I Company, 13th Virginia Volunteer Infantry
July 12th, 2013
Fairfax, Virginia — UPDATE
It is with sadness, loss, and regret that I add an edit to this blog entry as one of the hearty men of the “Lucky 13th”, SGT Charles Napier passed away last night. (https://www.facebook.com/13thva) and the family of the 13th feels the loss. I knew him but briefly, but he was one of those who welcomed me into their family and I have no doubt he left the world a far better place than he found it.
My prayers are with the Napier family and the 13th family. Godspeed SGT Napier. May God be with Ms. Napier and all who grieve your loss.
July 7th, 2013
Earlier this week I participated in my first Civil War re-enactment. I was drawn in to the spectacle by my neighbor, fellow soldier, and fellow Southerner and there was very little choice in the matter and luckily my first experience would be on the 150th Anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg.
If one should take on a new experience, one should make it count.
Some facts: approximately 10,000 re-enactors, about 8 battles, over 200 horses, and over 400 artillery pieces. There was a good balance of Union and Confederate re-enactors on the field and a massive crowd at each battle.
My previous understanding of re-enactors was completely colored by Tony Horwitz’s Confederates in the Attic: Dispatches from the Unfinished Civil War which more or less concluded re-enactors are nuts, are racist, are of low-to-no education, are un-reconstructed Lost Cause supporters, and are highly exclusive.
In my experience with Company I, 13th Virginia Infantry, I completely disagree with Horwitz.
So, I am a noob, a farb, or otherwise novice at this and was a little more than concerned that I had decided to go out with a whole bunch of folks I don’t know to fight for the Rebs “killin” the Yankees. Further complicating things… I wear Union Blue every day as a member of the Department of Defense.
I am pretty clear who won the war.
I also don’t dig racism… at all.
BUT… concerns aside, PVT DeadGuyQuotes shows up for muster at our encampment, we set up camp, we began drilling and I learned many things immediately.
FIRST – I Company, 13th VA is a family and an open and welcoming family at that! They opened their reserves, supplies, friendship, and camaraderie to me immediately.
SECOND – this unit displayed remarkable discipline and took great pains and pride in maintaining it. I was provided a musket, dropped into formation and we immediately began drilling. I was put through my paces, duly laughed at for my failings, and made friends quickly with a former Marine-turned archaeologist, a Vietnam Veteran serving as our First Sergeant, and a host of great people from all walks of life. This motley and colorful band enjoyed having fun but was dead serious when it came to preparing for their parts in the battle.
THIRD – the demographic threw me off. I wasn’t expecting slightly less than half to be be under 30 and slightly less than half to be over 50. Nor was I expecting several fighting females. I will tell you, EVERYONE pulled their weight. Our Ice Angel serviced the battle field in 90+ degree heat and never slowed down. Our own female soldiers marched hearty and “fought” well too!
I don’t know why everyone who was there re-enacts. It’s expensive and time-consuming. It’s hot in the summer and cold in the winter.
But everyone in the unit loves it and our unit seemed to really love the spectators. Many worked hard at the “living history” piece as spectators came into camp, as we drilled before the crowds and posed to take questions. DeadGuyQuotes and one of our hearty band posed as Southern Dignitary and Royal Canadian Observer with a few “bodyguards” as we watched and commented on the battle and intermingled with the crowd – much to their delight.
Re-enacting is BIG money. Sutler’s (period merchandise sellers) charge about $1,500 to fully kit someone out with musket, uniform, tent, basic issue equipment, and sundries. Ticket sales generate huge revenue at some of the larger events. Participant ticket sales support a massive logistical support network complete with traffic control, water and ice supply, port-o-potties, and trans-battlefield movement. The battlefield itself with the various camps, grandstands, activity areas, sutler sales booth areas, and parking was many square miles.
Still…. So what?
For the historian in me, it gave unparalleled depth to events I have read about and researched. The heat, fatigue, importance of battle drill and order, the smoke and fog of war, the terrain, the starvation and lack of supply, the insufficient communications, and the sheer courage lend more color to a black and white study of war than anything short of actual war could.
For the Soldier in me, it gave unparalleled appreciation for modern methods of war, tools, and command and control. I have complete respect and profound appreciation for the American Civil War Soldier – their courage and dedication at the personal level is overwhelming. The abilities or inabilities of command and control, so easily ridiculed by modern Soldiers or historians, is something to be much better understood before opening one’s mouth.
There is a lot to learn by re-enacting. I will continue to do it.
More importantly, there are relationships to be built around a common effort. Men and women, going to the field with a unity of focus glued together by camaraderie is rare in the modern era. I want to be a part of a muster that enjoys taking care of a disparate family. That is one of the joys of being in the military after all. Why not share that with civilians?
We live in a time when civilians and military are becoming two classes divided. This is one area where there can be a common language and common bond borne of the idea of military and forged in the bloodshed of history. Why not? In a time where we are separated by common iDevices across the dinner table, why not do something to shed the cloak of everyday living and meet new people share ideas and experiences, and learn a little on the way?
Below is a review on “memory” based on perspectives from two books. Horwitz is wrong… or, at least my experience with the very unique I Co, 13th VA tells me he is.
I’d appreciate your thoughts…
Review: Prosthetic Memory and Confederates in the Attic
2 December 2007
Prosthetic Memory: The Transformation of American Remembrance in the Age of Mass Culture. By Alison Landsberg. (New York: Columbia University Press, 2004. Pp. xi + 215 pages. $59.50 cloth, $22.50 paper).
Confederates in the Attic: Dispatches from the Unfinished Civil War. By Tony Horwitz. (New York: Pantheon, 1998. Pp. xii + 406 pages. $27.50 cloth, $14.95 paper).
Memory can be a regressive or a progressive element of change as discussed by Angela Landsberg and Tony Horwitz in their works on memory. Landsberg presents an optimistic and even hopeful thesis that collective, shared, “prosthetic” memories can cross cultural, geographical, political, and genetic boundaries to enable a deeper understanding of and relation to histories that do not “belong” to the participant and thus create empathy ultimately obviating racism. Horwitz offers a more doubtful assessment by suggesting those same boundaries will not likely enable such empathies because the participant chooses not to cross those boundaries thus prolonging and even deepening racial divides.
Both authors describe experiential-based histories as “prosthetic” histories. Although Horwitz did not use the term that Landsberg would coin six years later, the intent and meaning are the same: participants in histories that are not “theirs” come away with an understanding of that history which establishes a connection to that history. Landsberg describes audiences of the United States Holocaust Museum on the Mall in Washington, DC, Spielberg’s Schindler’s List, and Spiegelman’s Maus as participants in obtaining a memory that is not strictly “theirs.” She argues that the memories generated by the participants are not the same as actually having been involved in the events represented by the presentations of the museum, movie, and cartoon, but as more enlightened because of that experience. This enlightenment comes as a result of their participation in the media form of those stories. The participants can better understand the event and better relate to the story and its impact. She argues that the media-based experience generates empathy towards the people and events behind the media-based portrayal.
Horwitz argues the same point with his energetic investigation of Civil War re-enactors and other “Lost Cause” defenders. Horwitz begins his journey asking why his great-grandfather was so enthralled of his Photographic History of the Civil War. The resulting discussion about his great-grandfather’s emigration confirms many of the assertions Landsberg makes about émigrés in the late nineteenth century. Following Landsberg’s model of émigrés, Issac Perski fled Europe for the United States and once there, worked diligently to assume the mantle of “American.” Perski used the Civil War to establish an identity with his new country by assuming the prosthetic memory of that event.
What Horwitz found in the process of answering this question led him to other means of establishing links and understandings of the past, in particular, his investigation of re-enactors and “Lost Cause” defenders. Much like Landsberg, these individuals used the experiential histories found in re-enacting battles, re-creating the daily lives and experiences of Civil War soldiers, and celebrating the birthdays and lives of the “Lost Cause” heroes and heroines to establish a link and empathy for their forebears.
While the two authors offer compelling arguments for the creation of empathy through experiences that relate to history, they do not share the same view of the result. Landsberg paints a picture of utopia where the world can come to a ubiquitous understanding of its history through various media. In that deep and overarching understanding, all people share the histories and the cultures of all other people. Concurrently, racism, class divide, cultural elitism, and oppression all fade into the background of a shared memory leading the world toward unity. Horwitz, on the other hand, implies that the shared experiences on the re-enacted Civil War battlefield further cement the divide and sense of antagonistic opposition stemming from the Civil War itself, thus ensuring continued racism and division.
Landsberg’s argument that empathy is the carrier of people to this utopia is logically compelling, but it overlooks its darker implications. If media provide for common “prosthetic memories” and yield a common identity then media can also be a very dangerous tool for manipulation and dogmatic coercion calling upon George Orwell’s assertion: “He who controls the past, controls the future. He who controls the present controls the past.” Landsberg relies on the independent agency of choice and thus the omnipotent power of a controlled media is not possible. Unfortunately, there is much evidence overlooked by Landsberg that challenges her weak defense.
Horwitz offers an excellent example of this regressive side. In the sub-culture of the “Lost Cause” defenders, exercise of the independent agency of the exclusive participants leads to deeper hatred and racism over unity. This is especially clear when Horwitz describes events in Guthrie, Kentucky (not even a Southern state) the Sons of Confederate Veterans chose to honor a hate-crime victim/instigator with Southern sainthood as the “border-state” town was roiled in racism and divide.
Landsberg offers a view implying that participants would not choose to establish ties with certain exclusive groups or histories. She implies that because the media can cross cultural boundaries, it will. It truly is an alluring ideal that the metaphysical “rational man” can certainly accept. The rational man wants empathy and resolution with persons unlike himself. She is logically convincing that media portrayals through films, literature, and museums can establish an understanding of those unlike us. Unfortunately, she does not look at the greater world of art nor the internet. By the book’s publication in 2004 there could have been evidence and time to examine the potential impact of the internet to support her theories. Equal access to information can be a great facilitator of her thesis that prosthetic memories are harbingers of equality.
Unfortunately, people do not often act like the rational man. Participants such as Horwitz’s re-enactors are arguably not rational men. They are tied most often by blood relations to the object of their passions. They seek the same empathy to those unlike themselves, while imagining the Civil War soldiers are more like them than not. Their insistence that blood ties are crucial suggests that the re-enactors and other “Lost Cause” defenders would not so diligently pursue their “studies” in the detail and in the trivia.
While both authors offer compelling arguments that prosthetic memories can convey empathy for the history studied, it is troubling that Horwitz’s examples of bloodline – racial – ties act to provide exclusivity. This exclusivity can use the potential of prosthetic memories to render precisely the opposite result that Landsberg intended. Horwitz does, however, offer a ray of hope. As a resident of Virginia and from childhood a “Reb” he finally dons the Union blue and experiences life as a Union soldier. As such, his experience molds his sympathies and empathies towards the “North” giving him an opportunity to share in the Northern experience as well.
Regardless of the possible ramifications, both authors agree that memories can be developed through relational experiences. Both authors illustrate that just being a part of a re-visitation of an event will provide a set of memories that are not of the event itself, whether it be the Civil War or the Holocaust, but a set of memories that reveal an empathy towards the participants in the original event. Landsberg most clearly argues these prosthetic memories are not to be confused as being surrogate memories of the event, but memories that enable a cross-boundary sharing of experiences which are not the sole property of the original participant. Horwitz, while not directly arguing for prosthetic memories, argues that in searching for a tie to their ancestors the re-enactors are accomplishing the same task by creating memories that are “relational” and offer insights and thus empathy on the characters.
Both books are interesting studies into memories and their impact on world view. It is possible that such collective and prosthetic memories can lead to a unified understanding of the surrounding world. The darker portents that yield racism and divide from a desire for exclusivity represent risks, however, that must be addressed.
We are hosting Round 1 of the 2013 Presidential Cage Match as a GoogleHangout. This is largely for GMU History Alum and other select invited personnel… I will, however, post results on the Blog.
Bracket is public today! Download here: 2013 Bracket (.ppt) and 2013 Bracket (.pdf).
If you want to play, fill in your bracket and get it back to me by Thursday, 9pm. Mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. Note, this is a temporary address. (email me if you want to make it in person, I will send you my address!)
Round 1 will be a speed round. All Presidents battling will get a 15 min round. Judging will be computed from points made and detracted from people in the room, on the HangOut and on Facebook. I will compute the points and trust me… the quality will deteriorate through the night.
Region competition will proceed as follows, 3 matches each:
My best guess… if we start at 7pm, round 1 is complete by 10 pm. (+/-) The judge (me) reserves the right to extend lively debate or call a match early for lack of participation.
Scorekeeping will be high-tech… via whiteboard at my house… and recorded accordingly.
More to follow!!!
The Washington Post offered Kathleen Parker’s thoughts on the emerging polarity and increased risk of violence evident in many of the right-ist leaning groups in America. (The article may be found online: http://tinyurl.com/y3qkuql) Whether the right is more dangerous than the left, the point is valid: speech and voice are important – they are life-sustaining and absolutely essential to democracy – but they must be exercised with a certain measure of respect, restraint, and responsibility.
Vocal theologian and activist speaker, Professor Cornel West places this as one of three pillars to democracy. In his book Democracy Matters (http://tinyurl.com/y3ncq7n), he exhorts the reader to consider that there are three “crucial traditions” in democracy: the Greek creation of Socractic questioning and open dialogue/discourse (parrhesia), prophetic justice, and tragicomic hope (p. 16). Ms. Parker echoes the obligation of parrhesia and reminds us that the failure, prevented or restricted by the threat of extremism or violence, to allow open and unrestricted questioning and discourse is fuels a dangerously polar political environment. Cordial discourse is essential to the democratic process.
One of the most significant influences in my life, one greatly responsible for my sixteen years of my professional public service is South Carolina’s amazing YMCA program, “Youth-in-Government.” (http://www.scymcayig.org) During one of the years when I either participated or volunteered there was a bumper sticker espousing the motto, “Democracy is not a Spectator Sport.” Truer words were not written.
Democracy requires action. Action requires respect, restraint, and responsibility.
I believe Ms. Parker is largely right, but she gives dangerous instruction near the end of her article, “The only palatable answer is what conservatives say they love best: self-control and personal responsibility. When someone spews obscenities, shout them down. When politicians and pundits use inflammatory language, condemn them.” Shouting down and condemning opponents incurs more anger and emotion and less thought, listening, learning, or logic. She is right in her direction, conservatives and liberals and moderates and fundamentalists and all participants must exercise self-control and personal responsibility. As listeners we must hear the other side. As speakers we must be fully informed and dispassionate.
Above all, we must act responsibly. But we must act. On this, Ms. Parker and I agree, “When you choose to remain silent, consider yourself complicit in whatever transpires.”
Theologian Reinhold Niebuhr is one of a handful of modern theologians who can sit at the crossroads of politics, international relations, philosophy, ethics, and religion. Examining a few key essays and a few commentaries about Niebuhr reveals a deeply religious and intelligent man who centers his arguments around the key themes of justice, action, morality, and the finite nature of man. The following is a brief review of the key elements of the essays considered with some commentary regarding impact are areas where Niebuhr influenced thought regarding democracy and the role of the United States as a world power in the 20th century.
Beginning with his essay Our Secularized Civilization, written in 1926, Niebuhr was on the battlefield of Purcell’s Crisis of Democratic Theory as he railed against the negative influences of scientific discovery and the over-reliance on science which weakened religion and morality. He cautioned that optimism and confidence in the future of religion was very much in doubt as science attempted to place society beyond ethical control declaring, “The fact is that we are living in a completely secularized civilization.” His concern is not a particular attack on science per se nor is it simply a exhortation to Protestantism to grapple with the reality that science must be understood as a part of the mystery of the universe. He is warning that “scientific discovery… weaken[s] not only religious but ethical values.” Because, he continues, “Our obsession with the physical sciences and with the physical world has enthroned the brute and blind forces of nature, and we follow the God of the earthquake and the fire rather than the God of the still small voice.” No matter how much “mastery of nature” we achieve, humans cannot escape the fact that there remains a mystery to the universe and he feels that God is the source of that mystery. Therefore, “to identify God with automatic processes is to destroy the God of conscience…”
He calls for a return to medievalism to save humanity. He calls for a reliance on the mystery of God to remind humans that they are not the masters of the world and that there are choices which must be made in under the veil of the divine mystery. The acceptance of divine mystery is the foundation for his principle of justice. In the mysterious and unknowable universe with a wholly unknowable God, there remains choice, not calculus and formula. In that choice, he argues that (Protestantism above others) solutions to the “major social sins of our day, economic greed and race hatred” can be found.
Continuing to leverage his fundamental belief in justice as the motivating force behind required action, Niebuhr writes The Irony of American History in 1952 in the face of a rapidly escalating Cold War. In seeking justice, he adopts a position that would be classified as neoconservative today in declaring that America must accept the risk of destroying herself in nuclear war to protect herself: “Though confident of its virtue, it must yet hold atomic bombs ready for use so as to prevent a possible world conflagration.” Communism is a moral evil that represses the divine design of man. It is an absolutist regime that rejects God and rejects the mystery of the universe in the overt claims that history has been defeated and all ills are solvable through science. “The cruelty of communism is partly derived from the absurd pretension that the communist movement stands on the other side of this leap and has the whole of history in its grasp.” The absolute nature of communism makes it more dangerous, Niebuhr writes, and will ultimately be its downfall. Until it falls, America must stand firm and act to prevent its spread. He describes America on a continuum of maturity that, by 1952, has presented it with a challenge on whether and how to wield power, “Our culture knows little of the use and the abuse of power; but we have to use power in global terms.”
The challenge to unilateral power is the charge of hypocrisy. To this he offers an apology. He admits that the United States is “schizophrenic upon the subject of power” and warns that justice is the overriding goal while acknowledging, courtesy of the theological concept of original sin, sin occurs in all action. Matthew Berke comments in 1992 that Niebuhr’s point is, “power cannot be wielded without guilt,” since “we cannot do good without also doing evil.” Niebuhr says in 1952, “If justice is to be maintained and our survival assured, we cannot make individual liberty as unqualifiedly the end of life as our ideology asserts.” Justice, over all, is the priority. And in New Deal fashion, justice can best be obtained by collective action.
Another nod to the omnipresent mystery of the universe, he ascribes a certain mystery to democracy to aid in the battle against communism. “We were partly saved by the very force of democracy. For the freedom of democracy makes for a fortunate confusion in defining the goal toward which history should move; and the distribution of power in a democracy prevents any group of world savers from grasping after a monopoly of power.” It is the “confusion” that keeps democracy safe and the dispersion that prevents monopoly.
This barely scrapes the surface of the material available in these short essays, but a distillation of Niebuhr’s key points remains useful: justice requires action; science informs us of the mystery of the universe, but does not solve it; mystery is critical and foundational; and action while acknowledging sin is not hypocrisy, it is accepting the fundamental truth that sin exists and action is still required. The associated commentaries attached repeat these core themes and leave this reader with the overriding conviction that the world is a messy place. There are no formulas for infinite solution. As novelist Douglas Adams might lament, there is no answer to the question of life, the universe, and everything. In that ordained chaos, there is hope and opportunity for democratic action to take hold. Mistakes will happen. But in the search for justice, action relies on a measure of faith in democracy and in God while being informed by science and is a burden best shared with others.
Bibliography of works considered in this essay:
“A View of Life from the Sidelines.” Christian Century, December 19-26: pp. 1195.
Berke, Matthew. “The Disputed Legacy of Reinhold Niebuhr.” First Things, Nov. 1992.
Dorrien, Gary. “Reinhold’s Era.” The Christian Century, February 24, 2002: pp. 34-41.
Niebuhr, Reinhold. “Our Secularized Civilization.” Christian Century, April 22, 1926.
Niebuhr, Reinhold. “The Christian Witness in a Secular Age.” The Christian Century, July 22, 1953: pp. 840-842.
Niebuhr, Reinhold. “The Irony of American History.” chapter 1. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1952.
Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life. Obama’s Favorite Theologian? A Short Course on Reinhold Niebuhr. available online at HTTP://PEWRESEARCH.ORG/PUBS/1268/REINHOLD-NEIHBUHR-OBAMA-FAVORITE-THEOLOGIAN .
“Religion: Faith for a Lenten Age.” Time Magazine, 8 Mar 1948.
Urquhart, Brian. “What You Can Learn from Reinhold Niebuhr.” NEW YORK REVIEW OF BOOKS: VOLUME 56, NUMBER 5, MARCH 26, 2009.
Below is an abstract and a copy of the proposed appendices to a research paper in progress at George Mason University under the direction of Dr. Fred Beuttler, Assistant Historian for the US House of Representatives.
The militia in the United States of America is a unique reflection of the United States itself. Beginning with the first colonial muster in 1636 and involvement in every major US engagement, the militia and after 1903, the National Guard has been there. The militia ideal is Jeffersonian Democracy at its best. In many ways the militia was diametrically opposed to the notions supporting a professional, standing army just as Jefferson opposed Hamilton’s need for a truly federal government. The conflict between professional army and citizen militia mirrored the conflict of federal versus anti-federal. Leading up to the Spanish-American War in 1898, the militia developed a more comprehensive personality and consolidated national vision for itself. Choosing to embody the Jeffersonian ideals found in the citizen-soldiery, the militia was faced with the need for federal support and partnership with the professional army. In the 1880s, the militia began to see the need for reform and more professional education, training, equipment and more federal financial support to achieve that reform.
The National Guard Association formed to address their growing national concerns. In the post-Civil War environment, the movement initially fractured, but by 1903, the Interstate National Guard Association established itself as the most politically cohesive group and led the reconciliation effort which would form the modern-day National Guard Association of the United States. Here the National Guard needed increased federal support to achieve military relevance beyond what the individual states could provide. The Army wanted a recruiting pool from which to fill their ranks in the event of another war. Neither organization wanted to repeat the mobilization failures which occurred prior to the War with Spain.
The Army, directed by Secretary of War Elihu Root accepted an increasing role of the National Guard and funding in exchange for increased oversight and regulation – a classic Jefferson versus Hamilton exchange. The result was a more Jamesian compromise where the National Guard maintained a significant measure of its own initiative and agency, they reluctantly accepted federal oversight and standardization and the Army gained a measure of influence over a state-based militia force.
Army/Militia Situation circa 1900
US Population and military Demographics
Opposing Camps: The Volunteer Soldier in America and Military Policy of the United States
Emergence of a national militia
Political Participants in the Reformation
Brigadier General Charles Dick, US Senator and Congressman
President William McKinley, Confederate militiaman
Colonel William Sanger, New York National Guard and Assistant Secretary of War
President Theodore Roosevelt, New York National Guard
Brevet Major General Emory Upton, USA, West Point, author, The
Military Policy of the United States
John A. Logan, author, The Volunteer Soldier in America
Democracy in Practice
Jeffersonian ideal of the militia
Interstate National Guard Association
4th Annual Conference of the Interstate National Guard Association, 1902, Washington, DC
5th Annual Conference of the Interstate National Guard Association, 1903, Columbus, OH
Address to the 5th Annual Conference by Secretary of War Elihu Root
Militia Act of 1903
Implications for Democracy
Jefferson, States’ Rights, and the desire for federal support without constraints
Hamilton, Federal designs on the militia, and desire for oversight
James, compromise, Federal support with Federal oversight
Militia Act of 1903 Milita Act of 1903 transcribed
Militia Act of 1792 Militia Act of 1792
1903 Address by Secretary of War Address by SecWar Root to NGA
Bernstein, Jonathan, interview by Carl Allard Young. Director, National Guard Education Foundation (March 5, 2010).
Center of Military History. American Military History: The United States Armuy and the Forging of a Nation, 1775-1917. Edited by Richard W. Stewart. Vol. I. II vols. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 2004.
Cooper, Jerry. Citizens as Soldiers: A History of the North Dakota National Guard. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 1986.
—. The Rise of the National Guard: The Evolution of the American Militia 1862-1920. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 1997.
Doubler, Michael D. I Am the Guard: A History of the Army National Guard, 1636-2000. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 2001.
Hill, Jim Dan. The Minute Man in Peace and War: A History of the National Guard. 1st ed. Harrisburg, PA: The Telegraph Press, 1964.
Interstate National Guard Association. Proceedings of the Interstate National Guard Association. Vol. I. II vols. Washington, DC: Inerstate National Guard Association, 1906.
—. “Proceedings of the Interstate National Guard Association, Vol II of II.” Washington, DC: Interstate National Guard Association, 1906. 410 pp.
Logan, John A. The Volunteer Solider of America. Chicago: R.S. Peale & Company, 1887.
Root, Elihu. The Citizen’s Part in Government and Experiments in Government and the Essentials of the Constitution. New York: Arno Press, 1974.
Sanger Family. “Sanger Family Papers, 1792-1956; Bulk 1875-1925.” New York State Library. Edited by Aimee Morgan. 2005. http://www.nysl.nysed.gov/msscfa/sc22786.htm (accessed March 09, 2010).
Stentiford, Barry M. The American Home Guard: The State Militia in the Twentieth Century. 1st ed. College Station, TX: Texas A&M University Press, 2002.
The United States Congress. An Act. Washington: US Government Printing Office, 1792.
—. An Act more effectually to provide for the National Defence by establishing an Uniform Militia throughout the United States. Washington, DC: US Government Printing Office, 1792.
—. “An Act To promote the efficiency of the militia, and for other purposes.” Public Law No. 3. Washington, DC, January 21, 1903.
—. “The Constitution of the United States of America.” Barnes and Noble Books, 2005.
United States Census Bureau. “1900 Census of Population and Housing.” Vers. Volume 1: Population: Population of States and Territories. Census Bureau. http://www.census.gov/prod/www/abs/decennial/1900.html# (accessed March 8, 2010).
—. “1900 Census of Population and Housing.” Vers. Volume 2: Population Pt 2: Ages. Census Bureau. http://www.census.gov/prod/www/abs/decennial/1900.html# (accessed March 8, 2010).
—. “1900 Census of Population and Housing.” Vers. Volume 3: Vital Statistics pt 1: Analysis and Ratio Tables. Census Bureau. http://www.census.gov/prod/www/abs/decennial/1900.html# (accessed March 8, 2010).
United States Congress. Dick, Charles William Frederick – Biographical Information. http://bioguide.congress.gov/scripts/biodisplay.pl?index=D000302 (accessed March 08, 2010).
—. Henderson, David Bremner – Biographical Information. http://bioguide.congress.gov/scripts/biodisplay.pl?index=H000478 (accessed March 08, 2010).
For Cause and Comrades: Why Men Fought in the Civil War. By James M. McPherson (1997) New York: Oxford University Press, Pp. xv + 178, ISBN 0-19-509023-3 (hardback) $25.00 U.S.
Why do soldiers fight? Pulitzer-prize winning Civil War historian James McPherson grapples with this question in his deeply researched and engaging book, For Cause and Comrades. McPherson is a superb scholar and author of over nineteen books and numerous articles on the Civil War, most notable among these is Battle Cry of Freedom, recipient of the Pulitzer Prize, published in 1988. He is the George Henry Davis ’86 Professor Emeritus of United States History at Princeton University with a PhD from Johns Hopkins University, awarded in 1963. In For Cause and Comrades, McPherson offers very balanced and researched approach to the Civil War, typically a very emotionally charged topic. His writing style is eminently readable and his arguments convincing.
McPherson analyzes martial motivations leveraging French military historian, John A. Lynn, methodology of examining motivation at three levels: initial, sustaining, and combat. The initial motivators deal with why men enlisted; sustaining with what kept the armies together; and combat with how men steeled themselves for battle (12).
McPherson evenly spaced twelve chapters across the book to carefully analyze his primary sources of diaries and letters from soldiers on both sides of the Civil War. In doing so, he worked to weigh his data in a reasonably representative fashion from the demographics of the soldiers in the conflict. He statistically balances the values and demography of the ideals and opinions of the writers with their representative places in the armies of the North or the South. In doing so, he hoped to ensure that no one point of view would be given inappropriate weight. In addition to breaking down the basic views of North and South, he worked to further determine whether the writer was a volunteer or a draftee; officer or enlisted; wealthy or common. McPherson paints a convincing portrait of soldiers on both sides of the conflict in well-balanced proportion to their role and place in the ranks. From this complex but convincing composition, McPherson draws his plausible, if not entirely original, conclusions. McPherson further balances his assessment with the widely reported findings after World War II and Vietnam on the same topics of combat motivation. This conveys a sense of ubiquity in modern soldiers and outlines some of the fundamental differences in the Civil War, the Second World War, and the Vietnam War.
The book focuses on the fundamental ideologies of the Civil War. The overarching motivator at all levels was honor. Honor in personal courage; honor in fighting for comrades; honor in preserving union (or fighting for liberty); and honor in defending home, hearth, and family. The conclusions are not as simple as that, however. McPherson describes complex dualities that exist in both the North and the South. For example, he describes the sustaining power of faith and religion in “the most religious [armies] in American history” (63) followed by a detailed discussion of the power of hate and revenge in both armies, but primarily the South. Unfortunately, McPherson does not offer deep insight into the conflict of hate and Christian fighting and simply dismisses it as normal in the eyes of the soldier.
He notes soldiers in during most of the Civil War were volunteers and that volunteerism had a dramatic impact on the motivations of those soldiers. The reasons men initially volunteered are largely predictable: duty, honor and adventure. Duty and honor to fight for the soldier’s home against an enemy is complexly related to the ideals of each side. The North asserted an ideal of union and responsibility to the legacy of 1776 and that revolutionary spirit. The South asserted an ideal of freedom from tyranny and the same spirit of ’76 strangely on behalf of human slavery. Adventure is a Victorian ethic acknowledged by soldiers of both sides who expressed a deep desire to “see the elephant” followed by a near universal regret for having done so (30). The sense of adventure rarely survives first contact with true combat and is not a deep or prolonged motivator and McPherson argues that once it fades, many soldiers adopt honor and courage as more sustaining motivators.
Sustainment of an army is a critical challenge of any commander. The unit must be built cohesively and remain cohesive through the length of the conflict. McPherson suggests several contributors to sustaining an army during a long war: honor, religion, brotherhood, ideology, and support at home. After the initial search for adventure and rage militaire fade, the army’s spirits are buoyed and challenged by victory or loss on the battlefields, doubt surrounding support from home, political events near and far, and fear that the overwhelming sacrifice will have been in vain. McPherson argues religion and ideology played crucial roles in North and South to keep the armies intact. Deep religious faith took hold in both armies, but most significantly in the South. McPherson reminds us that the chaos of war leads to fatalism and concern for one’s soul driving the combatants to seek refuge in religion. The soldiers, therefore, believed they were truly good Christian soldiers, marching off to war. While the strength of religion was more dominant in the South, ideology was strongest in the North. Both sides leveraged ideals of freedom, but the North fought for union and, McPherson argues, ultimately for abolition (118, 130).
Combat motivation initially is fed by a sense of adventure and ideals, but those fade upon contact with the enemy. McPherson clearly tells how soldiers, weary and exhausted from battle do not march forward into a hail of bullets for glory or union or slavery or abolition or even God. They march forward out of a sense of personal honor and acknowledgement of the comradeship of arms. He writes that soldiers would rather die before showing cowardice or being labeled a shirker. He gives accounts of soldiers fighting while ill and legitimately excused from battle to prevent even the suggestion that they were shirkers (79). Almost as pervasive as honor and comradeship, there was universal hatred for shirkers. McPherson claims that only half of the men actually did the fighting while half found ways to not be present on a battlefield (6). As a result, his claim that men were motivated not to fail their comrades or show cowardice (77, 80) is somewhat misleading. It is possible at least, that men aspired to such goals of courage and honor and those who fought, fought for those reasons.
This is a very well-researched and written book. McPherson is known for his approachable style that succeeds in conveying the point without burying the reader in details. His research sources and analysis lend very fair balance to his findings which, while not terribly original, confirm that certain common motivators prevail in nineteenth, twentieth, and likely twenty-first century soldiers.
Unfortunately, McPherson lacks a certain depth in discussion of some of the more complex aspects of martial motivation. For example, he fails to appropriately address the conflicts of fighting for liberty by fighting for slavery and hating an enemy so perversely who is praying to the same God who commands “love thy neighbor.” Although those are subjects broad enough to fill volumes, a more insightful discussion of them would have materially improved a solid work.
Letters and diaries are usually tricky sources for the historian. Both are greatly distorted by the writer who is not explicitly compelled to write either accurately or objectively. Regardless, the volume of mail and dairies written during the war by the soldiers free from censorship who were beneficiaries of an effective post system cannot be ignored. McPherson deliberately draws from the mass of writings a generally statistically representative sample of material. That feat alone cannot be understated.
McPherson’s approachable style and casual treatment of some of the more complex aspects of martial motivation leave this book best read by the well-educated public. It is informative to the professional historian and should compliment his understanding of the cause and effects of war, but for that John Keegan’s The Face of Battle may be better. Regardless, For Cause needed to be written and does inform debate on what soldiers of both North and South were thinking and feeling during the war. Any text that convincingly describes war as hell should be written. McPherson does not exalt war or its heroes or villains. He treats them fairly while convincing the reader that “seeing the elephant” is not worth the price of admission.
George Mason University Carl Allard Young
The Confederate Nation: 1861-1865. By Emory M. Thomas (1979) New York: Harper & Row, Pp. xvi + 384, ISBN 0-06-131965-1 (paperback) $15 00 U.S.
“To fulfill Southern nationalism, Confederate Southerners had to slaughter some of the sacred cows and overturn some of the shibboleths that had previously defined them as a people.” (p.144) The clear summary of Professor Emory M. Thomas’ 1979 work captures the angst and challenge the South faced as notions of Southern sectionalism rose with radical fervor, congealed into a new confederate government, gave way to Southern nationalism, transformed into a Confederate identity, and failed both on the battlefields of the civil war and in the minds of Southerners. Thomas received his PhD from Rice University in 1966 and prior to publishing The Confederate Nation published The Confederacy as a Revolutionary Experience and The Confederate State of Richmond in 1971 followed in 1973 by The American War and Peace: 1860-1877. He is a prodigious Civil War scholar who taught at the University of Richmond and retired as the Regents Professor of History Emeritus at the University of Georgia. He grew up in Virginia and primarily taught in the South throughout his career.
As a scholar of the Old South during the Civil War, he is a conservative writer seeking to expand understanding of the South and with The Confederate Nation successfully charts the genesis, rise, maturation, collapse, and fall of Southern nationalism. In this pursuit, The Confederate Nation is an extension of arguments he published in The Confederate State of Richmond and his dissertation, The Confederacy as a Revolutionary Experience. The Confederate Nation is a well-written and engaging book that charts the internal revolution of Confederate ideals that initially elevated Southern sectionalism into nationalism as a conservative revolution centered on protecting the Southern way of life that ultimately caused Southern nationalism to crumble as protecting the Southern way of life became impossible.
In developing the foundation to his arguments for conservative revolution, Thomas insightfully describes an Old South that in the mid 1800s began to close their minds to alternatives to their way of life and drew the conclusion, “Questions about the Southern way of life became moral questions, and compromises of the Southern way of life became concessions of virtue and righteousness.” (p. 4) The ubiquitous Southerner was developing a bi-polar interpretation of the world around him. He was at once for all things Southern and against all things Yankee. While the argument is logically plausible, Thomas does his work a great disservice by not better defining who this Southerner is. There are weak attempts to define the Southerner as statistically white, non-slave owning, supportive of anti-democratic ideals of aristocracy and puppets of the landed aristocracy, and mobile. Southern mobility is his most damaging argument. He offers no evidence to their mobility and no evidence of the Southern everyman’s political agency yet he presses the issue by describing the Southern everyman as a middle class in an agrarian society. Without proven mobility or agency it is hard to assign the moniker middle class to an uneducated, politically silent (or at least complicit) agrarian class.
Thomas attempts to set the stage for a general wellspring of common zeal that held a common view of the Southern way of life and yielded a common voice eager to protect that way of life. Unfortunately, one has to accept significant claims on weak evidence in order to move forward with the book. Accepting Thomas’ argument, however, yields a picture of a conservative revolution that rises in the mid-1800s with the increasingly strong development and adherence to a Southern regionalism. Thomas successfully paints the picture of a South identifying itself as Southern simultaneously as it identifies itself as American. Gradually, over the antebellum period, the Southern identity takes primacy over an American identity as Thomas argues Southerners felt betrayed by the greater American identity which, at its core, is more liberal and open to change. Thomas convincingly uses the Brooks-Sumner incident in 1819 as a herald to the Southern identity and associated honor which must be protected and later with Robert E. Lee’s decision to fight for the Southern cause in 1861 as the full development of this psychological shift.
Thomas builds on the establishment of antebellum Southern identity to 1861 when South had to develop its own government in the wake of secession. While Southern nationalism was crucial in creating a Confederacy, Thomas says, “the fundamental goal of the Southern revolution was the preservation of the Southern life style as Southerners then lived it” (p. 65). It was at this point the challenge of radical conservatives began to surface as embodied in the Montgomery Debate. The radicals who spurred the South to secession faced the very limited objectives of the revolution they facilitated. Southerners wanted to preserve status quo antebellum, not institute a new way. As a result, the Montgomery Debate’s cautious movement forward coupled with a Confederate Constitution that was very similar to the one it meant to disband set the stage for a very defensive approach to Southern independence, militarily and politically. The cautiousness was displayed by other Southern states who did not rush to join the Confederacy until after Lincoln called for volunteers to go to war.
Once hostilities began, Thomas describes the South as caught between the world it wants to protect and the world it must become to survive. Survival won the political day. The South needed a strong central government, a unified strategy, and most importantly, victories on the battlefield. The cries for independence fell quiet to a Confederate President Davis who ran the government and the war effort with singular effort, rapidly cashiering any who would oppose him or show independence of thought without due deference. As the war drew on, continued sacrifice would alter the character of the South so much that Thomas describes it as “more Confederate and less Southern” in character (p. 166).
Ultimately desperation led to the abandonment of most of the Southern ideals. Southern war crimes grew in tragic scope, slaves were granted freedom in exchange for military service, the female ideal was abandoned in the harsh realities of war, and Southern honor was in doubt at the highest levels as even Davis supported notions of guerrilla warfare. The very ideals the war was fought over were abandoned in the desperate hours prior to the war’s conclusion. Thomas says, “”Having sacrificed or been willing to sacrifice most of the ideological tenets they went to war to defend, ultimately Confederate Southerners we willing to lose their national life in order to save itself” (p. 305).
Accepting his troubled definition of the Southern everyman allows the reader to follow an otherwise well-crafted argument that charts the rise and fall of a conservative revolution. Thomas argues it begins with identity and develops into cause as regionalism gives way to nationalism. He points out the risks to a nationalist movement constrained by conservatism, whereby change to secure the national ideals must come at a cost to the ideals of independence. The challenge to create a central government began the long process of compromise that Southerners themselves were fundamentally opposed to. Compromise led to desperation and the Confederate nation became nothing like the Old South it was formed to protect.
Thomas’ argument was logically convincing and showed obvious flaws in Southern political thinking of the 1850s and 60s. Pulling from solid evidence, Thomas argues his points for an intellectual audience well-versed in the chronology of the Civil War. His is not an overtly narrative history of the war, but a political history of the birth and death of the Confederacy. Thomas’ argument could be improved with a more careful definition of the South he examines. His reluctance to make many strong assertions throughout the book makes his curiously adamant assertion of the South as a mobile, middle class society all the more confusing. It did not seem that the South’s mobility or middle-class mores had much to do with the rise and fall of the Confederacy and should have been avoided.
Regardless, the book is an excellent study in conservative nationalism and should be added to any library on the subject of the Civil War South. Although the book cannot stand completely alone as a seminal work, it offers a unique, conservative perspective to Civil War political study.
George Mason University Carl Allard Young
Dan Snowdall and I struggled with defining Democratic Relativism while simultaneously comparing the various models discussed in class over the last few weeks. We were completely flummoxed by the undefinable nature of the concepts we were discussing and have been challenged with giving the concepts some form. Coming from an undergraduate degree in Government as well as History and possessing general proclivities toward systems modeling I needed a picture. Today, we grappled with the various concepts and settled on the models and definitions as briefly listed below. We ask for comments AND CORRECTIONS if we are wildly off-base or confusing. We look forward to the discussion!
- Committed faith in a rational man
- Strong bonds holding the political elements together resting on the foundation of the citizen
- A priori truths that are self-evident (Divinity, Life, Liberty, Pursuit of Happiness, Equality)
- Individual responsibilities
- Limited Government
- Hierarchical, ordered
- Committed faith in rational collective (government)
- Strong bonds holding the political elements together resting on the foundation of the government, but top-heavy
- Collective responsibilities
- Aggressive expansion of federal identity (debt, taxes, regulations, foreign affairs, etc)
- Hierarchical, ordered
- Fluid processes
- Committed faith in the process
- Reliance on rational man
- Weak bonds holding the political elements together, risk of anarchy
- Mutual responsibilities (collective and individual and process)
- Non- hierarchical, potentially disordered
- Fluid processes
- Committed faith in the balance between government and citizen (high ethics of government and benevolence of man)
- Reliance on rational man
- Weak bonds holding the political elements together requiring high faith, risk of anarchy
- Mutual responsibilities (collective and individual)
- Elitist (specialists)
- Extremely fluid processes
- Acknowledgment of a non-rational man
- Strong bonds holding the political elements together centering around the corpus of law giving form to a reasonably constant/rigid democratic processes
- Quantitative discovery dynamically shifts weight with intangible political “beliefs” as strength of one over the other balance each other out in the “Reality of the Process”.
Democratic Relativism: (circa 1968)
- Extremely fluid processes
- Extremely Dynamic
- Rise of Government as an Actor (a(x)) distinct from Government as a Function (f(x))
- Strong bonds holding the political elements together centering around the corpus of law giving form to a reasonably constant/rigid democratic processes
- Two actors (Citizen and Government) interacting with Science and Faith
- Faith in Government as a Function
- Acceptance in Government as an Actor
- Processes remain governed by rules
- Gov (f(x)) informs the actors as a necessary element of Democracy
Crisis of Fear: Secession in South Carolina. By Steven A. Channing (1970) New York: Simon and Schuster, 1970 pp. 293, ISBN 671-20516-1 (hardcover) $7.95 U.S.
“Secession was a revolution of passion and the passion was fear” (p. 293). Dr. Steven Channing’s political-historical drama analyzing the power of fear in South Carolina’s political society prior to the Civil War is a well-written and engaging. The South was gripped in paralyzing fear deeply rooted in guilt and apprehension over their human chattel. The South was dreadful of the liberal democratic changes embodied in the emerging Republican party of the 1840s and 50s. Southern politicians masterfully capitalized the root fears to generate a powerful political base and inordinate national influence all focused on protecting the South’s primary interest: slavery. The fires of fear were built and fuelled to an unquenchable flame that spilled over into war as a direct result of Republican victory in 1860.
Published in 1970, Dr. Steven A Channing’s text offers a powerful early entry into revisionist history. It reflects trends of the late 1960s and early 70s in American history careful re-examination of the histories of darker periods of the history of the United States. When published, this book was well-received and won the prestigious Allan Nevins History Prize. Channing received his PhD from the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill and has taught at the University of Kentucky, Stanford University, Duke University, and the University of Genoa, Italy and was a research fellow at Johns Hopkins University. He has published several Civil War era texts and since the 1980s has gained recognition as an Emmy award-winning filmmaker. Presently, he is the head of Video Dialog, Inc. a production studio focused on developing high-quality, historically-focused films. From his varied background and writing in Crisis of Fear he exposed few overt biases and admirably approached his investigation of South Carolina’s political leaders with a commendable degree of objectivity given the sensitivity of the topic he examined.
In two parts and across nine chapters, Channing consistently developed his central thesis that fear drove the South to secession. The untitled Part One of the text builds the case for a showdown in 1860 by examining the Southern political climate and psychology as a reactionary, ultra-conservative, fearful place and way of thinking. He argues the fear was fanned by the John Brown Raids. “John Brown had plunged a knife deep into the psyche of Southern whites, and life would never be quite the same again” (p. 23). The absolutist terms Channing uses indicates his perception of Southern mentality at the time. He successfully argues that Southerners collectively reached the point of absolutism and the crisis was boiled down to black and white, anti-polar extremes. To feed the fears of a general slave uprising, he cites the role of increased vigilance patrols, arson claims and fears, and increased violence towards slaves, free blacks, and outsiders. Channing exposes the reactionary nature of the South and examines Southern failure to acknowledge the true root of their fears: slavery and the guilt and hypocrisy born of slavery.
Channing’s strength lies in his ability to deftly perceive the Southern psychology. His second chapter deals with the memories and thoughts of the South leading up to 1860. He convincingly tells of a society growing increasingly paranoid about its stability. In the face of the total collapse of its societal order, the South grows almost despondent and blindly accepting of the upcoming war. He tells of a South that was “aware that some day the ultimate question would be fairly drawn – Union or slavery …” (p. 67). Southerners were caught in a contradictory whirlwind that would ultimately prove to be a self-fulfilling prophecy and lead to war. Northern efforts trying to placate Southern fears were answered with the ire of Southern leaders. Northern efforts at postponement or appeasement provided ample opportunity for South Carolina’s political radicals to raise the stakes higher and expand the hysteria and, therefore, their political influence. Channing balances the radicals thirst for power and fear mongering with an overly cautious and conciliatory Unionist and cooperatist sentiment from South Carolina’s moderates. Because of the moderates’ norms of caution, they were unable to answer the radical’s popular advance. Channing describes a Southern political culture where open debate is stifled and reaction to contradicting views carried harsh penalties.
In Part Two, Channing relays the events leading to war. His comfortable style of writing imparts the feeling of chaos, helplessness, and acceptance leading to war. His story is much like that of a massive head-to-head train collision. The South is in a position to avoid it, but it decides to watch the ensuing wreck instead. Channing’s depiction of the demise of the Democratic Party over the course of the party conventions during the summer of 1860 shows the complete failure of rational thinking that gripped South Carolina’s leadership that summer. Further complicating the story and contributing to the tragedy, South Carolina found itself in the unfortunate position of wanting revolution but not wanting to be the leaders of that revolution. Instead, they wanted to be the first among the backers of secession. When Alabama, Mississippi, or Virginia decided they did not want the responsibility of leading the revolution, South Carolina found itself in the position of having to start the revolution as a result of the hysteria they directed. Channing describes a self-induced disaster.
South Carolina so effectively whipped up fear of its black inhabitants in a fight to protect the status quo that it backed itself into a corner and, Channing argues, had to resort to war immediately upon a Republican victory. By November 1860 secession, and to a very real extent war, was a foregone conclusion. The political leaders essentially tipped the first domino and the rest fell with a chorus of popular support, the noise of which prevented any parties from withdrawing from the precipice of war.
This well-written book offers much insight into the South Carolina mind and opens much debate about the control of the political class over the populace. It also encourages debate on what sort of democracy the South exercised in the mid-1800s. Channing summarized it best when he said, “”Plebiscitary democracy triumphed in South Carolina” (p. 285). In plebiscitary democracy there is a fine line between ordered democracy and mob rule. Channing’s warning is clear: mob rule comes at a tremendous cost. The book is well-written and a worthy read. It is representative of impressive study in 1970 as it undoubtedly informed and impacted a generation of historians emerging from the historiographical challenges of the 1970s and 80s. In 2010, the text informs the reader of the collective psychology of a complex society and subsequent work could benefit from more complex approaches while leveraging this solid foundation. With forty years of historiography and research to build upon, there lies an opportunity to examine Channing’s thesis with a far deeper exploration into the complexities, contradictions, and dualities of Southern political science.
Regardless, the text was extremely well researched, pulling from a vast archive of personal, political, and professional correspondence and reporting to paint a picture of the South. By leveraging the somewhat reluctant leadership of South Carolina to tell the story it magnifies the crime of secession in its tragedy. The people of the South were led to believe secession was possible and was good and that an independent South would prosper. No true leadership rose to prepare the South to go alone. South Carolina ended up starting a fight it only wanted to instigate, not actually lead.
Ultimately, this text should be included in any Southern historian’s library and is a foundational part of his understanding. As a part of a larger study, text could benefit from more modern approaches in an effort to paint the fullest possible picture, but taken as a forty-year old work, it is a superb starting point.
George Mason University Carl Allard Young
On the Threshold of Freedom: Masters and Slaves in Civil War Georgia. By Clarence L. Mohr (1986) Athens: University of Georgia Press, pp. xxiii + 397, ISBN 0-8203-0941-9
(paperback) $35.00 U.S.
Professor Clarence Mohr has been the chair of the Department of History at the University of South Alabama since 1998 and re-released his work On the Threshold of Freedom in 2001 through the Louisiana State University Press. Originally published in 1986, On the Threshold was selected as the 1987 winner of the Avery O. Craven Award from the Organization of American Historians. Mohr is a long-standing professor of history and a prodigious writer with dozens of articles, anthology entries, reviews and six books with three books in progress. In On the Threshold, Mohr argues the war and the crisis of the South made Southerners enemies of slavery and facilitated its demise beyond the direct effects of emancipation and the loss of the war itself. He discusses the end of slavery and the challenges of antebellum events and the war on slaveholding society in Georgia.
On the Threshold is a deeply researched and complex text charting the changes in slave culture as the slaves evolved to become multi-generation African Americans in a static pre-war plantation culture developing complex cultural expressions in religious and social settings through the chaos and upheaval of the war where plantation life itself was uprooted and the social order destroyed. A central theme in Mohr’s book focuses on the shift from the static plantation life to a dynamic, urban, industrial life as a result of the “refugeeing” of the seaboard slaves and their masters. Mohr’s book is broken in to three major sections discussing the white reactions to slave rebellion, the stretching of slavery to the point of chaos, and various attempts at reform and what he refers to as “Confederate emancipation.”
The first section examines Southern reaction to the Harper’s Ferry uprising which fed a general paranoia throughout the South and especially in Georgia. Defensive and suspicious Southerners became openly hostile to any outsiders, especially, Mohr notes, any Northerners who asked too many questions. Politicians in Georgia benefited from this atmosphere of distrust and fear and they fanned the flames of concern for political gain leading to tacit approval of an increasingly violent society that directly threatened slave equilibrium. Georgia slave-owners were cognizant of their tenuous position and Mohr describes them as openly fearful of revolts and uprisings. After a rash of arson in Georgia towns, the violence expanded and even political efforts were made to remove all free blacks from Georgia or re-enslave them. As the federal army seized control of the sea islands, blacks, slave and free, began enlisting in the Union Army to fight their former masters.
An encroaching Union Army; violence, spurred by fear and sanctioned by the state; and the unsettling of the plantation society introduced chaos and uncertainty into the lives of the white and black citizens of Georgia. This is the second main theme in Mohr’s text as he charts the antebellum solidification of slave culture as a distinct Afro-centric culture and the tenuous hold on order held by the slave owners. When war forces the plantation owners to decamp and flee to the interior of Georgia, the slaves see, for the first time, that the power of the slaveholder is not absolute. Additionally, many slave-owners are unable to reestablish plantations in the interior, mainly, Mohr argues, because of wild land speculation and outrageous price gouging by fellow Georgians. This forces plantation refugees to flee to the industrial areas of Georgia and slaves become laborers in the industry of war: hospitals, munitions, mining, metal, etc. Mohr’s strongest and most detailed research is found in a seventy-page fifth chapter examining slaves’ roles in wartime industry.
Mohr’s third section discusses the changes in the slave system and largely failed attempts at reform of the slave laws in Georgia. Building on evidence presented in the previous two sections, Mohr describes the cumulative effects of war on the white population, the unsettling effects of refugeeing, the impact of religion, and the deeper, strategic issues faced by the Confederacy. The society of fear was maintained by confident, white plantation owners and politicians who became white soldiers generally stationed in Georgia at the beginning of the war. As the whites began to leave, the power and strength behind the threat of violence left with them. In Mohr’s weakest section, he describes this shift in power and strength as the beginning of the end of slavery. He ties this to the opening of abolitionist and reform sentiment among the clergy who supported notions of black literacy and the legitimization of black marriages. As the war drew to its inevitable conclusion, Mohr notes that foreign intrigue prompted Jefferson Davis to consider emancipation in exchange for Anglo-French recognition in the hopes of drawing the North to the peace table. Mohr’s interpretation of the debate over arming the slaves would later be echoed by Robert E. Bonner in Mastering America as Mohr says, “At its deepest level the debate over arming the slaves involved a search for Southern identity and a quest for national purpose” (p.275).
Mohr’s argument is forceful and backed by solid, but disconnected evidence. It is clear he did his best research and analysis on the slave involvement of the wartime industry. He describes the slave participation in the wartime industry as vital and unheralded. In fact, slave presence in industry with artisans was vital only because Georgia had no other choice. There was no available pool of white labor from which to draw and there was a surplus of slave labor produced by the refugeeing of the sea island plantations. Further, the evidence Mohr examines and copious tables he presents are drawn from incomplete sources which present a risk to his analysis. His work represents a solid entry in the quantitative school of history, but the gaps in the data leave too much to the imagination to build such a definitive case. Further, he closes with his weakest argument on the amelioration of slavery in Georgia. His strongest premise was his reliance on political will and religious support but he is forced to admit that no significant legislation was passed on the topic prior to the end of the war.
Regardless, the argument is informative and highlights several often overlooked sections of southern wartime economy, namely industrial labor and the impact of refugees. The text is ideal for serious scholars in Civil War social, economic, or political history and offers data that is worth reviewing. In the fourteen years since the original publication, it may be worth re-examining the data and investigating potentially new sources of data for support or augmentation to his primary argument that societal upheaval drove the South toward emancipation as much as the war did. On the Threshold is a dense but well-written book that greatly serves the study of the South and of the Civil War.