Bringing the Civil War to Ellen Hopkins Elementary School

On Wednesday, May 16, members of the 5th Minnesota Volunteer Infantry (Joe Camisa, Stuart Lawrence, Den Bolda, and I), also known as the Fort Abercrombie Garrison, brought some of our gear and presented on the Civil War to an eager group of fifth grade students at Ellen Hopkins Elementary School in Moorhead, MN. Special thanks to Mrs. Cheri Puetz for allowing us the opportunity to come and talk with her students. It was a beautiful day and we were situated in the shade. We set up a tent, as well as our colors, and a small ground cloth with some soldier equipment on display. We also dressed and wore some of our gear. It was a lot of fun and we had kids from the lower grades coming up to us and asking us questions for an hour after school let out, which was really awesome. They were really excited by our stuff and if we did not need to return to Grand Forks so soon, we would have stayed longer. There were some good questions posed and the students came away with a great introduction to their study on the war. Below are photos taken from that day, courtesy of Mrs. Puetz.

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The Rebel Yell in video

Hat tip to Civil Warriors for this awesome video of a film that is held at the Library of Congress, but was made available online via the Smithsonian. I have heard a recording of the Rebel Yell before, but this is by far the best, as you can see the actual veterans doing the yell. Though the audio quality is a bit grainy, this video represents the power of digital history in making a unique piece of American history available to the world. Check it out, as I am sure it will send a shiver up your spine.

What Did the Rebel Yell Sound Like?

You should also check out this interesting article on video and audio recordings of veterans.

Digital history and the Civil War

As I have been working this semester on a digital history project on the fiftieth anniversary of the Chester Fritz Library at UND, I decided to take a few moments to consider the applications digital history has for the Civil War. As new technology changes life in many ways, history also must adapt to the faster pace of a digital world.

I have posted on several digital collections devoted to the war in the past, but want to share with you the possibilities that digital history provides for the war. Beyond digital collections placed online by various research libraries and institutions, digital tools provide endless possibilities for those interested in the war and here are some examples:

Omeka is an open-source collection management software that allows users to upload various items onto a digital archive, organize them into collections, and make them available to the world. The cool thing about this resource is that if you have a personal collection of documents and objects related to the war, you can create an online museum devoted to them, with metadata that is useful to researchers.

Using online tools to collaborate with others in the field is one of the best ways digital technology improves our understanding of the war. Search engines allow us to access materials from anywhere, and software, like Zotero, which is a free citation management program, let scholars organize information and retrieve it quickly. I have a bibliography devoted to my thesis topic (Civil War soldiers) that I try and update to keep abreast of new materials. Also, using a Twitter feed offers the chance of posting a question to your followers and receiving an answer quickly.

One of the best ways to use digital tools is blogging, as it allows you to showcase your interests and research and gain a following in the digital world. This is one reason I blog, and there are several other scholars on the war that have blogs (Civil Warriors, Crossroads, and Renegade South come to mind). So, if you are interested, get out there and start a blog, or ask to join one as a guest writer.

I will leave you with a couple great posts by two professors at the University of North Dakota who are much more knowledgeable about this subject than I. Dr. Bill Caraher wrote a post on his blog, which is cross-posted to Teaching Thursday, and Dr. Tim Pasch shared his insights into digital tools as well, which while they are more to improve workflow, they have great uses in researching the war, in terms of organizing information and retaining it. It will be amazing to see how much of a role digital history plays during the 150th anniversary, and who knows what will be going on for the bicentennial. Until next time, keep researching.

Photos from Heritage Days

Like last year, we participated in East Grand Forks Heritage Days, providing a Civil War display. This year, we attended both days, and had extra help in Joe Camisa and Bud Mahnke, who provided their expertise on subjects as well. It was a bit crazy, as Stuart and I had just returned from Wilson’s Creek only a couple of days earlier. Except for a bit of wind and showers, it was fun, and we were able to do several firing demonstrations with the muskets, which the crowd seemed to enjoy. We even made the local paper The Exponent, which was fun. Below are photos from the day.

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A great site of digital collections on the Civil War

Hat tip to my colleague Joe Camisa for making me aware of this new site that links digital Civil War collections from a several prestigious libraries in the South. Civil War in the American South is a project put out by members of the Association of Southeastern Research Libraries (ASERL), which include libraries at Duke, Clemson, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi State, Virginia, and the UNC system. A cursory glance shows several promising collections on a variety of subjects. I urge my readers to check it out and explore this research tool.

Some videos from the First Bull Run reenactment

Here are a couple videos from this past weekend’s reenactment of the First Battle of Bull Run:

-This is a personal video of the event.

-Video of the parade.

AFTER ACTION REPORT FOR THE 150TH REENACTMENT OF 1ST MANASSAS, 20-26 JUL 2011

The adventure began when I got up at 2:00 AM on July 20, packed the cooler and hit I-29 South out of Grand Forks at 3:00 AM.  I was the only vehicle on the road for miles and miles until I hit Fargo about 4:30 AM. I was fortunate to spend only an hour sitting in morning traffic in Minneapolis, Minnesota, about 7:30 AM. I was headed to Northfield, Iowa, to meet two other members of the group out here in the Midwest, the 1st South Carolina Volunteer Infantry, Company H.  I arrived at 10:30 AM and we packed up a four door Ford Taurus minus Granny sitting on top of the car.  I slept through most of Iowa and Illinois. We found the coolest road construction outside of Indianapolis and spent about two hours counting the orange cones all up and down the interstate.

We crossed into Ohio and then West By-God Virginia.  The mountains impressed the boys from the flat lands and so did the locals at the gas station.  “You all ain’t from around here, ur you??”  No, we ain’t.  We stayed in Wheeling, West By-God Virginia for the night. We left about 9:00 AM and crossed into Maryland and drove I-68 East.  We finally crossed into the promised land of Virginia about 2:00 PM!

We registered for the event and drove about ten minutes to reach the actual campsite.  Most of the group we fell in with came from the Richmond-Hanover area, although there were a few from California and Colorado.  There were about forty in all that took the field on Saturday and Sunday. The temperature was about 98 on Thursday, so putting up the tent was a good way to get soaked.  The area around us continuously filled up with new comers until we had about three hundred tents in the section we were assigned.  There were probably 300+ Confederate tents in the wooded section and about 50 cavalry horses.

The unit we portrayed for the event was Company B, 1st Louisiana Special Battalion, known as Wheat’s Tigers. Major Chatham Roberdeau Wheat [6’4”, 250 pounds] created the Tigers who were basically Irish wharf rats from New Orleans [pronounced Nawlins’]and were known for fighting each other, their fellow Confederates, and the Yankees. Rumor has it that the Mayor of Nawlins’ had a city party when he cleaned out his wharf and city jail for men that joined the Tigers.  They also carried D-handled Bowie knives and used them on each other several times, as well as the Yankees, too. They rode in boxcars to get to Manassas and a few were killed riding on top of the cars due to low bridges. Ain’t no bridges in Louisiana?  

On Friday, we walked the area and avoided attending the parade in Manassas, since our officers thought the weather was too damn hot. It reached 102 by the late afternoon. We visited the over-priced sutlers and saw hundreds of items we would like to have but didn’t need.  I bought a new straw hat made in China to replace the one I had left on the kitchen table in Grand Forks.

I ran into Mike Evans, an Air Force NCO that had replaced my intelligence sergeant in Bagram, Afghanistan, in July of 2009.  Now we both we serving in the Confederate Army, trying to keep the Yankee terrorists from invading the sacred soil of Virginia!  He was in a Florida unit and arrived Thursday morning with about 45 other Floridians.

As in any military organization, the Confederate Army, having called reveille at 5:30 AM on Saturday morning, had all units form up no later than 7:30 for a 9:30 battle.  We practiced the “hurry up and wait” method rather well.  We finally marched out with drums beating and headed toward the Yankee invader. The Tigers were supposed to attack the 2nd Rhode Island Battery and capture it.  Well, history and the script didn’t get read properly and we attacked into about 500 Yankees surrounding the cannon.  We got shot to pieces!  Then we fell back three times and moved off the field.  About thirty minutes of fame!

After we regrouped, we marched back to camp, while dozens of other Confederate units were marching onto the field.  The Yankees pushed us off the field and then ran into Jackson’s boys.  Then they ran back to Washington City!  The battle lasted about three hours and there were many heat related casualties on both sides.  That’s about true for the original battle, too.

We did the same action on Sunday, with fewer troops on both sides.  The temp on Saturday was 102 and about a 118 heat index.  Many reenactors packed up and left.  We stayed and drank water, Gatorade and whatever else was available.  I went through about five gallons of water and 24 bottles of Gatorade.  We also killed off four watermelons, two dozen oranges and other assorted fruits.  Very few alcoholic drinks were consumed due to the heat. No one left the field on Sunday the same weight we arrived with on Thursday. It was difficult to sleep and sweat at the same time.  We even had the Israeli Ambassador as a spectator on Sunday, with a bunch of Secret Servicemen.  The rumor started that we couldn’t have weapons on the field.  That rumor lasted about a minute.  Apparently he is a big American Civil War buff.

This was the first national event I went to that had an ATM set up in the field!  The vendors were selling 10 pounds of ice for $4.00.  (In past events, they usually gave one bag per man per day free.  Guess that’s history now.)  The stands were full both days, 15,000 at $45 a person, with ten tents of standing room at $25 for about 500 people.  I just wanted 1% of the gas that people bought to get there and back.  The scenario was not to historical fact, but it was okay. We heard on Sunday that the organizers were experienced in golf tournaments.  Not the same thing with 9,000 reenactors with cannon and horses.  At least the porta-johns were cleaned three times a day!  Although few were cooking, fires were only allowed above ground.

So, why did so many reenactors go to Manassas, camp out and suffer though 102, 102, 102 and 98 degree days?  Because the 150th anniversary only comes around once!  And, as a Southerner, we won the first one big!  Shooting across the field at a long blue line that was invading Virginia must have been an incredible feeling for the Confederate soldier in 1861.  Of course, in 2011, no one was worried about having their head shot off either!

We had a cluster trying to pack and leave on Sunday,  We finally drove the long gauntlet to get out to go to a hotel and shower, sit in the pool and drink a cold beer!  We left on Monday morning about 8:30 AM and drove until 2:00 AM Tuesday morning to get back to Iowa.  I then drove on to Grand Forks arriving about 10:30 AM.  And that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it!

Your Obedient Servant,

Private Stuart Lawrence
Company B, 1st Louisiana Special Battalion

Sun coming up at 6:30 AM 23 July 2011 at Manassas, Virginia.

L to R: Bill Feuchtenberger, Stuart Lawrence and Gary Mitchell ready for battle!

Photos from Fort Sisseton

Here are some pictures from this past weekend. Thanks to Scott Allan and Robin O’Neill for taking the pictures.

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Review of the film “Gettysburg” that premiered on History tonight

Well, my attempt at live blogging was interrupted by the weather, but I wanted to try to sum up my feelings on the movie, some of which were covered here and here.

Overall, I felt that the program was quite interesting and a stark departure from recent Civil War films of the silver screen. Naturally, the best comparison for this film is Gettysburg (1993). In this History special, there is no Sam Elliott, Martin Sheen, Tom Berenger, or Jeff Daniels. It does not discuss Buford’s cavalry, the death of John Reynolds, or Chamberlain’s defense of Little Round Top. While the elements chosen for this film were not as much a focus of the theatrical movie, I was looking forward to see how the Scott brothers would cover those parts of the battle. There is less rich drama, mostly gritty emotional turmoil that illustrates the sheer horror of the battle and the larger war. It has some solid educational qualities to it, though.

The coverage of the first day centered around the story of the Iron Brigade’s role in the battle and the fighting inside the town. The coverage of the second day revolved around the Wheat Field and Culp’s Hill, while the third day focused on Pickett’s Charge, but lacking the sweeping dramatic panoramic shots of Confederate troops marching out, or Union forces behind the stone wall. The main difference was showing the horrors of the weaponry used against the troops on the charge. The scenes showing the charge lacked some of the power due to a lack of numbers used, but the idea the producers attempted to show seemed to be met.

The film pulled back to cover broader subjects of medicine, civilian involvement, and African Americans as they all related to the battle and war, which was a nice touch. Personal stories relating to soldiers involved did an excellent job of providing an intimate view of the battle, making the viewer feel as if they are next to the person. The live action scenes were one of the most detailed features of the film and truly gripping, with some fairly violent scenes demonstrating the carnage of the Civil War battlefield.

In addition, the film utilized computer generated graphics and images to discuss the technology used in the battle, specifically weapons and the effects on the soldiers, as well as illustrate the lay of the land in and around Gettysburg. This effective blending of graphics and live action adds to the films’ educational qualities.

One thing that separates this production from the theatrical version is a lack of focus on the major players (Generals Lee, Longstreet, Hancock, Buford, and Meade), except for Dan Sickles. Most of the characters focused on in the film are common soldiers, or brigade commanders, placing the battle around the actions involving their own individual units.

The Scott brothers created a production that illustrated a gruesome war, deviating from a largely romanticized and glorified portrayal of the war, even on History. While I hoped to see their portrayal of Joshua Chamberlain, I was generally pleased with the effort. I do hope that this is the beginning of more productions of this nature on other major battles of the war, especially from the Western Theater.

This film is part of a week-long series of programs on History on the war, including a program Tuesday evening called Grant and Lee. In addition, special episodes of Pawn Stars and American Pickers will deal with Civil War items, so be sure to check them out. Finally, thank you all for making today our busiest day with over 350 hits.

My thoughts on the History film “Gettysburg”-Part II

Continued from Part I

Thus far the first hour of the Tony and Ridley Scott film Gettysburg airing on History has been interesting and insightful. The second hour is beginning with the attack against Dan Sickles’ corp on the late afternoon of July 2, 1863.

9:00 PM

*** Live blogging interrupted by tornado warning, will update soon.

9:40 PM

Well, we’re still under a tornado warning, but since I live in a basement apartment, I will continue what I started, though I missed the second day coverage, so I’ll assess that later. This section is dealing with the climactic part of the battle, Pickett’s Charge (the lightning outside adds a nice effect, especially with the gruesome detail of the effects of the artillery barrage on the human body). The scenes are gripping, with solid live-action scenes that mix in CGI of solid shot cannon rounds and canister shot.

The scene depicting the Federal position, or “High Water Mark of the Confederacy” is much more brutal than what is shown in Gettysburg (1993). The carnage displayed in the movie is quite graphic and achieves the goals alluded to in the information provided in the earlier post of showing the war as a gritty hard thing, not glamorous at all. The ending of the film details the aftermath on July 4, contextualizing the battle with the rest of the war, and, explored the post battle lives of several figures focused on in the film. It also noted the horrors that befell the town after the battle, including the wounded and the destruction, as well as the dedication of the national cemetery.

I will post a longer review than I initially planned, but weather has a way of altering your plans. Good thing I am recording it with a DVR, so I can catch what I missed later. This film is part of larger Civil War themed programming on History this week, including Lee and Grant and American Pickers, so check your cable listings to see what is airing.

General Order No. 11 establishing Memorial Day

General Order
No. 11

Headquarters, Grand Army of the Republic
Washington, D.C., May 5, 1868

I. The 30th day of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village, and hamlet churchyard in the land. In this observance no form or ceremony is prescribed, but posts and comrades will in their own way arrange such fitting services and testimonials of respect as circumstances may permit.

We are organized, comrades, as our regulations tell us, for the purpose, among other things, “of preserving and strengthening those kind and fraternal feelings which have bound together the soldiers, sailors, and marines who united to suppress the late rebellion.” What can aid more to assure this result than by cherishing tenderly the memory of our heroic dead, who made their breasts a barricade between our country and its foe? Their soldier lives were the reveille of freedom to a race in chains, and their death a tattoo of rebellious tyranny in arms. We should guard their graves with sacred vigilance. All that the consecrated wealth and taste of the Nation can add to their adornment and security is but a fitting tribute to the memory of her slain defenders. Let no wanton foot tread rudely on such hallowed grounds. Let pleasant paths invite the coming and going of reverent visitors and found mourners. Let no vandalism of avarice or neglect, no ravages of time, testify to the present or to the coming generations that we have forgotten, as a people, the cost of free and undivided republic.

If other eyes grow dull and other hands slack, and other hearts cold in the solemn trust, ours shall keep it well as long as the light and warmth of life remain in us.

Let us, then, at the time appointed, gather around their sacred remains and garland the passionless mounds above them with choicest flowers of springtime; let us raise above them the dear old flag they saved from dishonor; let us in this solemn presence renew our pledges to aid and assist those whom they have left among us as sacred charges upon the Nation’s gratitude,–the soldier’s and sailor’s widow and orphan.

II. It is the purpose of the Commander-in-Chief to inaugurate this observance with the hope it will be kept up from year to year, while a survivor of the war remains to honor the memory of his departed comrades. He earnestly desires the public press to call attention to this Order, and lend its friendly aid in bringing it to the notice of comrades in all parts of the country in time for simultaneous compliance therewith.

III. Department commanders will use every effort to make this order effective.

By command of:
JOHN A. LOGAN,
Commander-in-Chief.

N. P. CHIPMAN,
Adjutant-General.

Great article from Military History Quarterly on Fort Sumter

Check out this article from Drew Lindsay of Military History Quarterly that deals with the 150th anniversary of the bombardment of Fort Sumter. It includes some great photos.

Presenting back home and in class

As the semester nears its end, I decided to take a few moments to share what I have been up to in the last two weeks. On April 13, I departed Grand Forks for my hometown of Jerseyville, Illinois. It was a well-timed trip in light of the tornado that hit Lambert St. Louis International Airport on Good Friday, which is where I fly into. I had been selected to present a paper at the 2011 Illinois History Symposium in Carbondale. My advisor, Dr. Kim Porter, who also presented, informed me of the conference last fall, so I happily submitted, as it coincided with my mom’s birthday. I presented on the physical transition from civilian to soldier in Illinois Civil War camps of instruction, which was one chapter of my thesis. The panel was awesome, though I forgot my camera and have no pictures of it. I was also approached by a couple of folks from SIU Press who asked me to keep them in mind when I get around to writing the book on the subject. After the presentation, my dad and I traveled to Murphysboro, seven miles from Carbondale, and took in a reception at the John A. Logan Museum. It was quite fun, as Logan was the creator of Memorial Day, a past Commander-in-Chief of the GAR, which is special for me being in the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War.

Murphysboro was also fun to visit, as it was impacted by the 1925 Tri-State Tornado, where almost 700 people across Missouri, Illinois, and Indiana were killed in a single tornado. The town still holds the record for most fatalities in a single city from a tornado at 234. This crosses into one of my other quirky historical interests, which is natural disasters. The trip allowed me to visit my folks for a few days and relax a bit from the demands of teaching and class, as well as network for future job and publishing opportunities. Plus, I met James Swan, author of Chicago’s Irish Legion:  The 90th Illinois Volunteers in the Civil War, who came to my panel. I took the opportunity to purchase his book and have him sign it (the dust jacket tore a little in transit back to North Dakota, thanks Delta). I fielded a few good questions that opened up areas of inquiry that I had not considered before, so the rewards go beyond a line on the CV. All in all, it was a great trip and I encourage those in Illinois to consider the next symposium April 26-28, 2012 in East Peoria, with the theme “Contested Lands:  1673-1840.” The deadline for submission is October 15, 2011. For more information, contact William Furry at 217-525-2781.

Upon my return to Grand Forks (it snowed while I was away), I presented my lecture on Creating Armies in my History 103 class. I broke from the usual form of lecture and team-taught with my friend and fellow reenactor Stuart Lawrence. We used some of our reenacting equipment to conduct a object-based presentation on the lives of soldiers and what training was like for them, which allowed me to combine a bit of material culture and dress up in period attire. Whether it was effective in helping them understand remains to be seen, but I figure it is a nice change of pace and helps the visual and tactile learners anyway. I am working on some book reviews and will be again appearing on local talk radio to chat about the war on the same day as the next meeting of the Northern Plains Civil War Round Table, where I will present on the Camp Jackson Affair and Civil War Missouri. If you are in the Grand Forks area, come to the E. Grand Forks VFW at 7:00 PM on Tuesday, May 3 and join our group and listen to my talk.

Finally, I have joined the 21st century a bit more. Those of you with smart phones, which does not include me, can now access my blog via the QR that I placed in the sidebar. Until next time, keep researching and I will leave you with the paper that I presented in Illinois.

War began 150 years ago today

I wanted to take a moment between getting a bit of work done for a class and finishing up some work in my class to remind you all the significance of today in our history. It was 150 years ago, in the early morning of April 12, 1861, that the Civil War commenced with the bombardment of Fort Sumter in Charleston, SC by forces of the Confederacy. While the argument can be made that the first shot in the war was the firing on The Star of the West, the attack on Sumter was the point at which the nation fell off the precipice towards war. Thus begins the four-year period of reflection, remembrance, and research on the war for its 150th anniversary. Later this week, I will write from scenic Illinois, as I will be flying home to present a paper at the Illinois State History Symposium in Carbondale on Thursday. Have a great evening and keep researching.

 

Fort Sumter

Bombardment of Fort Sumter (1861) by Currier & Ives (1837–1885).

 

 

Civil War History Radio Show Seeks Participation

BackStory (www.backstoryradio.org) is a nationally aired public radio show that brings historical perspective to the events happening around us today. On each show, the U.S. historians Ed Ayers, Peter Onuf, and Brian Balogh tear a topic from the headlines and plumb its historical depths.

As part of its three-part Civil War Sesquicentennial series, BackStory is planning a show made up entirely of listener questions! 150 years after the fall of Fort Sumter, are there things about the conflict that still interest you? Tens of thousands of books have been written on the subject, but what makes the Civil War relevant to us today, in 2011? Has America’s involvement in recent wars been shaped by lessons from the Civil War? Should it be? How have Americans understood the Civil War in earlier generations, and how have historians’ interpretations of it changed over time? And finally — in what ways might discussion about the Civil War benefit from the BackStory “trans-century” approach?

Being a caller is really simple and takes about 15 minutes; it’s pre-taped, low-pressure, and a lot of fun! If you are interested in participating as a caller and posing a Civil War question to the History Guys, either email producer Catherine Moore (cvmoore@virginia.edu) or leave a comment on Civil War Call-In Show page (http://backstoryradio.org/civil-war-call-in-show/). We look forward to hearing from you!