History Blog

Let's Talk About It: Making Sense of the American Civil War

Let's Talk About It: Making Sense of the American Civil War

Let's Talk About It: Making Sense of the American Civil War is a series of five reading and discussion sessions moderated by Jeff McClurken, chairman of the Department of History and American Studies at the University of Mary Washington. Participants read three books: March by Geraldine Brooks; Crossroads of Freedom: Antietam by James McPherson; and an anthology of key documents, America’s War: Talking About the Civil War and Emancipation on Their 150th Anniversaries, edited by Edward L. Ayers. Each session prompts conversation on a different facet of the Civil War experience: Imagining War, Choosing Sides, Making Sense of Shiloh, The Shape of War, and War and Freedom. Read this well-crafted overview by Ed Ayers that "makes sense" of the structure of the series.

After each session, we are archiving the related discussion questions and discussed Web links.

Part One: Imagining War | Part Two: Choosing Sides | Part Three: Making Sense of Shiloh |

Part Four: The Shape of War | Part Five: War and Freedom

The Smoothbore Volley That Doomed the Confederacy, Chapter 1, by Robert K. Krick

The Smoothbore Volley That Doomed the Confederacy, Chapter 1, by Robert K. Krick

The first eighteen pages of The Smoothbore Volley That Doomed the Confederacy, by Robert K. Krick, are reprinted here with permission from the author and publisher, Louisiana State University Press, which retains all republication rights. Library copies of The Smoothbore Volley are available for check-out.

Nineteen men in two distinct groups rode forward from the coalescing Confederate lines west of Chancellorsville at about 9:00 P.M. on May 2, 1863. Only seven of the nineteen came back untouched, man or horse. Although one of those nearest the offending musket muzzles, Major General A. P. Hill escaped among the unscathed handful. Lieutenant General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson, among those farthest from the flash point, was one of the five men killed or mortally wounded. The capricious paths of a few dozen one-ounce lead balls caroming off the dense shrubbery of Spotsylvania’s Wilderness that night had much to do with the course of the Civil War.

From every imaginable perspective, the afternoon of May 2 had been a stunning Confederate success of unprecedented magnitude. Lee and Jackson had crafted between them a dazzling tactical initiative that sent Stonewall covertly all the way across the front of a Federal army that outnumbered the southerners by more than two to one. The redoubtable corps commander managed the remarkable march without serious interruption, arrayed his first two divisions in a wide line, and descended upon the Federals like a thunderbolt. Those northerners who rallied bravely against the tide faced an inexorable outflanking by the outriders of Jackson’s line, who stretched far beyond the center of the attack in both directions. In this fashion Jackson routed one Union corps, trapped another out of the line, and left the others shaky, uncertain, and vulnerable to be stampeded.

Hollywood in Blue and Gray: The Civil War in Film

Thursday, October 6, 7:00-9:00, Headquarters Library Theater   

Peter Carmichael of Gettysburg College and Brian Luskey of West Virginia University will discuss the ways in which Civil War films use the themes of family and home to shape the meaning of the nation for audiences. Co-sponsored with the Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park.

Hollywood in Blue and Gray

CRRL Presents: William B. Crawley, Jr.

CRRL Presents: William B. Crawley, Jr.

This interview airs beginning October 5.
Dr. Crawley is the Distinguished Professor of History who brings the story of the university to life. He is the author of author of University of Mary Washington: A Centennial History, 1908 to 2008. With fascinating anecdotes and an insider’s perspective, he talks with Debby Klein.

Find out more about CRRL Presents.

Civil War Lecture: Stuck in the Mud, Stung by Defeat: The Union Army in Stafford

Union soldiers in Falmouth, VA

In partnership with the Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park we continue to commemorate the Civil War Sesquicentennial with "The Civil War Comes to Stafford" lecture series presented at the England Run branch. Join us for the next lecture:

Stuck in the Mud, Stung by Defeat: The Union Army in Stafford

Lecture by Frank O'Reilly, England Run, Thursday, September 8, 7-8pm
 

For more on Sesquicentennial events and resources visit our Civil War Susquicentennial page and the National Park Service web site.

Image: From the Library of Congress American Memory Collection - Selected Civil War Photographs, 1861-1865, Falmouth, Va. Drum corps of 61st New York Infantry

An Evening with Robert Hicks, Author of the Best-selling Novel, The Widow of the South

The Widow of the South, by Robert Hicks

On Wednesday, September 7, 2011, at 7 p.m., Robert Hicks -- noted Civil War author and preservation activist who wrote the best-selling novel, The Widow of the South -- will tell the story of Franklin, Tenn., and how a community came together to preserve a battlefield and transform the heritage tourism industry in Middle Tennessee.

Hosted by the Central Virginia Battlefields Trust, this talk will be held at the Fredericksburg Country Club, 11031 Tidewater Trail. It is open to all ages, and there is no cost to attend. Call (540) 374-0900 for more information on this event.

Tories: Fighting for the King in America's First Civil War by Thomas B. Allen

Tories

Multiple-choice standards of learning tests are not concerned with the details that fill out American history. Who wants to know that those who disagreed with the Revolutionary patriots risked their lives and fortunes in a time of mob rule? What state examiner wants to hear tales of men of honor who refused to break their oaths of loyalty to the king and were whipped, tarred and feathered, or "smoked out" of their homes, as happened to 65-year-old Israel Williams, a respected Loyalist legislator, whose signature in support of the rebel cause was only gained after a night of gasping for air inside his smoky home? In Thomas B. Allen's Tories, many of these stories from across the colonies are well-preserved and well-told so that they might be well-remembered.

We Were Always Free by T.O. Madden, Jr.

Cover to We Were Always Free

Fiction authors sometimes begin historical narratives by announcing the discovery of a long-forgotten strong box in a dusty attic containing purportedly true accounts of times passed handily preserved for the modern reader’s enjoyment.  T.O. Madden, Jr.'s  We Were Always Free starts with just such a scenario, but unlike historical fiction, this is no ploy.  The history unearthed is real and traces back to colonial Virginia when Mary Madden, an Irish woman, gave birth to a child of mixed race on August 4, 1758 in Spotsylvania County.

Because of the laws of the time, just as the mother was free so would Mary’s child, Sarah, be considered free, as would all of Sarah’s descendents.  Mary and her newborn were first tended at the Collins farm in Spotsylvania, and the church vestry paid the Collins for their year of upkeep with 600 pounds of tobacco taken in tithes from the parishioners.  In 1759, still being paupers, Mary was sent along with her baby, to the local workhouse where the poor labored to support themselves. 

CRRL Presents: D. P. Newton, Founder of the White Oak Civil War Museum

D. P. Newton, Founder of the White Oak Civil War Museum

This interview airs beginning June 8.
D. P. Newton has preserved and arranged a most remarkable record of life during an era of turmoil in our nation. The White Oak Civil War Museum reflects his passion and dedication to accuracy in compiling this unique and extensive collection. Debby Klein meets Mr. Newton at the museum on CRRL Presents, a Central Rappahannock Regional Library production.

Fredericksburg Area Museum Seeking 9/11 Memories

Twin Towers, American flag in background

The Fredericksburg Area Museum and Cultural Center is preparing for a new exhibition, "Fredericksburg Remembers 9/11," to commemorate the ten year anniversary of the terror attacks of September 11, 2001. The museum wants to partner with our community and is asking you to share your memories.

The exhibit will focus on these themes:
 

  • first responders at the Pentagon or World Trade Center
  • anyone who was an eyewitness to the attacks
  • airline pilots who were on duty/flying that day
  • local citizens and their experiences at school, work, or home as the events of the day unfolded
  • aftermath stories
  • the Muslim members of our community and what their experiences have been as they relate to the day of the attacks and the months and years following
  • how far we have come in the ten years since the attacks and how our every day lives have changed - for example stricter airport security and our involvement in wars overseas

Do you have stories, original objects, and images you might consider sharing?