Friday, June 07, 2019

Women, Pianos and The American Civil War With a Video Clip, Some Humor and a Comment

Image result for woman playing the piano during the American Civil War image

How Musical “Battles” Connected Women to the Violence of Civil War, WQXR radio weblog

To paraphrase historian David McCullough, the Civil War was fought in 10,000 places, from Valverde, New Mexico, and Tullahoma Tennessee, to St. Alban’s, Vermont, and Fernandina on the Florida coast. The battle locations were many, but the conflict was alive beyond the battlefields, too – including parlors across the nation.  The American Civil War saw an explosion of popularity for battle pieces — compositions that invited those on the home front to imagine the events of the war through music, thanks to the power of sonic imagery. They became a regular component of life at the homefront for many (mainly northern), white women. 

In an article for the Summer 2016 volume of 19th Century Music,  Professor Elizabeth Morgan of St. John’s University examines the role these pieces played on the homefront. She traces the genre’s popularity back to 18th-century Czech composer Frantisek Kotzwara’s Battle of Prague.

  “Easily the best-known keyboard work in the genre during the late 18th and early 19th centuries, the Battle of Prague would inspire American works on the Revolutionary, Mexican-American, and Civil wars, often serving as a template for these later pieces, which mimicked its motives, form, and narrative trajectory,” she writes. 

Image result for woman playing the piano during the American Civil War imageAt the height of their popularity, battle pieces and their performance threw into relief several curious relationships and commentaries on gender. Society then, as it still does now, has a tendency to gender instruments.  While 19th-century Americans were theoretically fine with women playing the piano, battle pieces drew more complicated feelings. Morgan cites several satirical references to Kotzwara’s piece in contemporary popular fiction by authors including Edgar Allen Poe and Mark Twain. But mocking Prague wasn’t limited to Americans — Ellen Thorneycroft Fowler’s short story "Wanted, A Wife,"  which includes a protagonist who hates nothing more than a woman at the piano, all because his grandmother played Prague constantly in his youth, and “he had neither forgotten nor forgiven her.” 

Why was it such a focus of derision during a time when battle music was one of the most popular genres for American music publishers? Morgan thinks that, for some, it may have lain in a distaste of program music, where sound is used to represent hard concepts. 

Then there’s the physical embodiment of the performance. Quoting Twain, Morgan argues that it was the “mimetic relationship between battle music and wartime fighting that lent the genre to satire.” The American satirist wrote of the pianist's body, with all the contortions and movements that come with mapping the violence of war on a battlefield onto the violence of music at the piano.

Third, Morgan writes that there could have been discomfort in the way the genre merged public and private life. Battle pieces were considered compositions for women, and by their very nature required performers to imagine themselves in the grisliest of situations. But for many in the 19th-century, this was incomprehensible. “This identification was not always received warmly,” explains Morgan, “but instead that an audience might laugh at a young female performer, implying that she took herself too seriously.”

Image result for woman playing the piano during the American Civil War imageWartime has historically opened employment opportunities to members of society that would have normally been denied them. For example, it was increasingly acceptable for (white) women to be nurses on the front. (The same cannot be said for female doctors). And during the 1860s, there was a surge of women writing music. “Hundreds of female composers published works on topics related to the war,” Morgan writes, and while they weren’t all battle pieces, it was still a significant social shift. “Just as the war made it socially acceptable to be a nurse for soldiers at the front, it also expanded the bounds of propriety to include being a published woman composer.” 

Since it’s program music, Morgan argues that women composers brought a different perspective to the table. For example, Laura Hastings Hatch wrote Battle of the Wilderness in 1869, well after the war’s conclusion — which is significant because, at the time, battle pieces were often published shortly after the events depicted. Morgan also points out that while the genre often illustrated clear victories, the Battle of the Wilderness was a violent affair without a clear victor. The sheet music’s cover, too, lacks victorious imagery; it contains instead broken bodies and tools of destruction. There’s no glory in that music, and Morgan theorizes gender may have had a hand in shaping that perspective. 

It is difficult to imagine that anyone felt the casualties of the bloodiest war in American history more acutely than women at home, she argues, ”many of whom waited for soldiers who didn’t return or who came home permanently altered.” That it proves hard to find a recording of Wilderness, a battle piece that stands in stark contrast to so many others of its day, is maddening.

“War is hell.” That phrase (supposedly) first uttered by William Tecumseh Sherman tells us that the glories of the battlefield and the romance of war are an illusion, a sham. Trauma and violence don’t just stay on the front lines — it made its way back home too, affecting even the day’s entertainment. White women, through music, found themselves tethered to the theaters of war, with some taking advantage of the creative opportunities that arose during the chaos. If anything, these piano “battles” teach us that, whether home or away, it’s nearly impossible to escape the grip of a Republic of Suffering.

There is a reader's comment at the end of the post at WQXR. 

Text Source: WQXR

What the Battle of Antietam Shares With The Invasion of Normandy

From Antietam to D-Day – Medical Evacuation on the Battlefield, Jake Wynn, June 6, 2018, National Museum of Civil War Medicine
Members of the Ambulance Corps received special training to evacuate the wounded.On June 6, 1944, Allied forces faced the daunting task of invading Fortress Europe across the beaches of Normandy. In their preparation for battle, the medical corps of the United States Army drilled and trained to save lives on this vitally important battlefield. In doing so, they followed in the footsteps of their Civil War predecessors and the lessons first learned by Major Jonathan Letterman  on the battlefields of Maryland in September 1862.

Major Letterman’s innovative plan for medical organization and evacuation during the Civil War faced its first test on America’s bloodiest day at Antietam on September 17, 1862. Faced with the task of caring for more than 10,000 wounded soldiers, Letterman’s surgeons and stewards jumped into action utilizing a new system that emphasized several key components.

Letterman created an organized ambulance corps within the Army of the Potomac mere weeks before the fight at Antietam. Shortly thereafter, ambulance drivers and stretcher-bearers began practicing the removal of wounded soldiers from the battlefield to field hospitals in the rear. Their training under Letterman’s newly implemented system emphasized speed and efficiency.

Here World War II medical personnel emulate the care practiced at Letterman's field dressing station.On the battlefield, assistant surgeons were to establish aid stations in close proximity to the battlefield in order to provide life-saving first aid and organize the evacuation of wounded soldiers to the rear for further treatment or surgery. Medical personnel evaluated each patient and ensured that those with severe, treatable wounds received the first attention of surgeons further in the rear. Today, we call this triage.

More and Full Text Source:
National Museum of Civil War Medicine

Tuesday, June 04, 2019

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Sad News: Confederates in the Attic Author Tony Horwitz Dies, Age 60

Image result for confederates in the attic book imageHorwitz viewed American History and contemporary media dysfunctions:

TH:  People are staking out extremes at either end, rather than saying there's a common history here," he told Fresh Air [National Public Radio] during 1998.

TH: "There's this attitude towards history that we have to lobby for it now — almost that objective truth doesn't exist, and that it's kind of hopeless to look for it. And that instead you just sort of stake out your position and cling to it in the hopes that that you'll swing the pendulum your way," he added. "I found this very dispiriting."

Image result for confederates in the attic book imageTH: "And I hope they occasionally remember me," Horwitz wrote recently of the many Southerners he met in researching his books. 

"Not as a Fox-induced boogeyman on the bar TV, one of those 'coastal elites' dripping with contempt and condescension toward Middle America. But rather, as that guy from 'up north' who appeared on the next bar stool one Friday after work, asked about their job and life and hopes for the future, and thought what they said was important enough to write down."

Full Text and a review of Horwitz's most recent book Spying on the South available: National Public Radio 

CWL:  I met Tony Horwitz at a Civil War reenactment in the early 2000s. If I recall correctly, it was in the middle the Manassas reenactment of 2001 and hot as blazes. He was not a reenactor on this day but a journalist standing in the midst of reenactors who did not recognize him. 'The battle' had just been fought and the reenactors were meandering off the field. We discussed the variety of opinions about the book. He was well aware of the criticisms and the praises about Confederates In The Attic.  I asked him if he would ever write a follow up book. He replied that the publisher was begging for a sequel but that his other interests would come first. I thanked him for Confederates In The Attic.  

Tony Horwitz, may you rest in peace.

Emerging Civil War review of Midnight Rising: John Brown and the Raid That Started the Civil War

Wall Street Journal obituary here

New York Times obituary here

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

New and Noteworthy: The Strange Journeys of the Cotton Gin, The Confederate Constitution, The Confederate Gold, The Stone Mountain Memorial, The Boll Weevil and The KKK Among Other Pieces of Georgia History Strange Journey of the Confederate Constitution and Other Stories from Georgia's Historical Past, William Rawlings, Mercer University Press, 288 pages, 2017, illustrations, maps, bibliographic notes, bibliography, appendix, index, $29.00.

William Rawlings offers a clear and concise collection of essays organized as themes in Georgia history: the cotton gin's actual history, land frauds in colonial and revolutionary era Georgia, the creation and post-war travels of the Confederate States' constitution, what exactly the Confederate gold was and how it was spent and not buried, the creation of the Stone Mountain Memorial [and what was supposed to be but is not on it], and the first, second and third Ku Klux Klans.Also murder trials, fraud trials, and a pastor who shoots a blue jay bird and a chicken.

Rawlings offers an extensive appendix entitled: Exploring Our Past: A Short Practical Guide to Historical Research for Writers which is suitable for aspiring writers, Advanced Placement History students, college graduates and journalists.  Overall, Rawling's The Strange Journey of the Confederate Constitution and Other Stories for Georgia's Historical Past is a superb example of well writing, interesting and insightful state and local history with applications to the nation's story.

From the Publisher: The Strange Journey of the Confederate Constitution and Other Stories f\rom Georgia's Historical Past  is a collection of seventeen articles and essays on topics in Georgia and Southern history. Individual chapters are arranged by era and cover subjects ranging from The Great Yazoo Fraud of the 1790s, to Jefferson Davis and the Confederate Treasure of the 1860s, to the Reign of Terror visited by the Ku Klux Klan in Macon of the 1920s. While academic, the book’s varying topics are aimed at readers with a general interest in the intriguing and often convoluted history of the South. Some articles focus on events, others on people (e.g. Gutzon Borglum or Eli Whitney), and still others on more controversial topics, such as the place of The Birth of a Nation and Gone With the Wind in modern society. The author’s writing style is one that promotes relaxed recreational reading, treating each topic as an unfolding story as the chapter progresses. As a bonus to those interested in research and writing about historical subjects, the Appendix contains advice in the form of “A Short Practical Guide to Historical Research for Writers.”