Wednesday, November 26, 2014

News---The Sensory Experience of the Civil War: Battles, Sieges and The Bloated Bodies

 Experiencing War Envelops All The Human Senses, Even Taste, Renee Standera, WISTV,  Report from Columbia, SC.

The sensory experience of the Civil War is the subject of a new book written by University of South Carolina Distinguished Professor Mark Smith. It's titled The Smell of Battle, the Taste of Siege. "My aim to add texture to the experience of war," he said. "What did it mean? How did it feel?"

From the first shots at Fort Sumter, to the Hunley submarine and the burning of Columbia, South Carolina is featured throughout the book.  "My thinking was to identify a very well-known event during the Civil War and then look at the sources. What do the sources say about the sensory experience of that event?" he said.

Each sense is related to an incident in the Civil War. It opens with the sense of sound related to the firing on Fort Sumter in 1861. "The war literally began with a bang in South Carolina...This was the first time that people had heard the sound of war, for many, many years at least. That's what they commented on."

The first battle of Bull Run represents the sense of sight. "First Bull Run was principally a conversation and an event about confusion. Visual confusion," he said. "Troops at this point in time had not adopted gray or blue, so there were Confederate troops wearing blue. There were Union forces wearing gray. This caused enormous confusion on the battlefield."

Smith used the battle of Gettysburg to represent the sense of smell. "More people died in those hills than any other battle. So many, in fact, that the technology of death outpaced the technology of burial," said Smith. "They couldn't bury the corpses fast enough. And, as a result, on those hot July days, those dead bodies started to reek."Death could be smelled for miles. Death could be smelled for weeks."

The Union siege of Vicksburg represents the sense of taste. "The siege was simply designed to starve people into submission and that's precisely what Grant did at Vicksburg," Smith said. "At the beginning of the siege Southerners -- white Southerners at least -- ate well. Ate plentifully. By the end of the siege, there had been in revolution in their palate. They ate anything they could find. Once proud, they were reduced to eating morsels, scraps fit only for animals."

The sense of touch was represented by the C.S.S. Hunley. "Poignantly, the eight men who died in that submarine died at their posts," he said. "They didn't try to clamber out of their seats and they died alone. They died without human touch and it took over a hundred years for them to be touched again by another human being."  

Smith wraps all the senses into the Union Army's occupation of Columbia and the city's subsequent burning. "Their presence changed the sensory landscape of Columbia. The noises were unprecedented. The smells of thousands of troops--their garbage. Their refuse. And then the smell of a burning city and civilization evaporating on a cloud. And then they left and the city didn't even look the same any longer."

Smith is a leading expert in Civil War History and the senses. The History Channel has requested an interview with him regarding the subject. "If you don't pay attention to the role of smell, the role of touch, the role of sound, taste, including visual, then you come away with a very antiseptic view of war,"Smith said. "Almost a...a view of war that suggest it wasn't painful. That somehow it was simply an honorable act."

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Monday, November 17, 2014

New and Noteworthy---Soldiering For Freedom: Clear, Concise, Cogent and Accessible

Soldiering For Freedom: How The Union Army Recruited, Trained and Deployed the U.S. Colored Troops, Bob Luke and John David Smith, Johns Hopkins University Press, 131 pp., 12 b/w images, bibliographic notes, bibliography, index, $19.95.

Soldiering For Freedom: How The Union Army Recruited, Trained and Deployed the U.S. Colored Troops is a superlative introduction to the USCT for advanced placement high school and undergraduate students. Basic information is providded on the raising of African American troops, the Bureau of Colored Troops, contrabands, discrimination, the 54th and 55th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, and Abraham Lincoln. Additionally, the narrative offers an addresses the issues of race, soldiering, emancipation, nationalism, citizenship.   Overall, Soldiering For Freedom is clear, concise, cogent and accessible to students and general readers.

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

New and Noteworthy---The Confederate Raid Into Vermont: The Setting, The Raid, The Trials

The St. Albans Raid: Confederate Attack on Vermont, Michelle Arnosky Sherburne, The History Press, 191 pages, appendix, bibliography, index, 37 illustrations, 3 maps, $19.99.

On the same day as the Battle of Cedar Creek, Virginia,  there occurred a controversial raid from Canada into Vermont by Confederate soldiers. The goal was to rob banks in retaliation for Sheridan's burning of the Shenandoah Valley and hopefully draw Federal forces from Virginia and defend the Canadian border.

Bennett Young, a Confederate cavalryman who had been captured during Morgan's 1863 Raid, imprisoned  then escaped, led the one day assault. His 1863 escape led him to Canada where he met Confederate sympathizers. His return to the Confederacy gave him the opportunity to request permission to return to Canada as a lieutenant and rob American banks. Shortly before 3 p.m. on October 19, Bennett and over twenty conspirators  initiated simultaneous robberies of St. Albans'  three banks. They identified themselves as Confederate soldiers and took a total of $208,000  which is a little over 3 million dollars in current value. During the robberies, eight or nine Confederates held the villagers at gun point on the village green, then stole their horses to prevent pursuit. Those Vermonters who chose resistance were killed or wounded. Young ordered his men to burn the city, but the four ounce bottles of sulfur, naphtha and quick lime they attempted to use did not ignite.

Michelle Sherburne's The St. Albans Raid: Confederate Attack on Vermont presents a clear and concise introduction to U.S.-Canadian relations during 1863 and 1864, the Confederate Secret Service in Canada, and the goals of the raid. The robberies and treatment of the civilians are well described as is the rescue of the town by discharged Vermont veterans and others. The Confederate invaders were captured, tried and found guilty but Canada, being neutral, did not extradite the criminals. Sherburne cogent description of the proceedings take into account of the impact of the trials on the relations between the two countries. She acknowledges gaps in the story due to the lack of documents and does not over-dramatize events.

One of The St. Albans Raid: Confederate Attack on Vermont several strengths is the inclusion of the photographs of many artifacts, portraits, weapons, bottles of Greek fire and buildings such as court houses and prisons.Sherburne's work is a fine example of local history well researched and well written.

Sunday, November 02, 2014

New and Noteworthy--Lincoln, An Episcopal Priest, Bureaucratic Corruption And 300 Sentenced To Be Hanged

Lincoln's Bishop: A President, A Priest, Ant the Fate of 300 Dakota Sioux Warriors, Gustav Niebuhr, Harper One/Harper Collins Publishing, 210 pp., four b/w images, bibliographic notes, bibliography, index, $26.99.

The Dakota War of 1862 began on August 17 in southwest Minnesota and ended with the mass execution of 38 Dakota tribe warriors on December 26, 1862. Throughout the late 1850s, treaty violations, unfair annuity payments and bureaucratic corruption by Federal government agents caused destitution and starvation among the Dakota tribes.

In early December, my military court 303 Sioux prisoners were convicted of murder and rape sentenced to death. Some trials were conducted without defense attorneys; other trials lasted less than five minutes. Abraham Lincoln reviewed the court proceedings and commuted the death sentences of 264 prisoners and allowed the execution of 38. Lincoln received the counsel of Henry Benjamin Whipple, a native of New York, a missionary priest to Chicago, an elected first Episcopal bishop of Minnesota, did not meet a Native American until he was 37 years old.

Whipple met and respected the Dakota Sioux, watched and learned first had the corruption of the Federal Office of Indian Affairs. By letters and a visit to Washington D.C., he informed the President that the agency was corrupt, the agents were political hacks,, the vendors were greedy providers of illegal alcohol and abusive of Native American women. At stake for Whipple was not only an injustice but an offense to religious principles that demanded aggressive resistance. By 1860 he began a letter writing campaign that described the problems and proposed remedies.

The 15th President,James Buchanan did not respond; the 16th President did. After a face-to-face interview of Whipple, Lincoln mentioned to a friend that Whipple's testimony had 'shaken him down to his boots.'  Whipple organized other bishops, who by virtue of their habits, were reluctant to speak out on the issues of public issues, even those issues of slavery, secession or politics.

In Lincoln's Bishop, Gustav Niebuhr carefully offers evidence of Whipple's investigation and engagement with politicians regarding the Dakota Sioux.  Niebuhr is a professor of newspaper and online journalism, the founding director of the Carnegie Religion and Media Program, and winner of awards for the reporting of religion.  Lincoln's Bishop offers a clear and concise narrative supported by primary sources. It moves briskly does not stray away from the central features of the story. Currently 'telling truth to power' is often a slogan to justify personal self absorption, narcissism and self promotion.  Niebuhr's work offers the story of one man's  'telling truth to power' as selfless and motivated by the gospel.

New And Noteworthy---Gettysburg: The Origins and Changing Meanings Of Preservation Efforts

Product Cover

On A Great Battlefield: The Making, Management, and Memory of Gettysburg National Military Park, 1933–2012

by Murray, Jennifer
Publisher: University of Tennessee Press
Retail Price: $49.00
Issue: Fall 2014
ISBN: 1621900533

On what is likely the most consecrated 6,000 acres of the United States landscape, is the Gettysburg National Military Park. Timothy B. Smith in The Golden Age of Battlefield Preservation: The Decade of the 1890's and the Establishment of America's First Five Military Parks [2008] addressed the creation of Gettysburg, Chickamauga and Chattanooga, Shiloh, Antietam, and Vicksburg parks during a particular decade. By the 1890s, the regional bitterness engendered by political combat created by Reconstruction had subsided. The decade was ripe for veterans from both sides, in a spirit of brotherhood, to reconcile and remember the war. The battlefield sites were for the most part unmarred by urban or industrial development. Smith examines the process of battlefield preservation and focuses on the preservation and interpretation of each of these sites.

Generally, historians have paid limited attention to Gettysburg battlefield’s history though thousands upon thousands of efforts have been made to describe and explain the battle and campaign. In both This Is Holy Ground: A History of the Gettysburg Battlefield by Barbara L. Platt [2001] and Gettysburg: Memory, Market, and American Shrine by Jim Weeks [2003], the authors addressed the extent by which preservation and interpretation were challenged by periodic bouts of tourism and commercialization. Additionally during these decades, the glacial eroding of the founding premise of the national military parks occurred. Since the centennial commemoration, the climate of opinion regarding the validity of the Lost Cause interpretation and the rise of understanding the battle in the context of American race relations has prompted the National Park Service to accept changes to its preservation and interpretation of the sites.

On A Great Battlefield: The Making, Management, and Memory of Gettysburg National Military Park, 1933-2013, Jennifer Murray offers a unique, and some may say an insider understanding of the changes that have occurred at the park. She worked for nine seasons at Gettysburg as an interpretive ranger while completing college and graduate school. She understands that the battlefield, its preservation and its interpretation has been in a continual state of transformation over 150 years.
Neither the battlefield landscape nor its interpretation has remained static. Events, such as the passing of Civil War veterans, the invention of the automobile, the Great Depression, the Second World War, the rising of the civil rights and environmental movements have had significant impacts. The battlefield’s initial preservation and memorialization [1863-1895], as well as its development by both the War Department [1895-1933] and the Department of the Interior [1933 to present], has played significant roles in making Gettysburg what it is today. The current $105 million visitor center with the restored cyclorama painting is nestled in a landscape which is being sculpted to be more and more like it was in July 1863.

Murray has organized the story chronologically. The first chapter, ‘We Are Met On A Great Battlefield’ begins with the internment of the dead immediately after the battle on 12 acres adjacent to the 5 year old Evergreen Cemetery. The founding of the Gettysburg Battlefield Memorial Association, along with the private purchases by veterans of land on which their unit fought, set in motion the preservation of the site for the purpose of remembering the valor of the soldiers. Frequent mapping of the battlefield by military staff and historians and the enabling legislation encouraged landholders to turn over their private property to the government in 1895.

The second chapter ‘We Cannot Hallow This Ground’ introduces the impact of tourism by automobile, the creation in 1916 by Congress of the National Park Service, New Deal politics, and the 1938 seventy-fifth anniversary commemoration. Each of these moved the park toward the “. . . promotion of the battlefield’s scenic features, landscape beautification efforts and a tendency to view Gettysburg not exclusively as a memorial battlefield , but as a park . . . (40).”

The next nine chapters describe the issues surrounding the development of the park between 1941 and the current day. During the Second World War the National Parks were requested to give up extra cannon, iron wayside plaques and iron fences to the war effort. Post war tourism, patriotism and commercialization changed the public perceptions of what Gettysburg was and what it should become. In the mid-1950s significant impacts came through the 1956 Federal Highway Act which funded the construction of 41,000 miles of highways and the Mission 66 initiative that evolved as a manifestation of the National Park’s “long-standing tradition to promote recreational tourism (80).” The Mission 66 initiative begat a visitors’ center that would later become the focus of interpretive issues and conflict of philosophies. Would the park be a battlefield, a memorial garden, or a tourist destination? “The site and design for the visitor center demonstrated the Park Services’ efforts to modernize the battlefield and provide visitor access” and “place convenience over preservation (85).”
As the centennial of the battle approached, the Cold War was well underway and molded domestic issues. Additionally, the nascent modern civil rights movement contrasted dramatically with the Lost Cause movement while the battle was commemorated. Murray sets forth the case that the battle, which had been described as the High Water Mark of the war, may have also provided a centennial that could be considered the high water mark of the Lost Cause explanation of the war.

She understands that the centennial observances of the Civil War “aptly demonstrate the dominance of the ‘heritage syndrome’ and a tendency to remember and glorify the soldiers, commanders and battles without engaging in a meaningful discussion of the war’s causes or consequences (113).” The centennial commemoration during the 1960s generated friction within the interpretations of the 1863 military campaign, the battlefield and the civilian lives in Gettysburg and Adams County.

Discord occurred over the building during 1958-1962 of a visitors center designed by Richard Neutra and located in an area that was the destination of the Grand Assault of July 3. Negative public comments were uttered frequently in the mid-1970s as the National Tower, 307 foot high elevated observation deck was being constructed upon land deemed by many to be sacred and very close to George Meade’s headquarters. The land swap between Gettysburg College and the National Park Service added heat to the simmering issues related to landscape preservation, visitor access and community desires. Between 1989 and 1991 history as a means of telling a story became extremely politicized. The demise of the Soviet Union, the Enola Gay exhibit at the Smithsonian Institution, the attempt of the Disney Corporation to create and history themed commercial park produced newspaper headlines. The film Glory and Ken Burn’s The Civil War generated an uncommon amount of public discussion regarding American history.

In 1998 the National Park Service released a draft of a general management plan for the park. At this time the Memorial-Commemorative Landscape philosophy of the 1950s-1980s came into conflict with a Battle-1863 Landscape philosophy of the 1990s. The General Management Plan provided a framework for decisions regarding the battlefield landscape [1863], the memorial landscape [1880s-early1900s] and visitor access [post Second World War].

Throughout the book, Murray sets forth generalizations concerning who is visiting the battlefield and their expectations when they get there. Her access to Gettysburg National Military Park’s [GNMP] archives is one of the chief strengths of the book. Notable is the author's attention to significant details from the wealth of data within the GNMP archives. At times institutional histories may be very difficult and less than exciting to read, but On A Great Battlefield never is. Murray offers a lucid and concise history of 150 years of preservation, interpretation, and commemoration at Gettysburg. Her writing style is precise, not wordy, and excludes stories and anecdotes that are non-pertinent to the clearly offered themes of each chapter. Murray’s work is a significant addition to both the history of the Gettysburg battlefield and the field of public history.

CWL: This book review originally appeared in Louisiana State University's Civil War Book Review, Fall, 2014.