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Welcome to Penn State Dr. Alaina E. Roberts!

Welcome to Alaina E. Roberts, the 2017-2018 Richards Center/Africana Research Center Postdoctoral Fellow!

Roberts received her PhD in June from Indiana University’s History Department. She received her Bachelor of Arts in History with honors in 2011 from the University of California, Santa Barbara, and in 2013 obtained her Master of Arts in History from Indiana University. Alaina has received research grants from the American Philosophical Society and the Center for Research on Race and Ethnicity in Society. Her research interests in Chickasaw freedpeople and the historical context of African American and Native American cultural connections stem from her own family background--her paternal great great grandparents were slaves of Chickasaw Indians.

Alaina's research explores the lives and identity discourses of the African American former slaves of Chickasaw Indians. Her dissertation delves into the intersection of Civil War and Reconstruction in the Chickasaw Nation and the actions of Chickasaw Freedpeople to gain Chickasaw or U.S. citizenship, establish schools for their children, and stake claims on land within the Chickasaw Nation that they and their families had come to call home. Alaina is also interested in tracing the way dialogues about Chickasaw Freedpeople and Afro-Chickasaws have been maintained through family oral histories.

"Digging through old papers and such.” A Summer of Research at Gettysburg.

The park has been fortunate to have a friend in Dr. Carol Reardon, who recently retired from her position in the Department of History at Penn State. With her guidance and the assistance others, the Division of Interpretation has sponsored a research internship during the summer months where college students can acquire on the job research and writing skills while searching for what are often elusive resources related to the Battle of Gettysburg and the story of its evolution as a park.

Arianna Sabatini, Joe Tinsley and Shane Billings
Research interns Arianna Sabatini, Joe Tinsley and Shane Billings with a small example of the material they researched and brought to the park this summer.

For eleven weeks this summer, Shane Billings (Penn State University), Joseph Tinsley (Allegheny College) and Arianna Sabatini (Allegheny College) took hold of their assignments and searched for textural and photographic resources in various depositories including the National Archives and Records Administration, the Library of Congress, Massachusetts Historical Society, and Vermont State Archives as well as a handful of historical societies and other libraries. The primary resource material gathered and cataloged by these interns will be used by park rangers and writers to provide factual information and sources for ranger programs, exhibits in the Museum and Visitor Center, and educational outreach programs the park will provide in the next couple of years.

And just how important is this newly gathered information to the mission of the National Park Service at Gettysburg? More than one may realize! The park’s interpretive staff base their ranger programs on historical content from many sources, both primary and secondary sources housed in the library. Finding new documents such as soldier letters, unpublished memoirs and accounts, enhances the general knowledge of our understanding of battle events and adds the human element- the words of the soldier or civilian who witnessed the battle- to the story our rangers pass on to our park visitors. And while the internet and on line resources have provided historians with smoother access to historic materials and archival holdings, the most reliable method is still a visit to the facility to look at the original material first hand. Likewise, the research trips and organizing of research material accomplished by Shane, Arianna and Joe can be applied by them in their studies in the new school year. The experience they have during the summer months is invaluable to them as students and future professionals.

Transcribing letters
Transcribing letters and back checking the sources ensures accuracy.
A selection of the materials gathered and transcribed by Shane, Joe and Arianna this summer include papers of the honorable Edward Everett, (famous orator who spoke at the dedication of the Soldier’s National Cemetery on November 19, 1863), several letters related to Gettysburg written by soldiers after the battle, the medical case book of Dr. Henry Janes, chief surgeon in charge of Camp Letterman General Hospital at Gettysburg, individual Medal of Honor case files for a number of the soldiers given the award for exemplary actions at Gettysburg, and pension records for selected individual soldiers that will be used for ranger programs on Civil War medicine and post-battle treatment of the wounded. Overall, it was a very successful couple of weeks for our research interns and the park.

So, after all this time and with countless books, magazine articles, journal articles, and studies already published on the subject of the Battle of Gettysburg and the Gettysburg National Cemetery, is there really more to be discovered about this great moment in our history?

Arianna Sabatini
Arianna Sabatini (Allegheny College) compares a transcription with the original letter scanned from the collection of the Library of Congress.
We never stop learning. As the old saying goes, “What once was lost is now found,” and though some of the finds this summer may not upset the apple cart of battle history, the textural materials recovered by the research interns adds to the base of knowledge for Gettysburg’s rangers to further enhance the story of this great battle, it’s horrific aftermath, and provide further understanding of the American tragedy that was the Civil War. The National Park Service could not provide this story to our visitors without the hard work of our research interns and we certainly wish them good luck as they return to their college courses this fall, hopefully inspired by their experience this summer. The results of their hard work have certainly inspired us!

-John Heiser
Historian, Gettysburg National Military Park




Article shared from The Blog of Gettysburg National Military Park.

Journal of the Civil War Era Editor's Note

Journal of the Civil War Era Editor's Note by Judy Giesberg

As we do with each issue, below you will find the editor’s note for our forthcoming September 2017 issue. You can access these articles by subscribing to the journal, or through a Project Muse subscription.

The essays in this volume should inspire us to reconsider how we measure the changes wrought by the Civil War. Two essays highlight how the postwar South remained littered with traps that ensnared freed people and poor whites in poverty and dependency. Confederate widows, too, were directed to new roles that looked a good deal like the old ones–although in their case, there were benefits to accepting them. We begin with an essay that suggests a new way to mark one critical change the war set in motion.

Mark Noll uncovers a robust criticism offered by American Catholics of Protestants, whose focus on an individual relationship with and interpretation of the scriptures tore at the social fabric and propelled the country into civil war. By contrast, Catholic approach to scripture, critics insisted, offered a “surer guide for the nation’s future,” because among other things, it was nurtured and guided by proper authority. This critique, launched in the Catholic press early in the war, put church spokesmen in a good position to exploit the chorus of postwar critics who sought to condemn Protestant fanaticism for nearly destroying the nation during the war. And, Noll suggests, this may in part account for the postwar move toward religious pluralism.

While the Catholic Church engaged in the work of critiquing the causes of the war, Confederate widows were enlisted to the work of memorialization through a new type of condolence letter that came into wide usage during the war. “Notification letters,” as Ashley Mays refers to them, were distinct in form and substance from condolence letters, for whereas the latter offered instruction about how widows should grieve, the former enlisted widows to the work of caretaking their husbands’ memories. Both forms could comfort and coerce, at the same time, opening up new questions about what Drew Faust once described as a “uniformed sorority of grief.” Did loss bring Confederate women together?

Erin Mauldin’s essay examines catastrophic ecological changes underway in the postwar South and pinpoints their human causes. Mauldin argues that to understand the New South’s economic stagnation, we must look carefully at how postwar tenancy set in motion changes to the land, such as erosion and the depletion of critical nutrients from soil. These changes exacerbated the economic dislocations suffered by poor tenant farmers and sharecroppers and fed a growing tide of indebtedness and bankruptcy.   Mauldin’s essay explores the deep irony that, in seeking to negotiate the terms of their post war labor contracts, freed people unintentionally helped to set in motion ecological changes that would threaten their economic autonomy.

Dale Kretz uncovers a similar irony in his study of USCT pension files. When applying for pensions, former slaves were asked to prove that their injury or disability—to be qualified for pensions, applicants had to prove they were disabled—did not result from their time in slavery, that upon enlistment, they were in “perfect health.” This stipulation required formers slaves to assist federal agents in covering up the serious health consequences of slavery, and, as Kretz suggests, undercut simultaneous efforts to pass an ambitious slavery reparations law. As USCT veterans filled out forms and stood for health examinations, then, they unwittingly participated in what Kretz calls “national reconciliation struggles writ small.”

Lorien Foote’s review essay revisits historians’ use of the term “home front,” which is often invoked as a way to underscore the blurring of lines between combatants and noncombatants but which Foote suggests reproduces the same binary it seeks to dismantle. In its place, Foote proposes a number of alternatives, including “a people’s war,” “house hold war,” or more simply, “insurrection.” The benefits of this new vocabulary are clear when Foote takes account of a number of recent studies of slave resistance and guerilla warfare. We need not choose one from the alternative list she provides, but in trying them out, Foote suggests, we might get “a more accurate picture of the kind of war southerners confronted.”

Congratulations to Carol Reardon!

After twenty-six years at Penn State, Carol Reardon retired at the end of June. The George Winfree Professor of American History, she has been one of the most highly regarded practitioners of U.S. military history in the nation and an important scholar-in-residence of the George and Ann Richards Civil War Era Center.       

Carol joined Penn State as an assistant professor in 1991. By 2010, she was appointed the Winfree Professor in recognition of her contributions to scholarship, to Penn State, and to the military profession.           

During her career she published a number of fine books, all of them providing insight into various aspects of military operations, military philosophy, and the intersection of war and society. For the Civil War, her book on Pickett’s Charge in Memory and History (1997) captivated readers in her analysis of the difference between perceptions and historical knowledge of an event. It was extremely popular and underwent multiple printings by the University of North Carolina Press. She also wrote a very engaging book in the Brose Lecture/Book Series, With a Sword in One Hand & Jomini in the Other (2012), in which she expanded our knowledge of the contributors to military thinking and demonstrated the wear and tear of continuous operations on common soldiers.            

Lately, she has set a new standard for producing battlefield guides. Together with co-author Tom Vossler, she has opened fresh insight into the battles of Gettysburg and Antietam, and shared some of these findings with participants on the Richards Center Executive Tour.           

She also provided important and significant service to the historical profession, serving a stint as the first woman named President of the Society for Military History.      

Also distinguishing Carol’s career was her dedication to reaching out beyond the academy, sharing her hard-earned knowledge with the military and the public. For the former, she served important posts as visiting professor at both the U.S. Army War College in Carlisle and the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. She also became famous for her staff rides of battlefields that showed military personnel how they could apply lessons in leadership from the past to contemporary situations. And she has been in high demand to give public talks, with her talents amply demonstrated during her year as the Penn State Laureate.

“Carol has been an extremely important person in the history of the Richards Center,” said Director Bill Blair. “Her presence provided the cache´ that we were not only a serious center for scholarly research, but also a disseminator of that knowledge to the public. Her expertise in military history and her capacity to engage with the public have been unsurpassed. She will be greatly missed even as we wish her all the best on her transition.”

The South Rises Yet Again, This Time on HBO by Nina Silber

For someone who spends a lot of time thinking about how Americans remember the Civil War, the last few months have been something of a treasure trove. The sectional conflict has surfaced repeatedly, in a variety of ways–some hopeful, some troubling–from confrontations over the removal of Confederate monuments to the most recent, even absurd, entry into the Civil War memory landscape: the announcement by HBO that it plans to produce an alternative Civil War history television series. Confederate, created by the showrunners for Game of Thrones, aims to depict a world in which the South succeeds in its efforts to leave the Union and create “a nation in which slavery remains legal and has evolved into a modern institution.” Spotlighting the lead-up to the “Third American Civil War,” Confederate will depict men and women on “both sides of the Mason-Dixon Demilitarized Zone–freedom fighters, slave hunters, politicians, abolitionists, journalists, the executives of a slave-holding conglomerate and the families of people in their thrall.”   No doubt recognizing the problematic optics in having white men produce a series about a slave society, HBO enlisted the black husband and wife team of Nichelle Tramble Spellman and Malcolm Spellman who will serve as both writers and executive producers for the show.[1]

Many commentators have already weighed in on this proposed venture, with some expressing deep concern about what it might mean to bring Game of Thrones sensibilities to bear on a television drama focused on American slavery. I have nothing to say about that; I’ve never watched GoT. But as a historian with some awareness of the long historical arc of Civil War memory, I am interested in what this new effort means in the context of the current political landscape. Others, including scholar Roxanne Gay, have taken up this theme and have voiced strong reservations about making a show like this at this unsettled and turbulent political moment.[2]

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

A Free Country for White Men: The Legacy of Frank Blair Jr. and his Statue in St. Louis by Nick Sacco

A Free Country for White Men: The Legacy of Frank Blair Jr. and his Statue in St. Louis by Nick Sacco

An 1892 picture of a St. Louis biking club at the Frank Blair statue in Forest Park. Picture courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

When former St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay suggested in April 2015 that the time had come for a “reappraisal” of a Confederate monument standing in the city’s popular Forest Park, few St. Louisians knew that such a statue even existed in the area.[1] The same could be said for three other Civil War statues at Forest Park dedicated to Unionist figures. Statues of General Franz Sigel, President Lincoln’s Attorney General Edward Bates, and politician and general Frank Blair, Jr. all stand as testaments to St. Louisians who supported and defended the United States during the Civil War. When it comes to historical memory, Blair’s 1888 statue is the most fascinating for what it celebrates and what it ignores about his legacy. His statue demonstrates how public iconography often translates historical fact into flawed memories that hide as much as they expose about the past. 

The text of Frank Blair’s statue states that:

This monument is raised to commemorate the Indomitable free-soil leader of the west; the herald and standard bearer of freedom in Missouri; the creator of the first volunteer Union army in the South; the saviour of the state from secession; the patriotic citizen-soldier, who fought from the beginning to the end of the war; the magnanimous statesman, who, as soon as the war was over, breasted the torrent of proscription, to restore to citizenship the disfranchised Southern people, and finally, the incorruptible public servant.[2]

As with many expressions of historical memory, this inscription glorifies the positive aspects of Blair’s legacy and plays up concepts like patriotism and loyalty. It represents what historian John Bodnar calls an “official” expression of memory, one that “relies on . . . the restatement of reality in ideal rather than complex or ambiguous terms. It presents the past on an abstract basis of timelessness and sacredness.”[3]

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