SHA 2011: Gender and Sectional Reconciliation in Late Nineteenth Century America

Today started off rocky. I was supposed to be at a focus group for Bedford/St. Martin’s at 8:00 . . . or so I thought. It was actually 9:00, so that extra hour of sleep I would have liked because of the time change didn’t happen. After the focus group, Joyce Harrison, Brian McKnight, John Stealey, and I walked a few blocks to Luna Del Sea for lunch. The food and conversation were good. John is quite the story-teller, one of those historians you could listen to for hours.

After missing the morning sessions for the focus group, I was looking forward to the afternoon session on Civil War memory. Presenters included Nathan Cardon (Univ. of Toronto), Kirk Strawbridge (a fellow Mississippi State alum), and Carrie Janney, who you might remember spoke on our campus as an OAH Distinguished Lecturer last September. My notes aren’t as thorough as I would have liked; sitting next to what I presume was the kitchen area wasn’t one of my best ideas.

Cardon focused on the 1896 cotton exposition in Atlanta and Tennessee’s centennial celebration the same year. He pointed out southern attempts to make the region look progressive in order to attract economic investment. At the same time, they celebrated the Lost Cause as the nation geared up for war with Spain in 1898.  Cardon had a good sense of humor, noting that the Canadian pronunciation of Chickamauga might not be correct.

Strawbridge’s presentation addressed the southern perceptions of Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson. Lee was considered Christlike, while Jackson was compared to John Brown in his fanaticism.

Janney examined three topics: Confederate veterans’ opinions of women’s role in reconciliation; southern women’s anti-reconciliationist views; and northern women’s anti-reconciliationist sentiments. She observed that southern women allowed Confederate veterans to hold reconciliationist and sectionalist views in tandem. Southern women did not threaten male attempts at reconciliation. She also claimed that the UDC was at the forefront of anti-reconciliation. Northern women involved in commemoration, Janney argued, were more numerous than their southern compatriots and fought the Lost Cause and southern women’s memory of the Civil War. She concluded by proposing that veterans had the shared experience of valor and fighting, which women did not, thus allowing their sectional views to flourish.

Edward Blum and Gaines Foster commented on the papers. Blum quite humorously entitled his comments, “Something Beyond the Blighted Field,” a play on David Blight’s position as the historically authoritative voice on Civil War memory. In short, he argued that moralities animate memories, and historians need to understand how moralities (and thus memories) became embodied. Foster observed that Stonewall Jackson was actually more Christlike than Lee, who represented restrained, Victorian manhood. Foster demonstrated once again that historians have a sense of humor. In noting that Janney’s paper reversed traditional gender roles (southern men were able to process their feelings about the war, while southern women internalized them), he imagined Oprah interviewing John B. Gordon. (The joke isn’t as funny now that I write it, but the audience loved it. Guess you had to be there.) I left as the audience began asking questions so I could scope out the book exhibit.

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