Monday, June 22, 2009

Summer Issue of Civil War Historian Presents Editorial and Scholarship

Since my mission is to provide commentary on all Civil War related topics for my readers (all three of you) that I come across, in this post I will give my thoughts on the latest issue of Civil War Historian magazine that arrived in my mail box last week. The summer 2009 issue (Volume 5, Issue 2) features a stunning cover image of two living historians representing the military and civilian aspects of the hobby. I am pleased every time that Civil War Historian features a civilian on the cover, because it was my email to the editor four years ago that pointed out that in the first year and half that the magazine was in production the editors had not included a civilian on the cover—despite the magazine’s stated mission to represents both sides. After my email, which was published, Civil War Historian has been regularly having civilians grace the covers. Okay enough off my horn tooting, but Civil War Historian does feature some of the best representations of modern photography using the nineteenth century process, and this cover of Herb and Kira Coats is no exception.
This issue of Civil War Historian starts off with a great summary article covering the 8th annual Midwest Civil War Civilian Conference. Nothing will ever compare to actually being there, but for those who have not gotten the pleasure (which includes your humble reviewer) the summary is insightful. Author Amber L. Clark narrowed down the best presenters at the conference and included such helpful tips “as the three essential questions to study when interpreting any historical figure” as presented by Abraham Lincoln living historian Fritz Klein (pg. 8-9). The stunning color photograph on page seven showcases Civil War living history at its finest; the women in their gorgeous dresses looked like they stepped straight out of the pages of Godey’s Ladies Magazine, the hallmark for all living historians.
One of the best features of Civil War Historian is the Preservation section detailing sites and properties that are in danger of being lost or in the process of being restored. This installment detailed the restoration efforts of Judge Advocate General Joseph Holt’s home in Breckinridge County, Kentucky. Holt is a significant figure in the Civil War in his role as an outspoken Unionist in Kentucky and his controversial role as presiding judge at the trial of the Lincoln conspirators and Henry Wirz commandant of Andersonville Prison (pg. 15). Holt’s role in these trials and the verdicts Holt and his tribunal reached are still debated today by legal scholars and historians. For his role in American history and the architectural beauty of Holt’s Italianate inspired mansion the county of Breckinridge have started the process of restoring this gem back to its nineteenth century glory with authentic furnishings. I hope that Civil War Historian will follow the restoration of the mansion and will from time to time include an update on the restoration.
For the first time the magazine published an editorial by former Civil War living historian Greg M. Romaneck questioning if it is appropriate to re-enact the war during a time that the United States is currently engaged in the War Against Terror (pgs. 20-22). “Re-enacting at a Time of Real War” raised some good points and also missed the mark. The issues that Romaneck addressed that I agreed with as a Civil War living historian myself is that when we are at an event as “re-enactors” we need to leave our twenty-first century political beliefs in the car or RV. We are at the events to portray the past, not the present and accordingly we need to embrace a nineteenth century worldview for the weekend, or at least as long as we are “on” and the general public is still roaming through. If you absolutely, positively have to have a political discussion please wait until the evening when you are surrounded around the campfire with your respective friends. Another important issue that Romaneck addressed that I feel strongly about is that living historians have to be aware and sensitive that we are portraying a real time period where over six hundred thousand Americans died, hundreds of thousands were maimed and wounded for life, and four million black slaves gained their freedom. For the people who lived through the Civil War it was no laughing matter, sure as a living historian I have seen plenty of funny stuff from the time the string in my hoop skirt broke and the hoop came popping out or the time I saw a “dead” Union soldier get the hiccups at the wrong time. But despite all the funny and silly things that can happen at an event at the core, especially during the battles we as living historians should and must treat it with utmost respect. Civil War living historians get a bad rap as “illiterate red-necks playing solider,” we need to prove the naysayers wrong through our respectful actions. But I disagree with Romaneck assertion that living historians should censor their school talks because there is a chance that one of the students has a loved one in the military and might become upset by the graphic content. When delivering a presentation one should always know the audience and present the information on their level. When presenting history to children a presenter should not sugar coat the facts, but present the information on a level appropriate to the age of the school group. The sugar coating of history is what turns children away from history and makes them apathetic.
The other noteworthy article in Civil War Historian is “Arbor and Impetuosity: White and Black Relations in the Union Army” by Matthew P. Cassady (pg. 46-53). This is a fine example of research conducted by a living historian using his background in historical administration. For those who accuse living historians of being “dumb red-necks” they need to read this article. This article is worth the price of the magazine. The summer issue of Civil War Historian is one of the best issues in recent memory; my only complaint is Dr. Philip Hatfield’s long and rambling article “Treading on Sacred Ground Part One: The Fourth North Carolina Infantry at the Battle of Chancellorsville” (pg. 34-45). Hatfield’s article served no purpose and did not introduce new information, anyone with a basic interest in the Civil War knows that the battle of Chancellorsville was a confused mess and reading Hatfield’s study of the Fourth North Carolina left me confused. This type of article unfortunately is common in Civil War Historian and I wish that the editor would wield a heftier pen in editing and reifying this article and the tagline at the end promising the conclusion of the article in the fall issue left me with little to look forward to.
Now a note to my readers (yes…You), I am very grateful to all who have taken the time to read my little experiment of a blog. I would really appreciate comments, questions, rants, and ravings of your own (okay, maybe not the last two), but I want to know what you think… please.


  1. Hi Michelle, I am glad I found your blog! When will we see you on the cover of this esteemed periodical?

  2. Hey Michelle, the comment above is from Robin's Egg Bleu, aka Robin. It will only let me post as 'anonymous'!

  3. Oh never mind, I am an idiot...I wasn't signed in!