Society of (Mostly) Civil War Historians Part II

28 06 2008

(Continued from here)

The sessions on Monday and Tuesday followed the same format: three two hour sessions ran simultaneously in the three Grant rooms on the first floor of the building, twice in the morning and once in the afternoon, with the sessions ending at 4:30 PM.  There was also a roundtable discussion on Monday evening at 7:30.  I’m only going to discuss the sessions I attended, but the schedule can (as of today) be found here.

At 8:30 Monday morning I joined Tom Clemens for Other Civil War Soldiers, chaired by Lesley Gordon of the University of Akron, who lives not far from me and with whom I had previously corresponded.  I’ve also heard her speak a few times at the Western Pennsylvania Civil War Roundtable.  The format of the panels consisted of the delivery of multiple papers, with a critique (usually by the chair) and then questions from the audience.  The panelists were Chris Walsh, Cowardice in the Union Army; Jonathon White, Copperheads in the Union Army; and Mark Stepsis, The Lost Years: Connecticut’s Disabled Soldiers (Mark’s title wisely employing the academically ubiquitous colon).

Chris Walsh’s paper dealt with the disciplinary consequences of cowardice by examining the records of JAG Joseph Holt, to whom a charge of cowardice was a very serious thing indeed.  Jonathon White examined voting records of soldiers in the presidential election of 1864, concluding that the results were a result of many choosing what they saw as the lesser of two evils, and repudiation not of the Democrat presidential candidate but of Democrats, their vice-presidential candidate (Pendleton) and Copperheads.  According to White, scholars’ conclusions that the results evidence support of Republican war aims have been overstated.  Mark Stepsis looked at records and statistics relative to the experiences of disabled Union veterans in Connecticut after the war.

In Lesley Gordon’s closing I learned that Illinois and Massachusetts did not allow its soldiers to vote in the election of 1864, and that the state of Maryland allowed all Union soldiers stationed there to vote.  The paper on cowardice, while it dealt with Union records, got me to thinking about some issues raised in Joseph Glatthaar’s General Lee’s Army (see here and here) about an inherent lack of discipline among males in Southern society and in the army.  If the notions of manhood differed north and south, did notions of cowardice differ as well?  While Glatthaar did attend the conference, I never got a chance to ask his opinion.

I also attended the 10:45 AM panel Beleaguered Cincinnatus: Problems of Mobilization and Demobilization in the Civil War Era”, chaired by Randall Miller, with comments by Paul Cimbala (whose new book I am reviewing in brief for the upcoming issue of America’s Civil War).  Colons abounded in these paper titles, and I think the audience breathed a collective sigh of relief.  Penn Stater Timothy Orr read “We are No Grumblers”: The Mutiny and Muster-Out of the Pennsylvania Reserve Division in 1864, which dealt with the SNAFU associated with differences between the state and Federal muster-in dates and the soldiers reactions to what they felt was a violation of their enlistment “contracts”.  James Broomall’s “I Can’t See What Will Become of Us”: Civilians and Soldiers during the Confederacy’s Collapse and Beyond examined the civil strife and confusion in the wake of Confederate demobilization.  Andrew Slap’s A More Common War: African American Soldiers and the Garrisoning of Memphis I found most interesting because it dealt with a topic with which I am relatively unfamiliar: African-American soldiers in the west.  Most black units served in the west in non-combat roles, but the bulk of studies concern combat troops in the east.  Slap’s study examines the 3rd US Colored Heavy Artillery, which garrisoned Memphis, was recruited in large part from the community, and experienced a very high desertion rate.

Lunch was on our own, and here I lucked out.  I was lucky enough to have lunch with my friend Dr. Carol Reardon of Penn State.  I’ve known Dr. Reardon for about nine years, having attended conferences conducted by her through Penn State.  I correspond with her a good bit, especially when I need to know how real, live military historians do things.  We had a nice lunch at McGillin’s Olde Ale House, and she filled me in on what she’s been working on and what’s in the works for her in the future (she’s already done a stint at West Point, and will be a visiting professor at The Citadel for a year).

After lunch I cruised the book vendor booths set up on the second floor of the club.  All the big university presses were represented, offering 30% discounts.  I didn’t buy anything right then, opting to collect flyers – the discounts are available to attendees until the middle of July, and there was another day for shopping.  It was interesting to watch prospective authors pitch their ideas to the press reps.  I was surprised to learn that quite a few books start off in just this way.

The 4:30 panel I attended was one of the highlights of the conference.  John Coski of the Museum of the Confederacy chaired Challenges for Museums and Public History in the 21st Century.  Speakers were John Hennessy of Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania NMP, Paul Reber of Stratford Hall, and friend Dana Shoaf of Civil War Times and America’s Civil War magazines.  Hennessy’s paper, Devolution and Evolution: The Treatment of Civil War Battlefields in the Realm of Public History, covered the evolution of the NPS battlefields from their foundation in reconciliation to the current emphasis on telling the whole story of the Civil War including its causes.  On a Bull Run note, he pointed out that when the NPS accepted Manassas Battlefield from its then owners, the Sons of Confederate Veterans, the SCV insisted that the NPS interpretation of the site did not detract from the glory due the Confederates.  Paul Reber’s Everyman His Own Historian Reconsidered addressed various forces that have resulted in steadily declining museum attendance.  But one of the best presentations of the conference was Dana Shoaf’s Popular is not a Dirty Word, or You too can Learn to Love Stories without Footnotes, and I’m not just saying that because he’s a friend.  You gotta love a talk on how academics can better reach a wider audience that starts out with a story about The Sex Pistols’ 1978 US tour and their manager, Malcolm McLaren, who booked the band into various less-than-friendly southern venues, explaining You must go where you need to go to convert the masses.  It was catchy and altogether fitting.  Dana made a fine point that recent scholarship challenging long held beliefs about the Civil War is not reaching the masses for various reasons, including an unwillingness of academics to publish work in popular magazines.  These magazines reach a massive audience because of their relatively low cost, their focus on military aspects (though social history is not unheard of), and the absence of end or footnotes, which many readers find off-putting – they interfere with the apsirational aspects of reading an article by making the reader feel less than knowledgeable.  I think Dana gave many in attendance food for thought.

At 4:30 a group of about 30-40 met for a tour of the Union League that was so cool I’m going to cover it in Part IV of this series.

After the tour, Dana, Tom, Angela and I walked around the corner to McGillan’s (again, for me) for dinner, a couple of cold beverages, and some great conversation.  We were back in plenty of time for the 7:30 roundtable on The State of Civil War Military History.  The panelists were Gary Gallagher, Joseph Glatthaar, Carol Reardon, and Joan Waugh.  One of the first things pointed out was the fact that the SCWH was formed in response to a lack of discussion of military history in the Southern Historical Association, which was followed by the observation that the program for this conference offered very little in the way of discussion of military history.  Here again I think the highlight of this session was the observations of a friend, Carol Reardon.  She spoke of some of the things we discussed that day at lunch, arguing that a reexamination of what was going on here in the US before and during the war along the lines of tactical, operational, and strategic military theory is in order.

After the roundtable, I retired to one of the club’s bars and enjoyed a few drinks with Dana, Tom, Angela and Lesley Gordon – other bigshots were seated nearby but I didn’t meet any of them.  I spoke briefly with Terry Beckenbaugh of the US Army Command and General Staff College, to whom Jeff Prushankin had introduced me earlier in the day.  Terry alluded to some guest blogging he may be doing at Civil Warriors in the near future.  I had freeloaded off of Dana for lunch, and ended up a deadbeat again at the bar because only member numbers or room numbers are accepted as payment.  So now I owe both Dana and the Clemenses.

Part I

Part III

Part IV








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