For the Civil War buffs among us, it's really worth spending some time over at Kevin Levin's blog, Civil War Memory. I can't act like I discovered the place--some readers brought it to my attention. But it's a great blog dealing in exactly what it's title claims.
Anyway here's some response to my visit, last week, to Petersburg:
What I can say with confidence in response to Coates's thoughtful post is that landscape of Civil War memory has shifted dramatically over the past few decades even if it is difficult to see after a short visit. The NPS at Petersburg and elsewhere has expanded its interpretation and programs to cover a much broader swath of Civil War history. [A visit to the new museum at Gettysburg is a perfect place to begin.] You can see it in the planning and early programs of Virginia's Civil War Sesquicentennial programs. Even a cursory glance of recent Civil War titles reflects a reading public that now has an appetite for more sophisticated studies, including a brand new book on the Crater that focuses a great deal on the USCTs and race. including a recent flurry of popular Reconstruction titles. I don't want to exaggerate these changes, but it is hard to deny that perceptions have not shifted. I could go on and point out a host of other examples, but the point is made.
Levin goes on to note that there still is a lot of work left to be done. I meant to mention this last week--it was very clear from my visits to Shirley, and to Petersburg, that someone has been down there fighting the good fight. The visitor's center at Petersburg was stacked with info on the town's black history, and had a lot of info on the colored troops. The flag above is actually on the wall at the visitor's center. Beyond that, Drew Gilpin Faust's This Republic Of Suffering really does a great job at interweaving black troops into the broader narrative. That really was my only critique of Battle Cry Of Freedom.
I wanted to point this out because I don't want people reading this stuff, and getting the sense that I'm just parachuting in and ignoring the hard work people have been doing since I was a kid. It's true that there's still more to be done. But it's also true that a lot has already been done.
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