Tuesday, December 2, 2014

The Harper's Ferry Sword

On this day, 145 years ago, the Commonwealth of Virginia executed abolitionist John Brown for treason.  Six weeks before, he had led raid on the United States Federal Arsenal on Harper's Ferry in Jefferson County, Virginia (now in West Virginia). This act shook a country already in turmoil after a decade of tension over the future of slavery. 

Many historians cite a particular artifact from the raid.  The United States Marines who put down the raid captured numerous muskets and pikes that Brown intended to give to aid the slave revolt.  The item in the picture above stands out.  They found a sword belonging to none other than George Washington himself.  It was given to him by King Frederick the Great of Prussia.  In the Seven Years' War in the 1750s and early 60s, his small yet effective army defeated most of Europe's great powers, albeit at great cost.  When the Prussian king head of Washington's victory at Trenton on Christmas Day 1776, he called it "one of the great victories of the age" - high praise from the man whose victories two decades earlier impressed his enemies, and even garnered Napoleon's respect.  As a token of esteem, Frederick sent Washington one of his swords with the phrase "from the oldest general in the world to its greatest."  The President handed the weapon down through his family, from which his grandnephew Lewis Washington received them.  His descendants in turn handed it over to the New York State Museum where it remains today.  While a fire in 1911 damaged it, the archivists have restored it to its original state.

I find this sword to be fascinating.  It symbolizes so much of American history.  Starting with the Revolution and its promise for independence, it represents the international esteem that Washington held around the world.  Yet it also stands in the middle of the antebellum strife over slavery that would tear the country apart in the Civil War.  Passing from the president's hands to his descendants, all of whom owned slaves, it ended up in the hands of its foes.  As such, it is a important artifact. 

Thursday, November 20, 2014

I'm Back!

Hello everyone!  I'm back after a long hiatus.  I have been busy since my last post.  Since my convocation on August 2, I have moved from Auburn back to Canada.  My week-long drive took me to several states including Tennessee, Kentucky, Mississippi, Arkansas, Missouri, Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota and North Dakota.  Along the way, I visited Civil War sites including Fort Donelson in Tennessee, Pea Ridge in Arkansas, and Wilson's Creek in Missouri.  I believe that I have now visited every major Civil War site as preserved by the National Park Service.  I also saw the Little Rock Central High School which marked a significant moment in the Civil Rights Movement. 

Since returning, I have carried on my work.  I submitted a chapter of my dissertation to a prominent journal and wrote a book review for another.  I also went to the Southern Historical Association conference in Atlanta to discuss publishing opportunities with several presses.  Future projects include re-writing the dissertation to suit their needs, reworking another article, and a forthcoming book review.  I have also applied for numerous jobs in the U.S.  Fingers crossed on those.  I currently have a real job here in Canada.

Here are the latest additions to my library - including several acquired at the SHA.

Mark W. Summers, Ordeal of Reconstruction: A New History of Reconstruction (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2014).

James J. Gigantino II, The Ragged Road to Abolition: Slavery and Freedom in New Jersey, 1776-1865 (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2015).

Edward Baptist, The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism (New York: Basic Books, 2014).

Michael B. Graham, The Coal River Valley in the Civil War: West Virginia Mountains, 1861 (Charleston, SC: History Press, 2014).

Jonathan W. White, Emancipation, the Union Army, and the Re-election of Abraham Lincoln (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2014).

Ari Kelman, A Misplaced Massacre: The Struggle over the Memory of Sand Creek (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2013).

Jennifer M. Murray, On a Great Battlefield: The Making, Management, and Memory of Gettysburg National Military Park, 1933-2012 (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 2014).

M. Keith Harris, Across The Bloody Chasm: The Culture of Commemoration among Civil War Veterans (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2014).

David Zimring, To Live and Die in Dixie: Native Northerners who Fought for the Confederacy (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 2014).

Friday, June 6, 2014

Dissertation Completed!

Hi there!  It's been almost a year since my last post.  I have a good reason: I've been researching and writing my dissertation.  My work took me to four states - West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Virginia and North Carolina, as well as the District of Columbia - as well as extensive online research.  I read 24,000 pages of newspapers from the 1850s and 1860s.  Anyone who says our media today in the 21st century is biased ought to read a 19th century newspaper.  They make contemporary sources look medical in their objectivity.  Anyway, after months of work, I printed it off and submitted it to my committee this week.  I defend it before them on June 17.  Am I nervous about it?  Yes, naturally.  But I will prepare for it.  Wish me well.