Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Major General Ricky Bobby, Anyone?

[Hat tip to Brooks Simpson]

I trust all of you had a great Thanksgiving weekend and properly gorged yourselves on turkey, stuffing, and football as is the tradition in this great nation of ours.

I apologize for taking a hiatus from blogging, but I’ve had my hands full with several exciting – and time consuming – projects as of late.

Truth be told, I hadn’t really been following what was happening in the Civil War blogosphere for about two weeks. Imagine my surprise, then, when I learned of an 8 part mini-series that is being produced in the style of Band of Brothers entitled To Appomattox. Like many of you out there, I thought that no producer in his right mind would touch the subject of the Civil War after the disaster that was Gods & Generals.

Well, I thought wrong.

While the series is still in its infancy, the website offers some insights into the type of product that we might reasonably expect.

One of the most…um, shall we say… interesting aspects is that the producers have teamed up with NASCAR and are hoping to feature several stock car racers in the film (one is already slated to play John Gordon). Dr. Simpson has done a fine job of commenting on this odd pairing over at Civil Warriors, so I’ll refer you to his blog and leave it at that.

Not only is NASCAR associated with this film, so are several country music stars, including Dwight Yokam, Laura Bundy, and Kix Brooks of the musical atrocity known as Brooks and Dunn.

Combine the NASCAR and country music connection and it would be easy to start stereotyping – but to be fair, both Yokam and Brooks are playing Yankees (and for those of you who think Dwight Yokam can’t act, I refer you to his performance in Sling Blade).

Also, there is legitimate acting talent in the film. Paul Giamatti, Will Patton, and Bill Paxton are certainly not b-list actors (although the choice of Giamatti as James Longstreet just might baffle me till the day I die - let us pray that his beard will not resemble the deceased wildebeest that was duct taped to Tom Berenger's face in Gettysburg ).

In any case, if you review the actors and who they are portraying you will quickly notice that the cast is lily white – not a single African American cast member is listed because there are no African American characters as of yet.

And that’s deeply troubling.

When you see that Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, James Longstreet, Albert Sidney Johnston, Joseph E. Johnston, Simon Bolivar Buckner (really?), and even Sallie Pickett are major characters in the film you’d think they could find room for, oh, say Frederick Douglass? Harriet Tubman? It’s not like these are lesser known figures in the history of the conflict – I’m not asking for Christian Fleetwood or Decatur Dorsey to make it into the film for crying out loud.

But so far there is no black presence in the film at all.

If we are treated to another depiction of loyal slaves and Stonewall Jackson as the “black man’s friend” like in Gods and Generals, then I fear that this could have a ripple effect for the forthcoming Sesquicentennial commemoration.

Like the tourists who flocked to Gettysburg to find out where Buster Kilrain was wounded after the movie Gettysburg was released, we might have families seeking out the emblems of the Lost Cause just because they saw a movie that had their favorite singer in it.

Then again, the producers might land some excellent African American actors who can help balance out the story and help viewers ponder the complexities of the war. You never know.

For now, I will hope that there is no underlying agenda to this film and remain cautiously optimistic that this mini-series will strive to place accuracy over mythology. I will hope that USCTs are not only given some role in the movie, but that they are portrayed accurately – not as ignorant objects of pity, but as competent fighting men who had the same capacity for cowardice and bravery as their white counterparts.

I will hope – but I won’t hold my breath.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

My Final Word on Bruce Levine & Black Confederates

For a blog that doesn’t normally receive that many comments to begin with, I’ve noticed an increase in the number of people anonymously commenting on my post that detailed Dr. Bruce Levine’s talk on Black Confederates at the Virginia Sesquicentennial Commission’s Signature Conference on Race and Slavery.

Apparently some folks think that my summary of Dr. Levine’s talk is in fact my own commentary on the topic.

I have decided not to address any of these comments because they tend to do what the Black Confederate debate in general does – draw attention away from those African Americans who DID serve in large numbers during the Civil War.

However, the good folks at the Virginia Sesquicentennial Commission have posted Dr. Levine’s talk on YouTube for all to see.

So watch, and enjoy all you anonymous Lost Causers out there.

But consider this the END of the debate, at least on this website.

This blog deals with ACTUAL black soldiers who can be documented by looking at ACTUAL government and military documents and whose names and occupations can be found on the muster rolls of the ACTUAL units that they served in.

If you want to cry foul and indignantly rant about the thousands upon thousands of blacks who donned the gray, I’m sure Kevin over at Civil War Memory would LOVE to speak with you (you’re welcome, Kevin).

We deal in facts here at The Sable Arm.

Monday, November 8, 2010

A Grand Review Indeed, Part I

Well, as most of you know I had the distinct pleasure of attending the festivities relating to the recent United States Colored Troops Grand Review Weekend in Harrisburg, PA.

I have to say, out of all of the events, lectures, and symposiums I’ve been to over the past few years, this one ranks right up there with the time I arranged to meet with the family of one of the New Market Heights Medal of Honor recipients. The three events I attended – the symposium “Rather Die Freemen than Live to be Slaves”, the White Carnation League Dinner, and the review itself – all exceeded the expectations I had when I decided at the last minute to make the trek up to my state of birth.

The first event that I attended was the aforementioned symposium which was sponsored by the Historical Society of Dauphin County, the Pennsylvania Humanities Council, and Pinnacle Health System. Things kicked off around 9:00 Friday morning and as the day progressed I was in constant amazement that this event was free.

This first speaker was Dr. James Horton, professor emeritus at George Washington University who spoke on the topic of “Slavery: The Great American Contradiction”. Much of this material was similar to what Dr. Horton spoke about at the Virginia Sesquicentennial Committee’s Signature Conference on Race and Slavery back in September. At the conclusion of his talk Dr. Horton mentioned that he is in the process of editing the diary of a soldier who served in the 8th USCT, which should be an incredible read to say the least. He also mentioned some fascinating research he is conducting on soldiers from what is now Hawaii who served in the Union army.

The next speaker was Hari Jones, who serves as the Assistant Director and Curator for the African American Civil War Museum & Memorial in Washington D.C. If you’ve never heard Hari speak before, do yourself a favor and find out where he’s speaking next and go see him. You will not regret it. His riveting presentation entitled “The USCT and Pennsylvania” traced the origins and history of all of the USCT units raised in that great state (the 3rd, 6th, 8th, 22nd, 24th, 25th, 32nd, 41st, 43rd, 45th, and 127th in case you were wondering). Jones made a point of challenging some of the standard themes that get repeated over and over again (i.e. black soldiers were paid less than whites for the whole war, USCT units always got the dirtiest jobs dished out to them, etc.) and instead painted a picture of some elite, veteran fighting units that had earned the respect of their leaders and who could not attend the Grand Review in Washington because they were busy “finishing the job”. It was a very stirring lecture and was a highlight of the day for me.

Following Jones was Dr. Richard Blackett of Vanderbilt University who gave a fascinating talk on Thomas Morris Chester – a key organizer of the Pennsylvania Grand Review and the only African American war correspondent who wrote for a white newspaper (under an assumed name of course – Chester’s readers did not know he was black when they were reading his words). Chester wrote some great stuff on New Market Heights that will be featured in my book, but one thing I didn’t know about the man was that he was a lifelong proponent of colonization to Liberia and made numerous trips there during his lifetime. It turns out he fathered a son in Liberia and continued to support colonization even after the war was over.

The last presenter was Dr. James Paradis of Doane Academy who wrote a wonderful book on the 6th USCT called Strike the Blow for Freedom, which I highly recommend if you don’t already have a copy. Paradis chronicled the history of the 6th from its time at Camp William Penn in Philadelphia to its storied fighting history at Petersburg, Richmond, and Wilmington. He spent a good amount of time on New Market Heights, where the 6th lost roughly 57% of its strength.

At the end of the symposium the presenters came to the front of the room and entertained questions from the audience for about 45 minutes. All in all, it was a wonderful, scholarly event.

That evening I attended the White Carnation League Dinner, where I was honored to meet numerous descendants of USCTs. One woman in particular had an ancestor who served in the 22nd USCT (which was at New Market Heights) and I was fascinated to see that she had his picture and some of his army records with her. It’s not every day you get to see stuff like that. I also had the good fortune of being placed at the same table as Hari Jones and Dr. Blackett, who provided some fascinating table conversation!

The next morning was the review itself.

More on that coming soon…

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

See You In Harrisburg

I apologize for the recent paucity of posts, but things have been a little hectic in the Price household as of late.

That being said, I did want to take an opportunity to let you know that I am very excited to be attending the United States Colored Troops Grand Review in Harrisburg, PA this weekend.

I mean, what kind of USCT blogger would I be if I didn’t go to an event as cool as this, eh?

Anyway, the two main events that I am looking forward to attending are the symposium of Friday entitled "Rather Die Freemen than Live to be Slaves" featuring Dr. Michael Barton, Professor of American Studies and Social Science, Penn State University, Harrisburg; Hari Jones, Assistant Director and Curator, African American Civil War Memorial, Washington, DC; Dr. Richard Blackett, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN; Dr. James M. Paradis, Doane Academy, Burlington, NJ; Dr. James O. Horton, the Benjamin Banneker Professor of American Studies and History, George Washington University, Emeritus. That’s quite a line up, and I’m especially hoping to get a chance to speak with Dr. Paradis since he wrote a regimental history of the 6th USCT, which fought at New Market Heights.

Friday evening I’ll be going to the White Carnation League Dinner, where the website alleges that “you will be treated to an intellectually challenging conversation with Dr. James O. Horton and Mr. Harold Holzer.”

I hope the website is right!

The next day will be the review itself, which will feature USCT re-enactors and the ancestors of actual USCTs. Dignitaries such as Governor Edward G. Rendell, Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and Bev Smith will be there to celebrate the occasion.

All in all, it should be a great event and it is my hope that many more events like this one will be held across the country as we head into the Sesquicentennial.