On Tuesday, September 18, in commemoration of the 150th anniversary of Antietam--the single bloodiest day of battle on American soil, PBS’ American Experience will premiere a new NEH-funded documentary, Death and the Civil War, by six-time Emmy Award-winning filmmaker Ric Burns.
Based on the book This Republic of Suffering by historian Drew Gilpin Faust, President of Harvard University and the National Endowment for the Humanities’ 2011 Jefferson Lecturer, the documentary examines how the unprecedented death toll and carnage of the war challenged American cultural attitudes about death and fundamentally transformed federal government policies towards soldiers.
History, particularly popular history, need not be dull, something that Cormac O’Brien demonstrates readily in his book, The Forgotten History of America. Written in a conversational tone and broken into vignettes, old history is made new when written this way. Even so, it’s not the standard stuff taught in schools. It’s about wars and both sides in those wars, reaching back to the country’s colonial beginnings in the 16th century. With personalities writ large on both sides and a good understanding of the differences in modern and historical society, O’Brien leads his readers on journeys back in time:
It begins with the first permanent European settlement in North America:
Pedro Menedez de Aviles anxiously paced the deck of his flagship, San Pelayo. Two days earlier, off the coast of Florida, he had gone ashore and met with Indians who offered valuable information about the prey he was desperately seeking. Now, confident of success, he led his five vessels northward along the coastline, scanning the beaches for any sign of European settlement. The day was September 4, 1565, and Menendez was hunting heretics.
In November, 1775, Harrower tells us of a muster of the minute men of the district, composed of the counties of Spotsylvania, Caroline, King George, and Stafford, which was held at "Belvideira," below the town. In the list of members of the Spotsylvania committee of safety chosen by direction of ordinance of convention on November 17th, of this year, by an assembly of freeholders of the county, meeting in Fredericksburg we find the town represented by Fielding Lewis, Charles Washington, George Thornton and Hugh Mercer. Throughout the Revolutionary War Fredericksburg was a center of distinction. "There is not one spot in the State so generally useful in our military operations," wrote James Mercer in April, 1781. The spring of 1781 witnessed in Virginia that remarkable campaign of the gallant young Marquis de LaFayette; the wonderfully conducted retreat from Richmond leading Cornwallis away from that important center and attempting a juncture with Wayne, who was on his way from Pennsylvania with reinforcements.
William and Mary College Quarterly Historical Magazine (William and Mary Quarterly)
Volume XXVII, No. 2. October 1918. pp. 73-95. Parts II and III may also be read online.
FREDERICKSBURG IN REVOLUTIONARY DAYS
In a charming diary kept by him while under indentures to Colonel William Daingerfield, of Belvideira (a plantation on the river about seven miles below Fredericksburg) John Harrower a clever Scotchman, and schoolmaster to the youth of the Daingerfield and other neighboring households, was wont from time to time to copy letters which he had addressed to his "kith and kin" across the seas. In a letter to his wife in Lerwick in Scotland, sent under date of December 6, 1774, Harrower, after alluding to the "hote war" on the frontier which had terminated in the sanguinary battle of Point Pleasant: the conflict known to history as Dunmore's War, refers to the trouble then brewing between the Mother Country and her American colonies.
The opening months of the Civil War had a certain boldness and cachet to them. Young men in particular signed up in droves. Picnickers came down from D.C. to take a gander at the First Battle of Manassas, discovering all too quickly that war is no theatrical entertainment. However, four years later when the South was playing an end-game, the damage to not just its army but also to its civilians was clearly a factor in its surrender. In 1863, there had been bread riots in Richmond. In 1864, the Shenandoah Valley’s crops and businesses had been burned by Union General Sheridan who was advised by his commander Grant to ”Give the enemy no rest ... Do all the damage to railroads and crops you can.”
And so it was. The civilians and soldiers alike were hit with shortages, and the last year of the war was a particularly brutal time. In William C. Davis’ and James I. Robertson, Jr.’s Virginia at War: 1865, the editors include eight essays by modern scholars and a diary from a Virginia woman, the wife of a minister, who observed that last year from her refugee quarters in Richmond where she served as a nurse and a clerk.
This interview airs beginning May 23.
In the fifth and final of a series on the expansion of the Fredericksburg Area Museum, Senior Vice President of Collections and Exhibitions Mary Helen Dellinger meets with Debby Klein to talk about the completion of this amazing project. We also take a peek at some of the new exhibit spaces on CRRL Presents, a Central Rappahannock Regional Library production.
The Seventeenth Child, by Dorothy Marie Rice & Lucille Mabel Walthall Payne, sets down the memories of a childhood lived in the countryside of 1930s Virginia by a black woman who grew up before the Civil Rights Movement made so many gains. These remembrances are plain, soft-spoken and ring true to an age that was certainly different from the one we know. In some ways, it was a harder time as in her earliest years even basic food was very hard to come by and the sharecropping system made it difficult for all farmers, black and white, to get ahead or even stay afloat during the bad harvest years.
But it was the warmth of family, faith, shared hardship and simple joys that made those days good as well as difficult. The children worked, not only because their help was needed but because it was understood that working was a good thing in and of itself. They helped pull and tend tobacco, can vegetables, sew quilts, raise chickens, and shell corn. Lucille Payne tells of how hard it was to earn money. How sometimes her mother might not be paid much more than fifty cents for a hard day’s washing of filthy clothes in a dark and cold shed. Well, fifty cents and a hambone that might not be fit to eat without it being scrubbed, too, and sometimes not even then. But her mother said, “Well, you accept what they give you; next time it might be better.”
It wasn’t all about acceptance. Sometimes Lucille would see her mother spit in the water while she washed and she would ask her why she did that. “That helps to get them clean.” But I know she was just so angry because she had to survive. When you have so many children you have to survive the best way you can. Likewise, when white children rode the bus to their segregated school, leaving the black children to walk and even calling them names, the black children got a bit of revenge…and a chance to be better than their so-called betters with an act of charity.
Beginning April 2, 2012, the National Archives will provide access to the images of the 1940 U.S. Federal census for the very first time. Unlike previous census years, the images of the 1940 U.S. Federal Census will be made available as free digital images at http://1940census.archives.gov. Genealogists have waited for this day for years and are eager to get a first look.
When one thinks about the U.S. Civil War, or the War Between the States, one does not come up with images of food and recipes. Rather, it is the exact opposite: we think about hunger and even starvation. But the truth is, some of the most creative recipes are invented at times when the basic food elements are scarce.