J. Matthew Gallman on Heroes and Hypocrites: War Talk 150 Years Ago and Today

The public conversation that emerged in the Union states during the Civil War meshes well with these contemporary discussions. The greatest scorn was reserved for the dishonest charlatans who sought to profit from a war where they had not shared in the risks.

Excerpt: The Lives of Chang and Eng, by Joseph Andrew Orser

The Siamese twins had long been used ironically as symbols of American nationalism. The earliest pamphlet about the twins published in the United States in the early 1830s featured a title page image of a flying eagle carrying a banner that read “E Pluribus Unum,” and beneath that was the phrase, “United We Stand.” This appeared opposite a frontispiece that pictured the twins as dark-skinned boys wearing queues and loose Oriental garments. The 1836 pamphlet published under the twins’ direction similarly featured a bald eagle clutching the national shield, beneath which were the words “Union and Liberty, one and inseparable, now and forever.” Analyzing the Siamese twins and American identity, scholar Allison Pingree argued that these exhibition booklets, which juxtaposed the parlance of the day describing conjoinedness—“united brothers” or “united twins”—with the symbolism of the American eagle holding an “E Pluribus Unum” banner in its beak, were playing to political concerns of the period. Even as nationalists appropriated the bond to symbolize union, proponents of states’ rights could claim that “connecting the states too closely was ‘monstrous’ and excessive.”

Cartoon: 1874 Arkansas Politics, by Mark Wahlgren Summers

Historian Mark Wahlgren Summers’ latest political cartoon and commentary: 1874 Arkansas Politics is to Politics What Jackson Pollock Is to Portrait Painting.

Cartoon: The Grannies, by Mark Wahlgren Summers

Today’s cartoon and commentary by historian and illustrator Summers highlights the scandal of political patronage in the Reconstruction South.

Cartoon: Sumner Gives the Lord Another Chance, by Mark Wahlgren Summers

On Thursdays over the coming weeks, we will feature a new cartoon—hand drawn by Summers—that offers a creative, satirical spin on Reconstruction history. Each cartoon is accompanied by brief commentary from the author/illustrator to help put things into context. These cartoons stimulate your brain, tickle your funny bone, and bring history to life in a whole new way. Next up in the satirical scaffold: a depiction of the Senator of Massachusetts, Charles Sumner.

Cartoon: Not Everyone Loves a Parade, by Mark Wahlgren Summers

Louisiana’s first Republican governor, the flamboyant Henry Clay Warmoth was unable to rein in a free-spending legislature, one of the most corrupt anywhere south of New York. Not all the spending was stealing; money to aid railroad construction and special privileges given to northern corporations that might link New Orleans with Mobile, Texas, and the North could have freed the Pelican State from the cash-crop economy, in which freedpeople’s opportunities were limited—if it had worked.

The Society of Civil War Historians launches new website

On June 19, the 150th anniversary of the day that Gen. Gordon Granger landed at Galveston and announced to Texans that the war was over and slavery had ended, the SCWH launched its new website at scwhistorians.org.

Cartoon: We’re looking for people who like to steal, by Mark Wahlgren Summers

On Thursdays over the coming weeks, we will feature a new cartoon—hand drawn by Summers—that offers a creative, satirical spin on Reconstruction history. Each cartoon is accompanied by brief commentary from the author/illustrator to help put things into context. These cartoons stimulate your brain, tickle your funny bone, and bring history to life in a whole new way. First up in the satirical scaffold today: corrupt politicians and the businessmen who love (to bribe) them.

J. Matthew Gallman on the Civil War History of the Word “Shoddy”

The word “shoddy” originated to describe a poor product and not a sloppy worker. The term, which first appeared in the second quarter of the nineteenth century, came out of the world of textile manufacturing. Shoddy was a sort of cheap cloth made by pressing together scraps of reclaimed wool. This inferior-quality material was inexpensive, but it would not stand up under heavy use. The Civil War saw the heyday of shoddy, both as a textile product and as an evocative term. And the evolving use of the word during the war years speaks volumes about how Northerners used the popular media to make sense of this terrible war.

William Marvel: Sacrificing General Sherman

As stern and formidable an opponent as Confederate soldiers and civilians found William Tecumseh Sherman, the general always insisted that he would accept them as fellow countrymen as soon as they submitted to federal authority. He proved as good as his word, especially after hearing President Lincoln’s conciliatory instructions at their City Point conference, late in March of 1865. When he cornered Joe Johnston in North Carolina, less than three weeks later, the two negotiated a complicated surrender agreement that essentially established terms for peace and reunion. It seems odd that neither recognized how far they had exceeded their authority.

William Marvel on Edwin Stanton’s Eulogy for Lincoln: Now He Belongs to the Ages?

One of the more touching moments in the story of Abraham Lincoln’s assassination came when a surgeon announced that the president was dead, whereupon the secretary of war, Edwin Stanton, broke the silence. “Now he belongs to the ages,” Stanton ostensibly observed, with a poetic spontaneity for which he was not known. Numerous people recount some form of the quote, but none of them recorded their memory of the phrase until a generation later, after it appeared in the multi-volume Lincoln biography by his former secretaries, John Hay and John Nicolay. Nicolay was not in Washington that night; Hay is often depicted at the bedside, although the room was not big enough to accommodate all who have subsequently been placed around it at the moment of the president’s death.

Stephen Cushman on a Tale of Two Surrenders

What about the second major surrender, that of Confederate general Joseph E. Johnston to U.S. general William T. Sherman, at a farmhouse between Hillsborough and Durham Station, North Carolina? There were several smaller, later surrenders, too, the last of them that of the C.S.S. Shenandoah by Captain James Waddell to a captain of the British Royal Navy in Liverpool on November 6, 1865. But the negotiations initiated by Johnston—in a letter written April 13 and received by Sherman April 14, which was also Good Friday and the same day John Wilkes Booth shot Abraham Lincoln in Ford’s Theater—led to the largest surrender of the war. Although more than 30,000 soldiers in the Army of Tennessee surrendered in North Carolina (fewer Army of Northern Virginia veterans were paroled at Appomattox), in fact the terms signed by Johnston and Sherman officially disbanded Confederate units fighting in North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida, putting the number of soldiers involved close to 90,000.

Why do most of us hear and know so much less about this surrender, the largest of the war?

Adam Wesley Dean on the Creation of Yosemite

Yosemite National Park made the evening news on Wednesday, January 14, 2015. American rock climbers Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson reached the top of El Capitan by ascending Yosemite’s Dawn Wall. The climbers’ years of preparation, 19-day free-climb, and personal stories riveted television audiences nationwide. News programs also gave audiences a rare treat: panoramic views of the park’s natural beauty that included cascading waterfalls, granite formations, and snow-dusted trees.
Yet Yosemite almost did not become a national park.

R. Douglas Hurt on Agriculture and Confederate Power

A lesser known failure of the Confederacy, however, involved agriculture. In 1861, Southerners considered agriculture an element of power similar to military power, which, combined, would guarantee secession and independence. They were confident that not only would Union armies not prevail but also that their own agricultural capability would prevent the Union from starving the Confederacy into submission. Southerners could fight, feed themselves, and use cotton as a diplomatic tool–assumptions that in the minds of many already made the Confederacy independent.

Adam Wesley Dean on an Industrial North and an Agricultural South

Of the North’s population, over 14.5 million lived in rural areas with a population of less than 2,500, while only 5 million lived in what any reasonable person could call an “urban society.” Roughly 60% of northerners worked on farms. Most farms were small, with the average varying between 113 and 169 acres in the states that stayed loyal to the union. The vast majority of historians and museums have long known these figures and their implications for understanding the war. Why, then, does the state board of education cling to the old story? Perhaps the public feels at ease in labeling the slave-holding Confederacy as something distant, something foreign, a relic of a bygone era, rather than a society in many ways just as capitalist and worldly as our own.

Gary W. Gallagher on Working with Harry W. Pfanz

Esteemed Gettysburg historian Harry W. Pfanz passed away recently at the age of 93. Founding editor of the Civil War America series Gary W. Gallagher recalls the publication of Pfanz’s landmark Gettysburg trilogy.

Thomas J. Brown on Confederate Retweeting

Twitter is more similar to commemorative forms that have flourished since the mid-twentieth century. It appeals to commercialized recreation rather than ritualized reverence, much as the Confederate battle flag gained visibility through college sports and sustained influence through sales of t-shirts and beach towels. Enthusiasm for social media is part of the celebration of technology that has recently reshaped memory of the Hunley submarine. The concept of historical “live tweeting” resembles efforts of Civil War re-enactors to reproduce conditions of the past, such as the real-time unfolding of events, though my day-by-day chronicle does not pretend to offer the “period rush” some hobbyists find in simulation.

Glenn David Brasher’s Civil War Top 10 from 2014

Do we have a new annual tradition on our hands? Last year over on our CivilWar150 blog, Glenn David Brasher gave us a great roundup of Civil War-related highlights from throughout the year. He’s back at it again with 2014’s big news in Civil War history. You’ll find elections, debates, satire, sincerity, and more.

Graham T. Dozier on Letters from the Battle of Cedar Creek

Two days later, when Tom took the time to send Susan a letter, he was still stunned. “In the morning [the Confederates] were lions, in the evening lambs. Such facts are incredible to one who has not witnessed them but they are unfortunately too true.”
In the same letter, dated October 21, Carter offered a simple opinion as to why the battle had been lost. “The Yankee discipline,” he asserted, “is immeasurably superior to ours.” In a rare moment of frustration, he lashed out at the behavior of his army’s leaders.

Graham T. Dozier on a Civil War Soldier Who Became a Civil War Tourist

Civil War buffs and historians are not the only people interested in visiting historical battlefields. On our Civil War blog, Graham T. Dozier, editor of A Gunner in Lee’s Army: The Civil War Letters of Thomas Henry Carter observes how Civil War battle sites have long fascinated visitors of all kinds.