It is my pleasure to welcome Zack Biro, a Masters student at Lehigh University, as a writer for this blog. As we close in on our 300th post, it will be interesting to see who will write it, but I look forward to Zack’s postings and hope you will welcome his contributions as well.
Today is the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Antietam (or Sharpsburg, if you prefer) in 1862. It represents the bloodiest one-day battle in American history with over 23,000 casualties on both sides. Ethan Rafuse provides a wonderful post on this subject, complete with the opening to the film Glory (1989), which began with this battle.
This battle was significant for several reasons. One was that it allowed Lincoln to justify the Emancipation Proclamation, as the tactical draw served as a psychological and strategic victory for the Union, aiding in a small way in keeping the European powers out of the conflict, though this was largely accomplished by this point in 1862.
Also, it was a major setback for Robert E. Lee, as his invasion of the North failed. It represented a series of missed opportunities and blunders that could have ended the war sooner, had McClellan acted more decisively upon finding Lee’s Special Order 191, which was his battle plan, or had McClellan pursued and destroyed the Army of Northern Virginia after the battle.
Though, 150 years old, this battle is still an important event in our history, worthy of continuing staff rides by military educational programs around the country. One of the better books on the battle that is both scholarly and great for a general audience is James McPherson’s Crossroads of Freedom: Antietam, The Battle That Changed the Course of the Civil War (2002), as it discusses the larger significance of the battle as well as how it relates to the concept of freedom at the time. As we approach the anniversaries of some of the most important battles of the war, it will be notable to see how we reflect and what historians write and do to understand the importance of these events against our modern society.
I would like to take this opportunity to remind you all that American Experience on PBS will be airing a documentary by Ric Burns (younger brother of filmmaker Ken Burns) entitled Death and the Civil War on Tuesday, September 18 at 8:00PM Eastern Time. The airing is timely, as it will be just after the 150th anniversary of the bloodiest single-day battle in American history with the Battle of Antietam on September 17.
This film, based upon Drew Gilpin Faust’s landmark work This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War (2008), illustrated how the Civil War changed how Americans on both sides of the conflict perceived death. Prior to the war, influenced by the religious revival of the Second Great Awakening, people believed in the concept of a “good death”, which involved dying at home, surrounded by loved ones, at peace and ready to go, and possibly and offering of last words to friends and family. This death was rooted in Christian tradition emerging in the nation through the early 19th century, where a new belief in a corporeal heaven, gained wide acceptance by the eve of war. This belief held that the deceased will gain a renewed body upon entering heaven and will reunite with loved ones who passed on before them, as well as the surviving relatives and friends when they die, with all living in everlasting peace and harmony with God.
As the war’s cruel reality shattered notions of a short, relatively bloodless conflict, Americans faced a new concept of death, as hundreds, and soon thousands, of young men were slaughtered in their prime, unable to enjoy the tranquility and dignity of a “good death”. Soldiers soon adapted to this changing circumstance and created the same conditions, in a modified fashion, for their dying comrades. The men were surrounded by photographs of loved ones, their army friends, and were able, when possible, die in relative peace. The deceased’s comrades also took on the unenviable task of notifying loved ones of the demise of the soldier, as well as arranging for shipment of effects and, if able, the body.
This documentary did an outstanding job of analyzing the harsh situation facing the nation in the early years of the war, that stands in stark contrast to how our nation treats the war dead today. Before and during the early years of the war, the federal government did not bear responsibility for identifying, accounting for, and treating its war dead. The result was that many dead were not identified initially, being buried in graves marked “Unknown”. Further, the government had no way of effective notification of casualties, with relatives relying upon the casualty reports in local papers, which could be inaccurate, creating increased anxiety among people as to the fate of their loved one serving, whether they were dead or not. Death was exacerbated by the lack of an ambulance corps, preventing early evacuation of wounded, which caused many to linger on the battlefield, dying of their wounds, without the comfort of the “good death”.
The film revolved around several themes: dying, burial, emotions around death, memorializing, identifying, and slavery. Each of these themes was well treated. Slavery was quite interesting, as the African-American experience with death was quite different through the horrors of slavery, which created a higher mortality possibility for them than whites. They created their own concept of the “good death”, which involved dying in the struggle for freedom. What was interesting to consider was that the historians involved in the film argued that contraband camps, where escaped slaves were initially housed, represented one of the first American examples of refugee camps, where conditions were quite harsh and fostered a higher mortality.
Beyond the overall content of the documentary, there were several things that stood out for me in this piece. One was the early mention of the casualty figure of 750,000, which is based upon new research that appeared in the journal Civil War History (December 2011), that is still gaining acceptance in the scholarly community and will take years to gain full recognition. The use of the figure will go far in terms of generating wider acceptance of the new calculations of just how many died in the war.
In addition to the use of new casualty figures, the story of 19th century methods of embalming and the role photographers played in bringing the savagery of death on the battlefield to Americans’ homes. Further, commemorating the dead, both through establishing national cemeteries and creating Memorial Day (on both sides of the Mason-Dixon) was an important subject. It was quite interesting to consider that without the Civil War, we likely would not have the system of national cemeteries, let alone an accounting of our war dead, at least as we know it. The story of Charleston blacks burying deceased Union POW’s from the racetrack prison camp and leading a commemoration ceremony and parade with Union forces in early May 1865 represented one of the earliest occurrences of what we know as Memorial Day.
With an all-star cast of historians and commentators, including Drew Gilpin Faust, Vincent Brown, David W. Blight, and George Will among others, Ric Burns has crafted a masterful documentary in the vein of his brother’s The Civil War. It combines the use of photographs, filmed scenes, and stirring narration, including powerful and emotional examples from the primary sources of the war, the writings of the people experiencing the war themselves. While Faust’s book is an important read and I urge everyone to read it, Death and the Civil War is a must-see documentary that illustrates the transformative effect of the war on our nation in the midst of its 150th anniversary.
I would like to welcome Walter Coffey, author and blogger, who has his own Civil War blog as well as a general history blog. He will be doing some guest posting, largely focusing on anniversaries, as his latest book chronicles the war on a monthly basis. If you are looking for a month-by-month look at the war, consider his new book The Civil War Months. Welcome to the blog Walter!
Pretty interesting article on a revival of Civil War era music via reenacting. I had the opportunity to listen to the 97th Regimental String Band while at Pipestone, MN a few weeks ago and they were a great group.
While I understand some of the discomfort over some of the lyrics used in the songs, we must remember that society was different 150 years ago and did not subscribe to the same values and attitudes that we might. Such events must be understood in their proper historical context and they can serve a purpose for reflecting upon the past to hopefully open a civil and honest debate about the issues of slavery and race in America’s past.
From the Grand Forks Herald:
By: Patrick Springer, Grand Forks Herald
FARGO – The first hint of trouble came to Fort Abercrombie on a tranquil summer day when word arrived that the Dakota Sioux in Minnesota were ripe for an uprising.
It was unwelcome news for a military post whose new commander had recently discovered was stocked with ammunition that was the wrong caliber for the soldiers’ muskets.
Also, since the fort wasn’t yet protected by a stockade or blockhouses, the soldiers scrambled to build defensive breastworks of earth and timber to surround the key buildings comprising the post.
Help was 227 miles away, at Fort Snelling, and the nearest community of any size was more than 150 miles away, in St. Cloud.
Author’s Note: I will be taking part in the commemoration this Saturday, portraying a soldier, so if you are in the area, come on down to the fort and check out the program, as it looks to be pretty good. I will also share my thoughts on the event and the actual siege over the weekend.
Had to share this story with you all, as it involves my home town. I have been to this event several times before I relocated to North Dakota, and this is the first time it’s been cancelled, but what can you do about the weather, especially when it’s the remnants of Hurricane Isaac.
As a reenactor, I know I would not plan to go to the event with that kind of weather in the forecast, even if I had committed to it before, as damp weather is not good for weapons, or powder. Also, camping would be a pain in the rear with heavy rain, as the tents are only so waterproof. While a tough decision, it was the right one in light of the situation.
I wish the Nolan’s the best of luck as they deal with this sad turn of events and to all my friends in Jersey County, please be safe this weekend.
The past two weekends have been quite fun for me, as I participated in Pipestone Civil War Days 2012 from August 10-12, (we didn’t get back to Grand Forks until Monday evening due to a car problem, but made the best of it) and then set up a Civil War living history display as part of East Grand Forks Heritage Days on August 18-19. I also did a display at the Hubbard County Museum in Park Rapids, Minnesota on July 29, which was fun.
For Pipestone, I fell in with the 1st South Carolina, Company H, which was my one time this season doing a Confederate impression. It was a good time seeing old friends and we took in a concert with the 97th Regimental String Band, who played period music. The battles were good, though we surrendered on the second day. I also experienced the fun of firing my musket in damp conditions, resulting in two incidences of unintentionally firing a double charge, as the first charge did not discharge, making the kick and flash quite noticeable. Here are some pictures from Pipestone. The best part of the weekend was the chance to have a tintype made of me using a period photograph by Dave Rambow, who I have met at several other events.
Heritage Days was good this year, as we had a bigger display and had Den Bolda and Mike Larson from Fargo join us on Sunday. Saturday, Joe, Stuart, Ethan Brazee (who was trying out reenacting for the first time), and I met several people and we figured almost 150 stopped by our display that day. We may have gained some new recruits. It was a great time and thanks to Drs. Doug and Laura Munski for providing some of the pictures on both days.
Here are the photos from all the events.
AMERICAN EXPERIENCE Presents Death and the Civil War
Premieres Tuesday, September 18, 2012
8:00 p.m. – 10:00 p.m. ET on PBS
From acclaimed filmmaker Ric Burns, Death and the Civil War explores an essential but largely overlooked aspect of the most pivotal event in American history: the transformation of the nation by the death of an estimated 750,000 men – nearly two and a half percent of the population – in four dark and searing years from 1861 to 1865. With the coming of the Civil War, and the staggering and completely unprecedented casualties it ushered in, death entered the experience of the American people as it never had before – on a scale and in a manner no one had ever imagined possible, and under circumstances for which the nation would prove completely unprepared. The impact would permanently alter the character of the republic, the culture of the government and the psyche of the American people – down to this day.
“Transpose the percentage of dead that mid-19th-century America faced into our own time – seven million dead, if we had the same percentage,” says author Drew Gilpin Faust, on whose groundbreaking book, This Republic of Suffering, the film is based. “What would we as a nation today be like if we faced the loss of seven million individuals?”
Death and the Civil War tracks the increasingly lethal arc of the war, from the bloodless opening in 1861, through the chaos of Shiloh, Antietam, Gettysburg, and the unspeakable carnage of 1864 – down through the struggle, in the aftermath of the war, to cope with an American landscape littered with the bodies of hundreds of thousands of soldiers, many unburied, most unidentified. The work of contending with death on this scale would propel extraordinary changes in the inner and outer life of all Americans – posing challenges for which there were no ready answers when the war began – challenges that called forth remarkable and eventually heroic efforts on the part of individuals, groups and the government – as Americans worked to improvise new solutions, new institutions, new ways of coping with death on an unimaginable scale.
Before the Civil War, there were no national cemeteries in America. No provisions for identifying the dead, or for notifying next of kin, or for providing aid to the suffering families of dead veterans. No federal relief organizations, no effective ambulance corps, no adequate federal hospitals, no federal provisions for burying the dead. No Arlington Cemetery. No Memorial Day. Death and the Civil War will premiere on AMERICAN EXPERIENCE on Tuesday, September 18, 2012 from 8:00 p.m. – 10:00 p.m. ET on PBS in conjunction with the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Antietam – to this day, the single bloodiest day in American history.
RIC BURNS (Producer/Director)
Ric Burns is best known for his acclaimed series New York: A Documentary Film, a sweeping chronicle of the city’s history, which garnered several honors, including two Emmy Awards and an Alfred I. DuPont- Columbia Award. Burns’ career began with the celebrated series The Civil War, which he produced with his brother, Ken Burns, and co-wrote with Geoffrey C. Ward. In 1991, Ric founded Steeplechase Films and has since written and directed a number of award winning films for PBS, including Coney Island, The Donner Party, The Way West, Eugene O’Neill, and Andy Warhol: A Documentary Film. Most recently, for AMERICAN EXPERIENCE, Burns wrote, produced, and co-directed Tecumseh’s Vision, part two of the groundbreaking five-part miniseries We Shall Remain, and a film about the history of the whaling industry,
Into the Deep: America, Whaling & the World. A graduate of Columbia University and Cambridge University, Burns lives in New York City.
DREW GILPIN FAUST (Author, This Republic of Suffering) took office as Harvard University’s 28th president on July 1, 2007. A historian of the U.S. Civil War and the American South, Faust is also the Lincoln Professor of History in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. She previously served as founding dean of the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study (2001-2007). Before coming to Radcliffe, Faust was the Annenberg Professor of History at the University of Pennsylvania. She is the author of six books, including This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War (January, 2008), which was awarded the 2009 Bancroft Prize, the New-York Historical Society 2009 American History Book Prize, and recognized by The New York Times as one of the “Ten Best Books of 2008.” Faust’s honors include awards in 1982 and 1996 for distinguished teaching at the University of Pennsylvania. She was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1994 and the American Philosophical Society in 2004. She received her bachelor’s degree from Bryn Mawr in 1968, magna cum laude with honors in history, and master’s (1971) and doctoral (1975) degrees in American civilization from the University of Pennsylvania.
About AMERICAN EXPERIENCE
Television’s most-watched history series, AMERICAN EXPERIENCE has been hailed as “peerless” (Wall Street Journal), “the most consistently enriching program on television” (Chicago Tribune), and “a beacon of intelligence and purpose” (Houston Chronicle). On air and online, the series brings to life the incredible characters and epic stories that have shaped America’s past and present. Acclaimed by viewers and critics alike, AMERICAN EXPERIENCE documentaries have been honored with every major broadcast award, including 14 George Foster Peabody Awards, four DuPont-Columbia Awards, and 30 Emmy Awards, including, most recently, Exceptional Merit in Nonfiction Filmmaking for Freedom Riders. Exclusive corporate funding for American Experience is provided by Liberty Mutual Insurance. Major funding provided by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. Major funding for Death and the Civil War provided by the National Endowment for the Humanities: Exploring the Human Endeavor. Additional Funding provided by the Arthur Vining Davis Foundations, Dedicated To Strengthening America’s Future Through Education; the Nordblom Family Foundation and the Gretchen Stone Cook Charitable Foundation, members of the Documentary Investment Group; and by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and Public Television
Viewers. American Experience is produced for PBS by WGBH Boston.
Mary Lugo 770-623-8190 firstname.lastname@example.org
For further info and photos visit http://www.pbs.org/pressroom
Kudos to Civil Warriors for this article on commemorating African American Civil War soldiers.
Ethan Rafuse, professor of military history at the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, and blogger at Civil Warriors is delivering a lecture as part of the 44th Annual Lecture Series “Perspectives in Military History.” The lecture is entitled “We Always Understood Each Other So Well: McClellan, Lee and the War in the East.” If you are in the area of Carlisle Barracks in Pennsylvania on July 18, I urge you to take in his lecture.
Liftoff! World’s First Manned Civil War Balloon
Replica Begins Public Flights on July 4
Intrepid Cleared to Launch at Genesee Country Village & Museum
MUMFORD, N.Y., July 3 — During the past week, residents of Western New York may have seen an unfamiliar object rise into to the sky, only to disappear from the horizon after a few minutes. Now, following a series of test launches, the Intrepid – the world’s first replica of a manned Civil War balloon – has been cleared for public flights beginning Wednesday, July 4 at Genesee Country Village & Museum (GCV&M; www.gcv.org).
Weather permitting, the balloon will take guests – up to four at a time – approximately 300 feet (32 stories) into the sky, simulating what the world’s first military pilots (aeronauts) experienced 150 years ago over Civil War battlefields.
GCV&M, located between Rochester and Buffalo, is the largest living history museum in New York State, and maintains the third largest collection of historic buildings in the United States.
First announced this past February, the Intrepid project has captured the imagination of families, educators, historians and aviation enthusiasts across North America. Renowned documentary filmmaker Ken Burns, adventure balloonist and Virgin Group Chairman Sir Richard Branson, and the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum’s senior curator of Aeronautics, Tom D. Crouch, Ph.D., have praised the reconstruction.
“The Intrepid was the predecessor to modern-day military aviation, foreshadowing the future of military reconnaissance communications,” said Peter Arnold, GCV&M’s CEO and president. “The pilot would send intelligence information – troop movements, artillery compensation instructions, and more – to soldiers on the ground via telegraph. It was a remarkably innovative concept at the time.”
Conceived by Professor Thaddeus Lowe, the Union Army Balloon Corps was personally approved by President Abraham Lincoln in June 1861. Like the genuine seven gas balloons used during the Civil War, the Intrepid is tethered to land for optimal convenience and safety.
GCV&M’s Intrepid utilizes helium instead of hydrogen, which was easily generated in the 1860s using iron filings and acid. A generous donation from Macy’s, Inc. during the current nationwide helium shortage allowed the project to carry forward on schedule.
Fifteen-minute flights cost $10 for GCV&M members or $15 for non-members in addition to standard Museum admission rates. Tickets are available on-site, and cannot be pre-ordered due to weather-dependent flight scheduling.
In addition to the balloon, GCV&M has constructed a permanent Civil War encampment at the launch site, which is open to all Museum guests.
A team of prominent advisors is assisting with the project, including Dr. Crouch; Jim Green, director, Planetary Science Division, National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA); and Rob Shenk, director, Internet Strategy & Development, Civil War Trust. The Intrepid was built by AeroBalloon Inc. of Hingham, Mass., and painted by illustrator Todd Price of Elk Creek, Va.
Malcolm Spaull, chair of Rochester Institute of Technology’s School of Film and Animation, is shooting a documentary about the project. The film is expected to air on PBS later this year.
The initiative’s total estimated cost of nearly $400,000 has been partially offset by a number of generous donations. GCV&M will continue to seek additional financial support for the project.
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About Genesee Country Village & Museum
Genesee Country Village & Museum (www.gcv.org) helps visitors understand the lives and times of 19th-century America through interactive programs, events and exhibits. It is the largest and most comprehensive living history museum in New York State and maintains the third largest collection of historic buildings in the United States. The 700-acre complex consists of 68 historic structures furnished with 15,000 artifacts to provide an authentic 19th-century environment in which visitors can interact with knowledgeable, third-person historic interpreters in period-appropriate dress.
Katie Corbut, McDougall Travers Collins for Genesee Country Village & Museum
phone: 585-210-9585 or 716-464-4713
While visiting my folks in Illinois, I have been quiet on posting, though I do have some pictures, but that’s for another post. First, thanks to my good friend Dr. William Young on his first post on this blog. Beyond that wonderful item, I learned that I shattered the record for the busiest day by over 700 hits. Apparently, Father’s Day was the day to visit the site and specifically my post on the Medal of Honor during the war. Thank you readers for that wonderful surprise and fluke. I am still at a loss as to how it happened, but am not complaining. I will get a post up in the next day or so recounting some of the reenacting adventures I had this last month. On another note, please remember that this is the 149th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg, which warrants a link to this cool song.
Today (Saturday, June 16), from 9am-noon (since it is in Massachusetts, I am assuming it is Eastern Time) the American College of History and Legal Studies will be live-streaming a round table discussion on the Seven Days Battles. It will be led by our founding dean, Civil War Historian and Pulitzer prize nominee Michael Chesson.
You can either check it out via this link, or through the embed provided below.
Below is to participate in the chat:
More information is available here.
Apologies on the short notice, but I did not find out about this until two days ago and have been busy packing and traveling to Illinois to visit my folks, but I hope some of you are able to take in this interesting event.