A Student of History

April 4, 2006

Why the Civil War Still Matters…

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Maass @ 2:45 pm

That's the title of an interesting HNN piece by Kevin Levin, here.  Levin teaches history at St. Anne's-Belfield School in Charlottesville, Va.  Here is a blurb from the 1st paragraph:

Much has changed within the historical profession and in race relations, but as we approach the Civil War sesquicentennial celebrations beginning in 2011 there is reason to be concerned. While academic and National Park Service historians have worked tirelessly over the past four decades to revise our understanding of the Civil War by emphasizing the importance of slavery, race, and emancipation as central themes of the war, the general public continues to hold onto a sanitized, white-only interpretation. From this perspective little has changed since the turn of the last century when reconciliation elevated Civil War soldiers and the war in general to a status that called for reverence and little critical questioning. Just think how surprised Americans were at the release of the movie Glory in 1989, which starred Denzel Washington and Morgan Freeman and recalled the history of the 54th Massachusetts.

Its a counterargument of the McPherson interpretation which has held such sway for years.  For analysis of this, go to The Civil War Bookshelf blog, here, for some well-written comments by Dimitri Rotov.


  1. Thanks for the link to my piece on HNN. I just wanted to clarify that this piece is not a response to McPherson’s view of the war. Dimitri Rotov has yet to explain what he means in his suggestion that it in fact is a response. Thanks again and you’ve got an interesting blog.

    Comment by Kevin — April 23, 2006 @ 3:11 pm | Reply

  2. Hi John, — Just wanted to let you know that Civil War Memory can now be found at the following URL: http://civilwarmemory.typepad.com/civil_war_memory/


    Comment by Kevin — April 27, 2006 @ 12:33 am | Reply

  3. Thanks for the ideas!

    Comment by Diana — January 8, 2007 @ 5:15 pm | Reply

  4. very nice

    Comment by amanda — January 15, 2007 @ 7:49 pm | Reply

  5. Kevin Levin is a prime example of a biased “historian” with a political agenda. In his blog, Kevin states that it is okay to have this bias, but who can possibly take him seriously now.

    It is important to challenge people like Kevin who misinterpret history for their own progressive ideals, rather than represent the diverse factual nature of the country. If Kevin had his way, he would incite political and racial divisiveness simply for the self-interested purpose of an article founded on misinformation.

    Please read Kevin’s blog and confront his anti-southern bias.

    Comment by Jim — July 12, 2007 @ 9:37 am | Reply

  6. Dear Jim:
    I read Kevin’s blog once a week or so. I think Kevin is biased–but so am I and every other historian working in the field who actually does history right. What I mean is, all true historians bring with them to their work their own subjective influences. That is part of interpretation, which is what true historians do. Those who don’t are either antiquarians or chroniclers.

    Does Kevin misinterpret history for his own progressive ideals? I do not know. I doubt it. What makes you assign to him such a sinister motivation? The fact that he looks at race doesn’t mean he misinterprets anything.


    Comment by John Maass — July 12, 2007 @ 9:47 am | Reply

  7. JM,

    So glad you asked for examples. Here is a response I gave at http://southernpasts.wordpress.com/2007/03/

    “Simply put, Kevin Levin only knows the South through textbooks rather than something deeper such as a sense of place with deep familial roots and culture. He tries to be a moral authority on the South and its people, which is understandably demeaning and insulting as if noone else had ideas of racial harmony. Levin shows the utmost inconsistency in claiming that any personal political leanings are outside strict deterministic historical interpretation, but then allows for the double standard when his “activist” comments are made, which usually consist of demeaning Confederate memory and ancestral commemoration.

    Let’s get specific…1) in response to condemning the Confederacy, I provided documentation of the North’s moral parity with the South concerning slavery. Levin actually stated that since the South had slavery in some states longer than the North, that the North was effectively unresponsible for slavery. 2) When I quoted Sherman’s favorable view of slavery and that Sherman thought the war was over economics, Kevin tried to convince me that I needed to read more books on Sherman because Sherman really thought that the South was responsible for the war. (Huh? is right. He actually thought that was a satisfactory answer.) 3) Levin also insinuated that state apologies for slavery above the Mason-Dixon were unnecessary or irrelevant when I showed him that states like PA, DE, RI, CT, NY, VT were considering it. 4) Kevin also tried to point out that recent educational desegregation clashes were limited to the South only. When I showed him evidence of similar issues in Detroit, Los Angeles, Boston, and others, he said, as always, that I missed the point of his post. These examples are a sampling only.

    Basically, no matter what drivle comes out of Kevin’s mind, the South always ends up on the bottom, just the way he likes it. Now he’ll say that his heroes are southern, and that’s great if King, Taubman, Douglas, Parks and all are his heroes, but that does not mean that McCausland, Longstreet, Gordon, Watkins, and our ancestors (i.e. traditional history) can’t be equally celebrated. As I’ve said before, Kevin’s agenda is that select flags be closeted, certain monuments be removed, particular heritage groups should be discredited, and personal ancestral memories are irrelevant.

    To close, let me suggest that qualifications are no subsitute for fairness, objectivity, and unbiasedness within any profession. Thank God the South has Kevin to provide moral guidance 140 years after the Civil War – LOL! But seriously, too bad for the students at St. Anne’s Belfield where he teaches HIS-story.”

    Comment by Jim — July 25, 2007 @ 9:16 am | Reply

  8. Jim–I understand your position, but will not judge KL as hardly as do you. And to tell you the truth, IMHO, your statement about “the North’s moral parity with the South concerning slavery” is (to be polite) hard to swallow. Yes, the North did have involvement in the slave trade, profits, etc., but to call that parity with the South is really too much.

    Comment by John Maass — July 25, 2007 @ 4:40 pm | Reply

  9. Come on over and see the truth about slavery in the North for yourself at this Manhattan slave cemetery that just opened to the public this month.


    Comment by Jim — October 23, 2007 @ 10:56 pm | Reply

  10. Does the North’s involvement with slavery eradicate the South’s responsibility for what they did too?

    Comment by John Maass — November 7, 2007 @ 7:13 am | Reply

  11. John wrote,

    “Does the North’s involvement with slavery eradicate the South’s responsibility for what they did too?”

    Absolutely not. Slavery was a tragedy on a global scale that is much larger than many are unwilling to admit. It occurred practically wherever there was colonialism that faced a shortage of labor.

    My point is that the American South did not hold the majority of African slaves nor was slavery the most entrenched or cruel there, but the South seems to receive the greatest share of the blame for slavery. It’s simply undeserved and only creates an antagonistic climate of agitation that prolongs the divisiveness of racism. Bloggers like Kevin Levin are perfect culprits of this new age form of blame and divide.

    Thanks, Jim

    Comment by Jim — March 23, 2008 @ 11:43 am | Reply

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