Image: American author James Alan McPherson, photographed in 1984. (Anthony Barboza/Getty Images)
Writer James Alan McPherson – who in 1978 became the first African-American
writer to win a Pulitzer Prize for fiction – died last Wednesday at the age of
McPherson spent his career writing short fiction and
essays that explored race and class in America. Later in life, he also spent
many years as a professor at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, where our own Glen
Weldon studied under him.
“American history was a passion of his,” Glen says, “and though his work often evinced a wry humor, in person he struck me as a serious man who cared deeply about the shadow that history casts on the present.”
One state ready immediately to send more than patriotic telegrams was Massachusetts. Governor John Andrew, who had foreseen war sooner than most of his contemporaries, had put the Massachusetts militia in shape for mobilization months before the firing on Sumter. When Lincoln’s call came, he responded: “Dispatch received. By what route shall we send?” Two days later, April 17, he wired the War Department: “Two of our regiments will start this afternoon- one for Washington, the other for Fort Monroe; a third will be dispatched tomorrow, and the fourth before the end of the week.
Massachusetts was not in the vicinity of fucking around.
Pulitzer prize–winning author Annette Gordon Reed leads a discussion of emancipation, Lincoln, and the Civil War on Thursday, January 24, at 7 p.m.
Panelists include James McPherson, Pulitzer prize–winning historian and professor emeritus at Princeton University; Edward Ayers, Civil War historian and president of the University of Richmond; Eric Foner, author and professor of history, Columbia University; and James Oakes, professor of history, City University of New York and author of Freedom National: The Destruction of Slavery in the United States, 1861–1865.
A book signing will follow the program. Presented in partnership with the National Archives Afro-American History Society.
In honor of the 150th Anniversary of the War Between the States, the Civil War Trust (CWT) recently announced that it is launching a national campaign to protect 20,000 acres of battlefields. This grand endeavor is planned to take place over the next five years.
The project was announced at the Lutheran Theological Seminary in Gettysburg by CWT Chairman Henry Simpson. Called the “Campaign 150 Initiative,” other board members present to make the announcement included Gettysburg Military National Park Superintendent Robert Kirby, Pulitzer Prize winning author James McPherson, and new member, country singing star Trace Atkins.
The CWT has protected over 30,000 acres in 20 states. Because this year kicks off the Civil War’s 150th anniversary, the time is rife for the CWT to take advantage of public awareness and support by making a large-scale initiative to preserve battlefield land across the country.
The codes of duty and honor were not exclusively masculine. Many young women who watched brothers march away were heard to exclaim, “I wish I were a man!” Some of them acted on this wish. Several hundred women, from Maine to Texas, disguised themselves as men and passed superficial medical examinations to enlist in volunteer regiments. Their motives ranged from patriotism and love of adventure to a desire to stay with husbands or lovers who had joined the army.
Some women soldiers were son discovered and discharged. The usual reason for discovery was hospitalization for illness or wounds, as in the case of an Ohio private, “Charles Freeman,” who was hospitalized for fever, found to be Mary Scaberry, and discharged for “sexual incompatibility.” Six female soldiers were found out when they had babies. As a male soldier in a Massachusetts regiment described one of these cases in a letter home, “There was an orderly in one of our regiments & he & the Corporal always slept together. Well, the other night the Corporal had a baby, for the Cpl. turned out to be a woman! She has been in 3 or 4 fights.”
A few women soldiers served through the war without discovery. The most famous was Albert Cashier of the 95th Illinois, whose name is inscribed on the Illinois monument at Vicksburg along with those of all other soldiers from the state who fought there. Cashier went to bachelor farming after the war, and not until an accident in 1911 required “his” hospitalization was Albert Cashier discovered to be Jennie Hodgers.
James M. McPherson and James K. Hogue, Ordeal By Fire: The Civil War and Reconstruction
…but I am a big Civil War…not buff, I guess. I’m not one of those people who collects memorabilia, or God help me, re-enacts. But still, the Civil War, and the run-up to it is one of my favorite periods in U.S. history.
Possibly it’s because I love to pick fights, or play the spoiler, or both, because what I can only refer to as Civil War Fandom drives me to the brink of my sanity. The overwhelming belief in the “Lost Cause,” Confederate aplolgism, straw-man arguments over “states’ rights,” Shelby Foote, The Killer Angels, and all the related drivel drives me to the brink of my sanity.
So it’s good to read people like Ta-Nehisi Coates, one of the writers dedicated to reminding us that the Civil War was about not only slavery, but white supremacy. Read his latest post, and anything he writes about the Civil War.