Gates-Gate, and The Great Racism debate distracted me for the past two weeks from blogging about the Civil War. Which is sad, because I don't think I'll be thinking about a single one of those threads a year from now. That's about my interest--by my lights, I'll take Stonewall Jackson and Jourdan Anderson over Henry Louis Gates and James
Michael Crowley on any given day.
Anyway, for those concerned I've been making my way through the reading. I finished Like Men Of War which is about as good a history of the USCT as I've seen. It's missing a core them, narrative or argument. Maybe there's not enough history to make one. But it feels like a kind of "And this happened, And this happened, And this happened" book, without a real narrative arc. But for my porposes, it was great.
I tried to read American Slavery, American Freedom. I found it informative, but very hard to finish. I got about halfway through. For whatever reason, I've been thinking a lot about my own mortality. I can't really slow down for books that aren't that well written. I knocked out Uncommon Valor, which is, sort of, a history of the 4th USCT (some of whom are seen here) and The Battle Of New Market Heights. It's a short book, with some interesting details--especially a speech by controversial general Benjamin Butler just before the battle.
In general, I'm a little dissappointed with the historical work on colored troops. There doesn't seem to be a truly classic history of the USCT, at the moment. I think that may reflect several things--1.) The fact that so many of the soldiers were illiterate, thus a lack of documents. 2.) The real, if unpleasent, fact is that very few of them saw combat in the battles we tend to spend the most time talking about--The Wilderness, Cold Harbor, Gettysburg, Antietam etc. 3.) It really seems that most of the people interested in the actual military history are the sort of writers who sympathize with the South. 4.) It may also just be that this is a subject people have only recently (last 30-40 years) started to take seriously. Perhaps some of the historians here would be willing to weigh in on this.
Right now, I'm on Bruce Levine's book Confederate Emancipation, a history of the debate over arming slaves to fight for the South. Man's capacity for intentional self-delusion is, well, stunning. It's also becoming clear to me that something happened to the South in the late 18th century and early 19th century to turn it from a slave-holding region, to one that believed slavery was integral to economic interests and cultural identity. We go from Thomas Jefferson, a slave-holder, veiwing it as a neccessary evil to John C. Calhoun viewing it as an unchallengable, and divinely-inspired good. During the Revoloution when the English offered freedom to slaves who fought for them, the Americans had no problem matching that offer. But by the time of the Civil War, the notion of the South arming blacks to fight seemed insane. I suspect the cotton boom has a lot to do with this. But I don't know.
Anyway, that's where I am. Expect to see some posts about Patrick Cleburne--hero to Lost Causers the world over.
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