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Personal Meaning and Thoughts On The Course

“this war that ravaged the country over a century ago”

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In respect to personal meaning to me, the Civil War has always been a prime interest of mine; both inside and outside of school. One of the reasons behind this may be due to the fact I grew up on a small farm in Fredericksburg and spent a lot of my time as a young child playing in an old house down the road from us, where a good childhood friend lived. Years later I found out this old house I used to play in was built in 1848 and was used as a hospital during the civil war. This may be one of the things that further sparked my intrigue in this war that ravaged the country over a century ago. Virginia played a big part in the civil war therefore this subject was a somewhat minor concentration of our curriculum in history classes.

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For this history course, after reading the syllabus, what perhaps most worries me about success would be the writing intensive portion. I have never found myself to be a great writer. If I feel frustrated with this aspect of the course specifically, I plan to invest my time in honing my skill in writing and presenting arguments through practice and preparation.

If at any time, I feel overwhelmed, or lost during this semester I plan to contact my fellow students first to see if someone I’m acquainted with would be able to assist me in finding my way or helping with possible missed or misunderstood points in the lectures. If this does not prove a viable course of action, I will then contact either teaching assistant, Ryan O’ Hallahan, or further contact Dr. Meier for clarification on a topic.

 

Collective Memories of the Civil War

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The Civil War collective memory was created by the generation who lived through the war and was passed on from generation to generation. Collective memory is more about emotional and political growth rather than accuracy with regards to historical events. Four dominant collective memories were supported after the end of the civil war: The ‘Lost Cause’, the ‘Union’, the ‘Emancipation’, and the ‘Reconciliation memories. The ‘Lost Cause’ memory “justified secession on constitutional grounds…and insisted that defeat in the face of impossible odds entailed no loss of honor” (Gallagher, A Contested Historical Landscape, 17). The ‘Lost Cause’ writers lionized confederate soldiers, including General R.E. Lee as “stalwart heroes engaged in a valiant but hopeless struggle” (22) hoping to provide future generations with a “correct narrative of the war” (17). The ‘Union’ collective memory sought to leave “Americans infused with a sense of national exceptionalism” (25).  This collective memory articulated that the sole reason for the war was reunion and that it was the greatest outcome of the war (26). The ‘Emancipation’ memory focused on the importance of ending slavery and how “the emancipation of more than four million slaves to be the conflict’s most important outcome” (29). The ‘Emancipation’ memory saw the liberation of the four million slaves as “an outcome that…preceded final restoration of the union” and that also provided for “a higher civilization” (30-31). The ‘Reconciliation’ memory sought to mute the divisive subjects of slavery and “avoided value judgments about the righteousness of either cause, and celebrated the valor and pluck of white soldiers in both Union and Confederate amries” (33). Writers of this memory often pointed towards the peaceful interactions between General Grant and General Lee at the surrender at Appomattox, “as the beginning of a healing process that reminded all Americans of their shared history and traditions” (33).

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Enslaved Women to Freedwomen

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While masters and mistresses saw “themselves as honorable, just, and loved by their slaves” the domestic institution of slavery was not seen as honorable or just and in most cases, they were not loved by their loved ones (Glymph, Out of the House of Bondage, 29). Through hindsight this is rather clear, but in trying to determine why slaves wanted to attain freedom, enslaved women in particular, white mistresses of plantations played a large role. “By the outbreak of the Civil War, slaveholding women had become…central partners in slavery’s maintenance and management” (31). Enslaved women sought freedom from what was considered to be “random…normal violence” (30). The violence enacted upon women in the plantation household “was as much hell…as it was in the cotton, tobacco, sugar, and rice fields” (33). With a mixture of “perverse mental cruelty, with physical violence” (31) female mistresses proved to be “harder and crueler than masters” (39).

After enslaved women finally achieved freedom, many found work in houses as servants completing work similar to what they had specialized in inside former plantation houses. Former enslaved women found work as “nurses, cooks [and] washers” though brought “their own sense of value based on their experience as slaves” (150). While these jobs were an attempt to provide themselves with a fair wage, many former enslaved women were taken advantage of. While the former enslaved women were hired to perform a certain task, many white women who hired them ordered them to perform tasks outside their normal duties and tasks (151). Such was the way may freedwomen lived their lives in post-war America.

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If I Taught a Similar Class on the American Civil War…

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Over the course of this semester, I have found that a few things conflicted with things I have learned previously. Some themes of ‘The Lost Cause’ memory were present in my middle school and possibly some of my high school education without realizing it until taking Dr. Meier’s American Civil War course. When learning about the civil war at a young age you learn that it was in fact fought over slavery and the union fought to end slavery. However, over the course of middle school and high school I do remember mentioning of the protection of states’ rights being the reason for secession and the resulting civil war. For both these cases I know all too well to be untrue.

While the war evolved with a military goal of emancipation to attack the South’s economic constructs, it was not fought to end slavery, it was fought to put down the rebelling states. And while it was not fought for or to end slavery the southern states seceded because of slavery, and southern states felt its domestic institution of slavery was being encroached upon. While I do not plan to teach about the American Civil War, if I had to there are certain themes even in a middle school or high school atmosphere, I would put certain emphasis on. First and foremost being the myths of ‘The Lost Cause’ memory with regards to the south being doomed to lose, the war being a war to end slavery, and what states’ rights role truly was in secession.

Jefferson Davis’ Evolved Beliefs on ‘Property’

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Jefferson Davis, the former President of the Confederacy during the American Civil War, evolved in many aspects during and after the war. One area in which Jefferson Davis evolved most was in regards to a slave solely being deemed property and being treated as such. Jefferson Davis attested in August of 1848 that “Slaves being recognized as property by the Constitution of the United States,” were not to be “discriminate[d] between that and any other species of property” (Cooper, Jefferson Davis 69-71). He explains that the fore-fathers fought to protect institutions such as slavery and he would not give up something his father had bled for, and if provoked, civil war would ensue (Cooper, 76).

In 1864, the many casualties due to General Grant’s Overland campaign, and the fall of strategic footholds in the south such as Atlanta, Mobile Bay, and the Shenandoah valley proved devastation on morale and enlistment. In response to this and the loss of more than fifty percent of General Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia, Jefferson Davis called for the “employment of slaves for service with the army” (Cooper, 352). While the slaves were to serve in support roles, Jefferson Davis made a very clear statement. He states in November of 1864, that while slaves were “viewed merely as property…The slave, however, bears another relation to the state – that of a person” (Cooper, 352). After years of fighting the civil war and delving through periods from expectations of victory, to attempts at negotiating peace; Jefferson Davis’ beliefs evolved on the issue of a slave’s place in society and whether they were solely property.

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Dr. Luebke on the ‘lessening’ of Union soldier racism towards blacks as the war went on.

18d9ba8195478e8ab7d0cf7f83961d33                   Dr. Luebke creates a very well designed argument to the popular belief of other historians that, during the civil war Union soldiers became less racist as they encountered black people in the south. On the contrary to this belief, As Dr. Luebke points out, “The Civil War deepened antebellum racism rather than mitigating or ameliorating it” (Luebke 510). Much of this heightened racism was due to the emergence of minstrel shows in Union camps similar to those found back home in such areas as New Haven and Boston (510).  The minstrel shows featured white men wearing ‘blackface’ (a composition of burnt cork and greasepaint) that included “what they considered comic songs, laughable dialogues, ribald jokes and slapstick humor” (510). As the war went on these shows evolved “as soldiers turned from enacting minstrel shows themselves to forcing blacks to perform for them” (519). To Union soldiers the “African Americans and their culture existed largely to provide comic entertainment for whites” (525). This ideal eventually progressed in a way that also provided for the perpetration of violence upon blacks without consequence (521). In conclusion, Dr. Luebke maintains that Union racism did not subside nor lessen during the war and throughout Union occupation of the confederate states but was rather amplified through these minstrel shows, which in turn allowed for the spread of violence upon black people throughout the country.

“Emancipation: Touchstone of ‘hard war'”

                 In The Hard Hand of War, Grimsley describes “hard war” as “operations aimed at the destruction of enemy economic resources (whether publicly or privately owned), forced evacuations, or confiscation of property without recompense” (Grimsley, The Hard Hand of War, 5). The Northern forces came to choose such a war policy due to the failure of the conciliatory policy towards southern civilians which was enacted in an effort to subdue the rebels while maintaining the loyalty of the southern civilians and unionists. “The success of the conciliatory policy depended on two variables: the willingness of Northern soldiers to leave [southern] civilians alone and the willingness to leave soldiers alone” (46) neither of these conditions was a priority during the early stages of the war. In some cases, southern civilian property was stolen and occasionally destroyed. This became a precursor to harsher “hard war” policies to come later (119).

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                   One such “hard war” policy that was widely controversial in the North was the president’s Emancipation Proclamation signed on January 1st 1863. Grimsley points out that “No Union foray against Southern property was more far reaching in its effects than the decision to attack slavery” and while such establishments as factories, or fields of corn, even the demolition of whole towns can eventually be restored, “emancipation, however, carried implications that went well beyond the immediate subduing of the rebellion” (120).

Lincoln’s Evolved Stance on Congress’ Role

       Abraham Lincoln evolved abundantly through his career as a politician, especially during his years as president. While this area of change for Lincoln may be seen as one of the most obvious; I believe that Lincoln evolved most on his opinions towards the constitution’s and the United States Congress’s role in abolishing slavery. Lincoln stated that he could not recall a time when he was not against slavery (Gienapp, This Fiery Trial, 8). Although Lincoln was always opposed to slavery he did not always feel that the federal government had a role in eradicating it. Throughout many years in public office Lincoln dealt with countless public debates that, in regards to, would find the united states divided. One such issue was in 1837 that pertained to the United States Congress’ role relating to abolishing slavery in states and territories. Lincoln stated in a letter of protest that while “the institution of slavery is founded on both injustice and bad policy…the congress of the united states has no power, under the constitution, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the different states” (8-9).

       In later years Lincoln, somewhere along the line, changed his opinion on the role of the U.S. Congress’ role in this matter. In August of 1862 Lincoln is quoted in a letter to Horace Greeley, an anti-slavery advocate, stating “If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it” (135). Lincoln explains that his chief goal in the war was to preserve and re-unify the Union (135). Around a month later Lincoln issued the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, giving the rebelling states until January first to return to the Union or he would free the slaves contained within these states. On January first he did so and declared the slaves in the rebelling states free. As well as this proclamation, in 1865 Congress passed the 13th amendment to abolish slavery in the United States. Lincoln had decided in the years of through the war that the federal government, indeed, had a role to play in abolishing slavery even though he had explicitly stated that this was not congress’s role.

IMAGE: http://quotes.lifehack.org/media/quotes/quote-Abraham-Lincoln-to-sin-by-silence-when-they-should-40963.png

SOURCE: Gienapp, W.E. (2002). This Fiery Trial: The Speeches and Writings of Abraham Lincoln. Oxford: Oxford University Press.