Editorial: Nathan Bedford Forrest Day: A Failure of Morality, History, and Politics

Editorial: Nathan Bedford Forrest Day: A Failure of Morality, History, and Politics

Today is Nathan Bedford Forrest Day in Tennessee.

Like many Southern commanders, he enjoys a prominent place in Civil War memory. And however regrettable, the celebration and veneration of Confederate commanders isn’t particularly unusual even today, circa 2019. After all, Tennessee also recognizes Robert E. Lee Day and Confederate Decoration Day.

Yet we cannot divorce military commanders or their abilities from the causes for which they fought, at least not when it comes to deciding who gets a pedestal and who gets a proclamation. Confederate generals chose to renounce their allegiance to the United States to join in a rebellion whose raison d’etre was slavery. They fought for an immoral, terrible cause, the world is a better place because they lost, and they are not worthy of veneration. Why are we still celebrating them?

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Secession Documents: Kentucky and Missouri

Secession Documents: Kentucky and Missouri

Kentucky and Missouri were divided border states. Pro-Confederate governments within both states declared secession and issued formal documents, but neither state officially left the Union and remained with the United States during the war. The divided nature of the border states caused conflict within their borders and men from Kentucky and Missouri fought for both sides of the Civil War.

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Secession Documents: Texas

Secession Documents: Texas

Texas was the seventh state to secede on February 1, 1861, the last of the first phase of secession and the final of the seven states to formally declare the Confederacy on February 8, 1861.

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Secession Documents: Georgia

Secession Documents: Georgia

Georgia was the fifth state to secede on January 19, 1861. It was one of the original seven states to declare the Confederate States of America on February 8, 1861. Georgia gives one of the longest explanations for its secession from the Union. 

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Secession Documents: Mississippi

Secession Documents: Mississippi

Mississippi was the second state to secede from the United States on January 9, 1861 and one of the states to declare the formation of the Confederacy on February 8, 1861. The state's declaration of secession provides one of the clearest connections between secession and slavery.

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Secession Documents: South Carolina

Secession Documents: South Carolina

South Carolina was the first state to secede from the Union on December 20, 1860. Because they were the first to leave they needed to explain to the rest of the states and the world why they were dissolving the Union and defend the legality of secession. South Carolina's declaration of secession includes a defense of states’ rights as the foundation of the legality of secession as well as the grievances with the North that sparked that action.

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Secession Documents: Introduction

Secession Documents: Introduction

While secession and the lead up to the Civil War were very complex, conflict over slavery was certainly central to the South’s decision to leave the Union. This is evident from the Southern states’ own words as they issued the ordinances of secession and documents of explanation as they each left the United States to form the Confederacy.

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The Confederate Monument Controversy….in the 1890s

The Confederate Monument Controversy….in the 1890s

Confederate monuments are at the forefront of politics and national debate these days as American society grapples with the legacy of the Civil War and its aftermath. While this debate seems new and is situated in a modern society that is opening many meaningful, and sometimes divisive, conversations about history, race, and society, controversy over Confederate monuments is not necessarily new.

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Historic Site Review: Frogmore Cotton Plantation, Natchez, MS

Historic Site Review: Frogmore Cotton Plantation, Natchez, MS

In the midst of conversation and debate about how to best interpret slavery at historic sites, I recently visited Frogmore Plantation in Natchez, Mississippi. When my family signed up to take a tour of this working cotton plantation as part of our Mississippi River cruise, I was admittedly excited but with some trepidation. Viewing the experience through the historian’s lens, it could have been enlightening or terrible.

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Material Culture and the Confederate Monument Debate

Material Culture and the Confederate Monument Debate

Thus we also need to remember that the monuments we build, the sites we preserve, and the places we name are never just about history.  They are and have always been about who we imagine ourselves to be in the present and what we want to be, as a community, in the future.

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The South Needs to Commemorate Its Southern Unionists

The South Needs to Commemorate Its Southern Unionists

The historical amnesia of the South regarding its black and white Union soldiers should be rectified. By choosing to selectively remember and honor Confederate soldiers while simultaneously ignoring the many Southerners who fought for the Union, Southerners send clear message that loyalty to region, protection of white supremacy, and veneration of the Confederacy are the only legacies of the Civil War worth remembering. If Confederate monuments continue to be torn down, new ones should go up, celebrating those Southerners--black and white--who remained loyal to the Union and brought about “a new birth of freedom.”

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Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story? David Ireland and the 137th New York

Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story? David Ireland and the 137th New York

We all know the story of Joshua Chamberlain holding the left of the Union line at Gettysburg. But, did you know that a similar action occurred on the right of the Union line as well? Guest author Justin Voithofer gives us a look at David Ireland's 137th New York Infantry at Culp's Hill.

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Why Some Southern College Campuses Cannot Escape their Confederate Past: The University of Mississippi

Why Some Southern College Campuses Cannot Escape their Confederate Past: The University of Mississippi

Ole Miss has been in the news several times in the last couple of years, dealing with its Civil War and Civil Rights legacy. In 2010, the university made headlines when they changed their school mascot away from one that highlighted its Confederate heritage. In 2014, an Ole Miss fraternity was shut down after students placed a noose on the statue of James Meredith, the first black student to enroll in the all-white school. Most recently, the university joined the Confederate flag debate when the students and faculty chose to remove the state flag, which includes Confederate symbols, from the campus.

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"Still on Parade:" Civil War Veterans and Civic Expression in Memorial Day Parades

"Still on Parade:" Civil War Veterans and Civic Expression in Memorial Day Parades

In terms of civic expressions of patriotism, few ceremonies are more quintessential than the Memorial Day Parade. Although the holiday honors those who fell in the service of the nation, veterans have always had a pivotal role in public expressions and observances. Veterans of the Civil War continued to participate in Memorial Day Parades well into the twentieth century, but as the years waned on, their role in these exercises began to change. By the 1930s, Civil War veterans were largely viewed by the public as curiosities or living memorials, their experience a lesson that Americans could draw upon for modern issues. 

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Secrets of a Cemetery, Part VIII: Final Reflections

Secrets of a Cemetery, Part VIII: Final Reflections

With all the research that has been done on the Civil War, at times it seems as if the individual is lost in the seas of voices, stories, and statistics.  Armies are huge entities, regiments move like blocks on a map, and the individual experience is lost.  I found that when looking at a cemetery or even during Memorial Day events, the whole scope of death and devastation was apparent as one took in the rows of uniform graves, but there was no deeper connection to the lives and deaths of the men sleeping below our feet.

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