux. But I can’t help but wonder if tourists more often than not miss the point.

You know that spot where where you are yelling at your kids? Yes, that one…thousands of people were killed there. And the ground was dedicated to honor the fallen. Perhaps death on that scale is too abstract for most to really fathom. Perhaps we are too far removed from the event.


But I think it would be a good idea for everyone to take a minute away from shouting and selfies to reflect on what actually happened there. Let’s stop and think for a moment about those who fought, killed, and struggled for their lives…and maybe then we can understand why they did it.

With compliments,


George Llewellyn Christian – an Angry (ex) Confederate

Screen shot 2014-03-16 at 10.20.49 AMGeorge Llewellyn Christian was among the most prolific former Confederates around. It seems he had something to say about pretty much everything Civil War related. He wrote numerous articles, published in pamphlet form, and turned up in states all across the South to talk about the war in person. George L. Christian certainly got around.

Christian was a young man in 1861 – only twenty years old. He enlisted in the Confederate army and served with his fellow Virginians until he was horribly wounded at Spotsylvania. Having lost all of one foot and most of another, he managed to hobble off to Charlottesville and earn a law degree from the University of Virginia – and after the war became a prominent attorney.

But he never quite got over Confederate defeat. His writings and speeches are evidence of just how bitter he really was. In an 1894 tribute to Jubal Early, he noted, “The man whose soul is so dead that he is not proud to have been a part of [the Confederate] army, battling not for what he thought was right, but what was right, is too contemptible, in my opinion, to be by any human power raised to the level of brute.”

Four years later, Christian would remind the people of the South, that “whilst the cause for which [Confederates] fought is a ‘lost cause’ in the sense that they failed to establish a separate government within certain geographical limits, it is only lost in that sense. The principles of that cause yet live.” Adding his bitter voice to those of other aggravated former Confederates, Christian noted the significance of monument dedications and gatherings in terms of perpetuating Confederate memories. “Here, history will record a thrilling tale of outrage inflicted upon this defenseless people by the mercenary hordes of the North, permitted and encouraged by the remorseless cruelty and unquenchable ambition of some of their leaders.”

From the looks of things, Christian had a real problem with reconciliation. In the influential Ghosts of the Confederacy, Gaines M. Foster equates such bitter Rebels with Native American Ghost Dancers of the late-nineteenth century. “They clung to the past, defended old values, and dreamed of a world untouched by defeat.” Very few southerners, Foster argues, joined the ghost dance. By the 1880s, “Confederate celebration did not foster a revival of rabid sectionalism.” Detractors perpetuating sectional animosity simply by “not forgetting” during an era when most had presumably agreed to let “bygones be bygones” thus appear out of place in a nation characterized by an outpouring of reconciliationist sentiment.

Or do they? Historians such as Foster have effectively misplaced Christian’s form of commemoration. The majority of white southerners, they suggest, distanced themselves from efforts to revitalize the divisive aspects of Confederate memory and rejected bitter former Rebels as unreconstructed anachronisms.

Not so fast – in fact, Christian claimed to be a reconciliationist at heart, and he spoke often of his loyalty to the postwar United States – just like most former Confederates. And thus the problem. How do we deal with those who claim reconciliation and then say every thing they can to suggest otherwise? Evidence that I will present in my upcoming book, Across the Bloody Chasm: Commemorative Cultures among Civil War Veterans, will offer some explanations. It seems that Christian was indeed a typical former Confederate reconciliaitonist…one who wanted peace and brotherly harmony between the sections so long as a few terms were met first. Namely…that northerners admitted they were wrong.

Since this was not about to happen – Christian, and many, many more like him, ran up against a bit of a stone wall (so to speak). Northern Unionists were just as stubborn when it came to their version of the war. Reconciliationists all (or most), they could never seem to agree on what the war was about. This is the legacy that we live with in the 21st century. And – it gives me something to write about…so thanks George!

With compliments,


Bitter…Table for One?

Screen shot 2014-03-11 at 2.55.31 PMFrom time to time I run across these little gems that I feel I need to share with the world. Here’s one I found while perusing the archives at Washington and Lee University’s Special Collection Department. Back story:  in 1980 (ancient history…) the good people of Darlington County, South Carolina gathered together to rededicate their Confederate monument – on the centennial anniversary of Darlington’s Rebels’ original  tribute to their glorious cause.

The speaker for the day was one William Stanley Hoole – a descendant of Axalla John Hoole, a Confederate Colonel of the Darlington Riflemen who was killed at Chickamauga.  Now you might figure Hoole (the speaker…not the dead Rebel) to be one of those reconstructed types. Let’s see what he had to say…..

Those gallant men and women believed that it was their right to dispel from their lives the economic modernism of the neighbors to the North and thus preserve their own landed conservatism. They shuddered to think that they should ever be forced to shoulder the yoke of Yankee domination. They wanted nothing more than their own country, a country they could love and be proud of, a separate nation, a confederation, a confederacy embracing a cavalier way of life, unfettered by the austerity of Northern Puritanism.

John Brown’s attack on the United States Arsenal at Harper’s Ferry had convinced the most reluctant Rebel that there was no longer any camaraderie between himself and his Yankee counterpart. As one Southerner [E. Merton Coulter] put it, “Black Republicanism has buried brotherhood between North and South in the same grave with the Constitution.”

Our beloved South Carolina, surfeited to the point of nausea by Northern insults and maledictions, as we all know, made the first move toward secession. They simply wanted to be left alone in peace. But the Republican regime in Washington, infiltrated by indecision, deception, and unprecedented machiavelism saw differently. Instead of letting the “Wayward Sister,” as they called our state, go in peace, they seized Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor, dispatched addition soldiers, and ignored all appeals for amicable negotiation. These warlike acts at once rendered Fort Sumter a symbol of Yankee domination, an out-right indignity, an international insult, is you please, which could not be overlooked, even by the most ardent seekers of peace.

Yep – he sounds pretty angry, right? But I wonder….is he really “unreconstructed” or just confused? I run across people all the time who claim loyalty to the Union (as did Hoole) – yet pile this sort of inflammatory language high. Many, I find, are very much like their Confederate ancestors. Perfectly willing to embrace the post-war Union, so long as they could commemorate their war on their terms. What do you think?

With compliments,