Top Ten Civil Discourse Posts of 2016: #1-5

New Year's Day and Civil Discourse's second anniversary are just around the corner, so today we finish our look at the top ten posts of 2016. Earlier this week we cracked the top ten, and in today's posts we bring you the five most popular posts of the year. Whether your a Civil Discourse regular, an infrequent friend, or a first-time visitor to our blog, examining our top posts of the year is a great way to get a feel for the stories we share on our blog. So without further ado, here are our top post of the year! You can read more by clicking a post's title!

#5 - "An Anecdote of Suicide (?)" by Katie L. Thompson

"Recently at the Society of Civil War Historians conference I was asked if any Civil War soldiers committed “suicide” by purposely placing themselves in harm’s way. Besides the question of whether the deaths of Confederate generals Hill and Garnett were such suicides, I recently found this interesting anecdote in Gregory A. Coco’s The Civil War Infantryman..."

#4 - "Roundtable: Our Favorite Civil War Regiments" by various authors

"Anyone who spends anytime studying the war quickly learns that regiments stood at the heart of most Civil War armies. Generally comprised of 1,000 men initially, and inevitably fewer in number after a few months campaigning, regiments were raised from nearly every state and territory within the Union and the Confederacy. Regiments were often diverse: there were regiments comprised entirely of foreign immigrants, Native-Americans, African-Americans, and Hispanics. College boys, lawyers, doctors, and professors might form the backbone of one regiment, while farmers, blacksmiths, and laborers might constitute another. Regiments were often raised out of patriotic zeal in the crazed months of 1861 and the grim determination of 1862. Yet regiments were also born from those who feared being drafted and from those who were drafted. Some regiments saw service in the East, some in the West, some beyond the Mississippi. A few regiments even saw combat in all three theaters. Wherever they fought, and however extensive or brief their experiences in combat, soldiers usually took pride in their regiments, a pride that often extended far beyond the war's conclusion in 1865. In sum, regiments were the embodiment of the individual men who fought for North and South, and the diversity of Civil War regiments speaks to the diversity of the men themselves and the war they fought.

So we asked our authors a question: What Civil War regiment most interests you? Why?"

#3 - "A Beginner's Guide to Researching Your Civil War Ancestor" by Zac Cowsert

"For Americans, history is a personal matter. Whatever we do or don't learn in the classroom, read in books, see in films...Americans still experience, negotiate, and understand the past on a deeply individual level. I suspect many public historians are familiar with Roy Rosenzweig and David Thelen’s work Presence of the Past: Popular Uses of History in American Life. The product of a 1994 survey, their book helps confirm and quantify the very personal ways in which everyday Americans experience the past...namely via their families. People feel most connected to the past when gathering with the families, and their most frequent “past-related” activity is looking at photographs with family and friends. Americans place greater trust in family stories than in college professors, high school teachers, or nonfiction books (personal family accounts were second only to museums). And of course, many Americans explore history through their own genealogy. Nothing helps bring history to life more than a personal connection; a realization that your family, your ancestor, lived and participated in the events of another age.

This post hopes to assist you in connecting with the past by offering a beginner’s guide to researching a soldier, presumably your ancestor, from the Civil War era. While by no means exhaustive, it should help you uncover some basic facts about your ancestor and his/her experiences during the war."

#2 - "A (Macabre) Family Affair: The Weavers and the Gettysburg Dead" by Katie L. Thompson

"In 1863, in the aftermath of the Battle of Gettysburg, efforts quickly got underway to bury the thousands of dead men scattered around the town. Pennsylvania hastily moved to construct the Gettysburg National Cemetery to hold the Union dead. Instrumental in that process was teamster Samuel Weaver, who was hired as superintendent for the exhuming of bodies from the battlefield.  Weaver combed through the battlefield, identified Union and Confederate burials, and carefully disinterred Union soldiers for removal to the new cemetery. Delivering up to one hundred bodies per day, Weaver kept careful notes on each burial he located in order to determine identity, allegiance, and preserve personal effects for the families."

#1 - "Confederate Iconography, The Next Steps: On Shared Authority, Historical Stewardship, and the Role of the Public Historian" by Ashley Luskey

"As the debate over the purpose and future of Confederate monuments and iconography in public culture continues, discussions concerning the role of the public historian in these debates have similarly intensified.  In these discussions, historians such as Jill Ogline Titus, Blain Roberts and Ethan Kytle, Gordon Rhea, and others have smartly argued that there is a fundamental difference between Confederate flags and Confederate monuments, and that the treatment of the latter by all parties involved must be approached differently than the treatment of the former.  Beliefs about the public historian’s proper place within these discussions have run the gamut, with some public historians vocally advocating for the in situ preservation of such monuments and icons (items including memorial plaques and stained-glass windows, historic artwork, and other historic pieces of material culture), with other historians encouraging the professional fostering of community dialogue about the history and context of this iconography, and still others proposing the creation of contextualizing interpretive waysides and counter-monuments. Meanwhile, some public historians have championed joining forces with certain sectors of local communities in advocating for the removal or relocation of such iconography, while still others have advocated for the complete withdrawal of the public historian from community discussions in favor of strictly intra-communal decisions about its fate.  The debates have played out over professional, popular, and personal blogs, at special conference sessions such as the opening plenary recently held at the annual meeting of the American Historical Association in early January, on social media, and through numerous and diverse news outlets. 

Central to these debates has been the question of the proper role of the public historian in community-based, emotionally and politically charged discussions about historical memory and contemporary society, as well as the clarification of the historian’s role in sharing historical authority with the public.  While the future of these monuments and other iconography ultimately does rest upon the decisions made by the local stewards of such items, it is important that we remind ourselves of both the professional and civic roles and responsibilities that we bear as public historians.  While some monuments and iconography might belong to particular local governments and institutions, the history they embody belongs to all of us, and as stewards and educators of that history, we have a responsibility to try to care for it the best way we know how."