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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The Civil War's Bloodiest Battles West of the Mississippi River

The Civil War's Bloodiest Battles West of the Mississippi River

What were the bloodiest battles of the Civil War west of the Mississippi River? The largest? Who took the tactical offensive more often in the Trans-Mississippi Theater? By cobbling together an array of data, these questions and more are answered, shedding light on the Civil War from Texas to New Mexico and Louisiana to Missouri…

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"The Printing Press Cannot Remain Idle": The Ohio Twenty-Second, A Civil War Soldier Newspaper

"The Printing Press Cannot Remain Idle": The Ohio Twenty-Second, A Civil War Soldier Newspaper

In their inaugural and only issue, dated July 12, 1861, the erstwhile printers of The Ohio Twenty-Second made their purpose and politics clear. “Our motto is: ‘Death to traitors and protection to all loyal citizens.’ It has been well said that ‘the pen is mightier than the sword.’ While we find the latter indispensable in these perilous times, we will unite with it the power of the former, and go forth to battle for ‘the Constitution, the Union, and the Enforcement of the Laws.”

For the men of the Twenty-Second Ohio Infantry, and indeed for many Union soldiers throughout the Civil War, the war could be waged by musket and pen alike, and soldier newspapers offered an avenue for Union soldiers to keep abreast with the wider war effort, opine on national politics, interact with the local civilian population, document their war deeds, and foster a sense of community and esprit among their ranks. The Ohio Twenty-Second offers a brief window into the patriotism, politics, and daily life of Union soldier in the opening months of the Civil War.

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Top Ten Civil Discourse Posts of 2016: #6-10

Top Ten Civil Discourse Posts of 2016: #6-10

We're approaching a new year and Civil Discourse's second anniversary in 2017! As we did last year, we're finishing 2016 with a look back at the year's top ten posts. These popular pieces not only shed light on the Civil War but also allow us to understand the conflict from new perspectives. Without further ado, we begin our top ten countdown with posts six through ten!

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Diary Disclosures: David Hunter Strother on Civil War Leaders

Diary Disclosures: David Hunter Strother on Civil War Leaders

Forty-five years old at the start of the Civil War, David Hunter Strother had built his career through pen and pencil. A renowned artist, known via his pen-name "Porte Crayon," Strother traveled throughout the nation in the antebellum years, sharing sketches and stories of his travels via popular magazines of the day. Yet as the nation collapsed in 1861, Strother, who hailed from western Virginia, decided to put his artistic talents to use for the Union army. In the war's early years, Strother served as a topographer for Union forces in the Shenandoah Valley and western Virginia; he eventually earned a commission as a Union officer. Besides Strother's daily work of scouting terrain and sketching maps, the observant Virginian also kept a meticulous, detailed diary which would eventually span dozens of journals. In today's post, I want to share David Hunter Strother's experiences and opinions of various important Civil War figures with you. All of these diary entries date from September, 1861-February, 1862; these diary entries were not published in Cecil Eby's Virginia Yankee. While I have edited lightly for clarity, I have largely left Strother's words and occasional misspellings as they were. After each entry, I have offered a small note with my thoughts and biographical information.

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Roundtable: Our Favorite Civil War Regiments

Roundtable: Our Favorite Civil War Regiments

All of our bloggers possess extensive experience studying the Civil War and, more specifically, spending time visiting and interpreting both the war's battlefields and its participants. We've all become familiar with countless regiments, but from the many we've encountered, a few have stuck out. Here are some of our authors favorite regiments.

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The "Derangement" and Death of Private Ludwig Salzwedel: A Suicide and Cover-Up in the Civil War

The "Derangement" and Death of Private Ludwig Salzwedel: A Suicide and Cover-Up in the Civil War

As the hot Kansas sun rose over the camp of the Ninth Wisconsin Infantry on June 17, 1862, the German immigrants who formed the bulk of the regiment were abuzz with the terrible news of last evening’s events. Rumors ran rife that a soldier in Company F killed himself during the night. And indeed, fifty-one year old Private Ludwig Salzwedel, a German immigrant to La Crosse, Wisconsin and the father of a family of five, had committed suicide that night.

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"A Very Spicy Little Sheet": The Knapsack, A Soldiers' Newspaper and the Politics of War

"A Very Spicy Little Sheet": <i>The Knapsack</i>, A Soldiers' Newspaper and the Politics of War

A Union officer once remarked, “Does not a newspaper follow a Yankee march everywhere?” In the fall of 1863, the soldiers of the Fifth West Virginia Infantry found themselves stationed at Gauley Bridge in their newly-minted home state. It proved to be a relatively peaceful posting and, apparently true to Yankee form, the men promptly set about establishing a regimental newspaper. Forming the rather grandly named Fifth Virginia Publishing Association, the Association soon began issuing copies of the four-page Knapsack every Thursday morning at five cents a copy. Although only published for a few months, the paper illuminates much about soldier life and the politics of war.

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A Beginner's Guide to Researching Your Civil War Ancestor

A Beginner's Guide to Researching Your Civil War Ancestor

For Americans, history is a personal matter. Whatever we do or don't learn in the classroom, read in books, see in films...Americans stillexperience and understand the past personally. 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.

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Righteous or Riotous? The 2nd Ohio Cavalry and The Crisis

Righteous or Riotous? The 2nd Ohio Cavalry and The Crisis

As the snow fell from a wintry sky on March 5, 1863, over a hundred men gathered on the fields of Camp Chase, outside Columbus, Ohio, ostensibly for the purposes of attending church.  For a “church party,” however, they were oddly equipped, armed with “clubs, hatchets, and axes.” Once the men—soldiers of the 2nd Ohio Cavalry—had assembled at their “appointed rendezvous,” they formed up into a line and made their way onto Columbus. The soldiers had been planning this foray for some time, knowing that Sunday church offered them the perfect excuse to enter town and commence their mischief.

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A Challenge Issued: The Hartwood Church Raid

A Challenge Issued: The Hartwood Church Raid

Four hundred cavalrymen splashed across the icy waters of the Rappahannock River in central Virginia, moving north into enemy territory.  The Confederate cavaliers, undeterred by the bitter cold and snowfall nearly eighteen inches deep, consisted of some of the Old Dominion’s finest:  portions of the First, Second and Third Virginia Cavalry.  At the gray-clad column’s head was twenty-eight year-old Fitzhugh Lee, nephew to Robert E. Lee and already a grim veteran of war’s horrors.  On this day, February 24, 1863, Brigadier General Fitz Lee led his men across the Rappahannock in reconnaissance, seeking to determine what movements, if any, the Union Army of the Potomac was undertaking around Fredericksburg.  The mission’s directive had come from Robert E. Lee himself. 

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"Wrap the World In Fire," Part III: Confederate Foreign Policy with Great Britain

&quot;Wrap the World In Fire,&quot; Part III:  Confederate Foreign Policy with Great Britain

"No you dare not make war on cotton.  No power on earth dares to make war upon it.  Cotton is king!" -South Carolina Senator James Hammond

To a certain extent, the Confederacy's foreign policy can be summed up by the bold words of James Hammond above.  As my previous posts have examined examined possible reasons for British intervention in the Civil War and Union efforts to prevent such an intervention, it is time to turn our eyes South and explore Confederate foreign policy with Great Britain.  The Confederacy built much of its policy around "King Cotton," and the result was a foreign policy more disastrous than many could imagine.

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"Wrap the World in Fire," Part I: The Possibility of British Intervention in the American Civil War

"Wrap the World in Fire," Part I:  The Possibility of British Intervention in the American Civil War

“If any European Power provokes a war, we shall not shrink from it.  A contest between Great Britain and the United States would wrap the world in fire.”  United States Secretary of State William Seward uttered these bold words in the summer of 1861, while his nation tore apart at the seams.  Yet despite the secession of eleven Southern states, Seward pondered the possibility of war with Great Britain, the world's foremost power.  Why?  The answer lies in the high-stakes game of diplomacy that was played by both the Union and Confederacy with Great Britain during the American Civil War.  For the Union, foreign intervention in the conflict was a constant threat, one that might ensure Southern independence.  Conversely, the Confederacy constantly sought and expected foreign recognition and intervention, seeking support and validation for their secession. 

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Roundtable: The Civil War's Most Influential Event

Roundtable:  The Civil War's Most Influential Event

In Civil Discourse's first ever roundtable question, we asked five of our writers a classic, yet undeniably important, question:  what event most influenced the outcome of the Civil War?  Our authors diverse answers (and non-answers!) may surprise you!

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Calls to Arms: "The" Confederate Flag in American Culture

Calls to Arms: "The" Confederate Flag in American Culture

When asked why the American Civil War still holds such power over the American imagination, author Shelby Foote once observed, “because it’s the big one.  It measures what we are, good and bad.  If you look at American history as the life span of a man, the Civil War represents the great trauma of our adolescence.” More recently, at the 150th anniversary of the surrender at Appomattox, historian David Blight reflected, “The Civil War is a place we go to ask who we are and what are we becoming…it is our oracle.” The debates that tore the nation apart for four bloody years are eternal questions of the American condition, Blight explained. It is no small wonder then that the symbols of those conflicts remain contested as well, suspended in our national consciousness without a singular definition that holds true over time.

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Surrendering to "Genl Intoxication"

Surrendering to "Genl Intoxication"

In studying the Civil War, we often remark about the youth (sometimes the extreme youth) of the men who fought it.  Yet while these men were engaged in a serious and deadly endeavor, they did not cease to be young men...capable of all the mishaps, shenanigans, and vices to which people of a young age can be suspecible.  This is, of course, reflected in our own lives as well.  We’ve all had our college parties or midnight soirees or one glass of wine too many. Young soldiers most certainly did, too. These are stories, both light-hearted and somber, of men surrendering to “Genl Intoxication.”

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The Unfortunate Case of David O. Dodd: "Arkansas' Boy Martyr" or Fool?

The Unfortunate Case of David O. Dodd:  "Arkansas' Boy Martyr" or Fool?

Young David O. Dodd hung on the end of a rope in the yards of his alma mater, St. Johns’ College.  His death was not a merciful one, as the rope stretched and nearly five minutes passed before Dodd finally passed away.  Convicted of spying on occupation forces in Little Rock, Arkansas, David had been sentenced to death by Union forces.  The date was January 8, 1864, and David Dodd was only seventeen years old.

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The Mayhem & Mystery of May 3: Joseph Hooker and the Battle of Chancellorsville

The Mayhem & Mystery of May 3:  Joseph Hooker and the Battle of Chancellorsville

Complacency endangers history.  The first plausible answer is not always the correct or solitary one, yet all too often we content ourselves with simplistic solutions to murky questions.  Civil War historians have grappled with the Battle of Chancellorsville for nearly 150 years, and we (surprisingly) we still have very simple rejoinders for why Joseph Hooker and the Army of the Potomac lost a struggle which they entered into with every advantage.  Joe Hooker lost the Battle of Chancellorsville because of his own arrogance and errors.  Joe Hooker lost Chancellorsville because he was no match for the Robert E. Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia.  Fighting Joe Hooker lost Chancellorsville simply because Fighting Joe Hooker lost confidence in himself.

In all likelihood, there are grains of truth to all these theories.  Yet one should be careful of placing too much emphasis on anyone of them singularly.  Instead, I wish to focus on a forgotten answer to the age old question of what went wrong for the Union army and Joe Hooker in May of 1863.  On the morning of May 3rd, General Hooker was wounded, probably suffering a severe concussion received from Confederate artillery fire.  This event, minimized and overlooked in many accounts of the battle, perhaps played a far greater role at Chancellorsville than history has given credit for.

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Scapegoat or Scandal? J.E.B. Stuart and the Battle of Gettysburg

Scapegoat or Scandal?  J.E.B. Stuart and the Battle of Gettysburg

The June 12th, 1863 edition of the Richmond Examiner seethed.  Just days before, Confederate cavalry had been caught completely by surprise in a daring strike by their Union counterparts at Brandy Station Virginia, and only after a hard fight with the help of Southern infantry was the enemy repulsed.  “But this puffed up cavalry of the Army of Northern Virginia,” the Examiner crowed, “has been twice, if not three times, surprised since the battles of December, and such repeated accidents can be regarded as nothing but the necessary consequences of negligence and bad management.”  Such humiliations were unacceptable, and the Examiner concluded by charging that better organization, more discipline, and greater earnestness among “vain and weak-headed officers” was needed.  Other Southern papers offered more of the same.  The Richmond Sentinel called for greater “vigilance…from the Major General down to the picket.”  The Charleston Mercury thought the affair an “ugly surprise,” while the Savannah Republican thought it all “very discreditable to somebody.”  The commander of Confederate cavalry, James Ewell Brown (Jeb) Stuart, had to be wondering if the Brandy Station fight wasn’t “discreditable” to him...

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