You are here: Home / News & Events

News & Events

JCWE Editor’s Note: March 2018 Issue by Judy Giesberg

As we do with each issue, below you will find the editor’s note for our forthcoming March 2018 issue. You can access these articles by subscribing to the journal, or through a Project Muse subscription.

The essays in this volume testify to the vibrancy and vitality of social history. To put it another way, social historians haven’t “lost” the Civil War, as Maris Vinovskis suggested thirty years ago; they may just be getting started. So, too, are those interested in culture. In the pages of this issue, readers will find a reassessment of the class explanation for Confederate substitution and will listen in as St. Louis washerwomen and seamstresses police wartime loyalty in their neighborhoods. Some may be surprised to see how soon after the Civil War British scholars began to rewrite the history of Anglo-American relations during the period. Others will never look at a watermelon the same way again.

Patrick Doyle extracts Confederate substitution policy from scholarship on loyalty and situates it in an evolving wartime debate about the rights and responsibilities of citizenship—or, perhaps more accurately, the rights versus the responsibilities. Doyle uncovers persistent defenders of substitution within the Confederacy, even after Jefferson Davis’s endorsement of its repeal, who defended substitution as a contract and hence a right of citizenship. Focusing on arguments for and against substitution, Doyle’s essay traces the entrenchment of martial manhood that by war’s end covered over this debate which had once stood at the heart of Confederate nationhood.

Questions of loyalty lie at the heart of Elizabeth Belanger’s innovative essay proposing a new way of exploring the Civil War’s home fronts. Situated in St. Louis, Belanger’s work examines how, in filing complaints against their neighbors, working-class women sought to “assert political identities, to advance personal agendas, and to create ethnic boundaries.” Using geographic imaging systems, or GIS, and complaints filed with the provost marshal against disloyal neighbors, Belanger reveals how women staked out the boundaries of neighborhoods that, more than the official city wards, reflected the lived realities of their lives. Here, women came in contact and conflict with neighbors over what they said about the war, the flags they flew outside their homes, and other such evidence of loyalty and respectability—or a lack thereof.

William R. Black’s, essay, “How Watermelons Became Black,” reveals that, beyond “the court, the ballot, and the noose,” cultural tropes became powerful tools to counteract black citizenship. This essay represents cultural history at its best; in it, Black uncovers the roots of the racist watermelon trope in the immediate postwar South, as whites sought to limit the freedom of, and deny political power to, former slaves. Once shared among antebellum blacks and whites, watermelon became associated with the perceived childishness, laziness, and dependence of the free blacks who grew and sold them and deigned to enjoy them in their leisure. Once established, this powerful racist myth was hungrily consumed by northern whites—and it still persists today.

For years after the end of the Civil War, those who fought on either side of the conflict agreed on one thing—Great Britain had deceived them. This bitter memory became an obstacle in 1914, when Britain sought American support in World War I. In his essay, Nimrod Tal uncovers the British effort to revise history in order to smooth over these tense relations. From 1914 onward, a number of British authors offered explanations for elite Britons’ flirtation with the Confederacy, lukewarm reaction to the Emancipation Proclamation, and rough treatment of Lincoln. The “embers of resentment” stubbornly burned on, though, and in the process of trying to explain them away, early twentieth century writers laid the foundation for modern historiography on the topic.

We wrap up this issue with Kate Jones’s survey of the rich literature on gender and Reconstruction. Since the 1990s, scholars of this period have sought to understand how—or perhaps, whether—the end of slavery shifted the gendered balance of power. Whereas one thread of scholarship has concluded that continuity, more than change, characterized the period, Jones reminds readers of the importance of keeping in mind how “women cultivated the era’s democratic potential and its exclusions.” Keeping this as the focus of scholarship means that gender scholars are not yet done with “agency” and that we are likely not headed to a new synthesis—and this seems fine to Jones.

Calls to Action: The Civil War Era Songs of Joseph R. Winters by Hilary N. Green

Calls to Action: The Civil War Era Songs of Joseph R. Winters by Hilary N. Green

Winters Historical Marker, Chambersburg, PA. Courtesy of the author.

Black History Month is currently underway. The 2018 Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH) theme for this year’s celebration, “African Americans in Times of War,” offers the perfect opportunity for scholars to showcase the diverse African American experiences during the Civil War. This post examines Joseph R. Winters of Chambersburg, Franklin County, Pennsylvania. Winters’ story offers insights into how the Gettysburg Campaign prompted his attempts to document African American civilian experiences, recruit for the Union Army, and remake the postwar society through a series of songs. In a sense, his songs functioned as important calls to action among African Americans living at the Pennsylvania-Maryland border.

Born free to an African American bricklayer and a Native American mother in Leesburg, Virginia, Winters relocated to Chambersburg where he became active in the Underground Railroad. After the Civil War, he received a patent for an improved fire-ladder and actively participated in local politics.[1] His wartime experiences are sometimes overshadowed by the various other African Americans highlighted in the Valley of the Shadow digital humanities project and in Edward Ayers’ volumes comparing the border Pennsylvania community with Augusta County, Virginia.[2] Nevertheless, his biography represents the type of individual envisioned by Carter G. Woodson and current ASALH organizers worthy of honoring during the February celebration. Winters’ wartime songs and recruitment efforts provide a window onto the rural black Pennsylvanians who survived the Confederate invasion. These events facilitated Winters’ activism as well as contributions to local African American Civil War memory.

The full article can be viewed on the Journal of the Civil War Era Muster blog.

Legal History’s Debt to Frederick Douglass by Martha S. Jones

Legal History’s Debt to Frederick Douglass by Martha S. Jones

Frederick Douglass, abolitionist, intellectual, and activist. Courtesy of

Marking his 200th birthday this week, I want to acknowledge the debt legal historians owe to Frederick Douglass. When Chief Justice Roger Taney denied that free black Americans were citizens of the United States in the 1857 Dred Scott decision, Douglass immediately opposed him. Then, across his lifetime, Douglass never forget how Taney had used the high court to demean African Americans. From the podium and the pen, Douglass made a record that has endured and thus ensured Dred Scott will be long remembered as the lowest point in the history of race and law.[1]

We’ve no reason to think they ever met, these two nineteenth century figures with roots in Baltimore. Both Frederick Douglass and Roger Brooke Taney called that city home in 1837 and 1838. The former was an enslaved laborer on the eve of stealing his liberty, while the latter had just recently been appointed Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. While both inhabited the nation’s third largest city, Douglass and Taney walked very different streets.

Still, Taney and Douglass knew one another, though not in the “they were acquainted” sense. They knew one another as archetypes that took part in on-going struggles over the future of those who managed to throw off slavery’s shackles, free people of color. Taney understood the lengths to which enslaved people would go to free themselves. He was, for example, party to a transaction in which an enslaved man, Cornelius Thompson, purchased his own liberty in 1832. And of course, Douglass knew how law shaped the circumstances of the enslaved. In his 1845 fugitive memoir, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, he recalled encounters with law, from detention in an Eastern Shore jail to exclusion from courtrooms that disallowed black testimony against white wrong doers.[2]

The entire article can be viewed on the Journal of the Civil War Era Muster blog.

PhD candidate Cecily Zander to Publish Article in Civil War History

PhD candidate Cecily Zander to Publish Article in Civil War History

George G. Burlingame marching in the 50th anniversary reenactment of the Grand Review. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division. LC-DIG-ppmsca-53389 (digital file from original, front)

Cecily Zander, a third-year PhD candidate in the department of history affiliated with the Richards Civil War Era Center, recently had her first article accepted for publication. Her article, “‘Victory’s Long Review’: The Grand Review of Union Armies and the Meaning of the Civil War” will appear in late 2019 or early 2020 in Civil War History. Civil War History, now in its seventh decade of publication, is one of the leading historical journals dedicated to the study of the Civil War era. Zander’s article is a study of historical memory, how communities craft narratives of historical events that are meant to reinforce a collective identity or shared principles. In it, she analyzes the popular rhetoric surrounding the review of Union armies in Washington following the Civil War. Contemporary observers favorably compared the grand review to the “triumphal ceremonies of Ancient Rome,” in part to draw similarities between the Union and the ancient republic, but also to emphasize Union victory as a dramatic break with the past. In the Grand Review, triumphant northerners invoked Rome’s civil conflicts to demonstrate that the United States was an exceptional nation. Rome’s conflicts had undermined the model republic and transformed it into an autocratic empire. In contrast, the United States had survived its own civil war, preserving the republic and its democratic traditions. Zander argues in her article that northern reactions to the Grand Review help us understand how the Civil War changed the way Americans thought about their history, as well as how they envisioned their nation’s destiny as a new model republic that had saved democracy for the U.S. and the world.


The forthcoming article had its genesis as Zander’s Distinguished Major’s Thesis at the University of Virginia where she received her B.A. in History. Her examination of the Grand Review in that thesis combined her interests in the Civil War and ancient history. She began the thesis by researching newspaper accounts, soldiers’ memoirs, and regimental histories and put those sources in conversation with ancient authors’ histories and memoirs of Rome’s civil wars. Upon entering Penn State’s graduate History program, Zander began revising the thesis for publication. Under the guidance of her graduate adviser, Center director William Blair, she delved into scholarship on historical memory, particularly memory of the Civil War. This research deepened her analysis, as she “realized that the references to ancient events” that contemporary observers made in response to the Grand Review “were really strategic and made a statement about the Union memory of the Civil War.” Additionally, Zander broadened her reading in secondary sources on the subject, including Barbara Gannon’s (Penn State PhD, ’05) The Won Cause: Black and White Comradeship in the Grand Army of the Republic. From those sources, she learned that the Grand Army of the Republic reenacted the Grand Review on several occasions in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. With few exceptions, Americans did not make connections between those reenactments and the public military spectacles of Ancient Rome, as they had with the first Grand Review. To Zander, this suggests that Americans came to see the nation's signal conflict as a “victory over history,” in which “the wartime generation replaced the example of the ancient past, which had been so important to the founding generation, with a memory that celebrated the preservation of the Union—and the survival of a democratic form of government after four years of civil war.”


Navigating the publication process as a first-time author was both daunting and helpful, Zander said. Revising an article “is time consuming and takes serious commitment on the part of the author—though to be fair, Dr. Blair warned me about that! I thought the peer review process greatly improved the article—I got feedback that was very positive about my larger claims but critical of my argumentation.” Responding to the critiques of her anonymous peer reviewers, she made her argument more visible and consistent throughout the article and sharpened her analysis of previous scholarly treatments of historical memory in the Civil War era. Looking back on the process, Zander concluded, “I was lucky to have scholars I know and trust weigh in at various stages of the piece. I found having more sets of eyes on the article only made it better.”

New Members of the Editorial Board by Kristen Epps

The Journal of the Civil War Era is pleased to announce the addition of five new members to the editorial board. The talented historians joining us in 2018 are Tera Hunter, Fitzhugh Brundage, Laura Edwards, Pekka Hämäläinen, and Susannah Ural.

And we extend our deepest thanks to those who have served as board members and who are cycling off: Tiya Miles, Stephen Berry, Gary Gallagher, Seth Rockman, and Nina Silber. Thank you for your dedication to the journal and to the study of slavery, the Civil War, and Reconstruction.

Each board member has provided a short biography on the Journal of the Civil War Era Muster blog. Please join us in welcoming them to the JCWE team!

A Bird’s Eye View of the Civil War: The Virtues of a Transnational Perspective by Erika Pani

Teaching the Civil War takes juggling some very broad, diverse, complex processes in the histories of slavery and freedom, of nationalism, citizenship and state building, of Indian Nations and the West, of modern warfare, of economic transformation of the economy, and of the ways in which people thought about life, death, gender, family, and personal responsibility. Adding a transnational dimension to all of this–exploring how the war reverberated outside the country and how it was affected by what went on beyond U.S. borders–seems daunting, overwhelming and perhaps not worth the bang one gets for the buck. I would nonetheless like to suggest in this post that there is much to be gained from looking at–and teaching–the Civil War from a transnational perspective. Shifting scales and angles allows students to see the war in a different light, to gauge its significance beyond U.S. history, and to rethink the nation and its narratives.

As the articles in the JCWE’s December 2017 issue show, the 1850s and 1860s witnessed profound transformations of North America. The articles describe different historical processes–peaceful and violent, protracted and ephemeral–that fractured and reconfigured the continent’s geography, refashioned its national communities, and expanded the meaning of freedom and community. Attentiveness to these broader processes and shared experiences, molded by connections and influences, marked by coincidences and contrasts, can serve as a remedy to parochialism and exceptionalism. At the very least, they remind students that nations rarely operate in a vacuum, and that what we sometimes imagine are monolithic actors–“Mexico,” the “United States”–need to be unpacked.

My article, “Law, Allegiance and Sovereignty in Civil War Mexico, 1857-1867,” focuses on how foreign invasion overlapped with domestic discord and reshuffled Mexicans’ sense of allegiance and their visions of law and politics. European military intervention in Mexico, as a response to the Juárez government’s defaulting on its foreign debt, is perhaps the most vivid illustration of the weight of transnational dynamics during the Civil War era, but they also profoundly affected the bilateral relationship between the two North American republics. Washington and Richmond both faced momentous challenges on the international arena. The Confederate government exerted itself to obtain diplomatic recognition; the Union resolutely sought to avoid this. The French intervention in Mexico added a new wrinkle to an already complex situation. Despite the Lincoln administration’s sympathy for the beleaguered republic to the south, and the Monroe Doctrine having been expressly designed to prevent something like Napoleon III’s “Mexican Adventure,” Washington’s foreign policy would remain firmly committed to preventing British and French recognition of the Confederate States of America, and avoiding alienating the French. Until the end of the war, New World republican solidarity would be limited to rhetorical saber-rattling in newspapers, meetings, and congressional debate, ably promoted by Matías Romero, the Mexican Republic’s young envoy to Washington.[1]

The full article can be viewed on the Journal of the Civil War Era Muster blog.