06 October 2015

Ivy League Professor Uses Racial Epiteth Against Ben Carson

According to a report from the Washington Examiner, an Ivy League professor has used a racial slur in describing Dr. Ben Carson. Why? Because he doesn't have a problem with folks flying the Confederate Battle flag at Nascar events. 

Will this professor suffer any serious repercussions for the racist remark? I doubt it. (And were this a conservative in academia, you can bet the CW bloggers would be all over it.)

02 October 2015

Relic Hunting Post #133 - Hunting a Union Camp in Culpeper, Virginia

This was an organized relic hunt from last November. During this hunt, I made one of my all time favorite recoveries. And another relic hunter hit solid gold.

01 October 2015

26 September 2015

Some Yankees Just Don't Understand the Confederate Flag

Some time ago, a Civil War blogger criticized a seller of Confederate flag memorabilia because he sold CBF's that were used on clothing and other "souvenir trinkets." The blogger, originally from New York, revealed his lack of understanding in how many Southerners view the flag by believing that the criticism was going to sting the merchandiser. Laughable. For many, many years a lot of Southerners have displayed the CBF in all kinds of ways they saw as "honorable" (and, yes, even humorous) and a display of pride in their native region: on license plates long before any state legislature gave their blessings, on shot glasses (I have several), on car tops, on plates (I own one given to me by my father) on t-shirts, key chains, refrigerator magnets, etc, etc. The list is endless.

Take the cartoon shown here from the Richmond Times in 1932. This was long before the Dixiecrat days and long before the days when bigots misused the flag to intimidate others. This was also a time when quite a few Confederate Veterans were still alive. And the cartoon appeared in a newspaper that was published in a city at the epicenter of "Lost Cause" sentiment - Richmond, Virginia.

The artist who drew the cartoon proves at least one thing about New Yorkers - they're not all misinformed when it comes to the Confederate flag. Mr. Seibel hailed from New York.

25 September 2015

Happy Birthday to Mr. Faulkner

118 today.

**An afterthought . . . I was thinking after I posted this, would Faulkner have been as effective and successful a writer had it not been for his heritage, the culture by which he was surrounded and by his "sense of place?"

Speaks volumes about certain historians and critics who discount and even impugn those factors, does it not?

A Southern writer through and through, William Cuthbert Falkner (the original spelling of his last name) was born in the small town of New Albany, Mississippi, on September 25, 1897. His parents, Murry Falkner and Maud Butler Faulkner, named him after his paternal great-grandfather, William Clark Falkner, an adventurous and shrewd man who seven years prior was shot dead in the town square of Ripley, Mississippi. Throughout his life, William Clark Falkner worked as a railroad financier, politician, soldier, farmer, businessman, lawyer and—in his twilight years—best-selling author (The White Rose of Memphis).

The grandeur of the "Old Colonel," as almost everyone called him, loomed large in the minds of William Clark Falkner's children and grandchildren. The Old Colonel’s son, John Wesley Thompson, opened the First National Bank of Oxford in 1910. Instead of later bequeathing the railroad business to his son, Murry, however, Thompson sold it. Murry worked as the business manager for the University of Mississippi. Murry’s son, author William Falkner, held tightly to his great-grandfather’s legacy, writing about him in his earliest novels set in the American South.

24 September 2015

On the Maury River Yesterday & Life Lessons

The ruins of Gooseneck Dam on the Maury River
Men may dam it and say that they have made a lake, but it will still be a river. It will keep its nature and bide its time, like a caged animal alert for the slightest opening. In time, it will have its way; the dam, like the ancient cliffs, will be carried away piecemeal in the currents. ~ Wendell Berry
The Maury is named after "the Pathfinder of the Seas", Matthew Fontaine Maury:
On the outbreak (1861) of the American Civil War, Maury returned to Virginia to become head of coast, harbour, and river defenses for the Confederate Navy, for which he attempted to develop an electric torpedo. In 1862 he went to England as a special agent of the Confederacy, and at the war’s end (1865) he went to Mexico, where the emperor Maximilian made him imperial commissioner of immigration so that Maury could establish a Confederate colony there. In 1866, when the emperor abandoned this scheme, Maury went back to England. He returned to the United States in 1868 and accepted the professorship of meteorology at Virginia Military Institute, a post he held until his death. ~ Encyclop√¶dia Britannica
Below is another photograph taken of this same spot by legendary train photographer O. Winston Link in 1956. Obviously, this photo was taken prior to the dam being "carried away piecemeal in the currents" by flooding caused by Hurricane Camille in 1969. Note the tower in the background of both photos for reference.

Image credit.
The take away lesson is that despite man's best efforts to control "nature and nature's God", nature and God eventually win. The laws of the universe enforce themselves.

And below is another photograph taken by Link's assistant as Link was setting up for the photo above. Link was standing at about 7 o'clock and six to 8 feet from where I was standing when I took my photo.

And one final thought by historian Stephen Ambrose:
In the 19th century, we devoted our best minds to exploring nature. In the 20th century, we devoted ourselves to controlling and harnessing it. In the 21st century, we must devote ourselves to restoring it. ~ Stephen Ambrose

22 September 2015

These Stories Would Make Great Historical Movies

I've always wondered why movie producers have overlooked so many true stories that would make GREAT movies. I mean really, SOMEONE needs to make a move about Jack Hinson's one man war against the yankees. And then there's the life story and conversion of John Jasper. Both of those lives are so packed full of classic literary themes as to beg for a major movie production - tragedy, hatred, love, irony, poetic justice, intrigue, triumph. I can already picture Clint Eastwood as an elderly Jack Hinson sitting in a rocking chair and recounting the story to a grandson. And Denzell Washington would make a PERFECT Jasper. I think I may have missed my calling.

And though I co-produced a documentary that focused on Stonewall Jackson's black Sunday school class, that story would make a fantastic feature film as well. Oh well, maybe some day. In the meantime, here's what ListVerse thinks about what we're missing:
There’s a lot of history, and we’re making more every year. As a result, many history textbooks have to focus on the grand sweep of events rather than individual stories. Which is understandable, but kind of a shame, since it means missing some of the most amazing stories of our shared past.
It has always been the individual stories that fascinate me, for that is where real history is made and comes to life. More here

Note to readers: I'm just beginning work on a total revamp of this blog. I plan to be working with a college intern on a major overhaul and move to a new platform. Hopefully this will be done by year's end. It's hard to believe I've been at this for over 10 years. And I have several writing and research projects in which I'm involved. More news and announcements to come soon. Time is short . . . 

21 September 2015

Public School Teacher Demands School Change It's Name

No, the school is not currently named after a Confederate hero. I told you once the low-hanging fruit got stale and/or picked, the activist historians would be reaching higher. Didn't believe me, did you?
Roosevelt Middle School is getting a new building and new footprint — and at least one of its teachers thinks it also deserves a new name. Jenoge Khatter, a 30-year-old U.S. history teacher, believes it’s way past time for the school, named after 26th President Theodore Roosevelt, to honor some other person of history. Khatter says Roosevelt, for all of his accomplishments, was a racist [blah, blah, blah] . . .
And why not? He's simply putting "memory studies" into shoe leather. Just remember, this is not about history, it's about social justice and being politically correct. More here.

20 September 2015

Jeb Stuart Being Honored Again in Stuart, Virginia

And in a government building, no less.
This week, the County Board of Supervisors unanimously voted to rehang the portrait on the Wall of Honor located in the County/Administration building. . . .
the portrait will hang with other local veterans on the Wall of Honor.
I'm sure the activist historians will not be happy about this.

And for those interested in the view of someone who has probably studied Jeb Stuart more than anyone alive today, I'd recommend the thoughts and perspective of Patrick County native and historian, Tom Perry here.

19 September 2015

The Problem With "Memory Studies"

The most recent issue of Hillsdale College's Imprimis, has a fascinating article in it about the current state of "Historical study and history education in the United States today." The piece was adapted from a talk given by Professor Wilfred McClay.

While the ultimate target of McClay's damning piece is the new Advanced Placement (AP) U.S. History framework, he takes down several targets on his march toward the AP issue. And one of them is "Memory Studies." Many of his criticisms and observations echo much that has been written and pointed out on this blog over the last 10 years. For example:

. . . the chief purpose of a high school education in American history is as a rite of civic membership, an act of inculcation and formation, a way in which the young are introduced to the fullness of their political and cultural inheritance as Americans, enabling them to become literate and conversant in its many features, and to appropriate fully all that it has to offer them, both its privileges and its burdens. . . . As the historian Donald Kagan has put it, “Democracy requires a patriotic education.” It does so for two reasons: first, because its success depends upon the active participation of its citizens in their own governance; and second, because without such an education, there would be no way to persuade free individuals of the need to make sacrifices for the sake of the greater good. We now seem to think we can dispense with such an education, and in fact are likely to disparage it reflexively, labelling it a form of propaganda or jingoism.
And that flies in the face of what (generally speaking) many current educators, academics and professional historians believe. 

McClay also points out that teaching the concept (in a positive way) of American Exceptionalism is a necessary part of education. As he states:
as historian Donald Kagan has put it, “Democracy requires a patriotic education.”
And teaching that America is exceptional promotes patriotism. This is common sense - and I speak from experience. It's what I was taught. Many others will nod in agreement. Other progressive educators and historians will scoff:
We now seem to think we can dispense with such an education, and in fact are likely to disparage it reflexively, labeling it a form of propaganda or jingoism. But Kagan begs to differ with that assessment. “The encouragement of patriotism,” he laments, “is no longer a part of our public educational system, and the cost of that omission has made itself felt” in a way that “would have alarmed and dismayed the founders of our country.”

McClay explains how this negative attitude toward AE and "patriotism" has come about:
perhaps history is useless because the road we have traveled to date offers us only a parade of negative examples of oppression, error, and obsolescence—an endless tableau of Confederate flags, so to speak—proof positive that the past has no heroes worthy of our admiration, and no lessons applicable to our unprecedented age.
The need for heroes in a culture of a nation has been a frequent topic here. But as progressive historians seem to be so obsessed with our past imperfections and sins, they resist recognizing and celebrating our heroes and achievements. This is the result of presentism, arrogance and a false belief that their generation is always, and in every way, morally and intellectually superior to all that have gone before us. Grand narcissism on parade. 

McClay continues:
This loss of faith in the central importance of history pervades all of American society. Gone are the days when widely shared understandings of the past provided a sense of civilizational unity and forward propulsion. Instead, argues historian Daniel T. Rodgers, we live in a querulous “age of fracture,” in which all narratives are contested, . . . The broad and embracing commonalities of old are no more, undermined and fragmented into a thousand subcultural pieces.
Does that not describe our times and much of modern America? Who deserves the "credit" for this state of affairs? We know. 

McClay echoes much of Professor Gordon Wood's recent criticisms (See here, here and here):
As historian Thomas Bender laments in a recent article, gloomily entitled “How Historians Lost Their Public,” the growth of knowledge in ever more numerous and tightly focused subspecialties of history has resulted in the displacement of the old-fashioned survey course in colleges and universities, with its expansive scale, synthesizing panache, and virtuoso pedagogues. Bender is loath to give up any of the advances made by the profession’s ever more intensive form of historical cultivation, but he concedes that something has gone wrong: historians have lost the ability to speak to, and to command the attention of, a larger audience, even a well-educated one, that is seeking more general meanings in the study of the past. They have indeed lost their public. They have had to cede much of their field to journalists, who know how to write much more accessibly and are willing to explore themes—journalist Tom Brokaw’s celebration of “the greatest generation,” for example—that strike a chord with the public, but which professional historians have been trained to disdain as ethnocentric, triumphalist, or uncritically celebratory. Professional historians complain that such material lacks nuance, rigor, and is prone to re-package the past in terms that readers will find pleasing to their preconceptions. They may be right. But such works are at least being read by a public that is still hungry for history. The loss of a public for history may be due to the loss of a history for the public.
McClay also touches on the recent debates over Confederate symbols and monuments:
Consider in this regard our startling incapacity to design and construct public monuments and memorials. Such edifices are the classic places where history and public life intersect, and they are by their very nature meant to be rallying points for the public consciousness, for affirmation of the body politic, past, present, and future, in the act of recollection and commemoration, and recommitment to the future. There is a profundity, approaching the sacramental, in the atmosphere created by such places, as they draw together generations of the living, the dead, and those yet unborn in a bond of mutuality and solidarity. The great structures and statuary that populate the National Mall in Washington, D.C.—such as the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument—or the solemnity of Arlington National Cemetery, do this superbly well. There is a sense, too, that cemeteries honoring fallen soldiers of the Confederacy somehow deserve our general respect, even if the cause for which they fell does not. But these structures were a product of an earlier time, when the national consensus was stronger.. . . And in a different but not unrelated way, the sudden passion to cleanse the American landscape of any and all allusions to the Confederacy or slaveholding—a paroxysm more reminiscent of Robespierre than of Lincoln—also suggests the emergence of a public that is losing meaningful contact with its own history.
McClay again explores the whys and hows this all happened. When reading his comments, think about the fact that so many of these progressive historians and bloggers pretend that all this has somehow come about organically or in a vacuum, without any push from academia and activist historians. We all know that's absurd and McClay correctly places the blame for much of this exactly where it belongs:
Why has this happened? . . . more generally, it has happened because the whole proposition of revering and memorializing past events and persons has been called into question by our prevailing intellectual ethos, which cares little for the authority of the past and frowns on anything that smacks of hero worship or piety toward our forebears. The past is always required to plead its case before the bar of the present, where it generally loses. That ethos is epitomized in the burgeoning academic study of “memory,” a term that refers in this context to something vaguely suspect.
Bingo. Memory studies, at least in the context he's referring to here, are inherently controlled by presentism. This is why we see many of those who embrace such interpretations and perspectives shouting TAKE IT DOWN in bullhorn fashion when it comes to, not only Confederate imagery, but all of our history which "has been called into question by our prevailing intellectual ethos" - an ethos which is, in my opinion, full of hubris; among other things. McClay continues his critique of memory studies with this:
. . . the systematic problematizing of memory—the insistence on subjecting it to endless rounds of interrogation and suspicion, aiming precisely at the destabilization of public meanings—is likely to produce impassable obstacles to the effective public commemoration of the past. Historians have always engaged in the correcting of popular misrenderings of the past, and that is a very important and useful aspect of their job. But “memory studies” tends to carry the debunking ethos much further, consistently approaching collective memory as nothing more than a willful construction of would-be reality rather than any kind of accurate reflection of it.
Note that McClay's comments very accurately explain why so many localities are no longer recognizing any type of commemoration, let alone celebration, of events tied to the Confederacy. (The recent removal of Jeb Stuart's portrait from a Virginia courtroom is a perfect example.) Again, there are those who will claim this has all occurred in a vacuum. But McClay's piece thoroughly discredits such a claim. 
Scholars in the field examine memory with a jaundiced and highly political eye, viewing nearly all claims for tradition or for a worthy past as flimsy artifice designed to serve the interests of dominant classes and individuals, and otherwise tending to reflect the class, gender, and power relations in which those individuals are embedded.
That paragraph explains, very succinctly, the problem with memory studies. 

There is much more in Professor McClay's piece and I highly recommend it to all readers. Even if you disagree, you will at least understand why so many of us look back at memory studies with a jaundiced eye of our own.

18 September 2015

Civil War Era National Cemeteries

Confederate Memorial - Arlington National Cemetery, 6 June 1922
Which state do you think has the most? Yes, the answer is rather obvious. Of course, this does not include state or other private cemeteries populated by large numbers of Civil War soldiers and veterans. Do you have a favorite WBTS related cemetery? I do. The Stonewall Jackson Memorial Cemetery.

17 September 2015

The Ethical Failure of Philosophical Skepticism

From The Imaginative Conservative. The money quote:
. . . universities today in the main serve more as re-education camps than as universities. Skepticism might be untrue, but it is useful to the goal of convincing students to embrace a secular humanist perspective. Once you convince someone that there is no truth it is much easier to convince them of “your own truth,” i.e. ideology. . . . Students are, of course, not encouraged to voice any skepticism about the false promises of secular humanism, and in this they follow their teachers, who with some exceptions are anti-Christian fundamentalists, but who claim with a straight face to believe in nothing for which there is no “scientific evidence.” But never mind; these days “academic freedom” means not the unfettered pursuit of truth, but the right to spout any nonsense safe in the knowledge that no one would dare call you on it, not the insecure and bewildered undergraduates you teach, nor the colleagues who believe exactly as you do, nor the civilians who quite sensibly have better things to do. As we know, the hallmark of the liberal ascendancy in the universities is the “celebration of diversity,” except when it comes to challenging secular humanism. The celebration ends where diversity of thought begins. ~ Professor Clifford Staples

16 September 2015

Thomas Jefferson, Field Notes & My Sense of Place

I use Field Notes every day. They remind me of the small pocket notebooks my grandfather used to carry. I usually just purchase their standard, no frills edition but I'm going to get some of these. To promote their latest special edition - Shenandoah - they've produced a great video quoting Thomas Jefferson's Notes on the State of Virginia. This is my home. And, if not mistaken, one of the shots in this film short looks down from the Blue Ridge Parkway very close to my home.

15 September 2015

The Augusta County Historical Society's Review of Lexington, Virginia & the Civil War

Last year I was quite pleased to read a positive review of my most recent book, The Battle of Waynesboro, in the annual bulletin of the Augusta County Historical Society last year. What I didn't realize at the time, however, was that they had also reviewed my book that had been published in 2013, Lexington, Virginia and the Civil War in the same bulletin. So to toot my own horn and, hopefully, increase sales, I'm posting scanned images of that review here now. Thanks once again to Robert Moore for his contribution to this book. The ACHS reviewer took note of Robert's very important contribution. Sorry for the quality of the text, but the ACHS bulletin is not available digitally. Of course, you can click, then right click on image to enlarge.