Echoes from the Society for Civil War Historians Conference – Part I

Unfortunately, due to work and other commitments, I was only able to attend one day of the Society of Civil War Historians conference. However, I did witness two interesting panels and sat in on the highlight of the meeting which discussed the state of Civil War military history.

The first panel titled “Beleaguered Cincinnatus: Problems of Mobilization and Demobilization in the Civil War Era” offered three very unique situations of soldiers dealing with their specific circumstances during and after the war. Timothy Orr of Penn State University opened up with the interesting saga of the Pennsylvania Reserve Division, titled “We are no grumblers.” The division was manning forts in the relative safety of the north when they were called to participate in Grant’s overland campaign. Suffering many casualties, the real controversy began when the division’s enlistment was up and the federal government would not allow them to leave. Eventually, the Pennsylvania governor interceded through Lincoln to have the division discharged.

James Broomall from the University of Florida followed Tim’s spirited presentation with “I can’t see what will become of us.” His essay took a confederate slant. Many of the soldiers did not know how to deal with their defeat and returned home, unlike their yankee counterparts, to a government and economy in shambles. James focused on two specific counties in which the returning veterans had to become the civil authorities. In order to help restore order, these veterans mobilized their own police force.

Andrew Slapp of East Tennessee University slipped into the discussion with “A more common war: African American soldiers and the garrisoning of Memphis.” Andrew’s thoroughly researched paper, complete with meticulous statistics, focused on a black regiment stationed at Memphis, Tennessee. The regiment had an extremely high desertion rate as compared to other black union regiments. Andrew argued that this was because of an African American community that sprung up around these soldiers. Andrew also stated that he was looking into the soldiers’ involvement, if any, of the Memphis riots.

Paul A. Cimbala of Fordham University, author of The Freedmen’s Bureau and the reconstruction of Georgia, 1865 – 1870, favorably summed up the three panelist’s presentations.

Next week, I will have more on the discussion of Texas in the Civil War, and I will sum up with Gary Gallagher’s excellent roundtable discussion on the state of Civil War military history.