Friday, April 25, 2008

Clothing makes the man...even for Little Newt or Little Newt Wants Everything.

To continue on Little Newt, he would make it through the campaign into Kentucky well, Davis writing on October 22nd, 1862, "We have had a great many ups and downs and suffered deprivations beyond all conception. Your brother Newt is well and has stood the march finely. He looks much better now than he did when we left Chattanooga." However a few days later on October 29th, "Little Newt wants everything. He had his knapsack stolen from up in Kentucky with everything he had except what was on his back. He has not even a Blanket to sleep on. Ira sent him a pair of shoes the other day." But it still manages to get worse, on November 2nd, Davis would report, "I have not seen your brother Newt since Friday evening...He is enjoying good health and looks well. He is nearly naked. He lost all his clothes some time ago, except what he had on his back. I managed to get a double blanket which I gave him. The blanket belongs to Hoodenpyle...Little Newt wants everything. You and Mother can have the clothes made and send them by Lieut. Henry. He has gone home after clothing for the Company."

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Lookout Mountain-National Park Week.

On Monday we had a ceremony to celebrate the addition of 382 acres to the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park, this land is located on the western side of Lookout Mountain near the base, and includes land that figured prominently in the Battle of Lookout Mountain. I must also add that the park has done some historic scene restoration and the view from the western slope is now something to behold, being able to view Sunset Rock from point park is particularly impressive, as well as now being able to see the fields which Gen. Geary's Division crossed before moving up the mountain. The following article was published earlier this week:

Lookout Mountain: Officials applaud addition to military park
By: ChloƩ Morrison
Chattanooga News Free Press.

About 100 people gathered atop Lookout Mountain at Point Park this morning to celebrate a 382-acre expansion of the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park.

At a time when many Civil War battlefields and national parks are squeezed by outside development, the acquisition from CSX Railroad Co. represents an important milestone for the nation’s first and largest national military park, officials said at the event.

“This does not happen every day, especially in urbanized areas,” said Rick Wood, Chattanooga director of the Trust for Public Land.

U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander and U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp, both R-Tenn., spoke of their dedication to land preservation.

“Growing up in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains, I’ve appreciated the beauty of our great American outdoors my entire life,” Sen. Alexander said.

Sen. Alexander and Rep. Wamp supported the addition, which was acquired with $4.8 million in congressional appropriations over three years.

The park’s new land flanks the Wauhatchie area in Lookout Valley west of Lookout Mountain and up to the western bank of Lookout Creek. It reaches almost to the CSX rail lines on the floor of the valley and stretches south to the Georgia line.

Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield, Hamilton County Mayor Claude Ramsey and Chickamauga, Ga., City Manager and historian John Culpepper also attended the event.

Park Superintendent Shawn Benge said the Point Park ceremony was a great way to celebrate National Park Week, which runs through April 27. Rep. Wamp also linked the importance of land preservation with Earth Day, which is Tuesday.

Some tourists were also on site, and officials said historic preservation is key to tourism development.

A rifle demonstration and walking tour, led by park historian Jim Ogden, concluded the ceremony.

Little Newt Halbert

As Patrick can relate, one of my favorite soldiers is Newton Halbert of the 24th Alabama Infantry. Newt, as he was called, was not well suited to be a soldier. He comes across as being too fragile for the rough life of a soldier, at least to begin with. I learned of "Little Newt" through the letters of his brother-in-law, Newton N. Davis, later Colonel of the 24th. Davis kept his wife informed about her little brother through the war. Little Newt almost becomes comic relief as you read of his many misfortunes.
Newton Halbert was only 15 and a student in 1860 according to the Census. He was of course still living with his father, Xenophan, who is listed as a farmer in Lowndes County, Mississippi, with $10,000 in Real Estate and $55,000 in Personal Estate, including 38 slaves, with 21 of them being under the age of 18. So Newt would have had a fairly easy life growing up.
The first noticable reference to Newt comes in comes in Newton Davis's letter of July 29th, 1862, "Your Brother Newt is complaining a little. He has been out on picket duty for two days and has taken cold. He complains of his head aching but has no fever. I hope that it is nothing serious and that he will be well in a day or two. He wants you to be certain to tell his mother to send him some shirts the first opportunity..."
I will post more of the misadventures of "Little Newt" over the next few weeks.


Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Soviets and Confederates: Across the Bloody Chasm?

I'll preface this post by noting that despite it and my previous one (somehow) linking Bedford Forrest to Orthodox Iconography, I AM STILL AN AMERICANIST, and have not yet been converted to studying Russian history. Speaking of iconography, a happy St. George's day to you all!

So, the UK History Department had its yearly awards ceremony this afternoon, and, lured by the promises of a free reception afterwards I decided to drop in. No, it was really because one of my old professors from Transylvania, Ken Slepyan, was giving the afternoon's keynote (because historians can't do anything without a's in the rules somewhere). He spoke from his 2006 book about the myths and realities of WWII Soviet partisans, and as the talk went on, I couldn't help thinking about connections between the partisan experience and that of the Confederate soldier. When he was working on his dissertation at Michigan in the early nineties, Slepyan was the first historian - Russian or Western - to access the Soviet military archives' partisan records. He found that the copious unit and personnel files in Moscow did not quite mesh with the popular memory of the partisan fighters...sound familiar?

It seems, that, like the Confederate fighting man, there was a marked split in partisan demographics between 1939-42 and 1942-45. Originally, the partisans consisted of the local elite, the intelligencia, those most connected to the Party, indeed many Party members. The local peasants, whose primary concern was survival and who felt little ideological connection to the Party, stayed out for the most part. In this same way, recent scholarship (including some of our own at Chickamauga) has found that the first Confederate enlistees were likewise young, ideologically committed to secession and the extension of slavery, and were financially connected to the institution. The poor farmer from the backwoods avoided enlistment until conscripted and, according to scholars like Mark Weitz, would often be the first to desert. The difference between the two? In '42 the war started going well for the Soviets and the peasants rallied to the cause (actually fulfilling some of the "people mobilized for war" propaganda that had been put out by the USSR earlier in the war) behind some crafty propagandizing and the loosely-defined concept of "Motherland." In '63, however, the war started getting worse for the Confederacy and the "cracker" gave up the Cause when he saw that the government's assurances that he could protect home through army service failed to pan out along with his wife's corn crop back home that hot, dry summer.

The connections don't end with the wars, though. In fact, they get better after them. When Slepyan and other historians finally explored the archives, saw the reality behind the situation, and published their findings, they challenged a popular memory of the partisans as the people's saviors, Robin Hood types with a cavalier dash (John Hunt Morgan, much?). This revision also challenged the party-line historiography that, from what Prof. Slepyan says, seems to be some sort of hybrid between D.S. Freeman Lost Causeism and 1950s triumphalist Consensus. In the popular mind, though, there is great confusion and some feeling of betrayal by the new histories. Just as the Civil War was for the South, WWII was a foundational event in Soviet (and by extension Russian, Belarussian...) national identity. The losses in both societies were so heavy, so intense, (and let's remember that the USSR's losses were heavier than in any American war) that the people needed a heroic history lesson to justify the horrific sacrifice.

Until the fall of the Soviet Union, the people had the institution of the state to justify the war. The people's sacrifice validated the Soviet system and the state itself was a monument to those slain. But after the collapse, the people lost that institutional monument, and only had the constructed memory of the partisan heroes of the Great Patriotic War to keep the dead, living. The Confederacy, of course, did not outlast its war experience, but it did construct the Cult, Mythology, or Religion of the Lost Cause with the same goal of validating the collective suffering by sanctification and whitewashing historical reality. Now, as the Soviet WWII mythology is being challenged by scholarship, many there are as angered as Confederate memorializing white Southerners have been for the half century since their own traditions were revised. Both groups fear that absent their traditional understanding of the heroic fighter the shared societal sacrifice will be cheapened and potentially forgotten. They fear that the academy will, in effect, re-kill their ancestors along with the myth.

It was a fascinating presentation that I have only touched the surface of here, and even that poorly. I intend to reflect on this some more, and hope for some engaging comments to keep the conversation going. And, finally, a word to Dr. Slepyan: if you should want to see how another people react(ed) to having their historical myths busted, drop by a SCV meeting some time.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

More Support for Gen. Bragg...This time in print!

Two rival newspapers located in Mobile, Alabama, had very differing views of our most "harmonious" commander. The pro-Bragg newspaper was the Mobile Daily Register and Advertiser and the anti-Bragg newspaper was the Mobile News. I give you all one of the rebuttal articles printed by the Register and Advertiser on Friday morning, January 16, 1863. Keep in mind that this is in reference to the recent defeats of the Army of Tennessee in Kentucky and at the Battle of Stones River (Murfreesboro), Tennessee.

Down on GEN. BRAGG- The Mobile News is very heavy on Gen. Bragg as a military leader generally, and particularly hard on him as it regards the General's Kentucky campaign and the battle of Murfreesboro. We give a specimen.
Jackson Mississippian.
The "specimen" extract copied by our Mississippi contemporary never appeared in the Evening News.
It is right hard on Bragg that he is not allowed to have defenders even in his friends. This journal, which has resisted the torrent of injustice and false popular clamor against a true soldier and patriot, is now taken away from him and made to be "very heavy on Gen. Bragg." The Mississippian will please correct, and do us justice. The opinion of this journal is that General Bragg has got more patriotism and military genius in his little finger than is contained in all the bodies and souls of nine tenths of the army of his [illegible].

As many of us know, Braxton Bragg had a lot of support in Mobile!!! Reading this extract should not surprise us, but I do believe it goes to show us that modern military historians do not give Bragg supporters credit where credit is due. How many individuals subscribed to this particular newspaper? I do not have the statistics, but I bet quite a few Mobilians read or listened to this paper being read, and not all of the influential persuasion, like Major General Jones M. Withers of Mobile (a definite Bragg Supporter).

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Clothing makes the man

Among my many interests pertaining to the American Civil War is material culture. Captain John Quincy Stanford, Company G, 39th Alabama was a man who loved material culture as well, his letters reflect in detail his clothing and his wants for material items. Unfortunately Stanford would be killed at the battle of Murfreesboro. Here are a few excerpts from his letters written in the late summer and fall of 1862;

"Camp Gladden near Chattanooga Tenn...August 17th 1862...My Dear Wife...last evening our Regt recd orders to Cook Two days rations and be ready at a moments notice to march So everything else was disspenced with and each one preparing for the trop or to remain at a time when we get Such orders all the Sick are exspected to Stay and then the lazy and cowardly next try to Stay and Some effect the trip. So all has been bustle and Confusion Since getting ready and there is no little to do to get a Company ready for Such after they have been Stationed a while Change guns accoutrements &c but we have completed all that and are now ready and anxcious to leave or do anything for we are not in a good humor by any means for I am as mad as ever the devel was when he was disappointed in Some great undertaking we had two orders reducing bagage &c we have now 6 flies for every one hundred men I have 5 for my Co. the others in porportion we are not allowed any boxes of any kind So it is a bad chance about carrying our provision, but I have mine packed in a barrell So I have them this time according to order. I Shall try to carry my matress two blankets and a Quilt but I dont know wheather I Suceed or not. I have packed my Camp Chest box with various articles of Clothing for myself & Co. I have a carpet bag in it and one blanket and Some large Knives and a pr of Scales I have a good Casemere Coat the Same Kind of pants & a pr of Shoes for myself & Will and in a black Carpet bag of Espys there is a pr of boots of your Brother the others are all labilled with owners names pined on each. I am going to try to Sent it home by express to the Care of A. Stow Eufaula So you may enquire for it there you will have to pay the freight before you get it Send for the box if it gets there Send each bundle home or let the owners Know as Soon as you can or Send down To Lawrenceville to Some one for distribution if you get the box let me Know What the freight was and I divide it with the Co...My Clothing now consist of my over coat one oil coat and a Short Coat. like the men have and my brown pants and those blue Casemere pants I bought 3 years ago at Lawrencevill 3 shirts 3 draws So I have plenty Clothing..."

"Harrison Landing Tenn...August 24th 1862...My Dear Eliza...I went to the river this morning took a wash put on a change of clothes and one of my green Shirts and clim the bank to my flie when I had many enquiries as to where I got them If I would Sell any of them &c now I might Sell them but it would take a good purse to get them...I want a pair of heavy jeans pants for winter with the legs Small I dont Care what Collar you can put a Stripe down the Seams Send them if you have an opportunity...I hope Monroe will bring my uniform from Columbus tho I dont Care much about it I need it Sometimes...So you will please get your ambrotype taken and Sent it to me and I will wear it with me and prize it for the Sake of the original whom I prise higher than all else on earth...I was a long time getting mine and it was the change I had in Montgomery that I got it at all it was not a good picture the best could be done in a hurry the Sash I had on would indicate me on duty as officer of the day which was my duty from there to our camp...I ahve worn a cap during this month and the Sun has burned me dark but that is So much the better for the winter is comeing when I shall need a thick Skin to Stand the Cold winter winds..."

"Tullahoma Tenn. 19th Nov 1862...My Dear Brother...I hope you will get me a good pr Boots or Shoes I had mine Spoiled by the 1/2 Sole that was put on in cleyton which is raw hide. I drew a Splendid pr of Pants made of Blue cloth for $9.50 which cost me at Clothing house $35 the Clothing was made at Opelika Singular incident for it to come to their beloved 39th Ala most all the officers present took a pair & lef plenty I will send you& Monroe a pr each I can get express Transportation their was Some good over Shirts but I did not get any of them...So now on dress parade the 39th is Spotted or Stripped Set or a variety of uniforms out Some in new Suits from fine english stock up to a fine Cloth Cap down to Slick raggs and tied up Shoes & hats &c..."

Thursday, April 17, 2008

More from Private Hurley...

I must concur with Mr. Lewis. It had been a very hectic few weeks at the university and my life had all but shut down. Perhaps I am getting back to "reality." As interesting as the Nathan Bedford Forrest discussion is, I must digress. Let us turn back to see what is happening in the life of J.R. Hurley back in the summer of '63...

On Picket Six miles from Shelbyville
May 22

Well I will write to you all again as I have just received your letter. I am in very good health, the boys is all in very good health that is here except Dock Wolfe he is not very well [???] to do deuty yet well. This is Clints old box lid I am writing on and it is right greesy and my paper is about to get gressy all over. We have very fine weather here it is getting tolerable dry now, it hant rand in about three weeks. The wehat is very good up here, the corn I cant tell mutch about it it has just cum up. I have nothing to write that will interest you. We get plenty to eat, bacon corn meal and a little flour yeas and some peas we have bin up up here on picket two weeks I don no how long we will stay up here but I dont cear if we stay up here til the war ends for this is a very prety place here were we are and we dont have mutch to do we have to go on guard about evry third day but I dont mind that. You all need not to make me any clothes for we can draw as many clothes as we want and I have drawn a good pair of shoes. I hant drawn but eleven dollars yet but I think I will draw again in a few days and when I do I will send you all some money to pay postage as I cant get any stamps up here and we cant pay for letters with [???] and you can pay for them yourselves. I would like to be at home to eat some of that honey and see all them young men flying around but I hope it wont be long before we all can get to go home I am [???] Jo Talbert went home and told you I was getting low down I think I am as in good health as I ever was in my life. You must take care of my pig and keep it fat and it a great big hog when I get back I think yet I will be their time enough to eat water melons and peaches. Well I cant think of anything of anything to write. The men is deserting very bad here seven left one company a few nights ago from our regiment but two of them was brought back and they keep them tide down flat on the ground four hours a day in the hot sunshine and then they get right up of the ground and disert. I believe I will quit. I cant think of any thing to write you must write to me and for the folks to write to me so nothing more at present.

J.R. Hurley

Saturday, April 12, 2008


The fourth installment of Blue and Gray Magazine's Chickamauga series is out. It is the best and most accurate treatment of the battle to date. Also, the first three issues had more on the campaign leading up to the battle than anything else, even Cozzen's tome. So with this issue the battle gets going with day two, September 19th. I highly recommend this one for anyone interested in the battle.

Diehard Rebels

I have finally finished reading Dr. Jason Phillips's Diehard Rebels: The Confederate Culture of Invincibility, and would like to note a few observations about it concerning the Army of Tennessee. First of all Phillips addresses several things in his book that lead to a "Culture of Invincibility" that pervaded in the Confederacy's armies, they were Religion, Perceptions of the Enemy, and Rumors of Grandeur. The thing that struck me the most came from his last chapter that dealt with how these men reacted to the end, the surrenders. Phillips would write about the Army of Tennessee, "These men who had been losing battles since 1862 were still fighting while the remains of their government and its most revered army swept by like debris in a flood." Yet, the AoT would remain together for a few more days, the men still willing to fight. So it could be said that the men in the Army of Tennessee were some of the most diehard of the Diehards, having to face an obstacle the Diehards of the Army of Northern Virginia did not, that being the sight of the funeral procession of the Confederacy. Even given the factors that Phillips presents it had to be the most massive shock to the resolve of the Diehards, to see the president and then the remains of Lee's army streaming through their lines. Bully For Bragg! He's Hell on retreat indeed.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Agios Bedford?

I was going to leave a comment on Lee's post on the Forrest cult at Chickamauga, but it was growing too lengthy for that venue. Besides, I know there are a number of blog-scanners (myself, admittedly, included) who rarely look into the comments section, so here we go.

Lee, you know good and well the "whys" to Bedford's cult following. He (and I say "he" with regard to the Lost Cause school/ neo-Confederate/ etc. constructed Forrest character) is a man with whom many Civil War buffs can identify. He has a "history" (again an intentionally loose term) that they "get." The poor man made good, the hard-charging fighter, the untrained yet successful commander, the sly fox who countered Federal manpower and material advantages.

Each of these qualities was, to some debatable extent, present in the historical Forrest. But there is a greater complexity to all of those elements that is often brushed under the rug, intentionally and not. The "Forrest" icon of popular Civil War memory is as 2-dimensional as anything you'll find in an Orthodox Church. But indeed, just as those icons are not the saints themselves, but only representations left to remind the faithful of their good deeds, the "Forrest" of Civil War myth is not the real article either. The very elements of the 2-dimensional "Forrest" legend that so many revere, expose the fascinating complexity of the 3-d historical figure.

For example, that poor man made himself good through the detestable occupation of slave trading. And "detestable" is not simply a retrospective modern judgment, either. Southern "society," the Chivalry to borrow one term, shunned such new, profit-motivated men as well, a fact that deserves its own lengthy analysis of the relationship between the consciously money-driven New South of the 1880s and 1890s and the Lost Cause mythology that it produced. It brings up a number of new questions about the historical Forrest versus the "Forrest" of legend. When did Forrest become an icon? Was it during the initial wave of memory-making, led by the veterans themselves? Was it later, and if so, why? My hunch says that among the veterans (perhaps excepting those in Tennessee), Forrest was not the important player in Confederate memory that he is today. I would bet that Forrest becomes big in the 20th c., and his rise in popularity is likely linkable to some social and/or economic crisis in the South or the nation. If anyone has some thoughts on that (or better yet some scholarship), I would love to see it.

The military points have their counterpoints as well: the visitor's comment about Forrest's Federal opposition, the fact that he often raided against isolated garrisons, or that his lauded combativeness and aggression produced, as Lee noted, a terrible battlefield performance at Chickamauga. As a (future) academic, I find the claim that the untrained civilian gave the what's for to West Point's best particularly revealing. I can't help but wonder if this is some sub-conscious (or indeed conscious) jab at the "liberal" (whatever that means, and we shan't debate it here), "northern-influenced," straw-man-academic that the modern consumer of Lost Cause mythology loves to rail against for "vilifying" Johnny Reb. Forrest proves that the amateur can occasionally put the bottom rail on top, and thus gives hope to those who cannot (or indeed chose not to) see their heroes examined under the properly configured historical lens. Forrest -- or rather "Forrest" -- is fundamental to the anti-academic, pro-Confederate interpretation of Civil War history.

This explains, I would guess, some of his cult following at what we NPS interpreters (and I myself am more than guilty of this) refer to as the "common soldiers' fight" of Chickamauga, regardless whether the historical Bedford performed well there or not. The icon need not fit the historical reality when the 2-d symbolism is in sync.

Can't see the Forrest for the trees...

I have heard that every NPS historic site has one, the one subject that has a cult following, and one that you can't do a tour or program without hearing the name. At Fredericksburg its the Irish Brigade, at Gettysburg its Joshua Chamberlain, and here at Chickamauga its Nathan Bedford Forrest. I've never been a Forrest fan, even in the days of my neo confederate youth, I never could develop a like for him, It was Robert E. Lee as a child, and then Patrick Cleburne during my teenage years, now Ive evolved or devolved as the case may be to a fascination with Braxton Bragg. Now with Bragg its not a real like, but more of a curiosity. Anyway, back to Bedford. Forrest is an icon here, and why is beyond me, Forrest probably had his worst performance here of the war. He failed Bragg in his role as the eyes and ears of the army, worst of all he provided Bragg with erronious information right after the battle that made Bragg think the Army of the Cumberland was abandoning Chattanooga. Combat wise, he did very little other than stir up the fight on the morning of September 19th, after that he is on the sidelines. Oh well. I did have an interesting conversation the other day with one visitor who offered this, Can you name any good Federal commander that Forrest ever beat in one of his stand alone fights?

More Weston

In looking for more information on Plowden Weston I have found a few nuggets that I thought I would go ahead and share. First of all, Weston was related by marriage to Percy Shelly, his wife's, Emily Frances Esdaile, brother Sir. Edward Jeffries Esdale married Ianthe Shelly in 1837. So a nice connection there to the Romantic ideals that influenced so many Southerners in the Antebellum period. Also, Weston had one of the most extensive and expensive personal libraries in South Carolina, it being appraised at $30,000. Finally for a bit of fun, he is the subject of a low land ghost story, the Gray Man, I won't go into it, but if you google his name you will get far more hits for his shade than the real man. More to come.


Saturday, April 5, 2008

Persistence or Plowden Charles Jennet Weston

Several years ago when I began editing the letters of C.Irvine Walker, I came across the name, Plowden Charles Jennett Weston. Weston was one of the first Captains of the 10th South Carolina Infantry and caught my interest. As I researched the 10th and Walker, I discovered more about Weston and what a truely facinating individual he was. He was one of the most wealthy men in South Carolina, one of the largest slave owners in the South, a Scholar, and a man that opposed secession, although he would then support the Confederacy with everything he had, donating money, slaves, and cannon to aide South Carolina. Weston would never fight in a major battle though, never rise above the rank of captain, and die a very unsoldierly death. Weston went with his command when it was transfered from the its hometown, around Georgetown, SC, to Corinth, MS. There he would be engaged in a skirmish as Halleck probed the town's defences in May of 1862, after that his health steadily declined, he would be offered the position of Lieutenant Governor that fall in an attempt to get him to leave the field, he accepted and moved to Columbia. He would die there a little over a year later, in January of 1864. I have been searching for years for a picture of this man, I knew with his wealth that he had to have had one or a painting. Well this week my persistence paid off, I was contacted by one of his decendents, Judy Dias, who had a copy of what looks to be a very fine painting. I will write a more thorough posting about Weston in the near future.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

The Point of Preservation?

Apologies to our growing readership for our recent silence. I believe all of the authors here have recently been force-fed a healthy dose of real life obligations. But continuing...

The recent hullabaloo in the Civil War community (including some located directly below this post) about the threatened development near the Perryville battlefield has left me reflecting on exactly where I stand on battlefield preservation. That's right, I occasionally have second thoughts about the value of "preserving" Civil War battlefields. There, I said it, and it feels good to get off my chest. From my experience with the Civil War community (broadly defined here to include all with an interest in the war: popular, academic, and everything in between. though a discussion of exactly what that "community" is may be fodder for future posts), I assume that this is an opinion very seldom held and rarer still expressed by those who care to read Civil War blogs. This is not to say that I think battlefields unimportant. I do, however, feel hesitant to save battlefields for battlefields sake. I fear that we risk losing the higher importance of the Civil War battlefield if we begin to value its preservation as an end unto itself.

I honestly see no point in preserving the Civil War battlefield unless it can be used as a tool to discuss the war's broader political, social, economic, and especially racial causes and effects. All of the authors here including myself can testify that if used correctly by a willing, motivated, and well-read interpreter, the battlefield can touch on those issues that make many Civil War "buffs" -- many Americans -- squirm. Now, this is not to say that I feel this will be the fate of the Perryville battlefield. The park is equipped with a knowledgeable staff and connections to able professional historians who, I am confident, keep the war's broader picture in the minds of the visitor. It is the reaction to the Perryville news, the seeming groundswell of opposition, petitions to the city council, etc. from Civil War fora here on the web that most interests me. Does all this interest mean that the Civil War community recognizes the battlefield as a national classroom which can produce a dialog on issues so pertinent as to require a recent half-hour speech by a Presidential candidate? Or does it mean that the community sees those same acres as a place to immerse themselves in the military glories of both Blue and Gray and escape discussion of precisely those same issues? Of course, I expect reality to fall here, there, and somewhere in between.

The percentage of Americans who simply wish to honor the heroic actions men long dead is constantly shrinking. The only way the Civil War will retain its proper place in American culture and history is if we move beyond the battlefield and once again make the Civil War Emory Thomas' "usable past." If we can't at the very least examine and acknowledge why we want to preserve these places, are battlefields indeed better off as parking lots?